Before I delve into my review of the Manfrotto Befree Advanced, let me make a confession. I don’t do landscapes often, and I don’t use tripods much as a result.
I’m not against landscape photography; I get why people do it, it’s just not my particular genre of choice.
That’s probably not the ideal way to start a tripod review, but I wanted to be open about use cases because not everyone with a tripod is going to be a landscape shooter. I hear people say “buy once and buy right” when it comes to choosing a tripod, and I understand that.
I have a lot of expensive gear dedicated to that mantra – much more than my skills deserve.
However, when you use a tripod a handful of times a year, spending $700 plus on a Gitzo tripod and ball head isn’t a valuable use of funds.
I shoot moving sports, portraits, mostly handheld. I’ll shoot landscapes up a mountain, but it’s more likely to involve someone riding on the mountain than a beautiful landscape scene, unless I’m travelling.
That’s where the Manfrotto Befree Advanced comes in and why I’m reviewing it today. I purchased the Befree Advanced because I wanted something small and light for travel.
I have a big Benro carbon tripod for the odd occasion when I need to mount something more substantial, but that use case is about as irregular as my love of country-western and rap.
It sits in my cupboard most of the time gathering dust, and I pull it out once every year or two.
In this case, I wanted something smaller and lighter for an overseas trip across Europe, and the thought of lugging a 4kg monstrosity cross-country isn’t that appealing.
I figured if I was going to travel 25 hours on a plane, I didn’t want to regret not having a travel tripod with me if I needed one.
Table of Contents
Manfrotto Befree Advanced Specs
- A reasonably good tripod
- Accessible price point
- Lightweight for an aluminium tripod
- Ballhead tension knob
- Centre column adjustment is cheap plastic
- Hook for adding weight isn’t strong enough
- Quick Release Plate Type: Arca-Type, RC2
- Friction Control: Yes
- Independent Pan Lock: Yes
- Lateral Tilt: -90° to +40°
- Vertical Tilt: -40° to +40°
- Panning Range: 360°
- Load Capacity: 17.6 lb / 8 kg
- Maximum Working Height: 59.1″ / 150 cm
- Max Height without Center Column: 52.4″ / 133 cm
- Folder Length: 15.7″ / 40 cm
- Materials: Aluminium
- Weight: 3.4 lb / 1.5 kg
- Leg sections: 4
- Feet: Rubber
The Manfrotto Befree Advanced comes in four variants: Manfrotto offers both carbon and aluminium along with twist-lock or latch in each of those.
I’m not going to waste your time trying to convince you which is the better option. I’m a fan of the twist-lock variant, but it’s a personal preference, and every photographer you ask will have a different view.
[Related: Carbon vs Aluminum tripods]
I opted not to go for carbon, which may seem strange for travel, but a saving of 250 grams didn’t seem worth paying nearly twice the price.
If I were a heavier tripod user, the carbon might have been on my purchasing list.
The Befree Advanced comes with a tripod pouch to protect the tripod along with a hex key. The bag quality is good enough to do the job – no padding on the strap, but it’s better than not providing a bag at all.
I found the bag valuable for storing my tripod in my checked-in bag. I’m not sure if you’ve travelled with children, but the amount of crap that falls into the “could damage a metal tripod” category is substantial.
The quality of the tripod construction is what I’d consider good. Construction quality is what I would expect for the price range.
[Related: best value carbon fiber tripod]
The important thing is that the legs are stable and of good quality. The use of cheaper plastics on the ball head seems to be the primary area where Manfrotto cut costs.
I think we have to remember that tripods in this price range aren’t going to be perfect.
If I got this on a Gitzo I’d be disappointed, but it’s a tripod that sells for just under $170 and nothing that cheap in photography land is going to buy you perfect construction.
Size & Handling
The Manfrotto Befree Advanced is a compact travel tripod.
Manfrotto made the tripod with a reverse folding mechanism: You fold the legs upwards over the top of the ball head with the centre column extended to the maximum, if that makes sense.
This allows for a tripod that’s only 43cm/16 inches when folded – a compact size. It makes the Befree Advanced suitable for travelling, even in an aluminium version.
The process of opening and closing the Befree is a little complicated. Opening involves:
- Bending over the three legs 180 degrees,
- dropping the centre column,
- tightening the centre column adjustment,
- moving the ball head from the side to up and finally,
- extending all the legs. They can all be untwisted in one go if you aren’t familiar with twist lock legs.
