Before using the 3LT Brian X1, I used to think their were two kinds of photographers in the world: those who absolutely loved tripods and then those who simply thought that they were a necessary evil and lugged one along anyways. For year’s I fell into the second camp of people who thought tripods were “a necessary evil”, heavy, cumbersome, heavy, often annoying, heavy, heavy. I’d never really been a “Tripod Guy.” You know, the “Tripod Guy”, the offshoot of the “Camera Bag Guy” who collects tripods as prizes and has trouble deciding which one to use. I’ve used a fair amount of tripods but never fell in love with any of them. I always hated carrying a tripod and when I needed to make a decision between taking one and not taking one, I’d almost always choose not to carry one with me. Then came the Brian X1. After using the 3 Legged Thing Brian X1 for the last three months I’ve had quite a change of heart and the Brian X1 makes the decision to carry a tripod with me a very easy one. I’ve been converted and now don’t even think twice about taking it along.
ABOUT THE TRIPOD
STRAIGHT FROM 3 LEGGED THING
Brian X1 Specifications:
Kit Weight 1575g Tripod Weight 1105g Monopod Weight 222g Monopod min Height 360mm Monopod max Height 1300mm Tripod Min Height 170mm Tripod Max Height with column removed 1260mm Tripod Max Height with column retracted 1350mm Tripod Max Height with column fully extended 1930mm Folded Height without head 400mm Folded Height with head 400mm Load Capacity 8kg Maximum Leg Tubing Diameter 24mm Leg Sections 5 Leg Locking Mechanism Friction Dial
AH2 Ballhead Specifications:
Ballhead Control Pan, Lock & Clutch Ballhead Height 100mm Base Width 56mm Ball Diameter 36mm Ballhead Weight 470g Load Capacity 8kg Plate Size 50mm x 50mm
The look – It’s a nice looking tripod, though I think most people are and should be looking at performance. The Brian X1 comes with anodized Magnesium alloy on the joints and also on the AH2 ballhead. The head comes in a variety of different colors as well. Overall, how the tripod looks is really up to the buyer. I find it the Brian X1 to have a little bit more ‘pizazz’ that an ordinary tripod. Since every piece of gear we own is largely black it’s nice to see a little splash of color. One thing people will notice is that the company name is written over all three leck locks (see here), which some people won’t care about but I find a little bit gimmicky and takes away from the look as a whole. The look of the Brian X1 really serves 3LT’s overall branding well – that of being a bit more edgy and in some cases suggesting it’s “something new and different.” Again, the appearance of a tripod is up to the purchaser.
Cost – At first glance the Brian X1 seems a bit expensive being prices at £269.00 ($438.59 USD). However after looking around at other major brand offerings for similar travel tripods, it’s clear that 3 Legged Thing has the tripod prices well lower than most and is highly competitive. The fact that the Brian X1 is currently sold out on 3LT’s website is a good indicator that it’s priced well. Do your research and you will find that the Brian X1 is priced well especially for what you get with the tripod in terms of convenience, features, and performance.
Convenience- The Brian X1 is marketed for it’s convenience and weight. It’s a travel tripod so it’s supposed to be convenient and extremely light, which it is. The core of the tripods convenience comes in it’s ability to pack into almost nothing and for it to still perform at an acceptable level for a travel tripod, or any tripod for that matter. Overall the tripod works exactly like you’d expect it to with no learning curve for anyone who has ever laid hands on a tripod, even once in their life.
Positions – All three legs sweep back 180 degrees giving the Brian X1 the ability to morph into all kinds of crazy positions. You can see the full list here. This will be of most value to the macro shooter and I suspect the video shooter as well but also has positive ramifications for tricky situations.
Packing Size – the Brian X1 packs small – really small. Small to the tune of 400mm or 15.74 inches. Not only that but removing the head allows it to be packed down even smaller. Even with a 3rd party plate (mine has a RRS plate on it – see the note at the very bottom of the review) it can pack down to that size. In fact, in the three months that I’ve had the Brian X1 I’ve been packing it inside my ThinkTank Street Walker HD instead of strapping it to the outside like I would a larger tripod.
