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 The Velbon 630 Carbon-Fiber Tripod - "Acratech Modified"

Written By: Steve Kossack

Outstanding Legs

Doing my F-8 And Be There photographic tours of the U.S. Southwest I meet and travel with a lot of photographers. All are very different in their approach, style and equipment. We talk a lot of "shop" on these trips and by far the one topic that people want to discuss the most is equipment. My approach is very simple, and I offer it freely. "The system that works for you is the right one". I usually follow this with, "If you regularly don't use any part of your gear, for any reason, it's the wrong system for you".

Ok, seems simple so far? Here's the specific question that I am asked all the time in some form or another. "Can you recommend a light weight tripod that I can carry with me all day and set up easily anywhere, that will hold long lenses and heavy bodies and is also inexpensive"? I usually ask if they want an automobile to put this tripod in that looks and performs like a Ferrari but sells for the price of a Chrysler Neon :-)

Well, I now can stop being a wise guy with my answer. As technology progresses things that we thought impossible are quickly becoming reality. It's not so much that the idea has not been out there for a while, rather that people are adapting currently available parts to fit an intended application. This is exactly what the Acratech designers have done.

Velbon makes a very sturdy carbon fiber tripod, the Model 630. On its own it's just a bit too heavy though. The weight comes from the top plate and the center column. Acratech has machined its own aluminum replacement top and dispenses with the center column altogether. This brings the total weight to 2.6 lbs. The tripod has three leg extensions and stands approximately 50 inches tall. I feel that it's fully comparable to Gitzo's 1228. Indeed, a tough competitor.

 
From Swinging Bridge â�� Yosemite, 2002. © Steve Kossack

On my last two client trips I used the new Acratech-Velbon tripod while working with two different photographers. One was using his Manfrotto legs & pan head. The other a Gitzo 1228 carbon fiber. Upon using the new tripod both of these photographers first mentioned the ease of use. It functions pretty much the same as the Gitzo but much differently than the Manfrotto's clamps. It doesn't have the "swoosh" sound and silky feel of the Gitzo that I have grown to love, but the famous "Manfrotto Pinch" and resulting blood blister are also absent.

The second photographer who normally uses a Gitzo 1228 was at home with the Acratech-Velbon tripod from the very start. He had an Arca Swiss B1 head attached and was using long lenses. Working in the sand dunes in Death Valley I watched as he worked â�� as if this setup was as familiar as his own.  When he was done I asked the inevitable question â�� would he buy the Acratech-Velbon tripod over the Gitzo 1228 if he had it to do over again? The answer was a resounding YES! Hereís why:

The Velbon is lighter by about � lbs.

The Velbon is sturdier. It doesnít have a 4th leg extension. This makes the legs larger in diameter than the 1228 and much bigger at the bottom.

It is every bit as quick and easy to use in any situation I encountered. I didnít feel as if I were sacrificing anything in using it over the Gitzo 1228.

Price: It sells for U.S. $395 together with the Acratech modification, some $200 less than a typical price for the Gitzo 1228.  

Warranty: The Velbon, like the Gitzo, has a lifetime warranty. Acratech provides a 2 year warranty on their modification, but since there is nothing to wear out this shouldn't be an issue.

There are downside considerations though:

The Velbon has only three leg extensions and this makes it longer when folded than the Gitzo 1228. It is exactly the same length folded as my much larger Gitzo 1348. This can make packing it for flying a bit more problematic.

It stands only 50î tall. When framing a 35mm camera vertically I have to bend to look into the viewfinder. You would need the center column to solve this problem, but since the whole point of the exercise is to get rid of the center column to both reduce weight and increase stability that's the price to be paid.

My Conclusion

Together with an Acratech ballhead this is an ideal set-up for light weight hiking and air travel. When weight is the primary concern this tripod is the ideal solution. For when shooting from a vehicle or doing shorter hikes a larger carbon fiber tripod is probably in order, especially with long lenses. For the money though the Acratech-Velbon tripod is hard to beat.  

© 2002 Steve Kossack

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Concepts: Column, Warranty, Carbon, Leg, Question

Entities: Chrysler, U.S., blood blister, Michael Reichmann, Gitzo, Southwest

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