An almost perfect mid-range tripod that’s everything the serious photographer needs: it’s made of top quality materials, and packs in attention to design detail, meaning: sturdy, lightweight and rugged.
A tripod that gets left at home, languishes in the car boot or falls apart in short order is worse than no tripod at all, because it’s a waste of good money that should have been spent on lenses or the glorious full frame cameras we all crave. So the ideal photographic tripod needs to be light, compact, durable and cost effective if at all possible (except for Leica users), which is where Manfrotto’s respected 190 series of tripods comes in.
The 190 series has been around since 1984 and has been tweaked and changed over the years. This evolution is manifested in the current broad range, which includes aluminium and carbon fibre models in different lengths and with various centre columns. There are enough 190 series options to suit most serious photographers, but there are heavier and more secure choices in the considerable Manfrotto stable that are more appropriate for professionals or for studio work.
The 190XPROB is placed more or less in the middle of the 190 series. It’s constructed using aluminium and weighs in at a reasonably light 1.8kg (the equivalent model made of carbon fibre is only half a kilo lighter, so there’s not much in it but the carbon costs a chunk more change). The 190XPROB closes down to 57cm, which gets it into most suitcases for travel, and it extends to a reasonable 146cm in height. That may not sound high enough but add in a tripod head of some sort and the height of the camera itself and you’re getting up there – I’m 1.88m tall and don’t need to hunch over much to use the 190XPROB. Rated load capacity is 5kg.
The fittings are high quality all round and the three section legs lock in place with plastic flip levers. The levers are durable but they have been known to break if they take a really hard knock; in normal use however, they’ll be fine. The stainless steel nuts on the levers are covered with rubber grommets, most of which will eventually go missing, but that’s the sign of a well used tripod and doesn’t affect the operation.
The top of the tripod has a small spirit level to assist in getting the setup perfectly flat, but the 190XPROB’s real party trick is the clever centre column, which can be moved into a horizontal position at the push of a button. With the legs splayed to their considerable maximum angle and the centre column in its horizontal position, the tripod top can be located at a tight 8.5cm distance from the ground, which is handy for macro work. The column can even be set to allow the camera to be mounted upside down if the user insists.
The 190XPROB is stable in use, especially if some extra weight is hung from the small hook on the side – a camera bag for instance. More importantly it’s lightweight enough to lug for long distances, either strapped to a backpack or in one of Manfrotto’s dedicated tripod bags or just plonked over a shoulder, where the padding on two of the legs makes it quite comfortable. Durability isn’t an issue as it seems to ignore the ravages of the elements. It’s survived the depredations of a certain photography magazine editor, which is high praise indeed. Even an impromptu dunking in the ocean and repeated excursions onto windswept West Coast beaches have had no impact on the finish; although I am careful to rinse it off after such abuse.
There are less expensive options out there but the really cheap ones are fragile, wobbly and even nasty. There are also more expensive choices from Manfrotto and other manufacturers, some in very exotic materials, but the 190XPROB is at such a sweet spot in terms of weight, price, durability and functionality that it is very easy to recommend. It also looks cool. Add in a sturdy tripod head that suits your photographic style and you’ll not regret buying one. ASHLEY KRAMER