Updated: May 13, 2020
Join me as I put the A-1205 Carbon Fibre Tripod and Y-11 Ballhead to the test on a trip through Europe.
Disclaimer: While I am an official Sirui Australia Ambassador, Sirui has not paid me for this review, and I have made every possible effort to describe my actual experiences with the tripod in the least biased way.
In the market for the perfect travel tripod? Why not head down to your local camera store and pick up the smallest and lightest model they have............ If only it were that easy!
Like any popular photography gear, there is an endless array of tripod choices on the market. Perform a basic online search for 'best travel tripod', and you'll be hit with more comparisons and models than dollars in your pocket. Many of the brands offer you much of the same features but packaged in a slightly different way or form.
While the stabilisation technology available in today's modern cameras is nothing short of incredible, a good sturdy and compact tripod is a necessity for any travel photographer looking to capture long exposures, night photography, self-portraits, panoramas and tack sharp images.
Like many other amateur photographers, I had been previously using the MeFoto Roadtrip Aluminium model as my everyday and travel tripod. In fact, I loved it so much that when I misplaced one, I purchased another. It was relatively light, small and worked ok in most conditions. But it wasn't perfect.
After a lot more photography experience and numerous rugged adventures, I've now entered into the world of Carbon Fibre tripods. My Sirui W-2204 Tripod and K-30x ball head (See my video review here) being my go-to piece of equipment for timelapse, ocean scapes and windy conditions, I required something that was less bulky and more suited to scaling large mountains and packable into the side of a bag.
Enter the Sirui A-1205.
Specifications (Taken from Sirui Australia Website
Tripod specifications – Weight: 1kg – Max. load: 10kg – Height: 26 – 140cm – Closed size: 37cm – Material: Carbon Fibre, Aluminium Centre column – Extendible and removable centre column – Reversible 1/4 inch and 3/8 inch screw for tripod heads or camera – Legs fold up by 180° – Sealed twist locks for secure support – Hook for stabilising and cold weather grips
Ball head specifications – Weight: o.3kg – Max load: 8kg – Material: Aluminium – 360° panorama function – infinitely variable friction control – Rubber release plate – size: 30x38mm – Release plate with 1/4″ stainless steel screw – head with 3/8″ thread – Vertical slot
Included 1x SIRUI A-1205 tripod Carbon Fibre black 1x SIRUI Y-11 ball head black 1x SIRUI release plate black 1x Soft case
Questions I asked myself
Heading down to the store to check out the entire Sirui tripod range, I was again, a little overwhelmed. Would I need something with waterproofness? Did I need a tripod that extended over the height of my head? Was this little tripod going to be sturdy enough when conditions get tough?
Let's see how it faired.
What I look for
As a professional adventure travel photographer, I look for a variety of features and specifications in a travel tripod + ball head combination that may differ from the average weekend warrior. In general these fall in the below order.
This review is broken down into the following categories.
1) Weight (less than 1.5kg)- if the thing is too heavy to take around with me, I won't use it. Simple.
2) Form factor - The tripod must be slim, unobtrusive and fit into a carry on sized bag with ball head attached. At the very least not protrude above the height of my bag when strapped to it.
3) Price - $329 RRP. Certainly less than $500 AUD.
4) Stability - Outdoor conditions are dynamic and often less than favourable. Does it hold up or fail under pressure?
5) Ease of use - How quick is it to set up and pack away?
6) Appearance - Hot or not? Is it inconspicuous?
Every second person's idea of the perfect weight to stability combination will vary drastically. This perfect' weight limit develops the more you get out and shoot and realise what is necessary and what can be left behind. Being that I shoot predominantly M4/3, any tripod + ball head combination over 1.5kg is pushing the limits of practicality for the majority of my work.
I need a tripod that is barely noticeable when trekking multi-day routes through the mountains and can also be packed into my carry on luggage without tipping the scales. The A-1205 + Y-11 fits the bill perfectly. At 1.3kg for the carbon fibre model, it's not the lightest on the market, but it sure is trim enough that you hardly notice after a full day of walking.
