Ulanzi F38 Travel Tripod Review | A True Peak Design Alternative
Ever take a less than optimal shot because you didn’t want to be bothered with lugging a heavy tripod along?
Or suffered more than you needed on a long and arduous hike because of the weight of your camera gear?
Or left your tripod at home because it just wouldn’t fit in your pack?
Enter in the Ulanzi & COMAN Zero F38 travel tripod.
It’s super compact, crazy light, and at a price point far below its closest competitors.
I’ve been using it for just about two weeks now, and it’s definitely an incredible improvement over anything I’ve ever used before…
(Although granted, I’ve never had the funds to splurge on the Peak Design Travel Tripod – Ulanzi’s biggest competitor right now.)
If you’re a landscape or cityscape photographer, often shoot in low light, or love macro photography on the run, you’ll want to give this travel tripod some serious consideration.
Let’s take a look at what the Ulanzi F38 has to offer to see whether it’s the best travel tripod of 2023.
Table of Contents
Ulanzi and COMAN Zero F38 Travel Tripod Review
- Extremely small and light
- Fantastically portable
- Quick to set up/tear down
- Beautiful build
- Leg joints and locks work smoothly
- Great height range
- Numerous configuration options
- Quick release plate can be awkward
- Some center-column wobbling when fully extended
Ulanzi F38 Specs
- Materials: Carbon Fiber and Aluminum
- Ballhead load capacity: 6 kg (13.2 lb)
- Leg locks: flip-lock style
- Max height (with center column raised): 1590 mm (62.6”)
- Low mode: 180 mm (7”)
- Net Weight 1.1 kg (2.4 lb)
- Folded Length: 425mm (16.7”)
- Legs: 5 leg sections
- Leg Angles: 20/55/75
At first touch, the Zero F38 feels so small and light that it might not hold up to extended use, but spend a little time with it, and you’ll realize this is one high-quality build.
The majority of the components are made of carbon fiber and aluminum – the legs being entirely carbon fiber.
Carbon fiber can’t take impacts as well as aluminum, but it’s incredibly strong and light (which is why the Ulanzi F38 tripod can hold 6x its weight).
Ulanzi says the legs are also abrasion and scratch-resistant, but I haven’t had it long enough to put that to the test.
Of course, there’s no way to really know how much abuse the legs and center column could really take, but all in all, everything feels exceptionally well-built.
I expect that with a reasonable amount of care, this tripod will be with me for a long while.
It’s in the design that this tripod really shines. Ulanzi and COMAN have paid attention to every detail.
Of course, one of the main goals was to keep things light with an extremely small form factor. In this, they’ve far exceeded any expectations I could have thrown at them.
The entire tripod weighs just 1.1 kg/2.4 lb! Literally! At the same time, its load capacity is 6 kg – almost 6x its own weight. You’re not going to find a lot of quality tripods that are as light as a literal kilo.
In a pack, the Zero YF38 is hardly noticeable, either in terms of weight or footprint. Folded up, the entire unit is only about a foot and a half and only 3.5 inches at its widest point. The ball head is no bigger than the width of the legs when folded up.
All together – case and all – I can easily fit this tripod into the water bottle pocket of my LowePro Photosport 24L, the smallest bag I use with my Sony A7III gear:
The leg locks are clip-style and are positioned in a way that they can all be opened at the same time with one hand.
For me, it’s much quicker than using twist locks. Another benefit to having levers for leg locks is that you know when a leg is fully secure.
Another cool aspect of the design is that the center column splits in two so that you can use the shorter section to shoot close to the ground.
The tool for taking it apart and putting it back together is cunningly hidden in the gear hook at the bottom of the center column.
You can also put the center column in upside down if you need to get even closer to the ground:
Additional configurations include a side portal for attaching a cell phone and, with the additional ¼” center column piece, the ability to turn the tripod into a video set-up or change to another ball head.
Another feature is that the quick release plate is supposedly compatible with Peak Design’s quick-release system.
I didn’t find this to be true on the Peak Design Capture Clip, however. The F38 is a hair smaller than the CC plate and doesn’t sit snugly inside.
(I’m a bit bummed about this as I use the Capture Clip from time to time and having to change base plates all the time is a serious killjoy.)
Speaking of the ball head…
The Ulanzi F38 Falcam ball head gives the shooter 360-degree positioning when the center column is slightly raised.
Both the top plate and the base mount are designed to be fully compatible with the Arca-Swiss mount system.
The ball-head tension is controlled by a lever that sits horizontally on the head, just below the pano numbers.
(In the photo above, opposite the branding and therefore out of sight.) There’s also a panning screw for additional side-to-side action.
Additional features include a slot for turning your camera on its side and shooting vertically, a level, and a “safe lock.” The safe lock is supposed to prevent any accidental releases.
While I like the idea, I’m not a big fan of this safe lock button yet. I’ve been finding it hard to move the button into and out of Deadlock mode.
Leg Locks & Joints
The multi-angle locks on the Zero F38 are pretty standard, offering three different angles: 20 degrees, 55 degrees, and 75 degrees.
I find them a bit stiff and “pinchy” for my taste, but again it might just be a question of getting used to them.
The five leg sections are controlled by aluminium flip locks. At the base of each tripod leg is a removable rubber foot (for smooth floors) that’s interchangeable with the included metal spikes (for soft and/or rough ground).
