NOTICE: This post was originally written in 2016. All of the awesome tripods in this article still exist, but MeFoto has added a ton more products to their line since then! Be sure to check out their website for the latest products!
Earlier this year I was on the hunt for a new tripod that would be small enough to travel easily with, but yet durable enough to hold a full size camera with a large lens attached. I also didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg on one, because at the time it wasn’t exactly a necessity, but just a nice quality of life improvement. The tripods I’d been using were strong and heavy duty, but man, they can just be downright frustrating to hike or even just travel with. Sure, you can get a nice carbon fiber, super lightweight tripod that will be perfectly comfortable to carry on an all day adventure in the woods, but they come at a pretty high cost. While visiting my local camera store, I was shown the MeFoto line of tripods. Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical after making the decision to give it a shot. However, after about 9 months of use, I’m happy to report that I absolutely love my MeFoto tripod.
Normally, with budget travel tripods, you sacrifice quality to pick up the mobility. But let’s face it, a tripod is not exactly the place you want to be sacrificing quality. If you’re shooting in a situation that needs a tripod, the tripod needs to work. If the quality is bad, and the tripod isn’t sturdy, you’re still not going to get your shot. You may be able to get a shot that is better than handholding, but realistically there is a reason you got out the tripod in the first place. You need your camera to be stable and not moving in order to get the shot you’re after! You can pick up a cheap tripod at your big box electronics stores for around $50 (and there are some that are even less money). I’ve picked one up in a pinch myself. Thankfully I didn’t have anything overly important to shoot with it because the slightest bit of wind made the whole thing vibrate. These are typically made out of plastic and even just saying BOO to the tripod will cause it to shake. I mean really, what’s the point in a tripod at all?
I was in my local camera shop nosing around as I usually do, and the local rep for MeFoto happened to be in the store restocking after a very large camera show at our convention center. He noticed me picking through the tripods and asked what I was looking to use it for. I told him that I had recently gotten back from a trip where I spent 90% of the day hiking, and 10% of the day shooting and that the tripod I had was just annoying and a flat out burden to carry. It didn’t fold up much, just retract the legs and the head column, but still was probably at least 30″ long once all that was said and done. My backpack, a ThinkTank Streetwalker Pro, has a really cool tripod support on it where you can just strap it right to the pack, but even then the saddle that it sits in, and the top of the tripod that just sticks up have a tendency to hang on things like low branches or bushes, making for a really annoying day of hiking. I didn’t expect to find something that was compact AND sturdy all in one package, especially at a “budget” price. So the rep did as he should and pointed me toward the MeFoto line of tripods. Now, I’m a pretty regular window shopper at my local camera store here in town, but that brand didn’t really ring a bell when he mentioned it, so I took a closer look.
The MeFoto tripods come in three sizes. The BackPacker (smallest), the RoadTrip (middle) and GlobeTrotter (largest). I opted for the RoadTrip because I felt it had the best overall value of price and size.
The first thing I noticed, as well as probably anyone else that looks at them, is that they are pretty. They come in all kinds of colors, which definitely makes them stand out in a lineup. At the time of this writing, there are 17 total colors listed on their website between the full line of tripods!! I admit, at first I just figured this was a gimmick to make them have more mass appeal and probably get a few uneducated buyers to pick their products over something else just for aesthetics alone. With that said, the colors ARE really cool. Some of the colors are a metallic finish, while others are more of a painted finish. I chose the yellow, just because I thought it looked the coolest of the ones they had available at the time. The white looks really awesome too, but unfortunately they did not have it in stock at the time I purchased mine.
It was once I opened the box that I was really wowed. The fact that the whole package folded up into a sleek little bag about the size of my forearm made it that much more interesting. This was something that I could actually fit INSIDE my camera bag rather than being an extra accessory to manage while out and about. It folds up and fits into a carry-on luggage with ease as well. The total length of the RoadTrip version that I am using is only 15.4 inches. That’s it. And even better, it retracts to a maximum height of 61.6 inches! Sure, it’s not the tallest tripod on the block, but I’ll sacrifice that extra foot or two of height for a more compact and lightweight system any day of the week, especially as a travel tripod. Most of the time I’m shooting at chest height or lower anyway.
