We’ve all been there before: you’re out for a casual walk with your camera towards the end of the day and you see a great photo opportunity in front of you, only to realize there’s not enough light to shoot handheld anymore. Normally you would raise your ISO to compensate for the dim conditions, but you don’t want to raise it too much, because that would ruin the picture anyway. If only you had brought your tripod with you.
These situations happen all too often, but unfortunately it’s impossible to anticipate them every single time, and bringing a huge tripod along for a casual walk is way more trouble than it’s worth. It would seem there’s nothing to be done about it, then. But what if there was?
Tabletop tripods were created for precisely this type of situation. If the best camera is the one you have with you, then the same age-old argument must certainly apply to tripods, as well.
Manfrotto makes some great tripods, including some very good tabletop tripods. A few months ago we reviewed the Manfrotto PIXI mini tripod, which is a great and affordable way to ensure you always have a tripod with you.
As awesome as the PIXI is, though, it has a few shortcomings that may prove to be deal breakers for some people. It’s made of plastic, for one, which means it’s not the sturdiest or most durable of tripods. If you own a small mirrorless camera the PIXI may be all you need, but if you’re shooting with a bigger camera or lens, you might want to step things up a notch.
Luckily, Manfrotto makes several other models that offer a substantial improvement over the PIXI’s feature set, while remaining true to its essence. The 209 + 492 Long kit, for example, directly addresses most of the PIXI’s shortcomings, and it does so in a similarly sleek package.
Let’s take a look at it in a bit more detail.
Design and build quality
This product is actually more of a bundle. Manfrotto sells most of its products in several different configurations, and they also sell each component separately. In this case, the bundle includes the Manfrotto 209 mini tripod ($24.95), the Manfrotto 492 micro ball head ($59.88), and the Manfrotto 259B extension column ($29.95). It also comes with a handy nylon pouch to keep everything nicely organized.
If you do the math, you’ll see that if you were to purchase each component separately, they would cost you about $115, whereas the kit currently retails for $103.90 on Amazon. So not only do you get to save a few bucks, but you also get a nice pouch to carry everything as a bonus.
All three items are equally well made. Unlike the PIXI, these are all made of solid metal, so you don’t need to worry about any of them breaking on you when you need it most. And while the PIXI, with its various colorful designs, was half tripod and half fashion statement, this is all about function, with little regard paid to looks.
In fact, let’s just say it outright: the Manfrotto 209 + 492 kit is not a beautiful product. It has a certain utilitarian look to it that conveys anything but sophistication, and the plain black color scheme certainly doesn’t help. To make matters worse, one of the legs is marked with the part and serial numbers, as well as an inscription in white capital letters that reads “MADE IN ITALY”. In summary, this looks like something you could pull straight out of a mechanic’s toolbox.
However, a tripod isn’t something that needs to be beautiful, so long as it performs its intended function well. And the Manfrotto 209 + 492 kit more than compensates for its rather dull looks by putting in a pretty impressive performance. This is a tool that was unapologetically built to be used, not looked at, and rightly so.
The Manfrotto 209 tripod body
The 209 tripod body is arguably the main component of this product. Its all-metal construction gives the entire kit the sturdiness it needs to be able to support a serious amount of professional-grade gear with ease, and it separates it from other entry-level products like the PIXI.
The body has three legs that are not retractable. They don’t have any intermediate locking positions either, so if you want to set the tripod down on some surface, they need to be either fully open, or fully closed. Any other position will not be reliable enough to use safely. Of course, if you’re going to carry the tripod in your hand and use it as a grip of sorts, then you can set the legs in whatever position feels comfortable to you.
When fully open, the legs occupy a reasonably wide surface area and stay very low. This brings the overall center of mass closer to the ground, which dramatically improves stability.
The feet of the legs have tiny cork plugs at the end, which help provide a bit of cushioning that reduces vibration, thus minimizing camera shake. Unfortunately, these are only weakly glued to the feet and have a tendency to fall off, so unless you’re very careful, odds are you’ll end up losing them sooner or later. You should probably apply some stronger glue yourself, just to be safe.
Other than that, the only external features are the previously mentioned hideous logos on one of the legs, and the main 3/8″ thread, where you can attach either the ball head or the extension column, depending on your specific needs.
The Manfrotto 492 micro ball head
The 492 micro ball head is the most expensive out of the individual components of this kit, and it’s easy to see why. This ball head is in an entirely different class from the PIXI’s built-in one, and gives you way more options when it comes to positioning your camera.
