Sirui T-025x Travel Tripod Review
Arguably more important than the tripod legs themselves is the head which you mount upon them (depending on who you ask). Regardless, it's not uncommon for photographers to find a head that they fall in love with and perfectly fits their needs to then replace just the tripod legs. And depending on the head type you are after and your need to have it sustain a significant load (namely super telephoto lenses), some will even make you think you are investing in a new lens or camera body for the prices they command.
The different head types one may be confronted with wading through are ballheads, gimbals, tiltheads (and their further differentiations between the different types of tiltheads), panoramic heads, and video heads to name just the first ones to come to mind. For those inexperienced with tripods and their assortment of crowns, it's easy to get lost. To ease any headaches and emotional distress, for general purpose photography, the ballhead is the most widely used type and the one you want to first start with when initially venturing into the world of external support systems. As it just so happens, the Sirui T-025x comes eqipped with their C-10x ballhead, the smallest of their "C" line of ballheads, and one that by itself would run you $79.95 USD (as of the publication of this review, October 2013).
The C-10x (and the C-10 that adorns the T-025) comes with two main parts - the body and the ball+mount. Starting with the body, the C-10x is made from solid anodized aluminum that is very hard yet has a very smooth finish to the touch. There are two knobs opposing each other on the body with the larger one (to the left in the above image) being the main tension control knob, and the smaller and lowest knob being the panoramic lock. Each specific knob and their functions will be discussed in detail further down in this chapter.
The ball+mount is merely that - a similarly anodized aluminum sphere (ball) sits in a socket in the head (hence the name 'ballhead' - creative we know), which is fixed to the mount that attaches the head (and by connection the tripod) to the camera. Put simply, the ballhead operates in a manner that is not unlike how your shoulder does, with a socket that allows rotation upon multiple axes. As you have most likely figured out, if the ball is tilted and rotated in any direction, the mount (and thus the camera attached to it) will also rotate/tilt. This is where having a bubble level would have been nice, as they help immensely with ensuring your ballhead is set up in a manner level to the horizon/ground. For such a small ballhead, though, we aren't surprised to see that Sirui didn't include one. Should you want to add your own, there really aren't any places to do so as every edge is trimmed away to maximize the compactness of the head. The only place to come to mind would be to find a rather shallow bubble level and place it inside the plate mount so it sits directly under the plate's hollowed out bottom. Of course, this would then be useless once the plate+camera covered it but would nonetheless allow for an initial set up prior to mounting the camera.
Also, the ball itself is a 29mm ball, which compared to more mainstream ballheads, is very small. Average ballheads are around 35-40 mm in diameter. While as little as 6mm might seem like a trivial difference, it is inexperience with ballheads that would cause one to draw such a conclusion. The larger the sphere inside the socket, the smoother and subtler the movements are which not only make for a more pleasant shooting experience, it makes things like tracking birds-in-flight with telephoto lenses much easier (as do gimbals, but that's a whole different discussion). It's no wonder that the industry standard for ballheads are all over 50mm in diameter. Despite this seemingly miniscule ball diameter, we found the C-10x to be very smooth in its movements. Especially since the purpose of this tripod will be for travel and landscape photograhy, we never felt limited by the C-10x. Instead we were surprised by its usability and smoothness in spite of its size. Part of the reason for this we're sure is Sirui's guarantee that the ball is mechanically perfected to tolerances within 0.01 mm of a perfect sphere, or 10 microns. Or one tenth the thickness of the average human hair.
The C-10x hallhead comes with a vertical notch or "cut" into the side of the ball head. What this allowed is while the camera is still mounted to the ballhead, it can fall into this groove and is now a very quick way to transition from a landscape orientation to portrait without the need for an L-plate (which requires detaching from and reattaching to the ballhead).
Above is a top-down view of the ballhead tilted to where it is utilizing the vertical notch, and below is a straight on view of how the tripod and camera will look in such a manner with the C-10x's included quick release plate.
One thing to keep in mind is that despite the excellent inclusion of this feature, an L-plate is still preferred because it keeps the center of balance directly over the central axis of the tripod (aka the ballhead and where the legs meet at their apex). This is clearly seen below using a Benro non-camera-specific MPU-100 L-plate.
As you can see, using the portrait orientation notch removes the center of balance of the camera/lens to the the side of the ballhead whereas an L-plate does not. This then increases the chance of your tripod falling over and potentially causing a very expensive introduction between your camera/lens and the ground, especially since it is such a lightweight tripod. In practice, however, we found this to not be too much of an issue (assuming the camera/lens combo are not the camera/grip/tele zoom we used above), and if you use the bag/weight hook to add stability, then all worries become unsubstantiated. Even without added weight on the hook and at full height (including a fully extended center column), our K-5 IIs + DA* 16-50 F2.8 showed no desire to tip over. Another way to reduce the tendency for tipping over is to widen/open the legs, but again even at full height our fears were pretty much assauged. Note that keeping the legs at their narrowest positions while decreasing their height greatly destabilized the entire system when the portrait orientation knotch was used. In the end it's just something to keep in mind and be aware of (especially if shooting in windy conditions), and we are very glad that Sirui gives us this choice rather than opting not to include such a feature--standard among much more expensive ballheads--especially considering the diminuative size of the C-10x.
