There comes a time in every photographer’s life when they need to buy a tripod. Sadly, many people screw this up and buy the cheapest one they can find, only to have it break within a year or two, having done more harm than good to their photography. About 15 years ago I made this mistake myself by buying one of those cheap SLIK tripods.
After that comes another time in a photographer’s life where they decide to buy a “proper” tripod, one that will last them for the rest of their life, and it’s during this second search that many people come across the made-in-the-USA tripods from Really Right Stuff. In this guide I will share a decade’s worth of experience using a wide range of their tripods, to help you make the right decision.
I have been using RRS tripods for over a decade now, and in that time I have used all manner of different sizes and capacities. As my work and photographic interests have changed, so have my camera support requirements, but the constant throughout that change has always been an RRS tripod under my camera. Their logical and wide range of different tripods has always offered up the perfect solution.
RRS are known for their beautiful designs and faultless machining. Everything that comes out of the factory looks like a work of art, as much as that is possible with a tripod at least. But RRS products don’t just have a pretty face, they offer performance to back that up. Some people will baulk at the price of these tripods, but I can tell you that once you use one, you understand immediately that they are expensive for a reason.
I have tried many tripods over the years, and while some of them might get the job done from a stability point of view, I have never found another brand that makes a tripod that just gets everything so right. Every joint is buttery smooth, every leg lock is silky smooth and every piece of machining is always perfectly formed and anodized. It’s the old supercar analogy: A Porsche and a Ford are both cars that can drive you to the supermarket, but one of them is simply going to feel better and do it in more style.
In short, I believe, as do many others, that they are the best tripods on the market. But you will pay for the privilege of owning and using one.
A Guide Is Needed
As with anything expensive that has so many options, the decision over which RRS tripod to choose can be an agonizing one. Over the years I have owned RRS 1-series, 2-series and 3-series tripods, carbon ones, aluminium ones, ones with centre columns and ones without, ones with removable apexes and ones with fixed apexes, Mk1 and Mk2 versions, even ones classed as “Short” versions and ones classed as “Long” versions. With those tripods I have paired them with just about every RRS tripod head they have ever made, from the BH-25 up to the BH-55 and various versions of their gimbals.
Some, like my partner Kait, might call this “a problem”. But I’m just going to call it research, and now you can all benefit from a decade of in-field testing.
Disclaimer: All of my RRS tripods were purchased at full price just like a regular customer. I am a contributor to Really Right Stuff’s seasonal magazine, Light and Shadow, and in the past, I have been a pre-production product tester, but I’m under no obligation to gush nice things about all of their products. In fact, they don’t even know I’m writing this guide. My priority here is to help you make the best decision.
Really Right Stuff Tripod Nomenclature
RRS has a simple alphanumerical system to construct the product names for their wide range of tripods. Once you see it explained below, you’ll be able to understand the spec sheets and details in this guide much better.
Example tripod name (seen in the photo above): Really Right Stuff TFC-14
- Example 1: TVC-23
This is a 2-series Carbon tripod with a Versa apex and 3 leg sections.
- Example 2: TVC-32G
This is a 3-series carbon tripod with a Versa apex and 2 leg sections. It is a Ground pod, designed for low-level usage.
- Example 3: TFC-24L
This is a 2-series carbon tripod with a fixed apex and 4 leg sections. The L designation means it’s the Long variation, so all of the leg sections are slightly longer than the regular version of the TFC-24, thus making it taller when extended to maximum height.
- Example 4 – TFA-32G
This is a 3-series aluminium tripod with a fixed apex and 2 leg sections. It’s also a Ground pod, designed for low-level usage.
- Example 5 – Ascend-14 L BH
This is a 1-series tripod with 4 leg sections. It’s part of the Ascend series, in the long variation, and it also has a built-in ball head.
Really Right Stuff Tripod Specifications
Now that you understand the naming scheme for the tripods, this table compares the important specifications of maximum and minimum height, folded length and diameter, as well as capacity and price. As you study the specs, you’ll start to notice a few correlations between the tripod designs and the resulting specifications.
For example, fixed apex versions of a tripod are slightly lighter, and their folded diameter is smaller. A larger number of leg sections decreases the folded length of a tripod to make it more packable, but it also slightly decreases the maximum capacity and increases the price. Long and Short variations of tripods have different folded lengths, and also slightly differing capacities.
NOTE: You can sort the columns yourself if you want to, for example, to find the lightest tripod, the cheapest or the tallest. Mobile users, please scroll right to see the rest of the table.
