Manfrotto looks to bring higher quality to the entry-level tripod market with the BeFree Live Video system.
The low-end tripod market is typically a pretty frustrating place. It's a mix of tripods for home-movie camcorders that say "fluid head" in big letters on the side but are too poorly designed and constructed to be of any use, and then some sturdy, thoughtful products for photographers that have terrible pan and tilt. Manfrotto is trying to change that by bringing their expertise in mid-level tripods to a less expensive model, aimed at mirrorless camera and DSLR owners along with vloggers and streamers.
Manfrotto dominates mid-level tripods, but don't really compete with O'Connor and Sachtler up at the top. The answer they came up with to address the entry-level market is the BeFree Live Video. It is available in a combo package with their new video head and their previously released BeFree still photo legs, available in aluminum or carbon fiber. There isn't anything that makes this particularly product targeted for just "live" productions, however (it's not a pedestal with wheels and a tally light, for instance), other than marketing and a hope to ride a bit on the livestreaming trend. Rest assured, the video features will be equally useful for shooting a live event and a narrative production.
The base level of the BeFree live comes in at under $240 for a fluid pan and tilt head tripod with aluminum legs, a total package that comes in at just under 4 lbs. You can upgrade to carbon fiber legs if you'd like to shave off around one more pound, but the price bump of several hundred dollars likely won't be worth it for the relative weight savings. Using three stage extendable legs and an extra extension stick on top, the tripod offers a useable range from 17" to 59.5", though in general the top center extension tube isn't particularly useful for filmmakers. It tends to sway a bit too much, especially in windy situations or under heavy pan and tilt, and is best avoided.
Manfrotto might be perfectly placed to come out with a tripod affordable enough to use as you are just starting out, but useable enough to leave in your trunk "just in case" after you upgrade.
Of course, low cost isn't the only benefit of the tripod, especially since if you are willing to go ever-so-slightly higher there are a lot of great tripods in the $350-$400 range, including products from Manfrotto. However, those all go up to 6-8 lbs pretty quickly, and the sub-4 lb weight has advantages. Wether you are carrying all your gear on your back for a shoot up the side of a mountain, or trying to get under an airline's weight limit, lighter weight gear is a great option to have.
As we increasingly see extremely lightweight cameras being integrated into productions, and as we frequently see multiple-camera shoots, more useable options at the low end of the camera mounting range are desperately needed. You might never mount your A camera to the BeFree Live Video, but if you want to get some C camera coverage on a scene and happen to own a G5, it'll be nice to have an inexpensive option that allows you to put that G5 on a tripod and get some extra coverage. This is the niche that Manfrotto seems to be going for.
It also will serve as a great entry level tripod for a purchaser with a strict budget limit, who can pair this tripod with something like a T5i. As the proud owner of a Manfrotto Pixi (seriously, most tiny tripods are terrible, but that thing is amazing), it seems to me like Manfrotto might be perfectly placed to come out with a tripod affordable enough to use as you are just starting out, but useable enough to leave in your trunk "just in case" after you upgrade to something more substantial as your career grows.
My only quibble is I wish they had found a way to build in something like their leveling plate, or at least offered a package where that was included at a discount. What do you think? Excited to have more choices at the low end? Or do you fear that this tripod will be as bad as others at its price point? Does the phrase "Italian Quality Standards" in the marketing materials fill you with confidence or terror?
The tripod is available now in a kit including a case, from B&H.
- Supports up to 8.8 lbs
- Separate Pan and Tilt Drag Knobs
- 17" Minimum Height
- 59.5" Max Height with Center Post Raised
- Includes 501PL Quick Release Plate, Pan Bar
- 4 lb with Case and Aluminum legs
- -90°/+65° tilt range, 360° pan
- 1/4" and 3/8" camera screw mounts