It's my first "proper tripod". Being a skinflint, I have always had cheap tripods. The last was a "National Geographic" aluminium one, which actually for the price I paid (£25) was really excellent, but I slipped on a muddy bank a few weeks ago and in saving the camera I ended up bending two of the legs on the tripod. The result was that the legs no longer retracted properly. I did a DIY fix, but there's still some stiffness and scraping when extending and retracting so I thought "what the hell, it's time I bought a decent one".
After a lot of research (I'm amazed at just how many tripods are on the market), I zoomed in on Leofoto as a good compromise between quality and price. Gitso looked interesting but prices are sort of stupid, as are RRS, FLM, and other top brands. I took a look at The Center Column which is a great resource for tripod comparisons and Leofoto came out well. Various YT reviews revealed a generally positive view of them as well. As a bonus, in the UK we have a physical store chain called London Camera Exchange who are agents for them so I was able to go take a look at them in the flesh in my local store. LCE are great BTW.
My requirements were for something that was not too big and heavy, but would be stable enough for long exposure landscape shooting. Since I was ready to spend the cash, I decided to go for carbon fibre. I set my limits on weight and size as 2kg or lighter and with a folded length of around 50cm or less. Max height wasn't that high on my list since I tend to do all my tripod shooting using the rear screen and for that purpose, having the camera at chest height is perfectly fine. But I wanted something that was a step up in stability from the Nat Geo one.
I ummed and ahhed over whether to go for a design with a centre column or one without. In the end I decided on a centre column design, but mainly because LCE had an open box ex demo model in that config - the LN-284 CT, a model in their "Armour" series which all feature a central column. They do a very similar model in the "Ranger" series without a central column - the LS 284 C. Maybe it's the wrong decision - I can see that in fact I don't need to extend the column to get to the height I need, but the Ranger is slightly larger when folded because the legs don't fold up to overlap the ball head as does the Urban model.
Anyhow, the deed is done.
So, a quick review:
It's really excellent. Except for the little tool carrier (a plastic holder for the hex key etc), the construction is either carbon fibre or "aircraft" aluminium. I can see this thing lasting. All the metal parts are CNC milled and hard anodised. The carbon fibre legs are made from 10 layers of matting and they look and feel great. The ball head (the NB-40) is a beautiful thing to behold. The whole thing exudes quality the first time you lay hands on it. I really have no complaints about the build quality.
Compared to the old Nat Geo thing I had, this thing feels very stable. The top section legs are 28mm in diameter and there are 4 leg sections (hence the "284" part of the model name). This means that the bottom sections are still quite chunky at 19mm diameter which gives good stability. There's a nice (metal) hook on the bottom of the centre column to hang a bag to add some extra rigidity if needed. I find for my height and preferred working position, having just two of the legs extended and the centre column lifted about 8-10dm is perfect. In this config, it's super solid. With the legs fully extended and the centre column down it's a bit higher than I'd like but still very solid. Extending the centre column to its max height results in a notable loss of stability - but that's the way it is with centre columns.
The tripod comes with the "NB-40" ball head. This is a real beaut!
In addition to the usual things a ball head does, the NB-40 includes an additional panning platform on the carrier for the camera mounting plate. This is a really nice touch for stitching shots. One challenge with the regular pan motion on most ball heads is that they only work if the tripod legs are adjusted to be perfectly level. This is a fiddly job unless you're using the tripod on a flat surface (probably indoors). What most people do is get the tripod legs about right and then do the final leveling with the ball head. But then if you rotate the head, the level will be lost. Not so with this second panning platform.
Like the rest of the tripod, the ball head oozes quality and nice touches. All the controls work flawlessly and there's even a really nice touch on the locking lever for the second pan platform - you can pull out the lever and rotate it into a different lock position on its shaft. This is to prevent its action being fouled by the camera or lens - someone has thought about this.
There's very little backlash in the ball lock mechanism. I find with nearly all my lenses (I run a Panasonic FF system) when I lock the ball there is virtually no droop as the lens's weight creates a turning moment on the ball. With the 70-300 lens mounted (which has no tripod foot on the lens) and extended to 300mm, there is some slight droop, but with other lenses (including the relatively large 24-105), there's nothing. Compared to the Nat Geo tripod I was using before this, the head feels a lot more stable.
The LN-284 CT works pretty much like any other folding tripod with a ball head and twist-lock leg sections. Everything works as it should and I have very few complaints. If I had to be picky, I'd criticise it for the leg locks at the hinge. They work perfectly well, but it's quite easy to press them inadvertently. With some weight on the tripod it's unlikely they'd move, but with the tripod unloaded, a press is just enough to disengage the lock meaning you need to fold the leg back in a little then out again to get it to the lock point. I'd also like to have seen a spirit level on the tripod boss itself (there's one on the head) which means you can't easily level the tripod with the legs alone. These are pretty minor complaints though.
The tripod is supplied with both rubber and spiked feet and also a dummy centre column to allow the tripod to be lowered right to the ground without the centre column needing to be extended. The centre column can also be reversed for low-level macro shooting and such like.
Finally, one of the legs can be unscrewed and used as a monopod (not that I ever do that).
So there you have it. A very nice carbon fibre tripod for under £300.