The Five Factors In Choosing an RRS Tripod
If you have studied the tripod specifications and the RRS tripod naming scheme you might have picked up on five different factors that define the features, and therefore the suitable purpose of RRS tripods. Some of these make a big difference and some of them make a smaller difference, but they are all worth discussing. They are as follows:
- Mk1 or Mk2 tripod
- TVC or TFC version of tripod
- Tripod series: 1, 2, 3 or 4
- Height variation: S, L or G
- Number of leg sections
In the next part of this guide, I will discuss each of these factors in turn, and compare the variations where appropriate.
Mk1 Vs. Mk2 RRS Tripods
In 2019 RRS updated all carbon tripods to Mk2 versions and now you will only find the Mk2 variants for sale online. However, I’m going to briefly discuss the differences between the two versions because there are quite a large number of the Mk1 tripods for sale on the second-hand market, and there are probably Mk1 owners who are wondering if they should upgrade to Mk2 versions. If you plan to buy something new you can skip over this part if you’re in a hurry, although personally, I would also appreciate knowing how these tripods have recently been improved.
The main improvement on the Mk2 version is the leg locks. In fact, a slightly different look to the new leg locks is the only visual clue that a tripod is part of the new Mk2 lineup. In the words of RRS themselves:
The new sealed twist-lock minimizes the number of contaminants, such as sand and grit, that gets caught inside the twist locks. In addition to improving the feel and operation of the twist locks, the seals extend their life. This new feature is also important in sub-freezing environments, preventing moisture from entering the assembly and freezing, which inhibits the user from either extending or collapsing the legs.
Mark 2 tripods use a 360-degree collet and wiper shield that can be easily removed from the twist locks for cleaning. If you do need to clean out the twist-locks in the field, the process just got a lot easier. Gone are the days of difficult to remove and reinstall split gibs, maintenance is now a breeze!
We designed a discrete air vent to port air out just under our pull-tabs towards the centre of the tripod. These air vents prevent pressure gradients from building up, allowing smoother leg extraction and collapse. The inward-facing vents also ensure airflow is directed towards the center of the tripod and away from mounted lens elements. Positioned at the top and inside of each leg, the air vents are also less likely to allow water or other debris enter the leg assembly.
And that’s really all there is to the update. Although these are welcome improvements, I would say that there is no need for anyone to upgrade their Mk1 tripod to an Mk2 tripod just to get these new leg locks. I would also say that if you find a good deal on a second-hand Mk1 tripod, go right ahead and buy with confidence! It’s still a great tripod. I have owned both types of tripods and really don’t notice a huge difference, aside from a slight improvement in the smoothness of the leg lock motion on the Mk2, and legs that slide in and out with a little less effort due to the vented clevis.
TFC Vs TVC Tripods – How To Choose
Every 2-Series and 3-Series tripod, with two exceptions, comes in two variations: TFC and TVC. The two exceptions are the Ground Pods. The TVC-32G doesn’t have a TFC version, and the TFA-32G doesn’t have a TVC version. As they are both 3-Series Ground Pods, albeit, with slightly different designs, they are themselves considered to be the TV/TF pair that you would choose from.
4-Series tripods are only available as TVC versions. 1-Series tripods are available in either a TFC or a TQC version. Since that is unique to the 1-Series, I will discuss that particular difference in the section below that specifically discusses the 1-Series tripods.
To understand the difference between these two versions (TVC/TFC) you need to know that in the Really Right Stuff tripod language, the apex of a tripod is the part of the tripod where all three legs meet at the top. Some might call this the top plate, but RRS refer to it as the apex.
A TFC tripod has a fixed apex. All legs are joined to a machined aluminium section that has a stud on it for attaching your tripod head. On TFC tripods, the stud is reversible and removable. That means you can have either a 1/4″20 stud or a 3/8″16 stud on the top of the tripod. You can also remove it entirely to leave a 1/4″20 threaded hole which can be used with the BC-18 Microball or the BPC-16 Panning Microball.
All TFC tripods also have a hand strap that hangs down beneath the apex. This can be used to apply downward pressure while shooting, to increase tripod stability in windy conditions.
A TVC tripod has what RRS call a Versa apex. I like to think of it as being short for Versatile, although I don’t know if that was RRS’ original intention. With Versa tripods, a hex key can loosen the top plate of the tripod and remove it, leaving you the ability to switch in different Versa accessories.
2-Series Versa Accessories
- Leveling head
- Quick Column
3-Series Versa Accessories
- Leveling Head
- Quick Column
- Video Bowl
4-Series Versa Accessories
- Leveling Head
- Video Bowl
Which one is right for you?