A travel tripod that is light enough to carry in one hand with a camera attached is super important. I often found myself capturing a shot then walking to another location that could be 10 minutes away, plonking the tripod down and begin shooting again. This becomes an increasingly tiring process with a heavier tripod. I felt I could move swiftly and comfortably over uneven ground or long distances with the camera attached to the unit. It wasn't a burden.
The A-1205 is carbon fibre which keeps the weight down to a minimum while maintaining superior strength and minimising vibrations. Anyone looking to purchase a good travel tripod that will last you many years of exploration should invest the extra $ for a carbon model.
At 300g the Y-11 ball head is hardly noticeable, even though it's made from aluminium it doesn't feel unbalanced, overly small or too large. With just 2 small tension knobs and an equally small ACRA plate, the weight is kept to a minimum.
At first glance the A-1205 and Y-11 when folded back on itself is tiny. You'd be forgiven in thinking that it's a child's toy. I'm a short guy at 171cm, and the tripod is almost precisely the length of my forearm and hand.
Traditionally when I've travelled by plane the few hundred extra grams and large width of my tripod pushed my carry on limits into the "Sorry sir, you'll have to check your bag in" zone. I would then pray to God it arrived intact.
On my recent trip to Europe, I placed the A-1205 inside the supplied Sirui tripod bag and strapped it to the outside of my bag without creating any unnecessary bulk that could raise eyebrows during check-in.
However, with the airlines cracking down on oversized carry-on, I feel the little guy will end up back in the checked luggage to save space for my precious camera glass.
Having first-hand experience using tripods with both tab and twist-lock mechanisms, I can safely say that I would never go back to tabs. The twist-locks that the A-1205 sports, barely make a difference to the overall diameter of the legs, they're easy to grip and non-obtrusive. The three top leg angle adjustment tabs sit near flush with the rest of the leg, adding to its sleek form.
Being an already small tripod, Sirui has managed to fit a dual section centre column without adding much to its diameter. The thin stabilising hook protrudes out around 5mm, which I thought would get hooked on everything, but this is yet to happen.
As mentioned before, I stand 171cm tall which means that many regular sized tripods extend to or above my eye level. With its maximum height of 140cm (2 section centre columns raised), the camera sits just under my eye level. Anyone taller than me would need to squat down a lot to use the viewfinder. Not necessarily an issue with many modern-day flip screens but could be a deal-breaker for anyone 6ft and over.
The small size of this tripod meant I could easily set it up in small and narrow places quite easily then move onto the next location without folding it up.
The best thing about this tripod is that it will always be with you.
Compared to a full-sized tripod like the W-2204 the A-1205 is significantly shorter and is marginally shorter than the Mefoto Roadtrip.
Let's face it. If your tripod isn't stable then it's not really doing its job, right?
A tripod's level of stability across a wide variety of conditions is paramount when considering it for travel. After all, you can't simply head into the camera store and purchase a new one in the middle of a desert. For purist landscape photographers, the slightest sign of vibration can be a deal-breaker.
There's little point carting a tripod to a location if all your shots end up blurry due to the wind, water or vibrations. In the realm of tripods, bigger and heavier is generally more stable, and carbon is stronger and handles vibrations better. There is always a better, but with better, there is usually a trade-off. In the travel world, that trade-off is portability.
I want to make this next point clear. I shoot almost entirely Olympus, which has hands down the best IBIS of any brand. Pair that with the IBIS of some pro lenses and I get 7.5 stops of stabilisation. That's some crazy long hand-held long exposures here. I'm talking 2-5seconds of sharp images here. I found throughout my trip in Europe that any vibration or slight wind gust was easily counteracted with the camera's stabilisation. It was a match made in heaven for 90 % of the long exposures I was shooting.
Yes, I know you might be asking why I didn't have the stabilisation turned off. I honestly have had very few issues with it being left on. But that's just me.
Where the little tripod did struggle was during a shoot that required me to fully extended the legs to shoot above a tree line. The other occasion was when I was shooting a time-lapse along the somewhat breezy cliff faces of Cinque Terre. Even with my camera bag attached to the stabilising hook, there was enough sway in the 2 section centre column to render some of the time-lapse images unusable. Wherever possible, I kept the centre column and bottom 2 leg sections down to provide a much smaller centre of gravity and lower the bottom leg portions so it's stabilised by thicker legs.
