One of the most important investments we all have to make in our photographic journey is buying a tripod. This is especially true for the landscape genre. Unlike the camera and lens market in which the best brands are well known, the tripod market is spammed with brands and it’s difficult to get an objective opinion based on the experience and opinion of many. At LANDSCAPEGEAR, we don’t do the pushy sales approach – we give you honest information and allow you to make the decision by yourself.
The best brand in the tripod market is Really Right Stuff; an American company that specializes in tripods manufactured sparing no expense. You can Google around and you’ll see that there are photographers out there who would marry their RRS tripod if it were legal. The 2nd best brand is one of the oldest players in the industry and a favourite brand of ours – Gitzo. This Italian company has been making tripods for many decades, their products are a dream to use and they last.
What makes RRS better than Gitzo? This is very simple – most of the metal parts on Gitzo tripods are cast whereas on RRS it is machined. Machined components are stronger than cast ones, but much more expensive.
Why have I never heard of RRS?
They only sell direct and this approach doesn’t work in a market as small as South Africa. Also, their tripods are perhaps too expensive for the South African market. Their equivalent of the most popular Gitzo (the GT3542LS @ R12 195) would land here at a cost of close to R20 000 after shipping and import duty.
Are cast parts problematic? Not at all – We haven’t had a single problem with a Gitzo tripod that we’ve sold thus far and all Gitzo owners I know love their tripods. Some have had them for several decades and thanks to good care they still work perfectly.
What is however a problem is the lack of a local support network. You can import an RRS tripod, but if something goes wrong, the cost of shipping it back and forth will be so high that you might as well just buy a new one. We have tried to secure distribution of RRS in SA, but they are unwilling to budge on their no resales policy. This combined with the hefty pricetag of RRS tripods leaves us content with Gitzo as our Nr.1 brand here in South Africa.
What if I can’t afford Gitzo or RRS?
This is the great question and one asked by all those who can’t spend >R10 000 on just the legs of a tripod, which is 95% of photographers. It is a question that until quite recently, we didn’t have an answer for.
As it is obvious what makes RRS superior to Gitzo, it is also obvious what makes most of the cheaper brands difficult to use and quick to pack up; over-complicated design. If you’re making a mechanical piece of equipment to be used outdoors, simpler is always better. The less parts, nooks and crannies there are in which dust, sand and salt can accumulate, the better. I know this because I had 5 cheaper tripods over just three years before I bought my first Gitzo.
When I got the idea for LANDSCAPEGEAR.CO.ZA in mid-2014, I had no intention of selling any tripod brand other than Gitzo. It was the only brand I was willing to bet my word and reputation on. I was thoroughly aware that Gitzo is unaffordable to most, but there wasn’t a more affordable brand that I was happy to support. Shortly after we launched the site, the folks from SunshineCo got in touch with me and asked if I wanted to have a look at SIRUI’s (pronounced su-ray) range of products. Like most, I was skeptic of a Chinese brand and would have declined, but an Australian client had one on a tour in Namibia just a few weeks before and I was really impressed by it.
After a quick investigation, it was clear that SIRUI gets right what so many manufacturers get wrong – simple design, quality materials, added value and the perfect price point. I didn’t really know the folks at SunshineCo at that stage, but the product was more than good enough for my vision of an online shop selling premium photographic accessories. That was nearly two years ago and I can now add to the list that the local agent is also fantastic. SIRUI offers a 6-year warranty on their products, but that would mean nothing if the local agent wasn’t dedicated to servicing that warranty. You would be shocked at how many really good brands are ruined for certain markets because the distribution rights are given to companies that don’t care about the brand.
So what exactly is it that SIRUI gets right?
Before we look at this, we need to familiarize you with the SIRUI range that we stock. As with all our brands, we have curated the manufacturer’s offerings to bring you the products we like most in order to simplify the selection process. We stock the 6 most popular models in carbon fiber (and aluminium if available) from their wide range of offerings. Check out the info below to understand how their model naming works.
Example – N3204X
- N – This is the model range, see the ranges listed below
- 3 – This is the series/leg diameter and we stock models from the 0,2,3 and 5-series ranges.
- 2 – This letter denotes the material that the legs are made from – 0 is aluminium and 2 is carbon fiber.
- 0 – The purpose of this number is only known to the manufacturer.
- 4 – The last number denotes how many leg sections there are and the more leg sections a tripod has, the shorter its collapsed length is.
- X – This letter indicates the model generation and will presumably be replaced by a different letter when they revise the product range.
- T – Traveller
- W – Waterproof
- N – Premium
- RX – Giant
- EN – Entry Level
The N3204X is thus a 3-series tripod from their premium range, made from carbon fiber, with 4 leg sections.
The W2004 is a 2-series tripod from their waterproof range, made from aliminium, with 4 leg sections.
Design and Materials
The most important thing is simple design that ensures easy operation and a long lifespan. Too many manufacturers over-complicate things and that detracts from the user experience and longevity of the tripod. Below are the design aspects that SIRUI gets right.
