Manfrotto has been a big player in the tripod game for over 4 decades now. You probably already know someone who owns one!
As a traveling portrait & headshot photographer, I never know what situation I’ll be walking into. One day I’m hired to shoot an author portrait at her house, the next I’m flying to New Zealand for a week.
The stakes are high, and time frames are strict. Having a durable & streamlined kit is essential.
I believe this travel tripod is aimed at the avid enthusiast who wants a do-it-all tripod AND the working professional who wants a lightweight kit to take on location.
Let’s dive into the Manfrotto Element review to see if it’s the best budget tripod of the year.
Table of Contents
Manfrotto Element Tripod Review | Specs
- Lightweight and portable
- Ball head
- Value for money
- Sticky to fold up & extend
- Stability at full extension
- Price: Around $150 USD
- Weight: 3.53lbs (1.6kgs)
- Min Height: 16.14 in (41cm)
- Max Height (with centre column down): 55.12 in (140cm)
- Max Height: 64.57 in (164cm)
- Closed Length: 16.54 in (42cm)
- Safety Payload Weight: 17.64 lbs (8kgs)
Overall Build Quality
There is a ton of rubbish on offer in the sub-$200 travel tripod market, and most of the past tripods I’ve owned have broken within a few months. Coming into this review I was definitely skeptical.
After 3 weeks of solid use, the Manfrotto Element is growing on me.
Which brings me to an important point. Is it possible to make an accurate assessment of durability after only 3 weeks?
Probably not. So take that with a grain of salt. However, my first impression is promising.
Also, keep in mind that all tripods require maintenance to stand the test of time. Especially whenever shooting in or around saltwater, it’s a good idea to give your travel companion a rinse after use.
Size & Handling
The Manfrotto Element is a lightweight tripod that folds down to a delightfully portable unit, easily attaching to the side of my camera bag.
Surprisingly, it doesn’t even skew my posture one bit – which is more than I can say for other tripods I’ve owned.
The extendable centre column performs exactly as you’d expect, and can also be inverted to get the camera to virtually ground level.
The ball head simply attaches on either side of the centre column, so you can mount your camera upside down.
This impressive range of motion & articulation makes it amazingly flexible.
Top-down photography? No problemo!
Close to ground macro work? Can do!
Monopod for sports & wildlife? You got it!
Leg Locks & Joints
Leg lock design is a divided issue among photographers. Some love twist locks and can’t stand lever locks, while others are the exact opposite.
As fellow reviewer Matthew Saville pointed out, neither is perfect – the important thing is simply whether they’re well-designed and strong. Check out his amazing camera tripod guide for more on that.
Thankfully, the Manfrotto Element does a decent job in this department.
The legs feel solid and well put together, with no noticeable play in the joints. They are made from aluminium alloy, which adds a level of trust and stability more commonly found in higher price brackets.
It also gives that oh-so-satisfying soundtrack of legs sliding to a solid stop as each section extends and retracts. Ah… life’s simple pleasures!
There is a slight stickiness to the folding mechanism, which is a bummer. However, I’d rather them be on the solid side than too loose. Nothing worse than a tripod with a mind of its own!
Note: Manfrotto includes an Allan key set to adjust this to taste, however it doesn’t fix the stickiness.
The joints grip well and the legs can be easily extended with one hand.
All ball heads are not created equal. I’ve thrown out tripods in the past, simply because they fell short on this feature. Working this Manfrotto ball head for the first time, it immediately becomes clear that the Italians understand my point of view.
The detachable ball head that comes with the Manfrotto Element is a delight to operate, and through 3 weeks of sand, snow & abuse, it has maintained its integrity beautifully.
A common complaint I’ve had with tripods is that the centre column doesn’t rotate, which is annoying for adjustments on the fly. It’s an expensive design element, so it makes sense why most budget tripods don’t offer it, and not even more expensive models like the Peak Design Travel tripod.
Manfrotto, however, have built 360-degree rotation into its ball head, which works super well!
As a portrait photographer, I constantly change my composition, which means the ball head gets a lot of action.
The Manfrotto Element feels smooth when loose and solid when locked. Big thumbs up.
Okay, let’s face it. This is a travel tripod. It is designed to be easy on the shoulders, easy for airport security and easy to set up. You’d think that the first thing to suffer would be stability.
And you’d be right. It makes sense. There must be a compromise at some point.
If you’re shooting 2-hour time-lapses in 40mph (64kmh) winds, this is not your winning candidate.
However, for a lightweight, it gets pretty darn close.
For my needs as a portrait photographer, it is more than stable enough. In the rare situation when I want more weight, Manfrotto added a hook under the centre column to hang a sandbag or similar for added stability.
By the laws of nature, any tripod will become increasingly unstable the higher it goes. As a 6”1 (185cm) male, this has become a familiar phenomenon to me.
At full extension, I definitely wouldn’t leave the Manfrotto Element alone at a dog park.
However, for working situations, it serves my requirements sufficiently, and I’m grateful it even goes this high!
Value for Money
There is no shortage of contenders in this category. And as I said above, most of the sub-$200 tripods out there are rubbish.
That’s why articles like this Manfrotto Element tripod review exist, so it’s important for me to be in full integrity here.
Is the Manfrotto Element a star trail time-lapse king? Probably not.
Is it a forever lasting, pass-down-to-your-granddaughter heirloom that will never wear down? Probably not.
Is it a brilliant mix of portability, stability & affordability for the avid enthusiast or on-the-go professional? I believe so.
For the asking price of around $130, this is great value for money for a tripod of this quality.
Manfrotto Element Tripod Review | Conclusion
All things considered, the Manfrotto Element passes the test for me. It surprised me with its solid build quality and well-handling ball head.
At this highly attractive price point, it is my new favourite travel tripod.
Let me know in the comments if this was helpful, and any suggestions on other tripods that are similar to this one. Thanks for reading!
Erik photographs the icons of our time. Based in Gold Coast, Australia, he operates a headshot & portrait studio, while travelling on assignment for Thought Leaders, Entrepreneurs & Change-Makers.