4. Spread – Loc Mid Level Spreader, Model No. 3781 – 8
Only being familiar with the mid level spreaders of my Manfrotto sticks – the removable, clip on unit for the 520’s and the heavier fixed unit on my 528 XBs, the Spread – Loc was, and still is, something of an enigma. This is probably because it is proving to be such a challenge to my understanding about how spreaders work and what they’re supposed to do.
My first impression having unpacked the Spread – Loc was that it was manufactured out of Depleted Uranium – it’s so darn heavy! At two pounds (just shy of a full kilo) it seems totally Over the Top for just a simple spreader. There’s no disputing it is beautifully crafted however, and seems to be primarily composed of various types of carbon fibre, though I wouldn’t want to take a bet there isn’t some DU in there somewhere.
The attachment mechanism consists of two horizontally opposed Carbon Fibre or plastic (I think the latter, they’re not black), spring-loaded pins operated by grey buttons either side of the arm ends. The pins engage in two matching close tolerance holes located in very strong inward facing projections in the bottom of the main top leg sections. It’s a tight fit and a bit of wiggling is necessary to get all the pins seated, but not a task you would be doing often in the normal course of events. The close tolerances ensure that, once fitted, the only things that can move are those that are designed to.
Now, to the Spread – Loc’s operation…
My existing spreader units both start off in the teepee position (as does the Spread – Loc) but, when the legs have been fully spread, both go into a slightly inverted position, the 520’s just sitting against it’s stops, the 528’s needing a push down, locking with a solid “thunk”. It is at this point that the Spread – Loc threw me completely. It stops with the centre still some 2 inches (50 mm) short of being level with its attachment points on the legs, and it certainly is not designed to go inverted.
To “lock” (I use the term loosely, I’ll explain more of that in a moment) the Spread – Loc, you turn the large grey knob on the top of the spreader centre housing about 15 degrees clockwise. It has open and closed padlocks indicating its setting engraved / painted on the knob, with three slight projections on the knob aligning with grey indicator lines on the black centre housing in the locked position. The lock engages with a most satisfying “click”.
Except that, in a “real” sense, it doesn’t! With the lock engaged, the centre of the spreader can be raised a good half an inch to an inch (12.5 – 25 mm) allowing the tripod to partially close in the process. This behaviour produced much head scratching, chin rubbing and consternation until I finally decided it was faulty and contacted both my dealer here in NZ and Vinten support in the UK. In pretty short order yet another new Spread – Loc was sitting on my dining table alongside the original. Out came the ruler and the comparisons began.
Imagine my incredulity when the replacement had even more movement that the original. When sitting on the table, the top of the centre housing of the original measured 5 ¼ inches (132 mm) from the table surface. When lifted till it hit the lock stop but with the end of each arm still in contact with the table, it measured 5 ¾ inches (145 mm). The replacement measured 4 ¾ (121 mm) and 5 ¾ (146 mm) respectively.
This provoked some serious conversations with both the aforementioned dealer and Vinten until I was, rather reluctantly, persuaded that this was the way they were supposed to be.
The implications of this are interesting. On the other systems I’m familiar with, locked means locked, no inwards movement, no outwards movement. If one leg takes a thump to its centre, that thump gets transferred directly to the other two via the spreader. With the Spread – Loc, true, outwards movement is impossible, tethered as it is by the spreader. Inwards is a different story; a thump to one leg produces just a minor twisting motion on the other two legs due to the leg / spreader geometry. The actual shock is not. How this all works in practice, we shall see in the system-handling test.
The other things requiring a mention are the arm extensions. Press the grey button on one side of the arm at the leg end and out goes the extension. A bit of a surprise at first but has not (yet) proved a problem is that the button does not require pushing to retract the extension, simply lift the centre of the spreader to close the tripod and push down on the lock knob and in they go (or just lift the leg and pull inwards if only requiring one retracted).
5. Vinten FiberTec Soft Case, Model No.3532 – 3
The price tag on this case really is an indication of what to expect. At three feet (920 mm) long, nine inches (230 mm) deep front to back and about nine inches (230 mm) high (all external measurements) it is beautifully crafted from top quality materials.
The top panel of the case is fitted with a clear, 9 inch by 8 inch (230 mm X 200 mm) flat pocket, presumably to hold documentation that is readable without removing from the pocket. Inside there is yet another of these on the underside of the “lid”. The rear wall of the inside is one long zippered pocket with a central divider. The bottom padding is printed with a “head” diagram and an arrow to indicate the orientation of the tripod in the bag.
Externally, the lid zip travels around the full length of each side and the front making it easy to keep the lid open with its own weight if desired. There are grab handles on both end panels. The hand carry handles attached to the front and rear panels are fixed, unfortunately, which raises an issue I shall discuss later. There is yet another handle – the over shoulder carry handle/ strap, which, unusually, is attached so that the bag must be carried with either the top panel or the bag base against the body. This handle has padding at both of its extremities, presumably so that the bag “hangs” lengthways down the body when being carried with the padding on the shoulder. The reason for its unusual attachment seems to be to ensure it in no way interferes with the opening and closing of the lid. The strap is adjustable for length.
Finally, the external base and the lower 1¾ inches (45 mm) of all external sides are covered in an easy clean “ribbled” rubber fabric. Yes, it is well padded everywhere.
The only issue with the bag (apart from its huge price) is this: Most users of a set of FiberTecs would be using cameras requiring the services of one of Vintens top of the line heads. These heads are quite a bit heavier than my little Vision 3. Unfortunately, with the carry handles position fixed, the only way to get the bag to balance for hand carrying is to put an extra kilo or two of weight in the head end of the bag. Not wishing to add to the burden I already lug around, that isn’t an option, so lop-sided it is.
I understand from Vinten that a new bag is being designed by Petrol (another member of the Vitec Group that Vinten belongs to), which should get around this problem. If you are considering a Vinten bag I would seriously suggest you check with Vinten before buying.
Now, on to the System Handling…