BeFree Advanced Snap Verdict
It seems like travel tripods have been around forever, but while there have always been tripods suitable for travel, and some labelled as such, the phenomenon of Travel tripods as a category is relatively new.
It was the launch of the original Manfrotto BeFree that popularised the format; small, compact and easy to carry.
The success of the original BeFree is unquestioned, with that same model, albeit with a few small design tweaks, still being on sale.
The Advanced is the BeFree fine-tuned, with several option choices; twist or lever lock, Aluminium or Carbon.
The advanced is a compact package that neatly stashes into the provided shoulder bag and once extended offers enough height to be useful when out on your travels.
Today travel tripod competition is stiff with the Vanguard Veo 265CB, Benro Travel Angel and 3LT Billy all giving the BeeFree a decent run for its money.
Each of these tripods has its benefits and unique features, but as ever the Manfrotto BeFree Advanced is a solid all-rounder and a good benchmark for how travel tripods should be.
When the very first BeFree arrived at my desk a few years ago, I was impressed by the compact form and relative lightweight.
It wasn’t by any means the first time I’ve come across a travel tripod, and for many years I’ve owned a Gitzo Traveler amongst other compact tripods, but this was the first time I’d seen a decent and affordable support.
The principles of the original design have been carried on through to the BeeFree Advanced, and it remains a lightweight travel option.
The BeFree Advanced is the next level BeFree tripod. The legs and height remain much the same as the original BeFree, but certain features have been heavily enhanced.
Firstly there’s an aluminium or carbon version as with the original BeFree, but then you have a choice of either lever or twist locks.
One of the biggest complaints about their original was the small ball head – it worked, but it didn’t take a great deal of load. This has now been addressed with the new head that’s capable of carrying a maximum payload of 8KG, doubling the original.
The new head also features friction control so that you can set the amount of drag on the ball head to your needs and style of shooting.
The leg angle adjusters have also been improved, and these are now discrete pull levers on the side of the legs as opposed to the dial type.
A feature that I like is the addition of the Quick Link port. This has appeared on higher-end tripods for some time but to see it here dramatically extends the use of this tripod.
The Manfrotto BeFree Advanced is available in four versions; Aluminium, Carbon, lever and twist lock.
In this test, I’ve taken a look at the Aluminium twist leg lock.
Being a travel tripod, as you’d expect the tripod packs down small to 40cm.
The legs themselves are four, and as is now common the design sees these legs fold down from around the centre column.
Once folded out and before the legs and column are extended the tripod offers a minimum height of 40cm. Extend the legs, and the height reaches 127cm, and 150cm with the centre column extended as well.
Each leg section is secured by the twist grips which have a good rubber grip for a good purchase in all conditions. Each leg has three angle options of 22º, 54º and 89º.
At the end of each leg is the small rubber foot, these are push fit and can be swapped and changed if they wear out.
On the tripod crown there’s a strap hook, and for me, the most important feature the quick link thread so accessories can be bolted in with the aid of a friction arm.
Topping off the tripod is the 360º panoramic 494 aluminium centre ball head. This is a huge leap forward over the head that appeared on the original BeFree.
As well as the panoramic lock it features a large main ball head knob with a centre dial to adjust the friction.
As with previous generations of the Manfrotto BeFree the head takes Manfrotto’s 200PL Pro plate.
Weight wise the Aluminium version comes in at 1490g and can support a weight of 8Kg. The carbon fibre version also holds 8KG but weighs in at 1250g.
Alongside the tripod you also get a handy tripod bag, this is of exceptional quality for an addition and finishes off the package nicely.
Build quality and handling
The BeFree Advanced has the build quality that you’d expect from a Manfrotto tripod. Everything is nicely finished, and there’s a real feeling of quality about the entire product.
Manfrotto is one of the few manufacturers to offer a 10-year warranty on their products which is always reassuring.
As ever, attention to detail shines through; it’s those small elements that make Manfrotto tripods a pleasure to use when out in the field.
Those details start with the click from the leg angle adjusters as you fold the legs down.
Pulling down on the release lever neatly embedded into the top of the leg releases the leg angle, and then it can be moved between the three angles.
The action is smooth with just enough friction to stop the leg from flapping around once in position.
If over time the leg angles does become loose then they can be tightened with the Allen key supplied.
The twist locks that secure each leg in place feature a rubber grip that supplies plenty of purchase making them easy to use in both cold and wet conditions.
These twist locks alone make the Advanced a good upgrade over the original BeFree.
As with many tripods the BeFree Advanced features a centre column that can be raised to increase the maximum height. Here, surprisingly the large release ring while working perfectly well it doesn’t have the same quality as the rest of the tripod.
Once released the column can be moved up and down, however, the motion is far from smooth. So, unlike other tripods where you can move the centre column up and down with one hand if needed, here two hands are required.
Saying that the centre column does the job, just not as fluidly as you would have thought.
However, what makes this tripod is the redesigned head. This feels far higher quality than the previous generation and is easily able to support a small to medium size DSLR or CSC.
One of the great things about travel tripods is the small size and weight. This means that they can easily be attached to the back of a bag and you don’t have to worry too much about the additional weight or bulk.
The BeFree range of tripods has always been slender and lightweight and the fact that they all arrive in their own carry cases makes them even easier to take with you on your travels.
The Advanced version feels solid and a far more refined offering than the original BeFree. The added payload and quality of the small head is of immediate benefit and well worth the additional 90g in weight.
As with the original, the Advanced arrives in a shoulder bag. This bag is of excellent quality and ideal for carrying the tripod around on your travels.
Arriving at a destination and the tripod is fast to set-up, just flip the legs down from around the centre column, release the twist locks around the legs and extend as needed.
The leg angle adjusters are well placed and make setting the tripod up that much easier as it’s possible to manoeuvre the legs with one hand.
Once the tripod is good and levels, the camera can be attached. Again as this uses the standard Manfrotto baseplate, the 200PL Pro, it’s a simple case of just screwing the plate to the base of your camera or lens.
The head features the usual Manfrotto quick release and lock, so there is no chance of you accidentally releasing the camera.
Panoramic rotation is locked and released with one small knob.
The main knob to release the ball head is much larger than the pano knob, so there’s no chance of mixing the two up, even in low light conditions.
What I like about this ball head was the friction control. This means that you can make the motion relatively stiff or loose just by using the dial in the centre of the ball head knob.
Once you set the friction control using the inner dial the outer part of the knob can be used to lock the head in place.
By using the ball heading this way, it’s far less likely that the camera will suddenly drop accidentally as you release the head.
The ball head worked fantastically well through the test holding a Sony Alpha 7M3 70 -200 mm fitted.
The compact BeFree Travel tripods have really led the field since launch and have helped define the genre.
Manfrotto’s BeFree Advanced is a significant update from the original. Three enhancements to the design establish the advanced as one of the best travel tripods on the market.
Twist locks and ergonomic leg angle adjusters make set-up quick and easy in all conditions, with excellent design and build quality.
The head is the real winner and a huge upgrade compared with the one that features on the original BeFree. It holds double the weight and locks down tight.
The one design element that lets the tripod down is the collar that releases and locks the centre column. This is made from plastic and the movement when extending the column up or down is by no means smooth and in total contrast to the rest of the tripod.
However, the centre column is just one small part of an excellent travel tripod, and the addition of features such as the accessories port make this a natural choice for anyone looking for a travel companion or for that matter a compact tripod that can be taken anywhere.