Review of the Manfrotto 714B Digi Tripod with Ballhead.
Copyright © 2006 NK Guy
First, if youre interested in this mostly decent small tripod, be sure to read the last section before making a buying decision. Theres a serious problem with it.
Next, some background about why I bought this. And that is I hate tripods. I really do. Theyre big, clumsy, awkward, heavy. They are, in short, a pain in the arse. Or, to be more accurate if you use tripods the way I do, a pain in the shoulders. But if youre remotely serious about photography there are many many occasions when forgoing a tripod is not an option. An extreme example is night photography - no way you can handhold anything there, even with the latest and fanciest IS lens. Even if you never shoot anything in the dark you still need a tripod to get the sharpest possible results - landscape photography, for example.
Big tripods really suck.
Tripod snobs will claim that nothing less than a solid carbon fibre vibration-free tripod with each leg the size of a telephone pole and linked by titanium-holmium alloy joints, topped by a bowling-ball sized ballhead engineered down to nanometer tolerances by Swiss gnomes, will do. And theyll look down your nose at anything smaller. But for me theres the slight problem of real life getting in the way, especially outside the context of outdoor nature photography.
Serious tripods are a problem because of their sheer bulk, obviously. But even if youre the manliest of manly photographers, keen on hauling masses of gear around when youre not engaging in caber tossing, youre still going to bump up against one serious issue in urban settings - paranoid security.
Particularly in the post 2001 world, security personnel all over freak over tripods. There are all kinds of reasons given. Maybe they claim that a tripod could be used to support a machine gun. (must be a hell of a heavy tripod) Or that a tripod leg could conceal some dangerous weapon. Or that they simply get in the way of people walking around. Or they want to maximize sales in their gift shop and dont want people taking their own photos of stuff.
Usually theres no reason given - its just not their policy to allow tripods for whatever reason - legitimate or selfish or random. And so carrying a tripod around is often a red flag for these guys.
One way out of this problem is to use a teeny tiny plastic tripod, like an Ultrapod. This sort of thing is fine if you dont need height or there are convenient objects to rest or strap the tripod onto. But thats often not an option.
How I often use tripods.
Lets say youre spending a few days in Paris, like I was the other week. You know you want a tripod with you, because you want to do some night shots in the evening without having to go back to your hotel room. But you also dont want to kill your shoulders during the day, and you want to visit a few museums like the Orsay during the day.
You cant do this with a proper full-sized tripod. But with a small portable tripod that doesnt weigh too much you can take a medium-sized backpack. And hide the tripod inside the backpack, where it wont set off alarm bells with security staff. Some places, such as the Louvre, do now X-ray all incoming bags, but smaller places like the Orsay dont.
I dont use the tripod in places like museums - its rude and I dont really want to photograph other peoples artwork anyway. But I want the ability to photograph the building or whatever, and dont want to have to go back to the hotel to get the tripod.
Thats where smallish backpackable tripods like this Manfrotto model are quite valuable.
Manfrotto 714B Digi Tripod with Ballhead.
The Manfrotto "digi" 714B is one of the latest products to come out with a stupid marketing name emphasizing its suitability for digital cameras. Which is of course a load of crap. As if a tripod like this is somehow better suited for digital than a camera built for film 10 years ago. But there you go. Its built by Italian tripod maker Manfrotto in Italy. In the USA its distributed by Bogen, but under the Manfrotto name. As its a recent product it has the same product number on both sides of the Atlantic, unlike earlier Manfrotto products distributed by Bogen, which often got US-specific numbers.
There is a version with a pan head, the 718B, which is longer and therefore less useful to me. And theres also the 714SHB, which is shorter at 35cm closed.
When closed the 714B Digi tripod is 44cm (17.3") long. Its maximum height is 163cm (64") with extended centre column and 133cm (52.3") with lowered column. Its minimum height is 40.5cm (16"). It weighs 1.15 kg (2.5 lbs) and its official maximum load is 2.5kg (5.5 lbs).
Its a short tripod with four-section legs made of anodized black aluminium. Each section is held in place with a quick release pressure flip clamp. Each leg is roughly triangular (sort of a rounded triangle) in section, so the legs dont rotate. The legs attach to a compact metal top piece via a clever rotating hinge that attaches to one side of the leg only. Its sturdy and small - nicely done. Each leg is terminated with a triangular rubber foot which is angled to maximize contact with the ground.
The tripod also has a centre column almost as long as the collapsed legs, which is held in place with a red plastic flip-out clamp (it isnt geared). Theres also a tiny ballhead concealed in the top of the centre column. The ballhead is tightened via a rubber knob on the lower end of the centre column. The column can be reversed if you unscrew this knob. The ballhead has a standard 1/4"-10 bolt on the end - compatible with the type of bolt used on virtually every consumer and 35mm camera out there. Youd need an adapter to fit the 3/8"-16 bolts used by medium format cameras and other heavier cameras, but there really would be no point, as this tripod cant realistically handle the weight of something that big.
The tripod ships with a carrying bag with shoulder straps. Its a reasonably well made bag, black with a grey panel, and closes with a drawstring. Unfortunately it has MANFROTTO on it in huge white letters.