Center Column – The adjustable center column will take a lot of the credit for being one of the more unique and thoughtful features of this tripod. The center column can be extended to bring the total height of the tripod to just over 1950mm or just under 6’5″ tall. For a tall guy like me this is nice, though I rarely use it completely at that height due to a small decrease in stability, like you find on all tripods with extendable center columns.
Durability – The Brian X1 is made entirely of strong magnesium alloy and carbon fiber. I’ve threw mine on the ground. Thrown it in a truck. Thrown other gear on top of it. Used it as a walking stick (which is also a testament to it’s lightness). The Brian X1 holds up to all of this. The piece connecting the legs together is made out of a solid piece of magnesium alloy and the rotating leg locks are made of hard plastic and rubber. Overall there are very few parts that can actually break on this tripod. It’s light but doesn’t feel flimsy or weak, which is a nice surprise for a travel tripod.
Performance – You measure a tripods performance in stability. With that metric in mind, I think it’s wise to measure ‘travel’ tripods performance based on kind of a weight to stability ratio. With that in mind the Brian X1 scores well. Without any of the legs fully extended it’s solid as a rock even with the center column extended. With all the carbon fiber legs extended and no weight on the tripod, it feels a bit unstable which is only due to it’s lightness. Adding a bag to the bottom spring loaded hook stables things right up. You can make it even more stable by removing the center column completely and mounting the AH2 ballhead directly to the tripod center piece (see here), which mimics most other tripods without this type of center column. The tripod performs very well for the weight though it won’t match a rigid 6-8 lb pair of legs for extreme stability. I found that removing the center column provided very good added stability and that adding weight to the spring hook made the tripod more than acceptable in mildly windy conditions. I was using the tripod for night shots in the wind with the center column actually extended a bit and still was very pleased with the results, which is amazing considering that the Brian X1′s weight is 1575g – less than 3.5lbs. It’s a travel tripod so it’s more than anything designed to be small and light but I found that the weight sacrifices do little against reducing the tripods performance.
Features – The Brian X1 is feature rich. After using this product for almost three months I’m convinced that many of the ideas that 3 Legged Thing has implemented will continue to increase the value of their tripods from here on out. It’s completely obvious that they are trying to squeeze every last bit of usability out of their products. In my experience, companies that think like this understand photographers and go on to produce products that only get better and better.
Center Column – The extendable center column is great idea and more useful than I thought it would be. I’ve always subscribed to the idea that an extended center column simply “turns your tripod into a monopod” and has the capacity to undermine the stability. With the Brian X1, I found it to be quite stable and if extra stability was required the center column could simply be lowered. It honestly doesn’t hurt the stability but adds more useful flexibility to the whole tripod set – more flexibility than you’d expect from this type of tripod. It’s a good thing and can be adjusted to what the photographer needs.
Monopod – Really great idea here. It also doubles as a great walking stick. Unfortunately this idea suffers from two issues. One, the lower leg segments have a hard time supporting the direct weight and often slip with enough force. Read more about this below. Secondly, very tall people will find it a tad bit low for ultimate comfort though not unusable by any means. Though to be fair, us tall folks have been bending over for just about everything for years, so it wasn’t something that I wasn’t used to. It’s a little short though.
AH2 Ball Head - Amazing value. You usually don’t get this good of a ball head from a tripod company. The dials move and tighten very smoothly. A nice surprise is that the fine-tune control knob on the AH2 ballhead actually does just that, it makes small “Fine tuned” adjustments to the tightness of the ball head versus just being the exact same knob as the main tightener. It’s a very solid tripod head offering. So much so that it lured my RRL quick plate away from my 12 lb pair of legs and head onto the AH2, meaning I’ll be using the AH2 on both of my tripods as the main head.
