Knowing that the internet is already filled with “box opening” videos and one-day-testing reviews, I thought it would be interesting to write about a real world review of the Manfrotto 055XPRO3 tripod.
As a landscape photographer who shoots in extremely demanding conditions, often ending my shooting sessions soaked in salt water up to my waist, I need reliable and rugged gear that won’t fail in the most important moments.
During my 10 year career, I spent the first four years refusing to use a tripod. I used to look at tripods as an obstacle to the act of shooting and composing, assuming they would turn photo sessions into something of a less smooth experience. This does still hold partially true today, but I just had to surrender and start using a tripod in every shooting session, as this is an absolutely essential piece of kit for proper long exposures and maximum sharpness.
The process of choosing gear has never been an easy one to me. The economy in Portugal has been going through a long severe crisis, and even being both a doctor and photographer, my budget is limited. This means that every purchase must be properly justified, based on a good price/quality ratio.
When I started the process of choosing my first tripod, six years ago, I was immediately overwhelmed with the endless amount of choices (and prices). After doing much research I went for a Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod, considering the great reviews, decent price and the fact that it had an adjustable center column, which would later prove to be essential for my type of photography.
I have heard many horror stories about broken tripods, so I thought my first Manfrotto wouldn’t resist the portuguese beaches and the deadly combination of sand and salty water. To my big surprise, 6 years have passed and it survived everything I’ve thrown at it (and it was a lot!) with distinction. I’m very far from being an obsessive gearhead, and I’m quite lazy with maintenance, so I only cleaned it thoroughly once every year, and yet it’s still in one piece, ready to be used when needed. Despite this, as the good old trusty 190XPROB was already showing its age, needing a long and dedicated wash, disassembly and maintenance, one year ago I decided to check how the tripod market had evolved. Even though things hadn’t changed that much, Manfrotto had launched a new line of tripods and, after reading some reviews, I thought it would be a good idea to try one. My Iceland trip was almost coming, and budget got even tighter than usual, so in a perfect coincidence of events, I managed to arrange a collaboration with Manfrotto, and got a shiny brand new Manfrotto 055XPRO3 tripod with a MH055M0-Q6 just in time for the trip!
It’s important for me to say that I wasn’t asked for absolutely anything in return for receiving the tripod, and this review is nothing but a clear report of my experience with it. I’m currently sponsored by some great photographic gear brands, and in every single case I was already using their products before getting the sponsorship.
Moving on to the experience with the new tripod, I must say expectations were set quite high, not only because of my fantastic previous experience with the brand, but also for their Manfrotto’s great support and new features of this specific model. When compared with the 190XPROB, the new 055 would allow me to achieve a considerably higher tripod height with the center column non extended, its legs had greater diameter and higher stiffness, and their Quick Power Lock (QPL) levers promised a stiffer locking mechanism and at the same time quicker single-handed actuation.
I could have written a review right after the 2014 Iceland one week trip, but I don’t think this would allow me to properly evaluate the reliability of this tripod at all. As such, I decided to wait a much longer period – almost one year – to tell you that the 055XPRO3 is still working as well as it was on the first day I received it. It has met the harsh climate and endless rains of Iceland, dozens of portuguese beaches, cold and hot climates, mountainscapes, and it is still looking as new, even with my usual low care maintenance.
The Adjustable Center Column is probably my favorite feature of the 055 and 190 series, and I use it a lot when I’m shooting with extremely low tripod heights. Using a wide angle lens in landscape photos with the tripod set at a very low height creates a stunning visual immersive effect that can transform a “regular” scene into an epic landscape. To reach very low heights without the Adjustable Center Column you would need to use a short column, which is a solution chosen by many, but which will no longer allow you to extend it if needed.
My landscape shooting style is mostly based on doing long exposure landscapes, 30 seconds and above. To achieve sharp images in such conditions, you need a very stiff tripod, especially if conditions are windy or if your tripod legs are being “smashed” by constant waves. The 055 has so far handled it all with distinction, continuing the already great legacy of the 190 stiffness and surpassing it.
The Quick Power Lock levers are definitely an improvement over the previous levers on my 190. At first I was afraid they wouldn’t last as much, as their bigger size and more intricate construction seemed to be a sand magnet, but in practice they are still working quite well, and need less effort to lock than the previous levers.
I have never ever chosen a photography product for its looks, except for my photo backpack (which I wanted to be as regular looking as possible), but I need to confess that I won’t mind at all if a product has great design. The 055 series must probably be the most beautiful looking tripod series on the market, with a killer combination of black and red, and stunningly crafted contours and chrome accents. I never thought I would say this about three pieces of a metal with a column in the center!
Moving on to negative aspects about the tripod, there are two I would like to emphasize. First of all I would love that Manfrotto would come up with a way to allow setting the adjustable center column at different angles, as we are limited to 0 or 90 degrees. The second negative aspect isn’t a true negative aspect, as it depends on the intended use for the tripod. I like to keep my camera gear as simple as possible, and I don’t use heavy telephoto lenses. Unless you shoot with very heavy camera gear or have a strong back and don’t mind carrying the extra weight, you might find the 055 a little bit too heavy. Hiking many miles with it might take a toll on your body, and I guess that’s why they have the more expensive carbon models, that will most probably strike a perfect balance between stiffness and weight.
As you might have guessed, I love this tripod, and I don’t need to come up with fancy descriptions of complex features or mechanisms to tell you why. To me, there’s just one single way of testing products, which is to use them on the field extensively, and let their quality speak (or not), for themselves. The Manfrotto 055XPRO3 had been my last year companion to all my photo sessions, and it has became a reliable extension of my body. I think I can’t come up with a better compliment than this…