- Carbon Tube Technology – The precision with which a tripod manufacturer can make their CF tubes plays an extremely critical role in the specifications and performance of the final product. The ideal is to have tubes of sufficient strength with a sidewall as thin as possible, that fit within each other as tightly as possible. The thinner the sidewall of the tubes, the greater the diameter of each leg section can be. If the sidewall is too thick, then the diameter of each leg section is substantially smaller than that of the leg above it and then the lowest section looks like a toothpick. If this is the case, then the top section has to be very wide in order for the lowest section to be of sufficient width.
This ‘shrinking’ leg effect is also detrimental for stability and vibration absorption – the tighter the leg sections are within each other, the more stable the final product will be when all the legs are fully extended.So the thinner the sidewall of the tubes are, the thicker the lowest legs are and the better the overall load-capacity and stability of the tripod.
- Joints – SIRUI tripods feature twist-lock joints with wide grips that make it easy to loosen and tighten the leg sections. It only requires half a turn to loosen one of these joints, which makes setting up the tripod a rapid process. The joint collar, which is the part that is glued to the carbon tube, is machined aluminium – high-end manufacturing usually only found in a brand like RRS. It’s only the EN-2004 that features clip-lock joints instead of twist-lock joints.
- Apex – The apex is the part that connects the legs and center-column and SIRUI have kept this as simple as possible. It is made from several pieces of machined aluminium that lock together perfectly to feel like a single piece of metal.
- Center Column – Center columns are a necessary evil as they offer extra length without increasing the collapsed length of the tripod. There are two cons to center columns, the first being that it is in the way when you want to shoot really low. The second is that most manufacturers do a poor job with this element and thus the center column remains unstable regardless of how much you tighten it. To solve the first problem, SIRUI offers various solutions for various models.
- The columns of the N-3204X, N-3004X, W-2204, W-2004 and EN-2004 consist of a short top-section with a longer bottom-section that screws into it. In order to shorten it, you simply unscrew the long section.
- The T-2204X and T-024X have a separate shorter column and in order to shoot from a low angle, you have to replace the long column with the shorter one. This involves removing the mounting plate from the long column and then attaching it to the short one – slightly more effort.
- The second issue is addressed simply by SIRUI’s precise, high-end manufacturing, ensuring that the center column sits snugly within it’s brace and is locked securely by the screw joint that tightens it.
- Leg Angle Locks – This is a field that Gitzo often gets criticised for as their angle-locks have to be pushed back into the lock position, whereas on RRS tripods it is self-returning thanks to a simple spring mechanism. This is also the case on SIRUI tripods – simply push on the button to unlock it, adjust the angle of the leg, release the button and it snaps back into the lock position.
- Reversible legs – On all the models we stock the legs can be flipped up a full 180 degrees. The purpose of this feature is to reduce the collapsed size of the tripod for when travelling. It saves about 10cm in length by stowing the center-column between the legs as shown in the images below. It also protects the head when travelling by allowing it to be stowed between the heads.
SIRUI offers some really simple features and extras with their tripods that go a long way to satisfy customers – things that most companies charge an extra fee for.
- Padded Carry Bag – This seemingly arbitrary detail is something that our customers applaud SIRUI for time and time again. It makes it easy to carry and prolongs any tripod’s life by keeping it clean and protected when in transport or storage. Their bags all have internal pouches for storing the product manual and allen keys, which keeps things neat and organized. Another underrated extra that most other manufacturers charge extra for.
- Multi-Purpose Feet – All models offer rounded rubber feet that provide great traction on all surfaces, except smooth rocks or ice. To address this issue, most models have feet that reveal a retractable spike when rotated. This is a very niche accessory that might seem like something you’ll never use, but when you do need it, buying spiked feet separately can be expensive and difficult to source. The only model that does not offer this is the T-024x.
- Monopod Leg – The N-3204X, N-3004X, W-2204, W-2004 and EN-2004 all offer the option to detach one of the legs from the apex and attach a mounting plate (one extra included) to the top of the leg. This feature allows you to turn one of your tripod legs into a monopod. Many people frequently use a monopod for certain genres of photography and this feature saves you the expense of having to purchase one.
All of these design elements and extra features point to the fact that the people behind this brand have really thought of every single aspect of making the ultimate tripod. At this point you’d probably expect us to reveal prices close to that of Gitzo, but all of SIRUI’s models are priced around 2/3rds of their Gitzo equivalents. Another fantastic offering is aluminium versions of the most popular models, usually for half the price of the CF version and a 3rd of the price of similar Gitzo CF tripods.
Read more about the models available in part two of this article
Choosing the Right SIRUI Gear
This post is the second of a two-part guide to buying the right SIRUI gear. Click below to go to the section you’re interested in.
If you have any questions regarding any SIRUI products, please feel free to get in touch via the contact page.