The following review is a collaboration between SLR Lounge writer Matthew Saville and astronomer Sean Goebel, created during multiple adventures in the wilderness under rather extreme conditions.  Enjoy!

Oben Carbon Fiber Tripod Review

I spend a ton of time traveling and hiking to remote photography spots, so I am forever in search of lightweight, sturdy tripods. Also as a timelapse photographer, I’m often packing 2-3 tripods into the wilderness which makes weight even more important!

Because the majority of my photography is ultra-low-light night timelapse, I shoot with heavy full-frame DSLR equipment and large-aperture, high-quality lenses. The bulky gear, combined with the high wind, mud, and other adverse conditions that I frequently encounter, presents something of a torture test for tripods. So when I was given a chance to review the Oben CT-3451 with BE-113T ballhead, I jumped at the opportunity. After two months of near-continuous usage on a dozen or so photography trips, I am happy to report on how it performs.

01-oben-cf-tripod-review-ct-3451-be-113t

Shiny black anodizing! Carbon fiber legs! Contrasting blue and
red accents! The Oben looks good, but how does it perform?

09-features-5-stars

The most important features first: it weighs 2.5 pounds without the case (yes, I weighed it, and it exactly matches Oben’s specification), it is rated to support 13.2 lbs, and it is 52 inches tall without the center column extended. I’m about 6 ft tall and hunch while using the tripod, but I don’t need to kneel down. This height, I feel, is an optimal tradeoff between convenience and weight. I almost never extend the center column on any tripod because it significantly reduces the stability, but if you do so with the Oben, it reaches 61 inches tall. It is 17 inches long when folded with the legs reversed, or 22 inches when folded normally.

The legs and center column are constructed from carbon fiber, and the neck and head are high-quality anodized aluminum. It was $479 when I got it, but currently there is a $100 instant rebate at B&H Photo, so it’s $379 out the door.

02-oben-cf-tripod-review-ct-3451-be-113tThe Oben in its natural environment: strapped to the outside of a very, very full backpack. On the left is the Slik Sprint Pro II + SBH-200 ballhead,
which is another great tripod for hiking.)

[Rewind: Mt Whitney Switchbacks Under The Milky Way – Adventure Report #1]

 

If we had to dig deep and come up with one minor complaint about the features, what might that be? That this tripod lacks “leg warmers”, the foam pads you see on some tripod legs that act as protection and grip.  This feature is more common on aluminum tripods though, and even the elites like Gitzo and RRS don’t offer leg pads as standard options.  Carbon Fiber doesn’t get as icy cold as Aluminum does, so handling the legs on a freezing day isn’t too bad, but the nice looking carbon fiber finish will definitely get scratched over the years if you’re doing lots of rock scrambling and such…

14-design-5-stars

It is clear that Oben spared no expense when producing this tripod/head combination. Everything simply feels and looks high-quality. For a tripod that costs this much, it has to be incredibly well-built, and the CT-3451 doesn’t disappoint.

The BE-113T ballhead shoe / foot are the landscape photographer’s standard, Arca-Swiss, so it will be compatible with any other Arca-Swiss gear. (Many generic makers like to claim that they’re using the Arca-Swiss style, yet when you try and use other plates on the ballhead, or vice versa, you find that they’re slightly incompatible.) One tripod plate is included. There are two bubble levels on the head, and they are extremely useful if you are “horizontally challenged” or just always set up your gear in the blackest of dark nights like I do.

In addition to the usual “loosen everything” knob, there is a separate knob dedicated to panning motion. This is handy for panoramas or video, assuming that you’ve leveled the legs beforehand. I would be happier with just the single “control everything” knob to simplify things, reduce weight, and speed tripod setup, but I’m probably in a minority with this opinion. Both knobs are well-damped—they will never free-spin or work their way loose. In my experience, the damping gets quite heavy and a bit annoying in sub-freezing temperatures, but the knobs never froze up on me, which has been a problem with other tripods. In my two months of ownership, I used the tripod in temperatures ranging from 25* F (atop Mauna Kea at night) to 115* F (July urbexing in an abandoned cabin whose inside temperature made the 105* outside feel outright pleasant) without any issues. As someone who spends lots of time photographing at extreme temperatures, trust me: this is rare among photographic gear!

