Tripods are one of those pieces of photography equipment I tried to avoid buying for a long time. In part, it’s because I’ve benefited from the excellent built-in image stabilization provided by the micro-four thirds cameras that I have used over the years, but I also never liked carrying extra weight when I didn’t have to. Still, there are times when I have found that a tripod is an indispensable tool. This includes situations where I must be patient and wait for a wildlife subject to appear, or when shooting macro subjects where maximum stability is required. Holding a camera with a telephoto lens at your eye for long periods of time can be extremely fatiguing, and not having a tripod near the correct position at the right moment could lead to missed or blurry shots. Tripods are also exceptionally useful for stabilizing video.
For my personal use, I had several priorities when considering a new tripod/head setup. I wanted the following traits in a tripod/head:
- Lightweight, but still reasonably sturdy
- Small enough when folded to fit in checked luggage, and easily strapped to a backpack when out hiking
- Solid construction
- Tall enough for a 6’ person
- Usable with a leveling base – a device which allows you to level the tripod head easily on uneven terrain
- Preferably a gimbal head
Satisfying all of these criteria was a tall order. For example, getting a lightweight and compact tripod often means sacrificing the physical mass and dimension of the contact points which contributes to the tripod’s overall sturdiness or lack thereof. Adding additional leg sections also seems to reduce the sturdiness and introduces flex. Gimbal heads are also notorious for being large and heavy.
Still, I was determined to look around, as I know the benefits of a tripod and gimbal head for wildlife and landscape photography are hard to ignore. When setup properly, gimbal heads allow you to move the camera along the pan and tilt axis without having to release the friction mechanism like a ball head. In addition to wildlife applications, they’re also an excellent choice for capturing landscape panoramas. Ball heads are great for keeping things compact, but are clumsy for shooting anything involving action and best saved for things like landscape, real-estate, and portraiture.
The Fotopro Eagle Series EGL-65 Carbon Fiber Tripod and Gimbal Head
After a long period of research and evaluation, I landed (no pun intended) on a newcomer, the Fotopro Eagle series EGL-65 carbon fiber tripod and gimbal head. The Fotopro Eagle series gimbal and tripod are unique in a number of ways, with several key features outlined below:
- Five section tripod which collapses to a relatively short 18”
- Total tripod weight of ~3 pounds
- Unique built-in leveling base
- 1K carbon fiber construction
- Extends to a 55.1 inch maximum height
- 3 leg angle positions with no center column – allowing for ground-level shooting
- 33 lb. weight capacity
The gimbal is also quite unique, providing the following features:
- 3-position articulating gimbal arm
- Very small physical dimensions
- Weighs only 1.52 pounds
- Built-in spirit level
- Provided lens cradle
- 20 degree panorama click detents
The table I put together below shows a comparison of other tripods I evaluated in this category, their folded length, total weight, and maximum height with the center column down or up (or at least what is advertised online). It’s when all the specs are laid out that the maximum height (center column down) to weight ratio advantage of the EGL-65 is evident. Note, * means weight for leveling base was based on using the popular add-on Acratech leveling base, since these tripods don’t offer an integrated leveling base option.
|Tripod Weight (lb)||Leveling Base weight (lb)||Total Weight (lb)||Folded Length (inch)||Max Height (Center column down, inch)|
|ProMedia Gear TR-344||3.7||0.75||4.45||22.1||50.9|
|RRS TFC-14 MK2||2.3||0.53*||2.83||17.2||47.6|
When I was choosing a tripod, I prioritized the maximum height with the center column down, because in general, extending the center column means sacrificing stability. For this reason, I prefer the design of the EGL-65 and others which lack a center column. At the time of writing this article, I believe this is one of, if not the lightest professional quality tripod/gimbal setup available.
|Gimbal Model||Weight (lb)||Load capacity (lb)|
|FotoPro E-6H (without cradle)||1.52||33.0|
|PromediaGear Katana JR||2.4||50|
|Zinelli Carbon ZC||1.9||83|
The EGL-65 Tripod
The tripod itself is a well designed, quality piece of kit. The legs feel sturdy, but with a bit of torsional flex observed when exerting downward and twisting pressure on the tripod. This is to be expected, and likely a sacrifice of it being a 5-section tripod. This is improved somewhat by taking advantage of the tripod’s weight hook, which is cleverly spring loaded, and retracts upward out of the way when not in use – which I’m guessing is so that it won’t snag on something.
The tripod feels built to last. For the most part, it’s comprised of CNC aluminum and carbon. The legs are smooth 1K weave carbon, and the rubberized leg locks feel reasonably sturdy and have good grip. The tripod feet are a clever angled design. The angle means that the foot sits flat on the ground, and when the rubber feet are removed angular spikes are revealed. One thing I like about the feet is that they do not seem to twist off very easily. On some tripods with twist locks, it is all too easy to completely twist off and lose a tripod foot without even knowing it. That doesn’t appear to be an issue here, since you must pull, not twist the feet off to remove them.
Built-in leveling base
The built-in leveling base is by far my favorite feature of this tripod. Instead of a center column or bowl that most other tripods have, this tripod has a unique built-in leveling base that is engaged with a simple turn of a knob on the outside of the tripod. This allows for quick and easy adjustment of your tripod head to level – something landscape/panorama shooters will especially love. Only the Feisol model mentioned above offered the option of an integrated leveling base in a relatively small tripod (as a separate add-on purchase). For all other tripods, one would have to add something like the popular Acratech leveling base, which weighs .53 lb., or opt for a larger and heavier bowl-type tripod like the Gitzo Systematic or RRS Versa.