The hook itself is brilliant, easy to access, responsive and large enough to hang a large carabiner such as this one.
I'd recommend removing your camera strap or at the very least, winding it around the tripod as the gentle swaying in the breeze was to cause minor blur in long exposures with IBIS turned off and the centre column fully extended.
This is the general rule for all tripods I know, however, the A-1205 suffers during full extension when the wind is blowing beyond a gentle breeze.
The tripod features quite a substantial hexagonal plate that the 3 legs attach to and provides a large angle of support that's definitely welcomed. It feels substantially more secure than the Mefoto Roadtrip which features a narrower base of support.
During a recent canyoning trip into the Blue Mountains where weight and size were a significant consideration, the A-1205 was my go-to choice. I was a little concerned at the little guy's stability when submerged in chest height water and erred on the idea of hauling the W-2204. I'm thrilled I didn't.
With an ever so subtle flow of water over a sandy river base, I managed to capture 7 stop bracketed images (canyons are a nightmare) with absolute sharpness. It would seem that when vibrations or wind hit the legs themselves there was minimal movement and when the wind hit the camera it caused some shake.
This was the shot I took with the waterline nearing the top of each fully extended leg.
The Y-11 ball head is rated at supporting 10kg, which is incredible when you look at its size. With only 2 locking dials, the head is somewhat basic and lacks the knurled tension thumbscrew that the larger ball heads contain. Not necessarily a deal-breaker but you definitely need to make sure you've tightened the large dial sufficiently, or the camera can drop suddenly into the portrait mode recess and potentially damage your gear.
The second panorama dial is easy to find in the dark and operate even with gloves on. Both dials turn exceptionally smoothly, and there is a noticeable tension change when tightening them and signals that it has begun to clamp. A further 1/8th turn and each locks securely in place. It's a great tactile reassurance that the camera won't slip around quickly.
With my Nikon D750 + Battery Grip + Tamron 15-30mm F2.8 (Total weight 2.21kg) attached to the ball head, I had no difficulty maneuvering the camera around. At the extreme angles of tilt greater than 50 degrees, the camera began to fall ever so slightly no matter how tight I turned the tension dial. When the EM1x + 300mm F4 Pro was connected (2.472kg), there was also a slight slippage at the extreme angles. This could also have had to do with a slight breeze that was rocking the camera in all directions.
For individual shots less than 1 second this may not be an issue, but it certainly would result in blurred images for long exposures and time-lapse. I suggest that if you were going to use a full-frame camera with this ball head that you purchase an L-Bracket to keep the angles of use at an acceptable level.
The weight of consumer cameras and glass generally doesn't get much more demanding than these two setups, and really, if you are forking out the money to use gear with more weight, then you're probably already considering something much more substantial.
At $329 RRP on the Sirui Australia website, the A-1205 & y-11 is well priced for a carbon fibre tripod with the ever-popular Mefoto Roadtrip sitting around the AUD $359 mark for the aluminium model (1.63kg). For the price, portability and features, you won't find a much better carbon tripod on the market. I would go as far as to say this is a bargain.
Ease of Use
Being the run and gun style of photographer that I am, a tripod that is super quick to set up and pack away is vital. It's nice to know that things just work when you need them too and that most of the operations can be performed in a minimal amount of time.
The twist-lock leg grips are extra grippy, and even with my small hands I can grab the lot of them and loosen with the flick of a wrist. The spring-loaded tabs at the top of each leg are very responsive and when set to the widest setting they even click down and lock into the next notch automatically. If you want to adjust the leg width freely, you can press the tab all the way then push it back down at the desired setting. A simple but welcome feature.
During the canyoning trip, we came across pockets of incredible light beams that stuck around for literally only five minutes at a time. With my camera in one hand and my backpack nearly submerged in the water, I was grateful at the speed and ease in which I could unfold the tripod and open each leg with one hand twist.
