Manfrotto Element review

folded tripod, closeup of tripod

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.

shk-fs-table__imageHighly RecommendedLightweight & functional tripod that’s perfect for travel.Get Price

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.

Manfrotto Element Tripod Review | Specs

The Manfrotto Element with my MacBook Pro 15″.

  • Price: Around $150 USD (latest price here)
  • 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

closeup of tripod

The Manfrotto Element is made of solid aluminium.

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

review of the manfrotto element tripod

The Manfrotto Element on assignment in New Zealand. Attached to the side of my trusty LowePro Flipside 400 AW.

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.

I’m 6″1 and the Manfrotto Element allows me to mount the camera at eye level.

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.

tripod closeup

The Manfrotto Element is like a transformer!

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!

The Manfrotto Element can transform into a monopod in a matter of seconds.

Leg Locks & Joints

manfrotto element tripod review locks and joints

Close-up of the Manfrotto Element legs.

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.

manfrotto element tripod review

The Manfrotto Element in action.

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.

Ball Head

ball head, closeup of tripod

The detachable ball head is a delight to operate.

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.

Stability

stability manfrotto element tripod review

The hook underneath the centre column allows us to add weight and stability when required.

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

manfrotto element tripod review on assignment

The Manfrotto Element on assignment in my headshot studio.

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 (see latest price here), this is great value for money for a tripod of this quality.

Manfrotto Element Tripod Review | Conclusion

The Manfrotto Element next to the MacBook Pro 15″.

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.

Likes

  • Lightweight and portable
  • Ball head
  • Value for money

Dislikes

  • Sticky to fold up & extend
  • Stability at full extension
shk-fs-table__imageHighly RecommendedLightweight & functional tripod that’s perfect for travel.Get Price

This is my first contribution to Shotkit! It’s a pleasure to be part of such a friendly global community, and I look forward to bringing more quality content your way!

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!

Disclaimer: All recommendations are impartial and based on user experience, with no bias to the products or the brand. The products in this post may contain affiliate links.

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.

Build Quality7
Tripod Height9
Tripod Leg Locks & Joints7
Handling & Portability9
Value9

2 Comments

  1. Tommy Williams on November 21, 2019 at 12:46 am

    Great article and welcome to Shotkit! Look forward to reading more of your stuff.

  2. Erik Bergan on November 19, 2019 at 3:00 pm

    Thanks for reading my review!
    Feel free to share any thoughts or ask any questions here in the comments :)

Leave a Comment





mark-shotkit

WELCOME TO SHOTKIT!

I'm Mark, photographer and chief Shotkit gear nerd! Join me and over 47,000 other photography fanatics to discover new camera gear, improve your photography, and get inspired!

Enter your email below to be sent 19 useful photography tools... for FREE!