Fotopro C5C vs Manfrotto BeFree Tripod

Tripods, I love them and I hate them.  I love them for the stability they provide.  Crisp, tack sharp images can be obtained if you do everything right. I hate them because I don't like the added weight of carrying them around, not to mention they are awkward to carry.  I hate bringing them so much that I often just leave them behind.  Thank goodness for Olympus 5-axis stabilization!!

For long exposure shots tripods are a must.  Whether you have in-body or lens stabilization there is no way you can hold a camera steady for more than a few seconds. So if I must carry one around, it needs to be small and relatively light.  Finding the right one for me is a little bit like finding the right camera bag...there is always something I wish were different about the one I pick.  Just like camera bags, stores can only carry a limited amount of gear, so often they don't carry the one I'm interested in and then I have to take a leap of faith and order it online and hope I like it.  Even if it comes highly recommended by friends, there is no guarantee it will match my needs.  

I've had many tripods over the years. When I was just starting out, I knew little about photography never mind what makes a good tripod and so spending $40 on a tripod at a big box store seemed like a good buy.  As I became more educated, I traded up to better tripods.  I even foolishly bought a very expensive tripod because a workshop instructor recommended one. It sat in the closet for years until I traded it in.  It was just too large and unwieldy.  I certainly couldn't travel with it and so the only time it was put to use was for local trips and short walks.

My search for the perfect tripod led me to the Manfrotto BeFree.  It was small, compact and it fit perfectly in my luggage.  But I soon began to discover it's faults. The quick release tripod plate mechanism while easy to use, I learned was not for me.   Having used Arca-Swiss plates previously, I discovered that I preferred it, so before long, I swapped out the head for a Joby. The clamps to release the legs were ok and seemed quicker than the twist style, but it's not much more convenient for me and I also tend to get things caught in them.  Ok, maybe it's just me that gets things caught in them. :)

The most hated feature of the BeFree is by far the leg extension mechanism.  Take a look at the photo to the right or better yet at the video below for a look at how they work. It's the first tripod I've ever had with this type of mechanism.  I find it awkward and I've pinched my fingers one too many times.  Again, this may just be me, but if it stops me from using it, then it's the wrong tool for me.  Why did I buy it if there are so many things wrong with it? Well, first of all, I was drawn in by the marketing and no camera store near me was carrying it.  Also, you learn some of these things by using it over time.  There are plenty of things I've purchased in a store and tried out that I thought were great, but over time you discover their shortcomings. 

So enter the Fotopro C5C.  Alex McClure, an Olympus Trailblazer I met last year at the Olympus InVision Photo Festival had been posting on Facebook how much he loved this tripod.  Soon after seeing his posts, my friend Mike Boening, also an Olympus Trailblazer, bought one and gave it a good review.  I trust these guys, but again, I was cautious.  So I looked at the specs and the things I disliked about the BeFree were not present on the Fotopro.  But still, I was not convinced, so I looked at other tripods and kept coming back to this one again.  Linked below you will see my video comparing the Manfrotto BeFee to the Fotopro.  Some may say it's not a fair comparison as the BeFree is aluminum and the Fotopro is carbon fiber.  The BeFree is also a fraction of the cost.  At my time of purchase, the BeFree was $119 on Amazon, it has since gone up some.  The Fotopro was $339.  My comparison video is not scientific, it's just my impressions of this new tripod, so take it for what it's worth.   

I told you what's bad about the BeFree, so let me tell you what I like so far about the C5C.  For starters, it's orange!  I love the bright, metallic color.   It will be easy to spot and will be easily identifiable when in workshops.  However, so many companies are making multi-color tripods now.  The carbon fiber legs are nice and smooth and not as cold to the touch as aluminum and the leg release mechanism on this tripod allows you to get a good grip for the twist to release the leg.  One of the legs will unscrew and when joined with the upper center column section becomes a monopod.  This feature was not available on the BeFree.  To extend the legs to the different positions, Fotopro has provided clips that you press on to advance to allow you to pull out or retract the legs into various positions with one press (see the video below on how this works).  Other tripods I've worked with you need to pull out a clip and then push it back in or in the case of the BeFree there are the awkward levers (can you tell I really don't like those?).  Fotopro provided a great, padded tripod case with an external zippered case for your tools to adjust your tripod.  The only thing I have found lacking so far on this kit is the instruction sheet.  One one side it is in Chinese (I could be wrong, but that's what it looked like to me) and on the revers, English.  It's evident that the Chinese was written first and the English side a direct translation.  There are sentences that are incomplete.  A tripod is not tough to figure out, but I would have preferred a bit more explanation on how the tripod leg comes off to become a monopod.  I unscrewed the collar with the leg thinking it needed to come off as well and it did not.  That's the only gripe so far.  Something to note is that in the video I mentioned that I thought the BeFree extended to the same size as the C5C and it is not.  The C5C is taller.  Here are some comparison specs below:

Manfrotto BeFree

  • Load Capacity: 5.5 lb
  • Max Height: 51.2"
  • Min Height: 19.3"
  • Folded Length: 12.6"
  • Leg Sections: 4
  • Weight: 2.9 lb
  • Aluminum Construction
  • Flip Locks
  • Single Action Ball Head
  • 200PL Quick Release Plate Included

Fotopro C5C

  • Carbon Fiber
  • Leg Sections: 4
  • Diameter: 25mm (.98in)
  • Max Height: 1500mm (59.06in)
  • Folded: 430mm (16.93in)
  • Weight: 1.2kg (2.65lbs)
  • Max Load of tripod: 15kg (33lbs)
  • Max load of the included FPH-52Q ball head: 8kg

Overall I'm very pleased with the Fotopro C5C in my limited use thus far.  I'll put it through it's paces and report back if my impression changes. Please watch the video below for a visual overview of the tripods.  I included some photos below of the Fotopro as well.