I gotta say, I really love how smoothly the leg joints move – they slide like silk yet aren’t overly slippery.
I also enjoy how easily the leg locks open and close. I have tiny hands, yet I can open and close all four locks easily with just one hand.
Size & Handling
Being used to the Zomei Z699c, I was truly surprised, not just by the lightness of the Zero F38 but also by its maximum height.
I’m only 5’4″, and the Zomei was never tall enough to reach eye level for me.
With the center column fully extended, the Zero F38 easily reaches the eye level of someone who is 5″10, let alone lil ol’ me.
As mentioned earlier, there’s not a twist lock to be found on the Ulanzi & COMAN Zero F38 tripod.
I’ve never worked with a tripod that used a lever for the ball head as well as for the center column, and it definitely takes some getting used to.
To me, the lever seems less sensitive than the large(r) knob I’m used to using on my Zomei 7699c. That being said, it hasn’t been hard to get used to it. This last time out, I didn’t even notice it.
I find the panning screw more problematic, however. On mine, the screw points in the “up” position when locked down, interfering with where my hands need to be to get the quick release plate on and off.
I’ve tried taking it out and reinserting it to get it to lock down in another position, but no luck yet. A minor annoyance, but repeatedly so.
My greatest challenge with handling this tripod is working with the quick-release plate. It’s just not easy to get it locked into the ball head. I actually ended up missing out on a few shots last night because it took me so long to get it lined up.
Part of this is because there only seems to be one way that the plate goes on. Another part is, as mentioned before, the panning screw is often in my way. While I’m used to a larger plate, I’ve never struggled this much so consistently with getting a quick release plate on and off any tripod no matter its size.
Another minor issue I have with the quick-release plate is that its screw doesn’t come with a handle (unlike the Zomei).
I’m used to easily being able to loosen and tighten the plate. This one’s come loose a number of times now (especially when I’m shooting in the vertical position with a telephoto).
All this being said, I really love how this tripod works overall and suspect I’ll get used to its quirks. (For example, I’ll just have to carry a quick plate tightener on a key chain like so many other photographers.)
Other reviews mention that there’s some wobble at the joining section when the center column is fully extended.
I haven’t encountered that yet, but maybe that’s with heavier setups? The heaviest I’ve used so far is a Sony A7III + Sony FE 70-300mm.
Alternatives to the Ulanzi F38
If you’re not sure if the Ulanzi & COMAN F38 is the right travel tripod for you, there are a few alternatives out there, though none are as reasonably priced.
The first of which is Peak Design’s carbon fiber travel tripod. It has similar features and a comparable footprint, though it definitely trumps the F38 in terms of its weight limit – 20 lb vs. 13.2 lb.
That being said, the Peak Design travel tripod comes in at a much higher price point: around $650 vs. just upwards of $360!
You could also take a look at the popular yet even more expensive Gitzo Series 1 Traveler (upwards of $550 without the ball-head). I haven’t used it before, so I can’t speak to it. I do notice, however, that it’s more than twice the weight of the F38.
If you’re on a tight budget, the Zomei Z699C retails for less than $120 these days. It’s not as small nor as tall and certainly not as light, but it’s a fine option for those who don’t want to shell out the $350-$700 for one of the more expensive options listed here.
Value for Money
Given that Ulanzi & COMAN F38 travel tripod is almost $300 less than its nearest competitor, I’d have to say that it’s an extraordinary value for the money.
Of course, not everyone is going to have upwards of $300 to spend on a travel tripod, but those of us who shoot HDR, do night photography, and/or are seriously into landscape photography will find this a more than reasonable price for the extreme portability.
Ulanzi F38 Travel Tripod Review | Conclusion
Honestly, the Ulanzi and COMAN F38 travel tripod is (mostly) a delight to work with.
The quality of the build, coupled with how small and light it is (yet tall when fully extended), makes it more than worth the purchase.
For me, it’s remarkably reminiscent of going from playing the trombone to playing the penny whistle. (Well, it would be more like moving to the trumpet, but having never played the trumpet, I’ll settle for penny whistle…)
After being weighted down for so long, I feel like I’m virtually flying.
There are, of course, the issues I’ve had with the quick-release plate, but as I mentioned before, I expect to get used to it in time.
But back to the question of whether it’s right for you…
In the end, what matters is 1) whether it will work for your kit and 2) whether it is light enough and compact enough for you to take with you when you have the choice.
For me, the answer is a resounding yes on both accounts.
My camera + largest lenses all fall well within the load limit, and the Ulanzi F38 is so much lighter/smaller than what I’m used to that I’ve been going out of my way lately to do more night photography.
If you work with large prime lenses and/or long telephotos, though, you’ll definitely want to pay close attention to the 6 kg/13.2 lb weight limit on the F38.
Otherwise, this is a fantastic tripod, and I’m excited to add it to my kit. I hope to be using it for a long, long time to come.
Teryani Riggs (they/them) is an adventure, who loves all things wild and free. Teryani can often be found in the midst of a social/eco-justice campaign, hiking through wild backcountry, or hitchhiking around the world listening to other people’s stories. While their focus has historically centered on landscape, travel, and wilderness photography, they’ve also been hired to shoot genres as varied as historical fiction reenactments in the studio to product and food photography.