To accommodate the Versa accessories, the apex of a TVC tripod is wider and therefore heavier than the apex of an equivalent TFC tripod. As you can see in the comparison photos, this has a considerable effect on the folded diameter of the tripod. Consulting the table of specifications, you’ll also notice that it affects the tripod weight, with TFC tripods being lighter than their TVC counterparts.
If you are sure that you do not need to use any of the Versa accessories, there is really no point in buying the TVC version of the tripod. You might as well go for the TFC version and save a little weight and space. As far as I’m concerned, the decision doesn’t have to be any harder than that.
One thing that is worth knowing, and might ease your buyer’s anxiety, is that RRS will sell you the parts to convert one type of tripod to the other if you realize you either bought the wrong type or happen to own a TVC tripod from the days when TFC tripods did not yet exist (TFC was only introduced in about 2019). The legs are all the same, so the conversion kits simply consist of a new apex and the required bushings and screws to attach your existing legs. There is also a conversion kit to change a 1-Series TFC-14 into a TQC-14 with a Quick Column.
The following video is from the RRS Youtube channel. If you feel like my photo comparisons between TFC and TVC weren’t quite enough for you to get this straight, the video will certainly clear things up.
As we know from the nomenclature section, some of the RRS tripods have size variations labelled L, S or G for Long, Short or Ground.
Let’s start with Ground Pods. These are extremely short, designed for specialized situations where you want your camera to be just a few inches off the ground. You would not purchase a ground pod such as the TVC-32G as your only tripod, but they are a useful addition to your kit if you often find yourself low to the ground for wildlife photography or macro work. The TVC-32G and TFA-32G are most suitable for stills photography work, while the 4-Series TVC-42G is more suited to low-level cinematography where a 100mm video bowl is needed to level a fluid cinema head.
Note that for low-level photography in sandy and muddy places, the TFA-32G is a clear choice. It is designed to be easy to dismantle and clean under running water by simply using aluminium friction locks on the legs. The TFC-32G on the other hand uses the regular greased, rotating leg locks that should be kept away (as much as possible) from sand, mud and grit.
L and S versions of the tripods are fairly self-explanatory. They are simply smaller and larger versions of a particular series’ base model, delivering either a taller or shorter maximum extended height. For example, the TVC-33S is in every way the same as the TVC-33, apart from the fact that each leg is a little shorter. The result is that the folded length is slightly shorter, as is the maximum height. But things like the size of the apex and thickness of the leg sections are identical.
The same goes for the TVC-24 and the TVC-24L. Identical in all ways, apart from the length of their leg sections. With the TVC-24L model having a larger maximum height, at the expense of a slightly longer collapsed length.
How Tall Should Your Tripod Be?
So now you know that G versions of tripods are specialist pieces of kit that might be purchased as a second tripod for some situations. But when looking to buy your main tripod, once you have determined the capacity you need, you also need to decide between the regular version, the S version and the L version.
When I first made this choice ten years ago, I got it wrong. My first RRS tripod was the TVC-33S. I thought I needed the capacity of a 3-Series tripod, but I wanted to save a little weight so I went with the Short S version to do that. After a while, I regretted that decision because my camera was always too low, and constantly bending down in the field was frustrating. For reference, I’m 5ft 9, so I’m not that tall, but I still found the 33S to be too short and I ended up selling it.
The key thing is that at maximum extension, you need your camera to be at eye level at the absolute minimum. But what many people don’t consider is the huge effect that working on a slope will have on the height of your tripod.
To demonstrate this, take a look at the photo above. Looking closely you will see that the front downhill leg has one more entire leg section extended than the rear two legs to get it level. Working on even a moderate slope will lose you a huge amount of your tripod’s maximum height, and the result is that if you bought a tripod whose maximum height theoretically puts your camera at eye level, much of the time in the field you will find that it’s still too low if you’re on uneven ground.
If you work mainly in a studio or buildings for architectural photography, this probably isn’t a problem for you. Working on flat ground you can safely buy a tripod that simply puts the camera at eye level when all legs are extended. But if you are a landscape or wildlife photographer often working on uneven ground, I’d urge you to consider buying a tripod that will, according to the max height dimensions, put your camera at least 6-8 inches above your eye level. That way when you are in the field and have to extend a downhill leg as I did in the above photo, you’ll still be able to get that camera back to your eye level.
The result of this is that personally, I prefer the L models of the tripods for nature and wildlife photography, even though I am average in height for a man.