To close the Manfrotto Befree Advanced, do the same thing in the reverse order, except the reversing the legs which require you to manipulate a small latch. The latch ensures the legs don’t extend up on their own and break your camera.
If you don’t have the plate already attached to your camera, you will obviously need to attach it.
Leg Locks & Joints
The tripod legs have everything you’d expect. They’re one place where I feel they didn’t cut too many corners and I think it’s a good thing.
While I can’t vouch for the latch version of the Manfrotto Befree Advanced, the twist-lock mechanism is well constructed and seems to take cues from their more expensive Gitzo range.
The legs extend smoothly and the twist mechanism holds the tripod at full weight without having to over-tighten the legs.
The bag attachment is small and plastic making it difficult to attach anything of substantial weight. I get the impression that a weighted camera bag would break the bag attachment point on the tripod.
The feet are rubber with the option to screw in metal spikes. The tripod does not come with the spikes; they are an optional extra.
I would have liked Manfrotto to put in a twist extend mechanism with spikes similar to those found on the Sirui brand. Rather than having to manually install the spikes, Sirui allows you to twist the foot and the spikes extend.
Stability is always an important consideration for users. Manfrotto says the Manfrotto Befree Advanced is rated to 8kgs. I tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to the capacity of a tripod, particularly when there are unknown variables like gusts of wind.
I’d avoid extending the centre column too high on the Manfrotto Befree Advanced. It doesn’t seem to be too stable in this form. I would extend it to a maximum of about 50% and ensure adequate weighting on the tripod.
On the side of where the legs attach to the tripod, there is a small hook used for connecting a carrying strap or adding weight to stabilise the tripod.
The combined weight of the “added weight” and your camera/lens cannot exceed 8kgs.
Manfrotto shows someone attaching a clip in their manual, except the bag doesn’t have a clip on the bag strap to attach.
The clip reference seems to be a carry strap, but given the hook is unlikely to hold the weight of a decent-sized camera bag, it seems like an oversight not to include a clip on the bag.
The ball head on the Manfrotto Befree Advanced works, but it’s not the strong point of the Befree. It fits into the category of mediocre and stops at about that point.
It includes the ability to pan, along with a single knob to adjust the ball head.
Inside the single knob is a small friction adjustment. It also comes with a plate that fits both Manfrotto and Arca mounts, which is a nice touch. A lot of ball heads don’t provide quick release plates at all.
The mounting plate includes a lock to prevent accidental detaching of the plate. The lock is effective, and I can’t see anyone accidentally disconnecting it as it involves a series of quite deliberate moves.
If there is one gripe I have with the Manfrotto Befree Advanced, it’s the ball head. There are a couple of elements that are over-complicated or just clunky for lack of a better word.
The main ball head lock with friction lock doesn’t seem like a very intuitive way of doing things, and the plastic feels cheap. Overall, if I was to replace or fix one element of this tripod, the ball head is it.
I think a single metal screw instead of the plastic screw would have made the experience that much better.
Value for Money
With a retail price just under $170, the Manfrotto Befree Advanced scores well on the value for money scale.
It’s nearly half the price of the carbon fibre version and well within the price range of many competitors.
Competitively, there are a few alternatives from brands like Sirui and Benro, but the Manfrotto Befree Advanced still scores well on quality given it’s a big brand.
As mentioned above, I would have preferred to pay a little more for a better quality ball head – $20 would not have been a big implication on the pricing and would have added considerably to the quality of the head.
Manfrotto Befree Advanced Review | Conclusion
The Manfrotto Befree Advanced is a great tripod option for someone looking for a low-cost tripod for travel or part-time landscape photography. It’s a complete offering for users, meaning you get a tripod, head and quick release – so for most users, there will be no hidden add ons.
While this tripod isn’t perfect, the issues aren’t going to be a big enough problem for the type of user base, as they fall into the small annoyance category.
Ultimately though, if you’re taking your landscape more seriously, you should be looking at something more substantial, whether its from Manfrotto or someone else.
The Befree Advanced is not the lightest tripod available, but at 1.5kg’s/3.49 lb, you aren’t going to break your back carrying it around. I don’t believe the weight difference is big enough to justify the carbon option for a large portion of the user base.