I finally gave in and bought a tripod, mainly so that I could get into a family photo for the holidays. My job gave me a $125 Best Buy gift certificate, so I decided to drop it on a cheap tripod. I decided to spend the $199 that BB charges for the Velbon 530 Carbon Fiber tripod. It comes with a three way tilt pan head, case, accessory hook and stone bag.
The tripod is rather light, coming in at 3.9lb. It also comes in at a little over 2 feet folded. The maximum height of it is 65 inches, but with the center column down (where it is most stable), the height to the bottom of the camera is 51 inches. Not the tallest, but comfortable enough for me (and I'm 6'5")
I know that for a good pod setup, we're in the $1k range, so for $200, I was not expecting a whole lot out of this tripod. I gladly report that I am happily surprised with how stable this tripod is. I went out shooting with a gripped 5D with a 70-200 2.8 IS mounted to the pan head. I was shooting right on the Long Island Sound, and we had the winter winds blowing. It was very very windy. I kept the center column down the whole time. Threw some random rocks into the stone bag and attached it to the tripod for some extra weight. I was able to get crystal clear shots with 2 second exposures. I tried going longer, but it was really sunny, so all the shots came out over-exposed north of 2 seconds.
Things that I like about the tripod:
-Light and Stable. Nice to have a CF tripod at this price point
-Numbered markings on legs, making it easy and quick to extend all legs to the same height.
-Angle adjustment clips to lock the legs in place, when you want to shoot at a much lower height. (minimum shooting height is 10.3 inches when you separate the center column)
Things that I am not crazy about:
-The Vertical Tilt Handle has to be unscrewed and screwed into the Pan & Tilt handle, for storage. I just bought an Arca B1 ballhead for the pod, so this will not be bothering me much longer
-Velbon does not include the 3mm allen wrench for tightening the leg locks (really not a big problem at this price point. They're 50 cents at the local hardware store)
-The split center column has to be tightened pretty hard to not start to un-screw if you have the column lifted and locked (right out of the box). Just putting a little bit of pressure on the pan handle caused the center column to start to un-screw and turn. I took the center column out completely and used a good amount of force to tighten it, and it has been fine since.
I know that there are much better tripods out there, but decided that I would let you all know my thoughts on this very nicely priced carbon fiber pod.