These days if you’re looking for a tripod there’s a wealth of choice out there, especially when you look online at all of those cheap imports.
These cheap tripods all seem well and good; they’re simple yet functional. However, you can never be sure of exactly what you’ll get. Even if you know someone who has bought a decent one, and you purchase the same model, there’s no guarantee that the build quality will be consistent.
Despite this, these cheap imports are hugely popular.
It is, therefore, no surprise that one of the most significant names in the industry would want to do something about the rise of these no frills but functional tripods.
Manfrotto’s answer is the Element range (think ‘Tesco Value’ but for camera supports), and it aims to provide the photographer with a good quality product at an affordable price.
Off the shelf and boxed-up, the Manfrotto Element Traveler Kit Small looks the part and arrives in the usual high-quality Manfrotto packaging.
Opening it up, you find the Element tripod encased in a very nice, slightly padded shoulder bag.
First impressions of this all-metal tripod are good. The three-leg are folded around the centre column ensuring that it packs down small to just 32cm.
Fully unfolded that height reaches a perfectly adequate maximum of 134 cm.
In the test, I have the aluminium version, but there is a carbon version out there as well for an additional cost. As a travel tripod, it’s not a bad weight either at 1.2 kg: not overly light or heavy for its size – just average.
The aesthetics of the tripod along with the build quality are good with the main construction being full metal. The joints and fittings all feel good and tight, so it does feel one up on the usual cheap tripods.
Taking a look from the top down, the head features an ARCA Swiss style plate rather than the usual proprietary Manfrotto type. This is a great move at this price and gives greater flexibility and compatibility with other accessories.
The head’s finish is pleasant enough if basic, and there’s a good rubber grip around each of the three securing knobs (base plate, ball head, panoramic rotation) making it easy to use.
The base plate is well finished with four little rubber pads to ensure that once bolted to the bottom of your camera it will stay put.
A nice touch is the bubble level that will ensure that your base is level. Here it feels like a slight extravagance on what is otherwise a very basic tripod.
Another nice feature is the marked panoramic scale and ability to rotate the head.
As this is a kit, the head is removable, so if you did want to add a different head to the legs, then that’s entirely possible.
The securing knob for both the panoramic rotation and ball head show that this tripod is at the budget end.
The thread of the screw is visible, and there isn’t the usual finesse of finish that you come to expect from Manfrotto.
Down to the centre column and just below the head we have a twist lock that enables you to extend (effectively double), the length of the centre column.
Unlike many other tripods this centre column is fixed to the crown so sits up proudly, and there is no way to drop it down. On the base of the centre column, there is a hook to add a bag just in case you need a little extra weight
If you’re thinking about taking any low angle shots, then this isn’t going to be the tripod for you.
The crown is slim, simple and nicely finished, but as mentioned there’s no way to drop that centre column.
Each of the legs features an angle adjuster, and these have a spring loaded feel to them with three different angle options.
The legs are 5 section, which enables the tripod to pack down small.
Each of the sections is secured by a twist lock, these have a nice action and lock and release the legs tight. The rubber on the locks does feel a little cheap, but it’s more than adequate for the job.
At the base of each of the legs is a small rubber foot and here it’s nice to see that the feet can be unscrewed and replaced when they wear out.
Our version of the Element came in black, but there’s also a red, blue and grey version available as well.
There is nothing fancy about the Element apart from saying that it is nicely finished. It doesn’t have the design flair that you normally get with Manfrotto products, but then it doesn’t have that price tag either. The big question is: is it up to the job?
After a couple of days of light use just to get familiar with the tripod and its functionality I started to have a little more faith in its abilities.
In use, the full metal construction does give it a nice solid feel, and once I got used to the fact that I couldn’t drop that centre column, I started to like the overall simplicity.
First and foremost was the choice of an ARCA Swiss style base plate, this meant that I could swap between tripods with relative ease and more importantly without having to swap over base plates between cameras.
The ball head didn’t have the smoothness that I’m used to with other Manfrotto heads, but once locked it did lock securely and held the camera in position.
Likewise, the panoramic knob released and locked the panoramic rotation easily.
The quality of the rubber used for the knob grips on the head makes it feel like a premium product which is in stark contrast to the rubber used for the twist locks.
That premium feel starts to fall away as you see the simple screws from the knobs sticking into the head rather than the usual product designed mechanisms that we have come to expect from Manfrotto.
The overall height of the tripod is more than enough for a person of average height and perfect for out and about photography trips.
The 4 kg maximum weight limit also gives you a good amount of flexibility with your choice of camera and lens.
I tried the Manfrotto Element Small with a Canon 5D Mark II, and Canon 100 to 400mm lens attached, quite a weight combination. The tripod coped well, holding that lens and camera in position securely.
I did, however, feel a little bit wary about walking away from the tripod with that centre column set to the maximum height especially with all that weight placed on top. However, I’m sure that it would be okay, just not something that I would wish to risk.
During testing the weather was freezing, and the aluminium legs don’t have any rubber grip to make carrying the tripod more comfortable. However, it does come with a good quality lightweight shoulder bag.
Setting up the tripod with those twist locks and spring loaded angle selectors is a quick process. The legs selectors do have a little more play than I would usually be happy with, but again they do the job.
Likewise, the leg locks are basic, just give them a good firm twist to ensure that they’re locked tight.
The replaceable feet are a great feature and screw directly into the base of the leg – again absolutely no frills, just functional.
When it comes to the Manfrotto Element Travel Kit Small, you can see what the company is trying to do; produce a simple, affordable tripod that just does the job.
To that end, the Element Travel Kit Small certainly fits the bill. It is simple, it has a basic feature set, and the overall quality is very good.
The tripod is finished very nicely, and the inclusion of the bag is a nice touch, but what it lacks is the finesse in design and detail that I expect from Manfrotto.
There’s no hiding the basic screw threads that are used to tighten the ball-head, the rubber used for the twist lock grips feels a bit cheap, and the leg angle locks have more play than I would be happy with if this were a premium product.
In use the tripod works perfectly well, although I’m not keen on the fixed centre column as I don’t like to use centre columns to increase height. That said, it does all seem to work perfectly well.
I do like the fact that you can change the feet on the legs so if you are shooting off the road you can swap the rubber feet for spikes or a wider foot depending on the terrain.
I also really like the fact that Manfrotto has chosen an ARCA Swiss style base plate. This just makes it very easy to use and ensures maximum compatibility with other tripods and tripod accessories.
The Element is small, compact and perfectly formed, but at £109 it does seem a little bit expensive. No doubt part of that cost is for the Manfrotto brand. However, a quick search around and I see PC World Currys sells it for £79 which is a great price.
The Manfrotto Element Traveller Small is a perfectly good tripod and should appeal people just getting into photography. The Manfrotto brand is well trusted, and you get the benefit of the 5-year limited warranty which you just don’t get with other cheap tripods.
For more information on the Manfrotto Elements range, check out Manfrotto.co.uk
Should I buy the Manfrotto Element Traveller Small?
The Manfrotto Element Traveller Small is a perfect tripod for anyone just getting into photography. It’s small size, and weight makes it a great support to take with you on a day out.
I would say that if you’re going to go travelling or you’re embarking on a photography course or something a little more serious, then I would look at paying more for something like the BeFree Advanced.
Score 3/5 / 70%