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Review: The Vanguard Nivelo Tripod for Micro Four Thirds Cameras

by Chris Gampat on 07/14/2011

I hate tripods—and I actually believe that they instead make for a great back scratcher when you need to get those hard to reach areas. Previously, I’ve only really used Gorillapods to place my wireless strobes in certain areas. Then Vanguard was kind enough to send me the Nivelo for review. So, did it change my mind?

The Tripod

The Vanguard Nivelo is a tripod constructed with aluminum and made small for easy transport. It comes with its own small carrying case, though I wish that the case itself had a strap around it to sling around your chest.

Three legs fold out with the camera holding platform acting almost as a fourth. This design makes the entire tripod easy to put into something like a Think Tank Retrospective 30 or a simple messenger bag.

To actually make use of that fourth leg you’ll first need to slacken this knob. Once the knob is slackened the fourth leg will swing up. To lock it into place you’ll need to push it down a bit for it to snap and then tighten the knob again.

In compact configuration, this is what the tripod looks like. In this configuration, I’ve found it to be the most sturdy against wind and vibrations. However, there’s a lot more to it that makes it quite useful.

The head is really quite simple. The screw for the camera is really quite a genius choice over more traditional latches. I also appreciate the fact that there is a built in level. For a bit more versatility though, I would’ve preferred a ball head.

The versatility that the Nivelo does have though is in the form of panning up and down. Using the according knobs, the user can let the tripod pan left to right or up and down. Panasonic GH2 and G3 users may really appreciate this.

The rubberized feet provide good grip on concrete and grass but not so much on wood floors, linoleum, and other more smooth surfaces.

The tripod obviously also becomes longer with another very smart design. All the user needs to do it grab the foot and turn it. As you turn, you’ll feel each section unlock. Then you’ll just need to extend the legs and tighten. This design makes setting up to be super quick. That’s also one of the reasons why I didn’t like tripods—they slow you down too much.

For scale, this is how big the tripod gets when you extend it. It comes up to around the same level as the front door of a house.

In Use

Here’s the big question: with mirrorless cameras being designed for less camera shake to begin with, why would you need a tripod? First off, note that even with Panasonic cameras without their in-body IS, not everyone chooses their image stabilized lenses. More users indeed prefer their prime lenses but still suffer from camera shake. The Vanguard Nivelo is one solution to that. But there are other reasons to use the Nivelo.

Sometimes, I don’t always need to shoot videos with my Canon 5D Mk II or 7D. Alternatively, my EP-2 does a very good job for my needs. If I need more stability, I’ll mount it on the Vanguard Nivelo and get a much steadier shot.

And then there’s the factor that nobody possibly considered: long exposures. I’ve been using the Pinwide for a little while now. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the product, the Pinwide goes onto your Micro Four Thirds camera and creates a Pinhole effect. Now, the Olympus Pen series of cameras already have this as an art filter, but all it seems to do is give the image more of a vignetting effect. The pinhole adapter makes the image look a lot more organic and more like an actual pinhole camera’s output. Because of the extremely small aperture (F/96-128) you’ll need longer exposures and perhaps higher ISO settings. These long exposures can’t be done handheld, and instead need the tripod.

Overall, I’ve used the Nivelo for certain reasons and purposes. Though I don’t use it every day, it sure does serve its purpose for when it is needed. Besides for Micro Four Thirds cameras though, I’ve put old films cameras on it for a great use as well.

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