Number of Leg Sections
RRS tripods have either 1 (tabletop tripods only), 2, 3, 4 or 5 leg sections. Increasing the number of leg sections allows you to shorten the collapsed length of the tripod whilst still maintaining a roughly similar maximum height. However, it does come at the expense of some stability because the more leg sections you have, the smaller the diameter of the lowest leg section will be.
Take the TVC-23 and TVC-24 as an example. The latter has 4 leg sections so its collapsed length is shorter (49cm vs 61cm) which makes it a little easier to travel with. However, it’s also a little shorter in its maximum height, and there’s more chance that strong winds or heavy loads could cause some instability due to the thinner lower leg.
Choosing a tripod is about balancing a whole bunch of different compromises, which is why there are so many variations in the RRS lineup. It’s a bit of a headache to make a choice, but I promise that the right choice for you is in there once you figure out your own priorities.
Inverted Tripod Type For SOAR
As part of Really Right Stuff’s SOAR lineup (Sport Optics and Rifles), they also introduced their first inverted tripod, called the TVC-22i. This is a 2-series tripod with two leg sections constructed in an inverted manner. What this means is that the lower leg section is actually thicker than the upper leg section. With a regular tripod, the lowest leg section is the thinnest.
The main benefits of this tripod are for competition rifle sports, which is why you won’t even find this tripod listed on the RRS photography website. It only has a single leg lock on each leg, and the inverted design means the locks are up at the top when closed, which makes it fast and easy to grab when you need to deploy the legs at speed during rifle competitions. The other benefit is that when the legs are extended, the single-leg lock is in the middle of the legs, meaning there is never a leg lock down low in the mud. The simpler design, with fewer leg locks and fewer leg pieces, also means it’s one of the cheapest RRS carbon tripods. That said, it has significant disadvantages for photographers. It doesn’t collapse very much at all, so it would be a huge pain to carry around. Also if you are trying to get a low angle, the huge legs would often be in the shot when using wide-angle lenses.
In short, this is a specialist item, and there’s a good reason why it’s not even listed on the photo site. Leave this one to the rifles.
Choosing The Right Tripod Series
Now that we have examined the difference between the TFC and TVC tripod, the differences between the Mk1 and Mk2 tripods and the various size differences, it’s time to talk about the different tripod series: 1, 2, 3 and 4.
The difference between the tripod series is the diameter of the uppermost leg section. These differences in diameter create differing capacities, although the capacity is also affected by the height of the tripod so not all tripods from a singular series have the same capacity, although they do all have the same diameter of the top leg.
1-Series tripods are the smallest and lightest tripods with the lowest capacities, up to 50lbs, while 4-Series tripods are the largest and heaviest with the highest capacity. 100lbs in the case of the TVC-45.
As I mentioned, the series doesn’t entirely define the capacity. It’s also affected by the maximum height. Make sure you look at the specifications table to get the complete picture as there is some capacity crossover between the different series.
RRS 1-Series Tripods
The 1-Series tripods are the best compact tripods on the market. They are small and light, yet they are easily able to hold a 50lb load which is more than any camera setup I’ve ever seen. Despite being the smallest in the lineup, I wouldn’t hesitate to use an RRS 1-Series tripod for professional landscape and travel photography with wide-angle lenses and medium zooms such as 24-70mm. Occasional use with a longer lens is acceptable if it isn’t too windy. I regularly got great images using a Canon 100-400 on mine, as long as I used best practices such as cable release and mirror lockup on calm weather days.
If I’m hiking, or travelling a lot, this is the tripod that I choose most often, specifically the TFC-14 version. I used to use the TQC-14 version with the centre column, but I found that the instability introduced by extending the column meant that I often didn’t use it. If you don’t think you will use it, you might as well get the TFC-14 version which has the added virtue of a removable 3/8′ 16 stud. Once the stud is removed, you can use the BC-18 Microball, or the BPC-16 as shown in the photo above. In my mind, this combination creates the best weight to capacity ratio of any tripod on the market right now.
I will add that I probably would not own a 1-Series tripod as my only tripod because they are a little shorter than the higher series tripods. I’m lucky enough to have multiple tripods so this isn’t too much of an issue for me. If I was just buying one tripod and I did a lot of hiking and travelling, I would opt for the 2-Series instead. You get a little more height for not much more weight, especially if you opt for the lighter TFC versions.