The legs use twist-locks. I normally prefer G-locks / lever-locks, but honestly the Oben has the first twist-locks that I legitimately like. The leg sections won’t rotate against each other, so you are able to unlock/lock all the sections at once without them rotating and jamming. The twist-locks clearly stop rotating when the legs are tight. Never once did I set it up and have it attempt to fall over because one of the leg sections wasn’t adequately tightened.

One of the legs unscrews, and you can use it as a monopod (or a really expensive walking stick, like Matt sometimes does!). Oben gives you a choice between two types of feet. The base feet are impressively sharp metal spikes that are ideal for outdoor usage, or stabbing unsuspecting muggers. Oben includes rubber feet which slip over these, for when you need to take christmas family selfies without destroying your nice hardwood floor.

There’s a spring-loaded hook at the bottom of the center column which retracts when you aren’t using it (so cool!). If you hang something from the center column, MAKE SURE IT CANNOT SWING IN THE WIND. I once had a timelapse shoot ruined because the backpack I hung from the center column hook could swing, and that caused the camera to shift a bit from one image to the next. That was with a different tripod and I learned my lesson, but I can see the Oben would have the same issue. Another option, instead of dangling things, is to carry a bit of cord / string with you and tie down to a large rock placed on the ground directly beneath the tripod.

03-oben-cf-tripod-review-ct-3451-be-113tThe spring-loaded center column hook:
a great way to entertain yourself for minutes on end!

18-quality-4-stars

I didn’t submerge the tripod in salt water, but I did use it in massive amounts of dust and dirt, and it became damp in light rain. I never had problems with the locks becoming obstructed. I haven’t needed to clean them yet, and I don’t foresee needing to do so anytime soon.  Each leg lock appears to have a nice rubber gasket on at least one side, to help keep dirt and moisture out of the internal leg lock threads.

As described earlier, the quality in general is excellent. I did have one problem, though. The center column has a set screw that prevents it from detaching. If you want to remove the center column from the head, you first have to remove the set screw. The set screw normally sits flush inside the column, but on the second day of tripod usage, it came partially out. The screw, which now stuck out just a few millimeters, caught inside the neck of the tripod, effectively jamming the center column. By the time I figured out the problem and entirely took apart the neck to free the column, my pushing and pulling had put several big gouges into the plastic shim that is housed inside the neck. If you buy the Oben CT-3451, I recommend that you remove the set screw entirely, or tighten it frequently, to avoid damaging the neck and wasting your time during a shoot.

Oben includes two allen wrenches with the tripod. One fits the aforementioned annoying set screw, and the other fits the leg slack adjustments and acra-swiss plate. I haven’t needed to adjust the leg tightnesses yet, and I haven’t noticed any change since I got the tripod. It’s nice to know that if the legs get loose and floppy in the future, I can adjust them. It would be nice if one hex key could do all adjustments, but that’s splitting hairs…

I wish (like almost every other tripod plate on the market, *ahem*) that Oben had offered a hand-tighten option for the tripod plate, a la Manfrotto etc. Then again many Arca-Swiss system landscape photographers opt to just screw on the plate once, and leave it on their camera forever.

In short, is this tripod going to rival / surpass a Gitzo, or Really Right Stuff tripod?  No, but it comes close enough to raise your attention.

04-oben-cf-tripod-review-ct-3451-be-113tThe Oben with my 6D perched on the edge of a 2000-ft cliff during the Half Dome Diving Board backpack adventure. It’s from this ledge that Ansel Adams took his famous “The Monolith of Half Dome” photo in 1927.

