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A Tripod Built for Convenience: We Review the SmallRig AP

Jul 05, 2023

Sometimes a tripod just needs to be easier to carry for when you might need it. This tripod from SmallRig definitely fits that role.

Tripods are often expected to be heavy duty and able to carry heavy payloads as if all use-cases of a tripod would actually require such. With cameras now becoming smaller and lighter, the characteristics of a travel-friendly tripod have definitely changed. It’s safe to say that most photographers probably have experienced bringing a tripod anywhere and everywhere without actually using it just because of the thought that it might come in handy. That is specifically why any photographer should have a tripod that focuses on convenience over capacity. Any lightweight tripod can probably be considered such however it would be unrealistic to expect that a tripod that is remarkably light will also be stable in less-than-ideal situations.

The SmallRig AP-02 FreeRover tripod even before opening the box was quite surprising because of how light it was and how thin the packaging was. With a diameter of just 1.96in (50mm), and with the box basically just housing the tripod and the thin carrying bag, the whole thing was very easy to grip and made the tripod easy to carry around.

When fully folded, the tripod is just 20.9 inches (53cm) long. While this is technically longer than most travel tripods that have legs that fold up to shorten the folded length, it certainly makes up for being compact in terms of width. The FreeRover tripod can definitely fit inside a tripod compartment, water bottle slot, and more importantly a small portion of the corner of a carry-on luggage compartment.

When the four sections are fully extended it has a working height of 51.2 inches (130cm) and with the center column fully extended upwards it goes up to 62.6 inches (159cm). Overall this height range is quite typical of any compact travel tripod. The tripod weighs 1.15 kg (2.53 lbs) which makes it easy to carry, especially with the weight fairly distributed along the folded length of the tripod, and in turn, can carry up to 8 kilograms of camera gear.

It is important to note though, that since this is a lightweight tripod, the stability decreases when more sections are fully extended. As expected, the most stable state of the tripod would be when all telescopic sections are compressed into the smallest configuration and gradually becomes more susceptible to vibration as the sections get thinner and the center of gravity gets higher. The tripod is able to securely hold a full frame camera with a non-compact lens even up to the tallest configuration but of course, gets less resistant to shaking if strong wind or vibration is present in the situation.

Perhaps the biggest downside in terms of how this tripod was built would be the clip locks on the sections of the legs. While it is totally understandable that this tripod had to have clip-locks because of the non-cylindrical legs that make it thin in general, it surely would have been better if the locks were made of more durable metal and even aesthetically similar to the material of the angle locks that not only looks more durable but also give the product a characteristic look. The plastic locks, while technically hard enough, look like they can easily snap off if pulled too hard.

The ball head of the FreeRover also has an interesting design. Instead of a knob to lock or unlock the center column, it has a rotating ring right by the base of the head that has a similar diameter as the rest of the tripod. The head has only two small knobs, one for panning the entire head, and another one that controls the quick-release mounting clamp. The surface of the upper knob is a bubble leveler that complements the other bubble level found on the surface of the Arca-swiss type QR clamp.

What makes this ball head unusual is how it was rid of the typical large friction knob that controls the entire ball. Instead of having a big knob that would make the diameter of the head much thicker than the rest of the tripod, this has a single lever that flips around 180 degrees to fully unlock and lock the ball movement respectively. With this design detail, it avoided any unwanted bulk on the head of the tripod and at the same time provided a controlled range of motion for the lock, avoiding the tendency to over-tighten or over-loosen the knob.

The central joint of the tripod features a diamond-shaped lock that is pushed down to release and allow the legs to open up wider even possibly flat on the ground. However, the fact that this tripod has a center column that is about 75% the length of the largest section, requires inverting the center column and mounting the camera upside-down to be able to achieve a low-angle setup.

On the left side of these silver diamond-shaped locks on each of the tripod’s legs are 1/4” screw ports that offer ways to mount additional accessories such as friction arms and hooks. Since these ports are generally just standard screw threads, this opens up a lot of possibilities for additional functions of the tripod.

The SmallRig FreeRover tripod’s design features clearly focused on making it convenient to carry around and use while also keeping it aesthetically pleasing. The very slim overall width of the tripod and the absence of protruding knobs on the head make it very easy to store in bag pockets or compartments and generally easy to hold when walking around while traveling.

This tripod can be handy for travel scenarios when the priority is to keep the user comfortable for long walks or treks and it is expected that they won’t be dealing much with rough environments. Whether it be to hold the camera for self-portraits or quick slow-shutter landscape shots, it will be easy to pull it out of a bag’s tripod compartment and start shooting. The SmallRig FreeRover will most likely shake and vibrate in rough windy situations or when submerged in flowing water because it certainly was not made to withstand such factors. Other than that, the tripod can be used in any shooting scenario that is in a calm or relatively controlled environment.

Nicco Valenzuela is a photographer from Quezon City, Philippines. Nicco shoots skyscrapers and cityscapes professionally as an architectural photographer and Landscape and travel photographs as a hobby.

This article explores benefits of a lightweight and portable tripod for travel photography, highlighting convenience and ease of use.