The Ascend-14 Series
The Ascend-14 Series of tripods is the latest design from Really Right Stuff. Although the folded diameter of the Ascend tripods is the same as the TFC-14 tripod, the Ascend-14 manages to fit a quick column in between the folded legs by using a clever scalloped design. This lever-locked column can be inverted for ground-level shooting, or shortened to save some weight. The Ascend-14 tripod is available in four different versions:
- Ascend-14 BH
- Ascend-14 PL
- Ascend-14L BH
- Ascend-14L PL
The BH versions of the Ascend-14 come with a built-in head. With its inverted design, this head is very similar to the RRS BPC-16 head. The PL versions of the tripod have a regular platform on them with a 3/8 16″ stud. The platform on the PL versions has the same diameter as the platforms on the other 1-series tripods, so it is sized to perfectly match the RRS BH-30 ball head.
The Ascend-14L versions are a little bit taller than the non-L versions. With the L versions maintaining the same 4-section design, their folded length is a little longer. The regular version has a folded length of 17.1″ (43cm) with no head, while the L version has a folded length of 19.6″ (50 cm). Once the tripods are fully extended with their quick columns raised, the regular version tops out at a maximum height of 58.2″ (148cm) for the no-head PL version. The L version has a maximum version of 66.6″ (169 cm) without the head.
The Quick Column on all Ascend tripods adds 10.1″ (26cm) to the height of the tripod. All of the Max Height measurements in the tripod data table include the column height, so if you want to know how tall the Ascent tripods can go without raising the Quick Column, you’ll have to deduct 10.1″ from the specified max height. What we can see from that, is that the L version of the Ascend-14, with its Quick Column lowered, is only 2 inches shorter than the regular Ascent-14 with its column raised. If you tend to shy away from using tripod centre columns, the L version of the Ascend-14 might be the one for you. This is the one I chose for myself.
What If You Want The Platform and the Built-In Head? (Cheapest Way)
As we established, you can choose to buy the tripod either with a flat platform on top, or the built-in head. But what if you want both? You can purchase either the flat platform or the built-in head separately from RRS. Due to their design, they come with the centre column attached.
This is good and bad news. The good news is that it makes swapping them over, the job of mere seconds. You can keep a ball head on the flat platform, say a BH-30 or BH-40, and they swap that whole thing in to replace the built-in head when you don’t need to travel as light. The downside is that including the centre column makes this optional purchase a rather large one. The column with the flat platform is $230, while the column with the built-in head is a whopping $590!
If you want both, the cheapest way to do it is to buy the tripod with the built-in head. Then purchase the spare centre column with the flat platform (Part # Ascend-14-PFQC) as an additional purchase. For some reason, this works out as $55 cheaper than doing things the other way around. Don’t say I never help you guys!
Ascend-14 Vs TFC-14 / TVC-14
The Ascend-14 tripods are priced much higher than the other 1-Series tripods such as the TFC-14. If you do not need the fancy quick column in the Ascend series, you can save a lot of money by opting for the TFC-14 instead. It should also be noted that the load rating of the TFC-14 is 50lbs, while all the Ascend-14 tripods have a load rating of only 30lbs. The TFC-14 has the same folded diameter as the Ascend-14, and it also weighs about half a pound less when comparing to the Ascend-14 PF that doesn’t have the built-in head. So, yes, the Ascend-14 has a fancy column with a lever release. But does that justify the huge price difference? I can still see many people opting for the TFC-14.
Compared to the Peak Design Travel Tripod
I’m not going to do a huge amount of cross-brand comparisons in this guide, but I know from previous articles that mention the RRS 1-Series tripods, many people seem to be curious about how it compares to the Peak Design Travel Tripod. I guess this isn’t much of a surprise given the huge amount of press that the Peak Design tripod received while it was on its way to raising over $12 million on Kickstarter. Both the PD tripod and the 1-Series RRS tripods are considered to be high-end carbon travel tripods that really prioritize small size, and both can be equipped with a similar style of the inverted ball head.
I was lucky enough to have a pre-production Peak Design Travel Tripod with me for a 3000-mile road trip to the Arctic Ocean the year before it launched for public sale. This gave me plenty of time to evaluate it and compare it to my RRS tripods. I’ll keep this brief: The 1-Series RRS tripods, TFC-14 and TQC-14 are more stable than the Peak Design Travel Tripod. This is primarily because the lowest leg section on the PD tripod is incredibly thin and easily flexes in even moderate wind. In terms of size and packability, it’s pretty much a draw. The RRS tripods are slightly lighter, but the Peak Design tripod is slightly shorter and slightly thinner in packed diameter. In practice, the size difference when attached to the side of your bag is negligible.
