In the name of torturing you with fewer posts, I’m combining some of them to make things easier on everyone . I’m leading up to my two final posts, which are my visits to Timbuk2 and Nikon, so bear with me.
A few stops down from Acratech was Sunwayfoto. I remember seeing some things on various forums about them a while back – a company based in China that made ball heads and various other products, had a website in English and Chinese and shipped to the US. For a period of time, it seemed like their website dropped off the web.
Now they are back, and even have some of their products on B&H. But they had a much broader product line on display at CES. Among other things, they showed me their medium (44mm) and large capacity (52mm) ball heads, which are very similar to the Markins design – pan and lockdown on two big knobs, with tension adjust in a mini knob embedded in the lock knob. They have a newer product line – noted by “X” in the product name – that is a lower-profile version of their head, which keeps a lower center of gravity and hopefully offers more stability.
From an Enthusiast Photographer perspective, these seem very sturdy and well made. They exhibited no creep at all, but I didn’t have an opportunity to see a camera mounted on one. But when I compare these to the new Manfrotto Magnesium heads, I find myself liking them better, especially since they include an Arca-Swiss clamp and will probably sell for less.
Are they Really Right Stuff (RRS) quality? I doubt it, but I do think they offer a very reasonable option for the serious amateur working on a limited budget. I spent a fair amount if time handling the products and came away impressed.
The same is true of their panning clamp. Since my lens and camera plates face different ways on my head and I was thinking about getting a monopod for an upcoming trip to Europe, this is interesting to me. The Sunway DDH-01 sells for almost $100 less than the very similar RRS PCL-1 ($235 vs. $137). We’re talking about amazing-quality, USA-made vs. likely-decent-quality, Made-in-China here. Since I own an RRS head, L-plate and lens plate, I can attest to the RRS workmanship and quality. If I was a working pro, I probably have a lot of their gear. If money is a challenge or you are an Enthusiast Photographer, I think Sunwayfoto is a viable option. The monopod head is tempting for the trip to Europe I have planned for the Summer…
I also saw a monopod head that looked pretty beefy, but isn’t available at B&H (yet):
I didn’t notice the price, but my guess is it will be close to the $139 price of the Sirui head in the next section, though this one doesn’t have a plate included. It does, however, include a panning function, which might or might not be handy.
On to Sirui.
Sirui is one of a number of made-in-China makers of carbon fiber and other tripods that have popped up on the market in the last year or two. I’ve seen several of their aluminum and CF tripods and monopods at my local camera store, and come away impressed. My visit to their booth at CES was no different. The large tripod on the left is taller than me (and I’m 6’1″) and seemed extremely solid while offering airy carbon fiber weight. Again, the true test of a tripod or head is in the field, and I’m a big fan of my Gitzo. I’d love to have an RRS tripod. I can’t help but like the Sirui products I’ve looked at – they aren’t dirt-cheap, but they are affordable for what they are and seem to have very good stability and quality. I can’t say the customer service is much of a risk against anyone else other than RRS (who is excellent) – I’ve heard a fair bit of grumbling on various forums about Manfrotto’s service and support, and they now own Gitzo, too.
Net: I liked the Sirui tripods and monopods a lot. If I get a monopod, these guys are likely to get my business.
They were also showing off a really attractive monopod head:
There is no mystery here where the design was inspired from (think RRS), but it is pretty compelling for a casual/occasional user at $139 including the head. The unit was very solidly built, has an integrated Arca plate on the bottom and felt very comfortable. I almost hope they sell a version without the head – that base plus the Sunwayfoto panning head would be a really nice combo for reasonable money.
Should you buy from Sirui or Sunwayfoto? I think the answer depends on a lot of things, but ultimately I think they represent very reasonable quality for very reasonable money. There are a lot of brand snobs who are going to tell you that unless it is Manfrotto, Gitzo or RRS (or add Acratech, Markins and Arca-Swiss to the list for ball heads) that you won’t get quality or durability. I think that is untrue, at least for the Enthusiast Photographer. If you’re a pro, they are probably a marginal, or at least risky, choice. For those of us who aren’t generating income with our photography, I think they represent a good budget alternative. The challenge is that they aren’t well distributed so there aren’t lots of hands-on reviews and experience to draw from. In the giant money-sucking vortex that is photography, it comes down to a risk assessment. I think it is a decent bet that the Sunwayfoto and Sirui products will serve you just fine. Of course, Vegas is where all the bets seem to be made…
I saw lots of other vendors last week and took lots of other photos, but I think I’m down to three more CES posts after this: LensPen, Timbuk2 and my visit to Nikon and Canon. Hopefully I’ll wrap it up before the weekend so we can get back to the fun stuff!