Pros: compact, relatively light weight, sturdy, neoprene padding, pan head included
Cons: too short for tall users, somewhat flimsy at max. height, no case, one-piece center column
Despite all advances in both film and digital photography, light is still one of the most important factors for picture quality. As a rule of thumb, light needs to be enough to allow for shutter times less than the reverse of the focal length. (f=300mm -> t=1/300sec or less) Often we're not that lucky and camera movement translates into blurred images. That may be less critical with today's popular optical image stabilization, but is still a common "problem".
Tripods are an easy solution as old as photography itself. While evolving over time they're still not much more than three legs (hence the name) that can be folded up for transport and provide a stable base to mount your camera. What is changing is the material and little details to make setup quicker and use easier. A large number of tripods are destined to travel and that's where weight and size matter. But enough of the pseudo-historic babble...
SLIK Pro 340DX
The SLIK deploys A.M.T. (Aluminium Magnesium Titanium Alloy) in its mid-level "Pro" series to reduce weight and maintain stiffness. The 340DX largely succeeds and individual leg adjustment also guarantees to work in less level terrain. (Cross bars as seen in the U-series don't work outside the studio.) Each leg can be extended from 400 mm (16") to 1150 mm (45") and set in one of 3 angles. The latter is achieved via a bracket that allows quick setting of the allowable angle. However, in the most compact setup only the steepest setting is usable or else the center column will interfere. To grow taller, the center column can be extended another 310 mm (14"), though stability is somewhat reduced at maximum. (Test shots did not show any influence in calm conditions.) The leg tips are rubber feet, and no metal spikes are available to secure it in softer terrain. The quick release leg clamps are easy to use and fairly standard in the industry.
The maximum height of 1140 mm (camera mounting surface) is certainly a little short for portrait photography, unless shots up somebody's nostrils is what you're after. The center column raises the maximum to 1450 mm with the limitation of slightly reduced stability. That height is certainly a little better for both ergonomics and mentioned application, but still not perfect. On the other hand, landscape photography and most cases where you're not bound to up-close adults are just fine. (This is really the case for me, and relative to portability I prefer the 340DX over the larger models in the series. It fits my Rover AW II backpack just fine.)
The center column is relatively long and hard to remove for low profile setup (i.e. macro photography). A shorter column is optional, though I probably would have preferred to have a two-piece design that eliminates the need to carry a separate column. Folded up, the 340DX is only 500 mm (19.5") long and fits in a 90 mm diameter cylinder. A case is not included.
The included SH-705E pan&tilt head is very compact and allows adjustment in pitch, yaw and roll. This is basically all you would need, but compared to a ball head, the range of motion is biased to one side. The included handle stores nicely by disassembling one handle and screw it into the one that folds down (to line up with the legs). Setup is relatively quick that way too. The best feature might be the quick release which sports an adapter plate that's fastened to the camera and then clips into the head for quick assembly and release when needed (i.e. during transport or hand-held shots). The claimed loaded capacity varies depending on which source you're trusting. Whether 11 lb or 8 lb, my EOS 20D with my heaviest lens (70-300mm) and mounted flash (420 EX) are well within the capabilities and don't overpower the clamps. It seems there is plenty room for more weight. Adjustment is smooth, but can be a test of patience when the minute change in composition during locking the head down is unwanted.
Overall stability is very good with the center column retracted and two of the three leg segments extended. It naturally gets a little flimsier when extending the third segments since they're the thinnest x-section. The center column has a similar effect by raising the weight center without increasing the base width. This is fairly common and nothing a mirror lockup and timed release in the camera could resolve. (Exception: windy conditions)
What seems to be a natural application for dSLR cameras is actually quite beneficial for compact cameras like the SD800 as well. Reduced light sensitivity and increased noise at higher ISO really begs for enabling a lower ISO by using a tripod. Of course the added bulk of a tripod may negate the advantages of carrying a compact in the first place.
The included manual fits the purpose, but the company's website (www.slik.com) is way below average. (If the amateur design doesn't give it away ...) Looking for product information of the 340DX? Good luck! ... Need accessory information like the shorter center column? Are you serious? ... Want to download the catalog? .... You get the idea. Not so slick after all! ;-)
© 2007, theuerkorn
- Lowepro Rover AW II backpack
- Canon EOS 20D dslr body
- Canon EF70-300 IS DO lens
- Canon EF-S60 lens
- Canon EF-S17-85 IS lens
- Canon Speedlite 420EX external flash
- Canon TC80N3 remote / timer
- Canon Powershot SD800 IS compact camera