It seems that the debate will never be settled as to what constitutes the perfect travel tripod and head. It may even seem to be a pyhsics impossibility to have a rock solid tripod yet light and portable enough for daily use (and wear and tear). Anyone who has tried to research this question online will invariably discover that forums all over will recommend the Gitzo GT1541 traveller with a Markins Q3 ballhead. That combo easily cost over S$1200 (my last recollection). I like the GT1541 for its size and weight but it is not as stable as I want a travel tripod to be.
But because I could not find the illusive alternative, I had all but convinced myself that the Gitzo-Markins was the only combo which had the size and weight issue balanced. Until of course the day I went shopping with a fellow photograher friend of mine. I found by pure coincidence a Photo Clam ballhead at Gin Photo (importer of Photo Clam goods) and discovered SIRUI tripods at TK Photo.
I read about Photo Clam heads about 7 months ago but only had a chance to see it this month. I was since informed that its being sold at several retail outlets. I was shown the 33 which is rated for 30kg (but I suspect its performance envelope is more like 20kg). I tested the head at Gin's invitation and was very much impressed. I have the Markins Q10 and absolutely enjoy using it and recommend it highly to anyone who is looking for a serious pro head. But now having used the Photo Clam 33, the brand clearly is a good alternative to Markins. At least the 33 compared to the Q3.
Having bought the head, I followed my friend over to TK photo as he was looking for a camera bag. I was introduced to the SIRUI tripods by James (the chap running the place). I tested two models from SIRUI and compared it to the GITZO GT1541 and was impressed by several aspects of the Chinese made tripod.
First, the tripod quality of materials and fit and finish is yards better than Benro. I would invite those looking for a tripod to do this test:
Open out the tripod legs to its maximum extension and press down on the top of the tripod with your left hand and at the same time, use your right hand to hold the middle of one leg and try to move it back and forth. Even though the tripod may be carbon fibre (one of the most rigid materials), poor quality tripods tend to have a lot more movement which is amplified by the poor construction of the joints. Clearly such movement is impossible to erradicate completely but the better made tripods control this problem far better. The SIRUI was a complete surprise in how rigid it was - always remembering that its a small travel tripod, the volume of movement is the key. SIRUI had several travel tripod models and I decided for the thickest tubes with 8X Carbon Figre. The T2205X. Its slightly heavier and wider than the T1204 (identical GT1541 copy). I was also compelled by the price being $100 cheaper!
My SIRUI and Photo Clam combination came up to less than $550 with a performance specs of the GITZO+Markins Combo - at more than double the cost.
Over the past week I have used my new set up for a night shoot as well as product macro shots which I have linked below. I will let my images tell the rest of the story in terms of finish and materials of the two products.
The tripod is amazingly short when folded. The only trade off for this model is that its total diameter is 30% more than the T1204. This was a fine trade off for me because the T2205 is a much more stable tripod.
Fully extended without the column its sufficiently tall enough to use.
The T205 comes with built in spikes under the rubber feet.
The ballhead fitted onto the tripod.
Personally I am very pleased with this tripod and ball head combination. A serendipity discovery of two products that married together provided a fantastic but yet affordable alternative to the Gitzo Markins combo.
BTW the SIRUI tripod comes with a nicely made padded case which allowed me to fit and carry the ballhead and tripod without any problems.
POST SCRIPT - Did I mention this tripod comes with a SIX YEAR WARRANTY?
[NOTE - I do not work for nor have been paid by either Photo Clam or SIRUI - or their local retailers to do this very amatuer review!]