For starters, it can be used in both portrait and landscape orientations, something that the PIXI can’t do. The PIXI only has a -35° / +35° tilt range, whereas this one has a considerably better -90° / +90° range, allowing it to tilt all the way into portrait orientation in both directions without needing to unmount the camera. That’s actually something some full-sized tripods can’t do, which is impressive. The 492 ball head can also be rotated a full 360° at the base independently of its tilt position, allowing for some panning motions that are once again impossible to do with the PIXI.
Being made of metal and weighing in at 4.94 oz (140 g), the 492 micro ball head is also significantly sturdier than the PIXI’s. The mounting base has a standard tripod thread, and will work with nearly all cameras straight out of the box. The base of the thread is cushioned by a rubber disc that will ensure a tight fit while protecting your camera’s finish, which is a nice touch.
There is no separate mounting plate, as the ball head was designed to screw directly into the camera’s tripod mount. This reduces complexity and also eliminates the risk of losing another piece.
Perhaps the most innovative and useful feature of this ball head is the locking lever. It’s the only plastic part of the entire ball head, but since it isn’t a load-bearing part, there’s no need for it to be made of metal. That would only add unnecessary weight in a position where it wouldn’t contribute to increase stability, so it makes all the sense in the world that Manfrotto would choose to go with plastic for this part. That being said, this is some extremely high-quality plastic we’re talking about, and it actually could be easily confused by metal if one doesn’t look closely enough.
However, the innovative part about the locking lever is not its material, but the way it works. The ball head is locked into position by turning the lever clockwise, and released by turning it counter-clockwise. This simple motion serves to lock and release both the tilting and panning motions at the same time.
So far, this is to be expected. What makes this lever unique is the way its handle can be repositioned without affecting the locking state. If the current position of the lever is uncomfortable to operate or reach, you can simply pull on it along its axis, and the plastic lever disengages from the locking mechanism, allowing you to easily reposition it to a more comfortable angle without releasing the camera. This is a clever bit of design that makes using this tripod much more convenient.
All in all, the 492 micro ball head packs some serious punch for the money, and helps make the entire kit a lot more versatile. What’s not to love?
The Manfrotto 259B extension column
Being clearly the most straightforward of the three items, this extension column does exactly what it says on the tin: it allows you to raise your camera a few inches from the base, which can come in very handy sometimes. This is also the component that accounts for the “Long” in the product’s name.
The 259B column is made entirely of polished metal with a matte black finish, and it features a much more subtle Manfrotto logo on the outer part. This piece actually looks almost nice, especially when compared to the tripod body.
Length-wise, the column is 6 inches (15.24 cm) tall when retracted, and it extends up to 10 inches (25.4 cm). That’s admittedly not revolutionary, but it is a substantial improvement. Together with the tripod and the ball head, you can raise your camera up to a very respectable 14 inches (35.5 cm). That’s a very good working height for video blogging, for example — or vlogging, as they say. Just place the tripod on your desk and it will raise the camera close to eye level, making it very easy to frame your shots.
Since this tripod kit has a modular design, you can choose to leave the column attached at all times, or to keep it separate from the body. Keeping it separate makes it easier to store the tripod, as it greatly reduces its overall length. Besides, the column can be installed or uninstalled in a matter of seconds, so it’s not that big of an inconvenience to put it on when the need for it arises.
The 209 + 492 kit has a safety payload of 4.41 lbs (2 kg), which is enough to support up to a Full Frame camera with a big telephoto lens, making it well-suited for all kinds of photographers.
You can perfectly use any mirrorless camera on the market with pretty much any available lens, and this little tripod won’t even break a sweat.
For reference, this kit has no problems carrying a Sony Alpha α7 II camera with the Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS lens, which is currently the second biggest and heaviest lens Sony makes for the Full Frame E-mount system, behind only the massive Sony FE 28-135mm f/4 G OSS video-optimized zoom lens.
It may even be able to carry a full-blown DSLR with something as huge as a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, which is definitely a bigger setup than what most people are likely to carry on a casual walk.
The bottom point is, this product was designed as an accessory for casual use, and it is more than capable of handling anything you’re likely to throw at it in such situations.
Real world usage
Besides being a great tripod that just happens to always be in your bag, this kit is the perfect travel companion.
Whenever you’re on a trip, there are many photo opportunities that are easily resolved with a tripod. If you’re not too fond of the idea of handing your nice camera over to a total stranger just so that you can have your picture taken, maybe this tripod will be a bit more up your alley. By using a remote trigger or your camera’s smartphone app, you can remotely fire the shutter and take your selfies in style.
