July 21st, 2020
Recently, I had to retire my Benro carbon fiber tripod after years of dependable use. It was a forced retirement as the plastic shims that retain the twist locks in place cracked. Given the age of the tripod Benro no longer carries those shims (they were apparently proprietary to the tripod itself, which has long since been discontinued) and I could not find a third-party alternative that would fit. I began my search for a replacement with three specific requirements. First, it had to be 3-sections. Second, it had to have flip locks. Lastly, it had to be carbon fiber. These three requirements thinned the pool of available tripods considerably. Based on consistently favorable reviews and meeting my set of criteria, I choose the Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3.
The MT055CXPRO3 weighs 4.3 lb, has a load capacity of 19.8 lb, a max height of 66.9 inches, a minimum height of 3.5 inches, and a folded length of 24 inches. It uses Manfrotto’s updated Quick Power Locks and has a rapid adjust center column that can be positioned horizontally. The tripod also includes Manfrotto’s Easy Link which is simply a 3/8” attachment point that allows you to adapt accessories using a compatible arm. Overall, it is a nicely built tripod with quality that you would expect from Manfrotto's line of Made in Italy tripods. So, how has it functioned over these last 5 months? It’s performed reasonably well. There is, however, a qualifier. The flip locks.
My preference for flip locks was nothing more than just to try a different locking mechanism. Reading reviews, there were those who said that they wouldn’t use anything but flip locks while others said they would use nothing but twist locks. Having owned tripods with twist locks only, I liked the idea of flip locks. They are either locked, or unlocked. The Quick Power Locks that Manfrotto has designed for this model are very nice. They are reasonably secure (more on this in a minute) and easy to operate quickly with one hand. Over these past 5 months, however, I have discovered some disadvantages that flip locks have over their twist lock counterparts.
The first disadvantage is the added bulk. This was a criticism I've seen in other reviews, and it is a fair one. I have found that it doesn't attach to a backpack quite as nicely as a tripod with twist locks, which isn't surprising. The flip locks also have a knack for catching small branches and other objects when hiking. So far, I have yet to have anything snag on the flip locks that would unlock them but that’s because the tension on the flip locks can be set. The more tension there is, the harder it is to unlock them. Which brings me to the next disadvantage, the tension set.
Manfrotto supplies with the tripod a small tool that allows you to adjust the tension for each of the flip locks. This tension is what secures the leg in place once the flip lock has been engaged. Once the tension has been set you might reasonably assume that it stays set, but I found that that is not necessarily the case. In my own use, this tension can drift loose. To give you an example, I was using the tripod with my Fuji XT-3 and the Fuji 100-400mm lens. I had to move the tripod in such a way that required me to lean into the tripod, putting some of my bodyweight on the tripod itself. While doing so one of the legs moved. I took out the small tool and adjusted the tension in that flip lock and went on with the remainder of my day without any further troubles. Over the course of 5 months, I found myself often adjusting the flip lock tension when out in the field. This had more to do with the fact that I now knew this was something that could happen, and I began to routinely check whether the legs were set in place. It’s important for me to note that the drifting tension has been minor. I have never had the tension become so loose that it begins to collapse under the weight of my camera and lens. The likelihood of a complete failure of the flip lock itself seems unlikely, but this drifting tension doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. The question is, is this a dealbreaker?
Like I said, the criticisms of flips locks are legitimate, but so are the advantages. Yes, flip locks make a tripod bulky and the uncertainty of whether the tension is set correctly, again, doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. On the other hand, flip locks are considerably nicer to use mechanically and faster to adjust. A question worth asking is whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages? Do you favor usability over the unlikely, but potential, loss of stability? To play devil’s advocate, is what I experienced really an issue? Manfrotto has been using flip locks for years, and there are plenty of satisfied owners that would suggest that this might not be a problem. It is also possible that it’s an issue with the tripod I purchased. I have not yet contacted Manfrotto to ask whether what I experienced is to be expected, or a mechanical problem with the flip locks that needs to be addressed.
For me, I have chosen to look for another tripod. Not because of the occasional issue with the flip locks, or the added bulk, but because twist locks are far easier to maintain. The twist lock mechanism, generally speaking, is pretty simple. Removing dirt and other debris is as simple as unscrewing the twist lock, remove the leg and shim, and then clean and lubricate the parts. Some twist locks have a certain level of weather resistance, making such scenarios less likely. Still, periodic maintenance is recommended, and twist locks make that much easier. Flip locks, on the other hand, require more work to clean and lubricate simply because there are more parts. Is it difficult? No. But when you are comparing the effort of maintenance between twist lock and flip locks, twist locks win every time. I don't know how often people factor in maintenance when choosing a tripod, I certainly didn't to begin with, but after having a tripod where it feels like a chore to clean it becomes an important factor. Especially considering that cleaning and maintenance is the one thing that can be done to extend the life of a tripod. The simpler it is to do, the more likely you are to do it. For some, the maintenance issue might be neither here nor there. Which, fair enough. Even considering some of my earlier caveats, this tripod would likely serve you well. For me, being able to easily maintain my equipment was a luxury I didn't realize I needed, until I no longer had it. If you're like me, then you may want to keep this in mind if you are considering buying the Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3.