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Review: Benro Travel Angel A-1691TB0

by Mike Pouliot on 03/26/2011

Let’s face it, nobody likes to lug around a tripod. Yes, they provide stable shooting platforms but they also add extra weight and take up valuable space that not all photographers are willing to spare. You can opt for a compact, ultralight carbon fiber tripod, but that usually results in an ultralight wallet. The other option is buying an affordable, “traditional sized” tripod but then you add at least 8 lbs. to your load. Not surprisingly, most people opt for the second option which is why tripods are often left at home. So what do you do? Enter the Benro Travel Angel.

The Travel Angel line of tripods are light, compact and surprisingly affordable. Currently, Benro offers two different series of Travel Angel tripods, Transfunctional and non-Transfunctional. The key difference is the Transfunctional series have a removable leg which can be used as a monopod. Both series are available in aluminum or carbon fiber. This review will focus on the A-1691TB0 model which is the mid-rage aluminum version of the Transfunctional line of tripods.

Specs

- Maximum Load = 17.6 lbs.
- Max Height (24* Leg Angle) w/ Column Extendd = 63.4 inches
- Folded Length = 17.1 inches
- Max Height Converted to Monpod = 52.8 inches’
- Number of Leg Sections = 5
- Leg Lock Type = Anti-dust and moisture seal
- Independent Leg Spread = Yes, with 2 stops
- Center Column = Rapid
- Tilt Range = -45* / +90*
- Drag Control = Yes
- Panning Range = 360*
- Separate Panning Lock = Yes
- Quick Release Plate = Arca-Swiss Style (PU50)
- Spiked Feed = M8 Thread
- Head Mount Thread Size = ¼”-20
- Weight = 3.7 lbs.

At a Glance


Benro Travel Angel Compared to Canon 5D with 17-40mm F/4L

The first thing you will notice about this tripod is the size. It’s much smaller than most traditional tripods. This compact size can be attributed to the 5 section legs that have the unique ability to fold up towards the center column a full 180*. This allows the tripod to collapse down into a nice compact package. At just 3.7 lbs. and 17.1 inches when folded down, the A-1691TB0 can easily fit into most full sized camera bags without breaking your back. Even though it is fairly light, the A-1691TB0 has a surprisingly solid feel.

In Use

The legs open with a smooth action and good resistance. Each leg can move independently of each other and can be set at any of 3 positions: closed, open 24* and open 80*. One surprising feature to see in a tripod in this price range is anti-twist legs. Anti-twist legs are a must have on legs that use twist locks. Anti-twist legs prevent the legs from spinning as you turn the twist locks. This helps to quickly setup and breakdown the tripod, even with one hand provided they are a decent size (see picture below).

If you place one hand over the twist locks, you can easily twist all locks at once and pull on the bottom section to extend all sections in one quick action. This also works when locking all of the sections after you have collapsed the legs.

One thing to note about the twist locks is they take a good full turn to lock them down. It’s not a deal breaker but this can slow you down when setting up the tripod. One trick I discovered is to only turn the locks about a quarter to a half rotation. This unlocks the legs enough to be able to pull them out and it only requires you to make the same turn when locking down each section. Again, this is probably not a big deal to most, but setup time is crucial to some photographers.

Setting the Travel Angel up at the 80* position allows you to get low which can be useful when taking macro or landscape shots. One thing to note is the center column has to be extended to roughly half it’s length when the legs are in this 80* position.

Moving the legs inward one step to 24* sets the tripod in a more traditional position. Not surprisingly, as you extend the legs and center column, the unit becomes less stable but only to a small degree. If you lower the center column a bit and add weight (your camera and lens), the unit settles down nicely. If you’re using a lighter setup (e.g. Micro Four Thirds) or if you want added stability, the Travel Angel has a trick up it’s sleeve. Located on the bottom of the center column is a spring-loaded hook which can be used to hang your bag or a weight to load down the tripod. Hanging a weighted object from this hook makes a noticeable difference in stability. If you happen to be in snow or grass, the included spiked feed will also help keep your setup stable.

As I stated earlier, this version of the Travel Angel is from the new Transfunctional line which allows the user to remove one of the legs to use as a makeshift monopod. This is a great idea and it worked rather well but I wouldn’t recommend buying this tripod if you plan on using the monopod feature frequently. I could see parts wearing down after constant disassembly, and then you are left with a shaky tripod and a less than ideal monopod. But if you occasionally need a monopod, you can easily kill two birds with one stone by opting for the Transfunctional line of Travel Angel tripods.

The B0 Ball Head

While the B0 ball head sports a load capacity of 17.65 lbs and separate drag adjustment and panning knobs, it is the only part of this tripod setup that failed to impress. The head could securely hold a Canon 5D and 50mm F/1.8 or the 17-40mm F/4L but I would hesitate to go with a longer or heavier lens than the 17-40mm F/4L. I tried using the 5D with a 70-200mm F/4L IS and while the B0 managed to hold the load, I did notice some creep. I did not have a tripod collar available for the 70-200mm which may have helped but I’m not sure it would have completely eliminated the creep. The B0 did hold a Canon Rebel XT with the 17-55mm F/3.5-5.6 kit lens with no problem at all. Any of the Canon XXXD/Tx series or smaller bodied DSLRs will feel right at home on this ball head. It’s the larger, heaver bodies and lenses that really start to test this ball head’s abilities.

One somewhat major omission to this ball head is the lack of any type of safety lock on the quick release plate. Even my $50 cheap-o tripod has a safety latch that must be pulled to released the plate from the head. The only thing separating your camera from the ground is one knob. Needless to say, I checked to make sure that knob was tightened down every time I moved the camera. You may develop a mild case of OCD when using this ball head.

Unfortunately, the Travel Angel series of tripods cannot be purchased without a ball head. Because of this, some may want to step up to the 269 version of the Travel Angel which includes the beefier B1 ball head but keep in mind this will add about another pound to the total weight. Another option is to simply replace the included ball head with a head that better fits your needs.

Conclusion

A tripod is no good if you never take it with you. Is the Travel Angel the best compact tripod available? No, but it may just be the best value available at the moment. The Benro Travel Angel is a quality tripod that is sturdy, compact and reasonably priced. If you are looking for an inexpensive compact/travel tripod (and occasional monopod), the Benro Travel Angel series of tripods should be at the top of your list.

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