The plate that comes with the C-10x is already unique before you take the T-025x out of the box - the mere fact that it's included. More and more, there is a tendency for ballheads to not come with quick-release plates and it's a trend that we are happy to find that Sirui has bucked.
The plate is Sirui's TY-C10 Quick Release Plate, and should you lose it and want a replacement, is pretty expensive all on its own. And we mention the possibility of losing it simply because of how tiny it is. We tried to incorporate as many currencies we had at our disporsal, and hopefuly these coins from the United States, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, and the Euro help to demonstrate just how gargantuan the quick release plate really is.
As you can see, while it does work, it doesn't exactly inspire the most amount of confidence in its ability to hold a DSLR and attached lens - at least for us anyway. Although we must admit that in actual usage it surprised us by being more than adequate. The small rubber teeth along the face of the plate provide enough grip to prevent slippage and rotation while the camera is mounted, although the biggest issue was with the screw - as you can see above it doesn't include a D-ring that allows for quick and easy turning with your bare hands. You need a coin, flathead screwdriver, or one of the hex/allen keys that comes with your T-025x. Also, as you can see we had to offset it so it was balanced with the camera. This is where the C-10x's Arca-Swiss compatibility comes to play.
For those unaware, Arca-Swiss is a company that manufactures ballheads and other camera equipment, and at one point created a quick release plate for their heads that have since become the most widely used type of plate across many independent manufacturers, professional-grade and not. Their machined metal plates and locking mechanisms are based on a simple yet proven design - a plate 38 mm wide with dovetails on either side of 45 degrees.
With so many different companies creating what should be interchangeable, there are bound to be incompatibilities. Despite that, we are more than pleased that Sirui's ballheads and plates are fully Arca-Swiss compatible, and because of the quick release system that screws down on the plate, we measured an ability to take nonstandard Arca-Swiss plates from 37 mm to as wide as 45 mm.
On the body of the ballhead, the largest and most predominant appendage is the main tension control knob.
The knob here as well as the other two knobs (the panoramic lock and the quick-release plate lock) are also anodized aluminum like the rest of the body, and are nicely grooved for great traction when you try to turn them. These grips on the knobs are the only discernible difference between the C-10x and its predecessor, the C-10. In fact, had it not been for the difference grips, we would never have known they were different models! In practice, we found the knobs to offer plenty of traction regardless of the conditions - wet or dry. Additionally, wearing gloves were not an issue with turning them!
Loosening it allows for very easy manipulation of the ball with nothing attached. It won't fall on its own, but as soon as you mount a camera to it, rest assured that it certainly will.This is where we would have preferred a friction control knob, which allows for a minimum tension to be applied so that no matter how much you loosen the main tension control knob, it still maintains a preset amount of tension. Considering all the compromises that Sirui could have taken with such a small and compact tripod, and how this will be primarily a travel companion, this seems to have been the only real negation and we aren't too upset about it.
Tightening it down we were surprised how much this 29 mm ballhead will hold. See the below video for a demonstration, and we promise you'll be surprised at how we do it!
The C-10x Ballhead comes equipped with a separate control knob for rotating the ballhead completely independent of the main tension control knob. What this allows is much easier panoramic shooting and stiching because you can lock the camera in and its position with the tension control knob, and then rotate the head to easily capture left or right of the previous frame you just took. Also, the ballhead comes with a laser-etched degrees scale that is split hemispherically. Beginning at "0" it continues to "90" and then decreases back to the next "0" on the direct opposite side of the ballhead. Also, degrees are numerically marked every 15°, however there are two lines in between each set of engraved numbers providing an explicitly identified 5° accuracy throughout the entire 360°. For those who need more precise measurements, evenly aligning the spacing between each set of adjacent vertical lines allows for a very precise 2.5°.
Below we've created a motion .gif to demonstrate exactly how the degree scale works across the ballhead's entirety.
It's important to note that just as with every ballhead of this nature (with the pano lock on the base of the ballhead), the tripod must be perfectly level prior to rotating via the panorama rotator, otherwise you will find your camera torquing slightly up or down. To mitigate this, a feature of dedicated panorama heads has an additional rotator above the ball so that it does not matter whether the legs are perfect level. Unsurprisingly, the C-10x does not come with this very niche (and expensive!) feature. Also, regarding the tactile feel of the pano base, don't be surprised if while you rotate it you think its fluid-filled because of the excellent dampening!