Travel tripods are notoriously bad. Flimsy and cheap, they’re disposable products destined to be discarded and replaced by something better. Or at least, that’s the perception. That’s why when B & H sent me the latest offering from MeFoto, I expected to be disappointed. This compact, lightweight tripod for shooters on the move is marketed as a high end construct for serious photo geeks. After two weeks, I agree that it’s better than most – but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.
As in all aspects of photography, we can’t have it all, and the MeFoto Globetrotter Air does demand compromise. It won’t be the perfect tripod for every kind of photographer, and MeFoto’s made some design choices that I’m sure not everyone will love. But what it does well, it does extremely well. Is this the portable tripod you’ve been looking for?
MeFoto is no stranger to the travel tripod game. For years they’ve produced a full range of compact monopods and tripods that all share a similar design. Beginning with the smallest and working up, these include the Walkabout, Backpacker, Roadtrip, and Globetrotter (the latter being the largest, and the basis for our review). The previous generation was well-received for its unexpectedly solid build quality and ability to take abuse. In the new Air series, we’re seeing lighter weight, increased functional speed, a few different features, and a surprisingly lower price point. But let’s examine this all a bit closer.
As with their previous range, the new Air series’ build quality is excellent. Tolerances are tight and precise, fit and finish are without fault, and machine work has been implemented with great care. Beveled edges, engraved bolts, and sophisticated material selection give the impression of keen attention to detail. Nearly the entire tripod is made of anodized aluminum (available in seven colors, no less), with internal bushings and lock collars being made of rubber and plastic.
The non-replaceable ball head offers what veteran shooters will expect, and while it’s naturally limited, it does what it’s supposed to do better than some of MeFoto’s pricier competition. There’s a leveling bubble, an Arca-Swiss style quick release plate, a friction control knob, ball lock knob, and pan lock knob. Panning action is super smooth, reminiscent of some of the finest manual focus lenses we’ve tested, in fact, and markings indicate 360 degrees in five degree increments. Legs are lockable at three stopping points, and foldable through a full range of 180 degrees. The center column is removable and reversible for ground-level work, there’s a spring-loaded weight hook protruding from the bottom, and it even converts into a selfie stick with included blue tooth shutter trigger and phone mount adapter (something I truly regret testing).
Additionally noteworthy is the fact that the aluminum Globetrotter Air weighs almost a pound and a half less than its aluminum predecessor (3.2 lbs (1.4 kg) versus 4.6 lbs (2.1 kg)). Even more shocking, the new aluminum Globetrotter Air even weighs less than the previous carbon fiber Globetrotter. And possibly most surprising of all, the new Globetrotter Air costs less at $225 than the older carbon version, which currently costs $340. We’re also seeing a slight increase in maximum height over its predecessor, from 64.2 inches (163 cm) to 68.1 inches (173 cm).
Folded into its most compact form, the Globetrotter air stows down to 12 inches and can be bundled into an included carrying pack with drawstring strap. In my testing, this satchel hung off my shoulder with relative ease, and the 3.1 lbs of additional weight was easily managed.
Another feature that MeFoto is keen to highlight is their improved “Hyperlock” leg extension system. This twist-lock mechanism allows for rapid extension and stowing of the tripod’s legs, and while I admittedly expected to hate it completely, I’ve instead been pleasantly surprised. It actually works very well. Twist the foot of the leg counterclockwise and the leg extends to varying levels dependent on how many clicks you’ve felt when twisting. One click and the leg extends one segment, two clicks and it extends two, etc., up to its full length. Twist in the reverse direction to lock the legs in place.
Is this mechanism better than the swing-locks found on some competing tripod legs? Hard to say. MeFoto’s system is certainly faster, and I haven’t experienced anything to lead me to believe their design is less secure when locked in place. It’s not necessarily better or worse, just a different way of doing things.
Lots of good stuff, right? But things aren’t perfect. In contrast with the previous Globetrotter (and here’s where we talk about those compromises mentioned earlier), the Globetrotter Air loses some features. Gone is the ability to remove a leg, attach it to the ball head, and create a monopod. Gone, too, are the spiked feet, replaced here with rubber feet only. We’re also seeing a lower rating for weight – the original boasted a 26.4 lbs (12 kg) capacity, while the Air is rated to just 17.6 lbs (8 kg). And we’re missing any provisions for horizontal mounting of the center column, so product photographers will likely be looking for a different tripod. And if we’re really picking nits, the leveling bubble is hidden whenever a camera is mounted – not ideal, and something the previous edition avoided through better placement of the bubble.
All this taken into account, and after a number of late nights hiking urban alleys, countless long exposures, and a stint supporting the largest camera I had on hand, MeFoto’s Globetrotter Air ends up being pretty excellent. But that excellence might not matter. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve posted to social media a number of photos of the tripod in use, and have been surprised by the influx of negative comments – these before I’d even had a chance to publish our review!
This knee-jerk reaction gives me the impression that, for some photo geeks, it won’t matter how much travel tripods have improved. To these photogs, compact tripods will always be junk. If this is true, then one of the biggest challenges facing MeFoto (and other travel tripod makers) will be changing the perception that photo geeks have regarding travel tripods. That’s a tough job. But if MeFoto keeps releasing quality products like the Air series, I think they might be on their way.