It also comes in really handy to capture time-lapse videos. Say you’re in a nice coffeehouse with a view. You could easily prop up your camera and let it take a few hundred pictures while you carelessly sip from a steaming hot cup of freshly brewed espresso and regain a bit of strength. Being a tourist doesn’t have to be so hard, after all.
Of course, the main application for tripods, and tabletop tripods are no exception, is capturing long exposures. Even if your camera or lens has built-in image stabilization, there always comes a point when there’s just not enough light to shoot handheld anymore. In those situations, you could still take plenty of pictures if you had something like this with you.
However, once shutter speeds go so low that subject movement becomes a problem, a tripod isn’t going to be of much help, because portraits are going to be blurry anyway. But if what you want to capture are primarily landscapes, architectural landmarks, or pretty much any sort of inanimate object you can think of, then this Manfrotto kit may well end up becoming your new best friend.
By keeping the center of mass so low to the ground, the feet offer great stability, so much so that the lack of a center weight is really not a problem at all in practice. And since this is a super compact tripod, you can even carry it inside your coat pocket for the ultimate portability.
All in all, this is a very versatile solution that will let you capture those elusive moments where having the right gear is the only way to get the job done.
Room for improvement
The Manfrotto 209 + 492 Long kit is overall a very nice bundle. It provides a solid step-up from the Manfrotto PIXI in nearly every way, but it’s not without faults of its own. Here are a few things that could be improved:
The cork feet come off all too easily. This is so very annoying, because it makes them seem like an afterthought. They should either put some real rubber feet on this tripod, or do away with them entirely.
The feet only have one position. This helps achieve the maximum stability possible, but it would have been great to see a couple locking points along the way. Such a feature would allow you to raise the camera even more, or to use the tripod on smaller surfaces.
It’s not possible to fine-tune the camera’s position without changing everything. Since both the tilting and panning motions are locked with the same lever, it’s impossible to adjust these parameters independently. You need to adjust everything at the same time, which makes it harder to correct small imprecisions when framing.
Putting the center column on and off sometimes feels like a chore. Having to separate the center piece in order to go lower than 6 inches involves taking everything apart. It’s not terrible by any means, but there has to be a more efficient way to provide the same features.
Branding on the product could have been more subtle. Seriously, those white logos and part numbers need to go.
A proper name for the product is really necessary, instead of an addition of part numbers. That just feels wrong, and it certainly doesn’t give this the impression of a polished product.
It’s impossible to purchase the nylon pouch separately. It’s nice that the pouch is included for free when you buy the entire kit, but customers who decide to purchase each component separately should be given a chance to buy this one, too.
Admittedly, these are all fairly minor points, and don’t take much away from what is otherwise an excellent product.
Value and alternatives
At a little over $100, the Manfrotto 209 + 492 Long kit is certainly more expensive than other tabletop tripods out there. Still, it also offers a much more complete feature set, a much improved build quality, and plenty of other reasons that make it well worth your hard-earned money.
Still, if this doesn’t happen to be your cup of tea, here are others that may be better suited for you:
The Manfrotto PIXI Mini Tripod. Even if the 209 + 492 is objectively a better tripod, the PIXI is a pretty darn good one in its own right. Plus, at only $25, it’s hard to argue against its value proposition. If you own a small mirrorless camera, there’s a perfectly valid argument to be made that the PIXI is actually all you need, and could very well be the better buy. If you want to know more about it, you can read our own review of it here.
The Manfrotto PIXI EVO 2 Mini Tripod. If you don’t mind spending a bit more than the PIXI, but still don’t want to go all the way up to the cost of the 209 + 492, this could be a very good compromise. It has several nice improvements over the original PIXI and indeed, over the other one, too. Features like retractable legs and several locking points are both in our wishlist for the 209 + 492, and this newer version of the PIXI already has them. Unless your budget in very limited, this version offers enough improvements to be easily worth the premium over the entry-level PIXI.
Knowing you’re prepared to capture great moments whenever they present themselves can give your peace of mind a huge boost, and the Manfrotto 209 + 492 Long is perhaps the ideal tool to achieve that goal.
It’s also very well built, and small and light enough to be always with you no matter what. Indeed, this tabletop tripod will give you a chance to get the shot in many situations that would otherwise be hopeless. As a tool, there’s really not much more one could ask of it.
If you’re always lamenting missed shot opportunities, or you’re jealous of the great travel pictures other people take, add this small tripod to your arsenal, and we promise you’ll never look back.