Review: Vinten FiberTec Tripod (2 of 5)
3. The FiberTec Tripod Model No. 3498 – 8
The FiberTecs look like no other tripod I’ve ever seen. Out of the box they seem tiny, surely not capable of getting to that published maximum height of 61.5 inches/ 156 cm? Then you grab the tripod by the attached carry strap and lift – they aren’t lightweights, those 7.3 pounds/ 3.3 kilos are there all right. Pressing the yellow leg latch on the bottom of one of the first main leg sections allows the legs to be spread and a decent look to be had.
My immediate impression was of utter solidity. At the tripods lowest height setting, those nested 3-section legs offer a solid black girder appearance, with not a chink of light visible through them anywhere. When viewed standing back from the tripod, the “front on” leg appears to be massive widthways (as, indeed, it is), the other two legs, slightly more side on, offering a much slimmer profile.
Flicking the touch coded leg lock levers (the centre section lock is smooth, the lower has raised “bubbles”) up to their horizontal position allows the legs to be extended and locked, with a satisfying “clunk” from the leg lock levers. Yep, it really does go to 61.5 inches.
In this configuration it’s possible to appreciate the genius of the leg design. The upper main leg section is an “H” pattern girder design, the width of the “H” measuring a massive 60 mm (over 2 ¼ inches). The “H” uprights measure approximately 25 mm (1 inch) with the “bar” of the “H” being much closer to the inner face of the leg (the bottom of the “H” uprights).
The middle / first sliding section (yet another, rather more convoluted “H” section) nests in the square bottomed channel formed by the top of the “H” uprights and the “H” bar. The lower / second sliding section (more like an upside down Pi symbol cross section) is nested inside the first sliding section.
To casual inspection, the actual workings of the leg locking mechanism are a complete mystery. It took a good five to ten minutes of flicking levers and moving legs for the true genius of the design to hit home. Each side of the two sliding sections on each leg have projecting rails that engage in corresponding grooves in the outer section they are nested in. One of these rails is fixed and is an integral part of the whole carbon fibre moulding of that section. The other rail is not fixed! As the section leg lock lever is depressed and closed, the rail extends out of the moulding, jamming into its corresponding groove and pushing the entire length of that section hard up against the side wall of it’s nest. How the sideways expansion of this rail is actually achieved I still haven’t worked out.
At maximum extension (61.5”/ 156 cm) the locking area for each section by my measure is about 2 inches (50 mm), which may not sound like much but is more than adequate to ensure those legs can’t move due to wobbly locking areas. The sheer strength of these locking areas is best illustrated by reading the maintenance manual for the FiberTecs – the minimum weight that EACH LEG must bear before a leg lock slips is a massive 35 kilograms (77 lbs)! I should add that this figure is with the leg extended to its maximum height. This gives a theoretical total load on the tripod of 105 kilos (231 pounds) before a lock slips under normal operating conditions. By my math, an extra 105-kilos/ 231 pounds is added to the rating for every 4 inches (100 mm) the tripod is lowered (assuming both sections on each leg are lowered the same amount).
Note: In order to get access to the Maintenance Manual, I believe you need to be a Vinten registered customer.
It does not take a lot of thought to realise the implications of this leg locking design. The more the sections are nested and the shorter the tripod sits, the more locking area is available. At the tripods minimum height, the entire leg length cross section is a solid rectangle of carbon fibre 2 ¼ inches wide by 1 ¼ inches thick (60 mm X 30 mm). The legs in this mode could, in all likelihood, support a Mack truck, though I think the tripod receiver and hinge pins may have a bit of trouble with that particular task.
On the subject of the receiver and hinge pins, I cannot, for the life of me, figure out what the receiver is made from. It “tings” like metal but has the same slightly glossy finish of the carbon fibre making up the rest of tripod. As this system actually belongs to me, destruction testing to ascertain this materials composition is not about to happen. The hinges are tight, which may well ease with repeated use, with absolutely no play or give in any direction, as is to be expected.
Returning to the subject of the legs, when extended, a couple of things readily become apparent. The legs are flexible in two respects. Grabbing a leg anywhere along its extended length and twisting about that length is quite easy, becoming progressively more difficult the closer to the receiver you get. Whether this has any effect on the tripods stability under practical conditions will have to be ascertained in the system-handling test a little further on.
The other area of flex is when the leg centres are pushed inwards towards the centre axis of the standing tripod. They don’t flex much, but they do flex. With no spreader attached the small amount of movement appears restricted to the leg that’s pushed, with the Spread – Loc attached this movement sets up a slight twisting movement in the other two legs. The effect of this will again be determined in the system-handling test.
Where this slab like leg geometry really shows its strength is in the “wind up” and “lateral displacement” tests. With the tripod set to its maximum height, grabbing the receiver with both hands and attempting to twist it to imitate the force applied by a heavily drag set head produces nothing whatsoever. I can detect absolutely no indication of movement. It’s not really that surprising when one considers the amount of carbon fibre box girder one is attempting to bend.
Placing both hands on the receiver and attempting to push the tripod sideways is equally unrewarded by visible movement.
A couple of extra little bells and whistles remain to be mentioned. Firmly screwed to the underside of the receiver are three metal plates, covering the three receiver extensions that house the hinge pin bearings. One of the plates is blank though drilled and tapped to take some kind of bolt. The second has been similarly drilled and tapped but is fitted with a seemingly flimsy but in practice exceedingly tough rubber tipped metal hook. This is to hang weights from should the tripod/ head/ camera system be a trifle light for the prevailing wind conditions and the systems total sail area.
The third of these plates, again drilled and tapped, has a subsidiary rounded edge rectangular plate firmly bolted to it. This plate extends beyond the receiver extension about half an inch (12.5 mm). There is a hole drilled in this projection and this is used to attach one end of the carrying strap using a “nut locked” carabineer. The other end of the strap is attached to a small metal eye fitted to the bottom of one of the main first leg sections. The strap itself is 2 inch (50 mm) wide webbing, adjustable for length and fitted with soft but durable cloth “sleeves” to prevent the metal carabineers from damaging the tripod surfaces. Fitted over the strap is a 10 inch (250 mm) long, well-padded, er, pad which is free to slide to any location on the strap. In practice, with a head attached to the tripod, the unit is carried head down, spikes up, with the pad slid to the top of its range. The only issue with the strap is the “nut locked” carabineers. The nuts must be checked and tightened with a spanner (not pliers) on a regular basis as in practice they tend to loosen.
The last item on the tripod proper to mention is the feet. They follow the same “double spike” pattern as used on many Manfrotto sticks, but for reasons not readily apparent have only one spike, not two. That the pattern is identical means that any attachments designed for the Manfrotto “double spike” system will work with the FiberTecs, namely floor spreaders, dollies etc. I should mention here that if you buy the Vinten Spread – Loc spreader, it comes complete with a set of three oval, textured face, rubber “booties” that fit to the tripod feet using the familiar Manfrotto “thong” system, thus obviating the need for a floor spreader on wooden floors, for example.
That just about wraps it up for the tripod, on to the rest of the system.