Overall I would consider the RRS 1-Series tripods to be superior to the Peak Design Travel Tripod, but when comparing the prices you would certainly hope this to be the case. The carbon version of the PD tripod is $599.95 where the RRS TFC-14 is $835.
If money is less of an object to you, the RRS 1-Series is the better tripod, but the Peak Design tripod is probably the second-best carbon travel tripod on the market, and it’s an awful lot cheaper. Don’t even think about comparing the PD Travel Tripod to any of the 2-Series or 3-Series RRS tripods, though. They simply aren’t in the same league in terms of stability. If you want to know more, you might also like to read my in-depth review of the Peak Design Travel Tripod.
RRS 2-Series Tripods
The 2-Series tripods are the true all-rounders of the RRS tripod lineup. They have the capacity to be used with just about any lens and camera you can think of, and there is a full range of size options to suit different requirements for travel or photographer height.
I know RRS recommend the 3-Series tripods for super-telephoto lenses, but I have been using a 2-Series tripod with their PG-02 gimbal for my wildlife work for many years, and I appreciate the perfect combination of travel-friendly weight and huge 85lb capacity. If I only did wildlife work then I probably would have opted for the 3-Series, but my work is fairly varied and I wanted a tripod that could cope with both long lens wildlife work, and big multi-day landscape photography hikes.
As I said, the 2-Series is the perfect all-rounder. A tripod you can buy, and be certain that it’ll always work for you, no matter how your photography changes. My preferred tripod out of the 2-Series lineup, in fact out of the entire RRS lineup is the TFC-24L. If I could only own one tripod, that would be the one. You get the huge maximum height, but a compact package by the TFC-style apex.
2-Series tripods are designed to pair perfectly with the BH-40 ball head, although again there are no hard and fast rules here. I use mine with the larger BH-55 because I prefer the larger locking knobs for cold weather work when wearing gloves. You could just as easily pair it with the smaller BH-30 as well if you wanted to save a little weight.
RRS 3-Series Tripods
The 3-Series tripods offer the kind of stability that is recommended for long-term usage of super-telephoto lenses, and the damping that is necessary for critical sharpness with high megapixel medium format cameras. If I had something like a Fujifilm GFX-100, I’d be using a 3-Series tripod.
The higher the resolution of your camera, the easier it is for micro-vibrations to show up in your images as a lack of sharpness. While many people fixate on tripod weight capacity, they often forget to factor in the resolution of their cameras. As we again seem to be entering into a megapixel war with the Canon and Sony high megapixel mirrorless cameras, this will become something which people need to pay attention to.
RRS 4-Series Tripods
I have rarely seen 4-Series tripods used by stills photographers unless it is in a studio or as an additional tripod that is simply kept in the trunk of their car. These are big, heavy tripods that do not lend themselves to travel or even hand carrying very far. However, the optional 100mm video bowl does mean that they are excellent choices for cinematography, where a video bowl is a necessity. Although big and heavy for a stills tripod, these would actually be considered relatively lightweight for a video tripod. Although the capacity is around 100lbs, I remember seeing these demonstrated at a trade show a while back where the RRS staff were simply hanging beneath the TVC-45 with their entire weight. Considerably more than 100lbs!
RRS Tabletop Tripods
There are two different RRS tabletop tripods: The TFA-01 Ultra ($120) and the TFA-01 Basic ($80). They look extremely similar, but the TFA-01Ultra has a ratcheting leg stop just like a full-sized tripod. This allows you to lock the legs at three distinct positions and, at these positions, the legs are locked rock solid.
On the other hand, the cheaper TFA-01 Basic doesn’t have the leg position ratchet and instead relies on the stiffness of the leg collar to hold the tripod legs at varying angles. Of course, when the legs are fully splayed, they are locked solid, but in all other positions, you are simply relying on friction to hold the legs at other angles. For point and shoot cameras and very small mirrorless cameras, it’s not a problem. But with larger mirrorless cameras, heavier lenses or DSLRs, you definitely need the TFA-01 Ultra if you want to have varied leg angles. Personally, I would just recommend spending the extra money and getting the Ultra version right off the bat, whatever camera you plan on using it with. It’s a beautifully made tripod and then you know you have a future-proof setup.
These kinds of tripods are particularly useful when visiting “no tripod” tourist areas. Keep this in your pocket and you’ll always have a stable platform that you can balance on a wall.
These days I would definitely pair it with the BC-18 Microball. The photos of the Basic version in the gallery were shot many years ago before the Microball was available. Back then I used the BH-25, but the BC-18 is smaller, lighter, cheaper and in my experience actually holds more weight.
