©Jack Neubart. All rights reserved.
Fairly compact, reasonably priced, 4-leg-section, carbon fiber camera support.
As tripods go, this one ain’t bad. In fact, I’d say the 3Pod P4CFH is a very reasonable choice. Especially when you consider the inviting price tag for a carbon fiber pod: $229.95, after a $70 instant rebate. Most carbon fiber tripods easily cost $100 to several hundred more. Granted, those pricier pods do come with a more recognizable brand name and reputation, but sometimes the lesser-known names can surprise you. And, when you consider that the ballhead is included and that this pod converts to a monopod, that makes this a sweet deal—at least on the face of it.
What do we mean by “flat-folding”? When the legs on the P4CFH are collapsed to their original position, they lie flat, one next to the other—two-dimensional, in a sense. That works really nicely when attaching the pod to a photo backpack. It also makes it easier to stow the closed pod in a suitcase, since it won’t crowd out other essentials.
The 4-Section Legs
The twist (knurled collar) leg locks work fine. A quick twist to release and lock. As with many other tripods of this ilk, simply grab all four collars on each leg in turn, then twist, and each leg section is released.
You can take the legs apart—something that should only be done when a leg section is damaged. Be careful when unscrewing the leg sections, as two plastic pieces come loose. These have to be properly fitted and aligned to allow the leg to be re-attached and work smoothly. If you feel the least resistance in sliding the leg up, you did it wrong. That said, I don’t see leg sections listed as an option. Which means, damage a leg, and you may have to replace the entire tripod, unless you can send it in for repairs. That’s one of the benefits of buying a brand-name tripod from a company that specializes. They can supply the replacement parts.
There are 3 preset leg locking positions. Pull out the catch/lever (easier said than done—don’t even try it with gloves on) and pull the leg out. Regrettably, the stops are not ratcheted or spring-loaded so they don’t just lock in position. The best method is to pull the leg out all the way, then push and hold the lever with your thumb until it engages at the required leg angle at you collapse the leg.
I should also add that the spider has both a spirit level and a compass. The compass is pretty much useless, from a practical standpoint. I never used the spirit level, finding it impractical, instead relying on the camera for assistance.
The Ever-Present Center Column
You have to attach the center column before use and detach when traveling. It’s not recessed, as with most tripods. You have to screw it onto the spider (or shoulder, or hip, if you will, where the legs attach) and it just stays up there, extending the height of the pod by about 7.5 inches. This center column extends up further, but the height of the tripod with the column as is was good enough, so thankfully, I never had to extend and test the limits of the column—and you shouldn’t have to. If the tripod is not a convenient height as is, then maybe you should look elsewhere. Once the column is attached I leave it in place, until time to break down and fully collapse the tripod for the trip home, or between waypoints. For short hops from point to point, it’s just easier to let it be. When attaching to a backpack, definitely remove the column.
But here’s where it gets interesting. You don’t need the center column, if you can deal with the height of the leg assembly on its own. Simply mount the head onto the spider, after first removing the ballhead mount (a collar of sorts) and handstrap.
Caution: Make sure you remember to add the ballhead mount and handstrap between column and head. Otherwise you may find that the screw goes into the column so tightly after securing the head that you’ll need a wrench to loosen it. It can happen—and did.
Converting to a Monopod
The instructions tell you to simply attach the ballhead to the leg that you just unscrewed. Easy to tell which leg it is—the only one with the leg warmer. What the instructions fail to mention is that, should you desire to also attach the center column with ballhead attached, you first need to add the 3/8” screw (included). This then lets you attach the center column to the leg. The topmost screw, by the way, is 3/8-1/4” reversible, should you opt to use another head. No adapter bushing is included. These bushings are optionally available for a few bucks. (You’ll also find a hex, or Allen, wrench, included for tightening the legs. Haven’t needed it, but the legs should not need it under normal use.)
One more thing: make sure to attach the handstrap and bullhead mount, to avoid the problem noted earlier.