The legs are a twist lock style that make retracting the legs a breeze. There are 5 sections, and 4 adjustment points on each leg so once they retract together it is easy to just grab it and twist them all to tighten in the smallest position. Each leg has two leg angle positions for extra flexibility, which can allow you to shoot in cramped quarters or on uneven surface areas. When traveling, the legs fold up 180 degrees to run parallel against the center column, which is how it manages its compact form.
Oh, and you want to know something really cool? One of the legs is removable and turns into a monopod! Why on earth do more companies not do that?! From what I can tell, it doesn’t sacrifice any structural integrity to make that feature available, so why not? Once the leg is screwed in it feels just as solid as the others. Also, on the monopod leg there is a nice foam hand pad like you’d find on just about any monopod you’d set out to buy. I absolutely love this feature and it was one of the key reasons I went ahead with the purchase, despite my aforementioned skepticism. At the very least I’d have a decent monopod out of the deal.
What’s even better about this package is that it actually comes with a ballhead attached. A lot of tripods require you to bring your own head to the game, or they’ll give you a cheap plastic pan head. The MeFoto comes with a fully capable ballhead that offers 360 degree panning (great for panoramas) with a separate head and pan lock so you can pan with ease, while not having to worry about accidentally making slight adjustments to the head. The drag on the ballhead is very nice and controls are all easily handled. It features a standard Arca-Swiss style quick release plate on the mount. It also has a bubble level if you still use one of those. The in-camera levels on most modern cameras are pretty awesome these days though (no flashlight required!).
In real world use, I’ve had a gripped 7DII with an f/2.8 wide angle lens attached at a pretty steep angle for star trails and other astrophotography. I let it take a series of photos at that angle for over an hour and the head never creeped at all. It stayed perfectly locked in to where I set it and left it. The RoadTrip version of the MeFoto line is rated to carry a maximum load of 17.6 lbs (7.98 kg), while only weighing in at a mere 3.6 lbs (1.63 kg). They do offer the tripods in Carbon Fiber versions, which brings the overall weight down to 3.1 lbs (1.40 kg), but I didn’t feel the additional cost was quite worth the small amount of reduced weight. Both builds are rated at the same maximum load.
While in the highest position, with the center column fully extended, the tripod does feel a bit strained with a full size DSLR and pro quality lenses attached and I would even say suffers from a small amount of vibration or shake. The center column does feel like the weak link of the whole package if I had to make a pick about it somewhere. It does have a spring loaded hook on the bottom of the center column though, so that you can hang additional weight from the tripod’s center of gravity, and in my experience does make a pretty huge difference in stability, especially while extended. I tend to use almost all of my tripods with the center column all the way down though when possible, so at the end of the day this doesn’t matter quite as much.
I use it all the time with no complaints with my Olympus and Sony mirrorless systems, and would even say that these type of cameras are really where this tripod shines. If I was shooting full time with a DSLR I would probably opt for the next size up on the MeFoto line, which is the GlobeTrotter. It supports up to a max load of 26.4 lbs (11.9 kg), which is plenty for almost any setup you’d need to put on it. All of the tripods also come with metal spikes you can attach to the bottom of each leg if you need a little extra stability, but fortunately I haven’t needed to put mine on just yet.
After everything is said and done, for less than $200 you get a very capable travel tripod system complete with a nice little ballhead, and a monopod to boot. It may not be the most sturdy thing you’ll ever put your camera on, but it hasn’t disappointed me yet in real world conditions. The RoadTrip in particular I would say is best suited for mirrorless camera systems. If you’re shooting pro level DSLR, opt for the GlobeTrotter.
See below for a couple of links to the different sizes and then poke around and see what color jumps out at you!