RRS Tripod Accessories
Really Right Stuff makes a range of accessories for their tripods which I will now discuss and demonstrate. If you are going to cough up the money for the very best tripods on the market, you’ll most likely want to equip it with at least one of the bespoke accessories from this section. As with anything from RRS, these are top-in-class accessories.
In this section we will take a close look at the accessory feet options, leveling heads, quick-release carrying strap system, tripod bags, centre columns and video bowls and even a special multi-tool that you can add to your Really Right Stuff tripod.
Interchangeable Tripod Feet
Two different types of accessory tripod feet are available: Spikes and Rock Claws. Reading the customer questions on B&H Photo for these products, it’s clear that one aspect, in particular, is confusing people. They are sold as individual items, so make sure to add three of them to your cart if you decide to purchase them and want a complete set. At $32 each ($96/set), this isn’t an insignificant purchase but they are extremely well made.
Personally, I chose to go with the spikes because they are more suitable for the landscapes I tend to shoot in, which are sandy, snowy or to some extent, muddy. The Rock Claws are definitely a more specialized accessory. As the name suggests, they provide a little more grip on rock but in my experience, I have found that the standard rubber feet actually provide a very good grip on rock anyway.
Optional centre columns are available for 2-Series and 3-Series tripods. To use one, you need to have a TQC tripod with the removable Apex plate.
A centre column has two purposes: Firstly it allows you to add additional maximum height to a tripod while keeping the folded length smaller than simply buying the taller version of the tripod. Secondly, it allows you to quickly modify the height of your camera without needing to alter all three legs.
In general, I would not recommend buying one of these columns to use it all the time. The aluminium centre column adds weight to your nice carbon tripod, and instability, particularly in windy conditions. Buy the tripod size that you need for your height, and only consider the optional column for certain uses such as indoor product and portrait photography where the speed of height adjustment is useful, and the negatives of a centre column have little impact.
The exceptions to this rule are the TQC-14 and the Ascend-14 that already comes with the centre column. If you are choosing to buy either of those tripods, you are already deciding to sacrifice stability in exchange for size and weight. The whole point of them is to be small, which is why the column comes with it in the first place.
RRS Tripod Bags
Really Right Stuff makes tripod bags in five different sizes to suit their entire range of tripods and monopods: Compact, small, medium, large, extra-large. Prices range from $50 to $95, which is right on par with other similar products from brands such as Manfrotto. NOTE: All of my RRS tripod bags seen in these photos were purchased many years ago and have the old RRS logo on them. All newly purchase bags will have the new RRS logo on them which looks even nicer.
The bags look great and provide more than adequate protection for your expensive investment. I typically use mine to protect my tripod when it’s loose in the trunk of my car, and when I’m packing it into a duffle bag for air travel. The top lid of the bag is reinforced to be harder than the rest of the bag and provide added protection for your tripod head. The rest of the bag is made of padded ballistic nylon, so it’s tough, but also flexible.
Inside the lid, the medium, large and extra-large versions of the bag have a mesh pocket that is designed to hold the accessory feet or any tripod tools that you might want to have to hand. Over many years of use, I have found that this mesh pocket will eventually get damaged by the clamp on top of your ball head. I like the idea of having a pocket there in the lid, but I wish that they would update it to be made from regular ballistic nylon instead of mesh.
On the outside of the bag, you will find another zippered pocket with a flat profile and a slot for a business card or some other form of identification. This zippered pocket doesn’t have a lot of room, but it can hold the accessory foot spikes and a few hex (Allen) wrenches or the very useful RRS MTX multi-tool.
RRS Tripod Strap System (QD)
For a while, RRS has been integrating a quick-release standard into their camera and lens plates called the QD (Quick Detach) system. This system is borrowed from the firearms industry where it turns out people like quickly detaching guns from straps just as much as photographers like detaching straps from cameras. Who knew?! The system is catching on in the photo world.
Kirk Photo has now started adding the QD sockets onto their camera plates too, and BlackRapid has even come out with a QD version of their popular sling strap. I’m sure others will follow suit because it’s a system that works very well and offers excellent strength that can easily handle heavy cameras, or in this case, tripods.
Really Right Stuff doesn’t make their own straps, but they are reselling the straps made by firearms manufacturer, Magpul. You can also find this brand via Amazon and their own online store. There is nothing special about the versions which RRS sell, they are identical to versions sold directly by Magpul.
