Using a Travel Tripod in the Wilderness of Iceland – Review of Manfrotto’s BeFree Travel Tripod

Last month I flew with a small team, including fellow photographer Chris Orange, to the stunning country of Iceland to capture the magnificent beauty of this geothermal wilderness. We both shoot professionally: Chris brought his Fujifilm X-T1 kit and I’d opted for my Canon EOS 5D MkIII. We’d researched some of the best locations along the south coast and were looking forward to a packed three days touring between Reykjavík and the Jökulsárlón glacial area.

Orange and blue

We knew we’d want to travel light, and for me, that meant getting a new tripod. We planned on shooting a lot of long-exposure photography, be it for moody landscapes with ND filters or capturing stars and the northern lights. Whilst I’ve been very pleased with my Manfrotto 055XPRO3 legs and three-way head, its bulk and size might have hampered me more than helped me in Iceland. I decided (like Chris) to buy the new Manfrotto BeFree carbon fibre travel tripod and ball head.

Icy Milky Way

There’s no doubting its incredible size: compact enough to fit into my small suitcase for the flight with a really first class design. However I was a little concerned that it would cope with a fully laden 5D MkIII and battery grip. Plus, coming from a television background, I’d always preferred a head that offered separate pan and tilt controls, so I was interested to see how I’d do with a ball head.

Seljalandsfoss falls 2

Iceland is such a feast for the eyes that our drive from Reykjavík to Jökulsárlón took nearly eight hours – two and a half more than it should have done! This was entirely due to the almost other-worldly scenery we encountered, meaning that we often stopped en route to shoot. Straight away, the BeFree performed brilliantly. It’s incredibly light, quick to set up, and once some initial adjustments to those leg locks had been made, it securely held my 5D no problem. Plus, the ball head has completely changed my view. Having one control to lock the head is really efficient and effective. Also, those three-position leg locks are superb when you quickly want to go into low mode.

Glacial lights

We spent just three days in Iceland, but were extremely fortunate with the weather and Mother Nature. We had gorgeously clear autumnal days, perfect sunsets and sunrises, the aurora borealis on both nights, and when the sky wasn’t showing off with the northern lights, we had amazing starscapes to shoot. But that also meant that we were using the BeFree tripod in some pretty challenging conditions. The famous black sand ice beach at Jökulsárlón is made entirely from incredibly abrasive volcanic rock. Along with many other photographers, we were often to be found dodging in and out of the surf, photographing the glacial ice blocks as the tide crashed around us. On several occasions we got caught by the sea, and our BeFree tripods got fairly battered by the cold north Atlantic ocean mixed with volcanic sand. Back at the hotel, it was simply a matter of gently cleaning off the tripod legs with a shower head and they were back in business.

matt_iceland1

Both Chris and I are really pleased with our images from Iceland, many of which were only possible with a lightweight, compact travel tripod. The Manfrotto BeFree should definitely be on your shortlist if you’re looking for something similar. It coped admirably with everything we (and Iceland) could throw at it for three days!

See all the images from my Iceland shoot at www.mattfreestonephotography.com/Iceland.

matt_iceland2

2 comments

  1. Excellent article, images and advice Matt. I use the same 5D III and bought a BeFree last year and am never without it as I travel around with work; unless I can justify lugging my other Manfrotto pro tripod with me – a serious difference in weight! I envy you the Iceland trip. It is a must and my next photo holiday destination.

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  2. Thanks Ian. Glad the 5D and BeFree are working for you too. I’d thoroughly recommend Iceland – it’s not terribly cheap when you get there, but flights can be very reasonable if you go at the right time. And of course the photographic opportunities are stunning!

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