When B&H asked me to review an Oben tripod I was skeptical to say the least, who’s even heard of this brand and how could it possibly compare to my trusty Gitzo’s? I decided to give it a try, and let me tell you, I was pleasantly surprised.
First off, full disclosure; the tripod was given to me by B&H in return for this review, but that does not mean I’m going to sugar coat this review. I’m here to tell you the good and the bad. Also the links in this article are affiliate links, if you use them it costs you nothing extra but helps support me.
I was given my pick of the litter, since I’m quite tall (6′-4″) I picked out the tallest tripod they made. The CT-2491 stands at 72.5″ with the center column extended, but what I was more intersted in was high it stands without the center column (I’ll touch on this later) this tripod stands at an impressive 62.5″ without the center column (actually measures 63″). With the ballhead (a Really Right Stuff BH-30 for now) the viewfinder of my Nikon D700 sits at 69.5″, which happens to be my exact eye level. So this is a great tripod for the tall photographers out there. The reason I originally bought my Gitzo GT3541XLSwas for it’s extreme height, at the time there were no other good options. My Gitzo extends to a crazy 78″ with no center column! That’s 2″ taller than me. I almost never extended the last leg section of this monster. While I love the Gitzo, it is heavy and very long when folded up (27.6″). Lately I’ve been doing a lot of hiking and backpacking to remote locations, the Gitzo was just too much tripod to carry on these long treks. The Oben folds up to 23.3″, much more backpack friendly. Keep in mind this is one of their longest models too, so if you’re not freakishly tall like me you’ll be even better off selecting one of their shorter models.
For this review I didn’t take the tripod out of the box, fiddle with it for a few minutes and say ‘yeah this seems decent’. After seeing the build quality and usability of it I decided to make it my main tripod for the past 3 months. Keep in mind that I’m a full time landscape/night photographer, nearly every shot I take is on a tripod and most of them very long exposures, it’s probably my most important piece of gear. Below is a 4 minute exposure taken with the Oben.
I’ve put this tripod through it’s paces; it’s been to the Grand Tetons, Rocky Mountains, Snowy Range, backpacking trips in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness and Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness in Colorado. I’ve used it for night photography excursions shooting the milky way in remote locations. Every trip I’ve taken it’s been used and abused, I’ve had no mercy on it. It’s scratched, coated in mud, it’s legs have been submerged in alpine lakes and rivers….okay, you get the point.
The big question is, after using it for 3 months solid will I continue using it? Absolutely. This will remain my main tripod until it falls to pieces, which I don’t see happening anytime soon.
Let’s start with the bad because there isn’t much. During a recent trip some water got under the rubber of the twist locks which caused it to spin freely and making it difficult to loosen the leg lock. Once the water dried out everything worked like new again. To resolve this I’ll likely put a few drops of super glue under each piece of rubber. I will say this only happened this one time even though I’ve had them wet many times. If this is a big concern they also have models with flip locks similar to Manfrotto tripods, I haven’t used them though so I can’t comment on their quality. Look for CC in the model number rather than CT.
The next bad thing is the extendable spikes in the feet of the tripod, seems like a cool idea, you just have to turn the bottom of the foot and a metal spike comes out, it’s like a transformer! Cool right? Well, it turns out not so much. Remember I used this thing in the real world, that means dirt and mud abound. That mud gets up into this mechanical device and guess what? One of them is stuck. Oh well I wasn’t using them anyways. I’ll be contacting Oben to see if this can be fixed easily.
The only other sort of negative I can think of is that the twist locks are a bit stiffer than the Gitzo, so it takes a bit more force to loosen and tighten them. Although after a month of use they did loosen up considerably and are quite easy to open and close with one twist of the wrist now. The Gitzo only takes a 1/4 turn to open, the Oben a 1/2 turn, so it is a little more work, but not that big of a deal.
The good; everything else! Solid construction, good looking carbon fiber, nice feel to the leg locks. The adjustable stops that allow the legs to swing out at different angles actually work much better than the Gitzo. They have flanges that come out to the sides so you can actually get a grip on them to pull them out. With the Gitzo you have to dig your fingers under the adjuster and I’ve often pinched my fingers in the process; not fun on a frozen lake with cold fingers. They are also much more fluid, the Gitzo feels like metal on metal grinding, the Oben feels like it’s riding on ball bearings.
I mentioned earlier that I don’t extend the center column, in fact I have removed it from the tripod alltogether. There are a few reasons for this; first off extending the center column reduces the stability of the tripod dramatically, you should never use a center column, sorry. Another major reason is because I like to get low, really low. This achieves those dramatic landscapes with a prominent foreground by getting extremely low and close. With the center column you can’t get very low because the center column has to go up as the legs go lower. Lastly, it’s just extra weight I don’t need, so it’s relegated to the basement never to see the light of day again. As a side note to this, look in the bag that the tripod comes in (which is very nice btw) for the instruction manual, it tells you how to remove the center colunn. I completely missed this initially and sent an email to Oben support, they answered me almost immediately by phone and were extremely helpful, you won’t get that from Gitzo! Did I mention they have a 5 year warranty?!
A couple more small positives; there is a built in bubble level so you can easily level your tripod legs, this makes shooting a straight panorama a breeze. Level the legs, compose, level the camera and rotate using the base of your ballhead. Fast, easy and lightweight; no special equipment needed. There is also a built in metal loop where you can clip on the included shoulder strap. I use this in conjuction with my Mindshift backpack and the tripod suspension kit, which I’ll be doing a review on soon.
That was a bit long winded, but I wanted to be sure I covered everything. Overall I really enjoy using this tripod. The fact that I reach for it more often than my Gitzo which is nearly double the price says a lot. I wouldn’t hesitate recommending this tripod to anyone looking for a solid piece of equipment.