To use these quick-release straps with an RRS tripod, you have to purchase an RRS Strap Set which consists of a collar that goes around one of the tripod legs, and a small cup that screws to the apex of the tripod. Both the collar and cup feature a QD-compatible connection. With both parts installed you can use any strap that has QD connectors on both ends to create a 2-point tripod harness.
IMPORTANT: The collar size is different depending on which series of tripods you are using. There are also differences in the design of the cup, depending on whether you have an Mk I or Mk II tripod. Cups and collars are usually sold together as a pair. Make sure you order the correct one for your tripod series (1, 2, 3, 4) and Mark (1 or 2). The ones in the photos are on my TFC-24L Mk2. So, of course, I ordered my strap set for a Series-2 Mk2 tripod.
Using the same QD strap with your camera
What’s great about the Magpul straps is that they can be converted from 2-point to single point attachment. This means you can buy one strap to use for your tripod, and use that same strap as a single point attachment on your camera. If I’m carrying my tripod over my shoulder with the strap, my camera is always in a bag and therefore doesn’t need the strap at the same time. Note that the BlackRapid Sport-X QD is great for cameras, but because it’s only a single point sling, you can’t use it with the RRS tripod strap system.
If you have a spare camera strap lying around that you already love, you can also buy a pair of QD swivel adapters from B&H or Amazon and simply put them on your existing strap to convert it for use with the RRS tripod strap set. I’d bet any photographer has at least one spare strap lying around, so this might be a good option for those that cleaned out their bank account buying their dream tripod 🙂
If you then want to use that strap with a camera but find that your camera plate doesn’t have a QD socket on it, you can use the RRS B2-FABN Mirco Clamp. This tiny clamp has a QD socket on it and will clamp to any Acra-Swiss compatible camera bracket that you probably already own. Pretty cool, huh?
RRS MTX Multitool
I have a couple of these great MTX tripod multi-tools. One is always in my camera bag or tripod bag, and another lives in my travel bag as a backup for when I’m away from home. They are good value at $50 and save you from carrying around a big stack of hex keys for various tripods, L brackets and ball heads.
A leveling head is a tripod accessory that allows you to quickly level the top platform of the tripod without having to make tiny adjustments to each leg. Simply get the legs roughly in the right place, then loosen the leveling head and use the built-in bubble level to create a perfectly level platform. This is necessary when shooting stitched panoramic images so that your horizon remains level, and it’s also necessary for video shooting so that panning motions maintain a level horizon and don’t drift upwards or downwards.
RRS makes leveling heads for 2-Series, 3-Series and 4-Series tripods. The 3 and 4-Series leveling heads are essentially identical, but one is a little large than the other. With these heads, you need a TVC tripod and the head replaces the tripod apex, with a control handle underneath to lock and loosen the motion.
The 2-Series leveling head is a little different. You can use a TVC 2-Series tripod and remove the apex to fit the leveling head. Alternatively, the base of the leveling head also has a 3/8″ 16 female thread, so the whole thing can be screwed onto the top of any tripod. This head, the TA-2u, is called the Universal Leveling Head for that reason. You can definitely use it on a 2-Series TVC tripod, but you could also use it on any other TVC or TFC Really Right Stuff tripod, or even any other brand of a tripod. To loosen the leveling mechanism, this head has a rotating locking collar.
3-Series and 4-Series tripods have the option to add a video bowl to the tripod. For the 3-Series it’s a 75mm bowl and for the 4-Series it’s a 100mm bowl. If you use a fluid video head with a built-in leveling platform, this will be important.
Available only from RRS directly, there is also a 4-Series to 3-Series Apex Adapter. This allows you to use the 3-Series 75mm bowl on the 4-Series tripod. If you want the stability of a 4-Series tripod, but your fluid head only has a 75mm bowl then this is the accessory you will want to track down.
Note that the 3-Series and 4-Series Leveling Heads come with a video bowl, so if you are already planning to buy a leveling head, you won’t need to purchase the video bowl.
Part 2: RRS Ball Heads and Gimbals
Of course, Really Right Stuff are also known for their incredible range of ball heads, gimbals and other camera leveling devices. In fact, they have been making these for far longer than they have tripods. While it’s not a prerequisite to pair an RRS tripod with an RRS head, it is understandably the way that many people opt to complete their kit. Not just out of brand loyalty, but also because the sizes of various heads are designed to perfectly match the apex diameters of the RRS tripods. To help you with this part of the decision, I have created a separate Really Right Stuff Tripod Head Guide. The photos below give you just a small sample of what you can find in that second guide.