It’s heavy, hence woefully unsuited to the monopod, but it does fit nicely on the leg assembly of the tripod. And it works smoothly. There is a bit of give when tightening the head in place, but nothing that you can’t easily work around by very slightly elevating the camera angle first. Granted, this does make ultra-precise positioning somewhat questionable, but for the price I can live with it. Other than this, I hadn’t noticed any drift once the head is locked in place.
There’s no separate drag (friction) control and for many of us, that’s not a problem. You can control drag to match the load on the head simply by first tightening the main knob until there's the proper amount of resistance to match the load on top (not all the way), setting camera angle, then locking in the position.
The only down side, where the head is concerned, actually resides with the tripod. It lacks a set screw to lock the head in place and prevent it from coming loose. In use, it didn’t appear to be a problem, but there’s always that possibility.
Caution: never walk around with the tripod draped over your shoulder when the camera is attached. The camera or ballhead may come loose and take a dive.
Quick-Release Camera Plate
The Arca-Swiss-style quick-release (QR) plate is large enough for the average-size DSLR and even for use with a tripod collar on a lens, provided it’s not an overly long lens. I tested with a Nikon D300 and a Tokina 50-135mm zoom, which has a built-in collar, and Nikon 18-200mm, as well as with a D600 and Tamron 70-300mm (the last two lenses without collar).
The QR camera plate features two security pins to keep it from sliding off the head. However, to seat the plate, you first have to fully open the locking knob and unscrew to remove. Many heads simply let you slide the plate in place with the use of a safety catch, which is also engaged when removing the head—thereby speeding up and simplifying the process even further. The plate has rubberized elements to grip the camera. They seem to do the trick.
The one deficiency on the plate is the camera screw. It uses a very uncomfortable and what appears to be rather flimsy handle and entirely lacks a coin slot as an alternative means for securing the plate to the bottom of the camera. Fortunately, this can be replaced with the QR plate of your choice. However, you will likely lose that safety pin feature, meaning that you have to be extra careful when seating the camera/plate onto the head so they don’t slide off.
The 3Pod P4CFH carbon fiber tripod is a good value overall. Some minor quirks, but I was happy to use it. Hard to say how long this support will last, but on the surface, this tripod appears to be well constructed. That is, provided you don’t have to replace any of the leg sections. There is even a hook from which to hang a ballast, for added stability in the wind. However, you can’t reverse the column for ground-hugging close-ups. While the tripod overall is fully functional, the best part appears to be the H2 ballhead. In fact, the pod appears to be outmatched by the head. Although I’d replace the quick-release plate at some point.
Perhaps most relevant is my 10-second test. Using the self-timer (to allow vibrations to subside from contact with the camera) on the D300 with 18-200mm VR lens at 200mm (300mm full-frame equivalent) (VR disengaged), the pod held steady both without the center column and with the center column attached (but not extended). (Note: 10 seconds was a practical limit, given available-light conditions and practical f-stop selection, without stopping down too far and incurring a reduction in sharpness owing to diffraction.)
Carbon fiber tripods are pricey. This one is not. You can either save your pennies until you can afford a brand-name pod, or get something you can use right now. Will this tripod last and last and last? Hard to say, but for the time I had it, it didn’t look like it would fall apart any time soon. And the well designed padded carrying case is a nice added touch.
You may be wondering if there’s any practical benefit to a 4-section over a 5-section pod. The more leg sections, the more compact the tripod. In reviewing a range of 4- and 5-section tripods, I found no practical difference, provided they were carbon fiber. In metal, with rare exception, I’d avoid a 5-section support. Three-section tripods are best in the studio, although some may argue this point.
So, all in all, I'd say the 3Pod P4CFH is worth a shot.
Manufacturer's Selected Specifications
Tripod material CNC forged carbon fiber
Max. load capacity 28.6 lb
Max. height (column extended) 65.5"
Max. height (w/o column) 50”
Min. height 13"
Column Screw-on, 2 sections (not split)
Folded length 18"
Leg sections 4
Leg locks Twist
Weight 5.75 lb
Where can I get more info?
Where can I get it?
Adorama or www.adorama.com
How much is it? $229.95 (includes $70 instant rebate)