Whats good about it.
The 714B Digi is a handy size - small enough to be portable, but sturdy and tall enough to actually be useful. The legs are thick enough and solid enough to put the tripod into a very different category from cheap flimsy toy tripods.
Its not quite full height for me - when the three sectioned legs are fully extended I have to bend over to peer into the viewfinder. But if I want to raise the centre section I can get it close enough.
But the main thing is I can fit this tripod in a mid-sized backpack and hide it. Unfortunately I havent found a camera bag that meets the restrictions of European discount airlines that can accommodate it, but there you go.
I like quick-release clamps. I dont like tripods with round knurled rotating leg connectors, as I find them annoyingly time-consuming to tighten and loosen. Id rather flip open a clamp quickly. The clamps can be adjusted at any leg position, so you can accommodate uneven ground that way. The red plastic clip holding in the centre column is also quick and handy.
The mini ballhead is cute if your cameras light enough for it. The reversible centre column could be useful for people doing low-angle macro type shots.
Whats annoying about it.
The tiny ballhead is too small (about a centimetre in diameter) to support the weight of an SLR and large lens (eg: any Canon L lens) in anything other than landscape mode. Youll find it sagging a lot otherwise. If youre using a digital point and shoot or a smaller SLR with a light lens then it may be adequate, but thats about it. For heavier gear youre probably going to have to keep the centre column fully lowered, with the ballhead tucked away, and never shoot in portrait orientation. I usually end up attaching a small Benbo ballhead on top of the Manfrotto tripod and relying on that instead, since the 714Bs head is not removable.
The threaded screw relies on friction to hold onto a camera, not screw pressure. I hate this, but then it doesnt have a quick release plate, so it isnt that surprising.
If you dont know what I mean by this, basically the point on the tripod head which attaches to the camera is a threaded screw and a flat metal disc with rubber base. You thread the screw into the tripod mount on the camera and tighten it by hand. This is generally fine if the cameras in portrait configuration, but if you rotate it 90 degrees to get to portrait mode then the weight of the camera can cause it to come unscrewed from the mounting point.
What works far far better is a flat plate with a separate rotating screw in it. The flat plate does not rotate and the screw does. This holds things much more securely because the screw isnt transmitting rotational force from the tripod - its pressure from the screw thats holding things in, not friction between the tripod plate and the camera base. But this sort of design is really only possible on tripod mounts with a quick-release plate, so I dont blame Manfrotto for this - just to point it out as an issue.
The legs cant be detached in the field, and you cant adjust the angle at which the legs splay out. There is no spirit level. The ballhead is not removable, and the tripod does not come with a hook for hanging stabilizing weights from the bottom of the centre column. (though you could loosen the knob and wrap a string around it and tighten it if you had to) I dont think those are huge issues, since this is a small tripod, but just things to keep in mind.
Whats really really crap about it.
The tripod has a serious design flaw which manifested itself about a year after I bought it. It broke.
Basically the leg clamps have plastic frames or collars around the bottom of each section of leg. Three of the smaller clamp collars split down the middle because of the pressure applied to them by the clamp mechanism. The plastic just isnt thick enough to withstand regular use.
This sucks. The position of the cracks clearly indicates that its internal pressure from the clamps that caused them to break - it wasnt me dropping or abusing the tripod. And I havent been using it in subzero temperatures, which always causes plastic to become more brittle. Basically this is a fundamental design flaw with the tripod.
Since I lost the receipt for it in my transatlantic move I had to pay for replacement parts from Manfrotto, even though its got a 2 year warranty. So a week or so after a phone call to Manfrottos UK parts service and 15 pounds later (approaching a third of the cost of the original tripod) I had the parts needed to fix the thing. Actually, they initially sent me the wrong parts, but to their credit sent me the correct part gratis once I complained.
I then replaced the clip frames. There is a brass pin which needs to be carefully tapped out of the frame using a blunt nail and small hammer, and then the bits fit together fairly easily. Of course, the first frame I installed broke while I was reassembling it - the frame is that fragile, so be careful with the hammer!
I also noticed that a significant part of the design flaw is that the small removable plastic pads under each rotating clip are simply too thick. Manfrotto ship different colour-coded plastic pads, so I substituted the thinner ones when replacing the broken clamps. I also took the preventative measure of shaving down all the other pads in my tripod with a sharp knife in an attempt to prevent this problem from recurring in the future. Oh, and one of the bolts holding the top part of the head together has fallen out and I've lost it. It seems to stay together with just two nuts and bolts, but it's obviously a bit frustrating.
Well. Until it broke I was pretty happy with this thing. Its definitely not the most stable tripod in the world - it cant be. Its too small to provide the sort of rock-solid foundation that you need for certain types of shots. But, having said that, its so small and portable that its allowed me to take a lot of photographs where it might not have been possible to take photos otherwise. Sure, massive tripods are great, but if theyre so big you cant hide or carry them then you might end up with no photo at all.
However, I have to say that I was pretty irritated when it broke, as I do believe its an inherent design fault with the tripod. I dont know if Manfrotto have fixed the issue with later models, but either way - keep your receipt if you buy one! The tripod becomes considerably less cost-effective if you need to repair it.
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