The stabilising hook is the A-1205's best friend. To make up for the small size and weight, I recommend hanging your bag off it if there is any chance of wind. I found a carabiner was the best way to attach and detach the bag quickly. The spring-loaded hook is easy to use with one gloved hand and is quite large in width.
Most tripods these days convert one leg into a monopod which I guess is handy for those surf photographers with long lenses or people operating in crowded places. I personally have never found a use for the monopod, but its there should I need it. Without reading the instructions, it can be a little confusing, so I recommend practising this a few times before heading out into the field.
The same goes for using the centre column inverted to shoot low angle shots. Again, many tripods these days offer this feature, and the A-1205 does this well. It is super stable when shooting low to the ground as the centre of gravity is also much tighter.
The supplied TY-50E ACRA Swiss mounting plate is small, robust and features a locking pin that can be tightened by a coin, supplied Allen Key, or with your fingers to flip up the metal hinge. I did have a little trouble getting it to flip up when my hands were cold and with gloves on.
The bracket where the plate slides into features a small little gold coloured safety pin that prevents the camera and plate from slipping out of the plate holder should you accidentally loosen it too far. To slide the camera out entirely there is a nifty little red anodised button which you press to disengages the safety pin. Of course, if you completely undo the holder, you can freely lift the camera and plate out. I cannot begin to tell you how many times this little feature has saved my camera. On this and the K-30x ball head.
One issue I did come across out in the field was that not every ACRA Swiss plate is made the same. I went out to shoot some seascapes the other week and picked up an older plate, tightened it onto the bottom of my camera and set off on my 45min drive, believing it would just work.
Upon arrival, I placed the plate onto the ball head and tightened it (at least I thought so), and the camera slipped straight out and headed for the rocks. Luckily I grabbed it in time. The plate I was using had 2 small raised screws as part of its design that meant it did not sit flush against the tripod plate holder. Make sure you check this before using a different plate.
The overall appearance of a tripod can be a deciding factor for many consumers. I mean no-one wants to use a piece of equipment that looks cheap and nasty. The A-1205 is quite plain and certainly isn't winning any awards in the looks department, that being said, it's not the worst I have seen. The 100% black appearance has a minimalistic vibe that some people like I gravitate towards. It would be great if this was offered in a variety of different colours to cater for all tastes.
To be honest, I don't really want a travel tripod that stands out in the crowd. It's only screaming "steal me" too opportunistic thieves which is not ideal.
That being said, the subtle streaks of carbon and smooth upper leg curvatures reveal something of pure craftsmanship. The secret is in the details.
The tripod comes with a nice little pack containing a wrist band, spiked metal feet and Allen Keys. I don't use the wristband at all but can see the merit of it with such a small tripod.
Sirui offers a 6-year warranty on their tripods which is a testament to how well built they are. Especially when you see some of the horrible conditions they are put through by professional photographers.
The A-1205 tripod + Y-11 ballhead has continually proven itself in the field across a variety of demanding conditions. It's now my go-to tripod when portability and speed are necessities. For the diehard landscape photographers lugging heavy rigs, this set up may not be sturdy enough and will be relegated to the emergency backup that can be strapped to the side of a bag.
For those mad keen travellers out there who require a tripod that can go anywhere and do anything in all but the harshest conditions, this tripod is for you. For those shooting mirrorless with medium focal lengths, this kit will be more than adequate for the majority of your travel photography.
No longer will I um and ahh about whether I should bring a tripod to a shoot. This little thing is light enough and small enough to make very little difference to my pack weight, and I've found it a staple component of my full-time kit.
- Very lightweight
- Incredibly small
- Quick to set up and collapse
- One-handed operation to extend legs
- An actual useable sized hook for weights
- 3 x cold weather grips
- User height is perfect for me
- Excellent usable stabilising hook
- Feature heavy
- Smooth dials
- Not the most stable when fully extended
- Supports heavier camera setups only at certain angles
- No secondary tension adjustment on ball head
- Honestly there is nothing else I can think of. This little weapon will come with me everywhere.
If you've made up your mind that this tripod is what you have been looking for, you can use this discount code in my online store HERE to save 10% off your purchase on this set up.
" a120510% "
Much love - Matt.