Legs and locks
The leg section twist locks are not what I would call buttery smooth, and the legs do not drop to the ground with a simple half turn like some tripods – but I think this can be attributed to the fact that they have double o-ring seals to help prevent sand and water intrusion. Assuming that is the case, I will gladly accept added durability over “feel”. The leg angle adjustment locks near the tripod head feel smooth and robust, however I do wish they were spring loaded like the Gitzo Mountaineer or RRS TFC series of tripods, which provides assurance that they are always engaged without even looking. On this tripod, you must pull out the lock and ensure you push it in at the desired leg angle, instead of having them click into place. This is a minor gripe, but perhaps this is a sturdier design over the long run.
Overall, I’d say my initial impression of the tripod’s build quality is that it’s excellent, and just a notch below the Gitzo and RRS tripods I’ve used in the past.
Design features & build
The gimbal head is similarly uniquely engineered. The folding arm allows for fore and aft movement along the Z-axis enabling shooting directly upward or downward, and also to better balance heavier lenses – this seems like it will be an excellent feature for astrophotography and macro-type shots. The articulation also allows the arm to fold downward when not in use, keeping the folded dimensions of the tripod as small as possible. I appreciate that the gimbal design allows for use either with or without the included lens cradle – this will be useful when switching between landscape and wildlife shooting, or between lenses with and without a tripod foot.
The photo sequence above shows the different fore and aft positions of the tripod.
One great design feature that the lens clamp/cradle is positioned directly above the pan axis. This will make it incredibly easy to find the nodal point on the lens and shoot perfectly stitched panoramas. One thing to note, though, is there is limited vertical adjustment when the camera is mounted on the cradle. A panorama shooter may opt to use the gimbal without the cradle and a longer Arca plate to help nail the exact nodal point of the lens.
When under tension, the tripod has no problem holding my Olympus E-M1X with the 300 F/4 Pro lens at any desired angle.Overall, the head feels smooth and sturdy with CNC machined aluminum parts that inspire confidence – however, I have not yet tried a heavy telephoto lens like a 600 F/4 on a full frame camera to see how it will hold up, but I imagine it will do just fine, and maybe even a little better than the lighter setup.
Last but not least, the head is also an incredibly light at only 1.52 pounds. The only other fully functional “true” gimbal head I am aware of in this weight range is the RRS PG-01 (1.1 lbs), but the RRS head will only support 8 lbs compared to the Fotopro’s claimed 33 pound weight capacity. This in itself is a pretty remarkable achievement for Fotopro.
I do have a few gripes about the gimbal head. For one, the control layout is a little bit odd in some ways. The tilt control knob is large and smartly placed, but the large knob just below that controls the articulating arm, and I don’t find this positioning particularly intuitive. I personally would have preferred the prominent lower knob to control the pan axis, and settled for a smaller knob to access the articulation feature which I will use far less frequently. Secondly, the pan knob is rather small, and given its position, it is easily mistaken for the knob that controls the 20 degree click detents for panoramic shooting. Luckily, the two knobs have different tactile feel, but it’s going to take some time to get used to where this knob is placed. I’d have appreciated a larger knob for the pan axis given it’s going to be one of the most used knobs, or simply move that click detent knob somewhere else.
I have to imagine that Fotopro needed to make some compromises to fit all of this functionality in such a tiny, lightweight gimbal head, hence the knob placement. While the pan and tilt action is smooth, I do wish the tensioners offered a little more modulation. As a result, it takes a little bit of effort to move the head along the pan and tilt axis as the bearings seem to be packed pretty tight, even with the knobs on the loose setting. This unfortunately makes it somewhat challenging to do smooth pan and tilt with video. The optional arm that comes with the head has a cheap plastic knob and I found that the position was such that it won’t work with all camera setups.
The carry case that fotopro provides is clever and well designed. It’s padded, has straps that hold everything in securely into place, and has a nicely padded shoulder strap. Fotopro also graciously includes a tripod arca-swiss plate, extra tripod feet and tools. If there is anything to complain about here, it’s that the case looks sort of like a firearm case, and not something I’d readily bring into an airport if I wanted to avoid questioning or an old-fashioned pat down. In all likelihood, I will put this tripod in my checked baggage to avoid hassle at the airport.
In spite of some of the minor qualms I’ve mentioned about this setup, overall I’ve come away very impressed with the FotoPro setup. No tripod/head setup is perfect, but this one seems to check most of the boxes for the traveling landscape or wildlife photographer with few apparent drawbacks. The setup is very compact and lightweight for what it is, and it appears ready to stand up to multiple years of use and abuse. When you consider the price of alternatives, it’s competitively priced at $1,099 USD (for the Gimbal and Tripod package), which is not to say it is cheap in any way, but it does provide some unique features and functionality not found on any other tripod.
Who’s this setup for? Well, I’d say that if you are interested in having one of the most compact and lightweight gimbal setups possible, but not willing to sacrifice the functionality of a leveling base, gimbal head, or a reasonable maximum load weight to easily hold most gear you might have, this setup deserves a hard look. The setup matches well with smaller mirrorless cameras. Even if you don’t care about the gimbal, the tripod alone is well-made, light enough for travel, and has that great built-in leveling base feature, which may alone make it worth considering against the alternatives.