05-oben-cf-tripod-review-ct-3451-be-113tThe result of the setup shown in the previous image.
Adventure report on this trip coming soon!

04-performance-5-stars

Beside the set screw problem, I had one other annoyance with the tripod: the case. The case is just weirdly sized. It’s much wider than the folded tripod—I can fit the Oben, a large manfrotto light stand, and a tabletop tripod in the case at the same time. Also, the case is several inches longer than the Oben when the Oben is folded with the legs reversed. Yet if you don’t reverse the legs, the tripod won’t fit in the case at all. I’m frequently tetris-ing my gear into suitcases, backpacks, or crammed vehicles, and I want a case that doesn’t waste space.

06-oben-cf-tripod-review-ct-3451-be-113tThe tripod is much smaller than the case with the center
column reversed, but won’t fit at all if you don’t invert it.

The most important question: is the tripod stable? In short, yes. My standard stability test, which I use to test wind resistance, is to put on a camera with a large, heavy lens (like a gripped Canon 6D with an adapted Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8) and then flick and tap on the lens from various directions and see if the setup wobbles or vibrates noticeably. The Oben performs well, though perhaps not as well as my 8-pound Manfrotto setup (to be fair, the Oben weighs less than 1/3 as much!). The weak point is definitely where the center column interfaces with the neck. Unlike the leg twist-locks, it is somewhat difficult to tell when the center column twist-lock has been tightened enough. The rubber on the lock knob can slip, and I generally crank on it until my camera stops wobbling when I push on it. But for anything other than telephoto usage in high winds, the Oben’s stability is good.

22-value-3-stars

The next most important question: is the tripod a good value? This is somewhat up for debate. I think you will be satisfied with this tripod. It does its job very well, it is extremely well made, and it’s very hard to find tripods that are this light yet this sturdy.

That said, how does it compare to the competition? Compared to the full-priced Oben ($479), a set of small Gitzo legs (without a ballhead, of course) is only  about $100 more. (For those of you who don’t know, a Gitzo is basically the Rolex of tripods: a status symbol, yes, but also extremely functional and reliable.)

On the other hand, a Slik Sprint Pro II with Slik SBH-200 ballhead (not the stock one), is less than 1/3 the cost of the full-priced Oben. This Slik combination is 1 inch taller than the Oben, only 1 ounce heavier, and in my experience a tiny bit more stable. If you remove the center columns, the aluminum Slik is actually lighter than the carbon fiber Oben!

The Oben does feel better-built, and the Slik has mainly plastic parts in the leg lever locks.  Yet I’ve been beating on my Slik for the past five years, (it’s missing half its paint) yet it still works great. My baseline of Oben use is much shorter, so I can’t really comment on its longevity. The Oben arguably looks better (ooh! carbon fiber!), if that kind of thing matters to you.  Personally, I spend 99% of my time in the middle of nowhere, miles away from anyone other than co-adventurers, so that matters little.

Either way, if you’re considering the Oben, try and get it on sale like it currently is, for $100 off.  Saving that much on the CT-3451 might earn you 4/5 stars for value.

32-overall-score-4-stars

The Oben 3451 is a great, lightweight, midsized, carbon fiber tripod. It is ideal for hikers and travelers who care about weight but still want a tripod capable of supporting a large camera. The stability is more than adequate for anything other than extreme usage, but since this category of tripods does have all kinds of options available, based on your own personal budget I strongly recommend that you cross-shop the Oben against other tripods before buying, and find the right one for you.

All things considered, anyone who does the kinds of things that we do will be very happy / proud to own the Oben CT-3451!

07-oben-cf-tripod-review-ct-3451-be-113tThe Oben (right) atop Mt. Irvine, looking at Mt. Whitney,
the tallest peak in the continental U.S.. The Slik is in the bottom left.


08-oben-cf-tripod-review-ct-3451-be-113tThe result of the previous setup. Read about this multi-day
photography backpacking adventure
here.

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to comment below with any other questions!