Thursday, August 7, 2014

Gear Review: Slik Sprint Pro II Tripod

Review for Slik Sprint Pro II Travel Tripod for backpacking

At some point after getting a little more serious about landscape photography, I realized that a tripod would have to become part of my backpacking and hiking kit. No amount of Photoshop filters or “stylized” looks could compare to the satisfaction of taking a genuinely good photograph with deep depth of field. I tried using the tiny, 4 oz. Pedco Ultrapod II for a time, and it’s a brilliantly designed product that serves its intended purpose well. However, it cannot in any way compare to a “real” tripod with the versatility of height, angle, leg positions, etc. I knew I didn’t have the budget for a “pro” tripod of the Gitzo Traveler variety, but I also knew I wanted something of decent build quality and design. Having owned the Slik 700 DX for ten years without any negative issues, I knew Slik made durable, well-designed products at excellent price points. I suppose this was the deciding factor in my purchase of the Slik Sprint Pro II (the ballhead version.) The Sprint Pro II has been my main set of backcountry sticks for the past year or so. These sticks aren’t the lightest design out there, even at their price point. They are, however, totally reliable, well-made, and smartly designed. I’m happy to sacrifice some weight for those virtues, especially considering they pack down to only 18.5 inches, small enough to fit inside even most day packs. Speaking of their size, let’s go ahead and take a look at all of their specs:

Sprint Pro II Tripod by Slik


Weight: 2.1 lbs.
Folded Length: 18.5 inches
Maximum Load: 4.4 pounds
Maximum Height: 63.6 inches
Minimum Height: 6.5 inches
Leg Sections: 3
Head Type: Ball Head w/quick release plate

For ultralight backpacking evangelists, carrying two extra pounds (not even including the camera) might seem an unforgivable sin. Given how well this small tripod performs (with some caveats), two pounds is more than reasonable for my needs. The Sprint Pro II also packs down to 18.5 inches and offers a 63 inch maximum height, thanks to the space-saving 3-section leg design. Like any tripod design, the performance of the tripod extended to its maximum height is highly limited (you better be on very sturdy, stable ground with no wind.) I find most general landscape and nature work looks much better from lower angles, anyhow, so height is not as much of an issue. Overall, I think the specs for the Sprint Pro are reasonable. Sure, I’d love to shave the weight in half, but if I’m going to bother lugging a tripod in the backcountry, I want one that works well and isn’t overly fussy. The Sprint Pro II fits that bill.

Adjustable leg positions on Slik Sprint Pro II
Adjustable leg positions allow work on unstable terrain.
I use the ballhead version of the Slik Sprint Pro II (other versions exist with a 3-way head.) The ballhead is listed as being able to handle loads up to 4.4 pounds. I use a humble (but light) Canon T3 body with a beloved Canon 17-40L lens when backpacking. Their combined weight is 2lbs., 7 oz. The Sprint Pro handles that weight fairly well in both portrait and landscape setups. I do, however, have to apply some serious pressure when tightening the ballhead, and sometimes unscrewing that pressure takes some heft (I use my t-shirt to cushion as the hard edges of the screw handle can be less than comfortable when trying to loosen an especially torqued screw.) Also, some “gravity creep” definitely happens, so compose your shot knowing the composition will move a tiny bit downward after cranking the head if using a camera/lens combo of similar weight to my setup. I imagine most point-and-shoot cameras wouldn’t have this problem. The quick release head is nice. I've found the cork-lined plate does lose tension fairly frequently, especially when shooting portraits with a heavier lens. Make sure to keep a coin in your pocket, or do like me and tie a washer onto your camera strap with some cord to make sure you always have a way to tighten the plate when out in the field. Despite those minor issues, I love the performance of the Sprint Pro II. The lever release of the legs is easy-breezy, and the legs can be adjusted to release in three positions of width, allowing countless support options on uneven terrain. The center column can also be removed for especially low shots. The tips of the legs do not have spikes, but have small rubber feet. This has not been a problem for me, and those feet have been submerged in many river and creek beds. Given that this tripod suffers a bit at its maximum height (as all do), I’ve considered simply leaving the detachable center column at home on backpacking trips to save a 3.4 ounces.

A removable center column and adjustable leg position allow for extremely low angle work,  barely over 6 inches from ground.
At under $100, the Slik Sprint Pro II is a bargain. It is durable, versatile, very compact, performs well, and is relatively lightweight for those who want a “true” tripod for travel or backpacking and hiking. Pay attention to the 4.4 lb. load capacity, however. For lightweight DSLRs and point-and-shoots, the Sprint Pro II is definitely worth considering. Those with bulky telephoto lenses or heavy flash units will probably want to consider other options.

WHERE TO BUY (no affiliation with this site)
B&H for $90
Amazon for $90
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