Light Stand - Of all the features, I find the ‘light stand’ to be a bit of a stretch, though I see the usefulness and reason for listing it as a feature. Have I used tripods as light stands in the past? Yes. There is really nothing revolutionary about this tripod that can’t be said about all other tripods, which is to say, if you have an extra head plate and a multi-clamp you can use it as a light stand. Every tripod ever invented has this capacity. The downside is the Brian X1 is actually limited in the fact that the way the 3 Legged Thing demo video shows it, it is very short. However, there is a small upside and the core of why it’s listed as a feature. The upside is that you don’t have to worry about the extended legs getting in the image since the legs are extended low to the ground, just like a normal light stand. You could crank it all the way up to it’s max height at 1900mm+ but then it becomes somewhat unstable in a wind with any sort of light modifier attached to it and you have the legs in the way again. Can it be used as a light stand? Yes. Would I ever think to bring it on a lighting shoot? Probably not. It’s a feature, but a limited one in my opinion. That’s fine. It’s a travel tripod first and foremost.
There are a few things I noticed about this tripod that I could be considered cons and some that are simply worth mentioning:
Slipping lower segment(s) - This is a noticeable issue for me. When the the monopod feature is used with the Brian X1 the bottom/lowest carbon fiber segment has a tendency to slip when more than 12 lbs of downward pressure is exerted on the leg (yes, I measured the pressure). The tripod is measured to be able to handle 17.5+ pounds of weight (8kg) but I think the monopod should be safely listed at 11 lbs (5kg) of weight before the leg begins to slip. Extreme tightening does help this situation but it does not solve the problem. Much of the issue seems to stem from the small diameter of carbon fiber tubing used on the bottom segment(s) on the Brian X1 which is not used on 3LT’s other tripod offerings (Eddie). Note that this issue hardly exhibits itself when the Brian X1 is setup in a tripod formation but should be considered a limitation of the monopod. Whether a con or a structural limitation, it’s something that I’ve noticed and something you should take into account when deciding if the Brian X1 is the right tripod for you. 3 Legged Things other tripods do not use this mall of tubing, which undoubtedly solved this issue on other Tripods
Leg bend - Note that this is not necessarily a con, but more of a ‘be aware’. Almost every travel tripod I’ve touched exhibits a condition that is similar to this one. That being said, the Brian X1 exhibits a bit of leg bend at the joints but not enough to worry me at all. Again, be aware that almost all travel tripods do this. See what I’m talking about in this image. The actual carbon fiber is not bending, it’s simply at the joints. This by no means effects the performance of the Brian X1, but for what it’s worth, be aware that there is a somewhat noticeable amount of bow around the joints. No big deal in my book.
Joint tightening - Though the twistlock joints are nice and cut down on weight and bulk, I found it a bit harder than usually necessary to tighten the lower leg segments – the upper segments don’t have this issue and the larger carbon fiber tubing used on other 3LT tripods won’t have this issue either. This is really only noticeable because the carbon fiber used on the lower leg segments is so small that it requires extra tightening.
THE COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS (but true)
Out of all the tripods I’ve owned over the years, the Brian X1, if necessary, makes a better on-the-fly weapon than all of the others. I know this sounds dumb, but just ask around and you will find out that more than a handful of photographers have had to defend themselves with a tripod from either animal or human foe. Again, this sounds stupid but here me out – the Brian X1 swings really well and is easily “wielded” while the AH2 ballhead provides enough girth to actually do some damage to anyone trying to separate you from your gear. Of the handfull of photographers I’ve let pick up the Brian X1, without prompting, the majority end up swinging it like a bat or do a noticeable “Sword swing” with it before they hand it back to me. I’m serious. Though not a real consideration for reviewing a tripod, it’s somewhat nice to know that if need be you can defend yourself with the Brian X1. Moving on to more serious things *clears through*.
The Brian X1 is an extremely useful and well-built travel tripod – so much so that those not necessarily after a travel tripod will consider it and find it useful. Even comparing it to the big boys it seems to hold it’s own in the features department. Anyone shooting video will appreciate it for it’s versatility and it’s ability to morph in to just about any position. The traveller will absolutely adore it for the performance that it packs into an extremely light package. I’ve personally found the more I use it the more I enjoy it and the more I can appreciate the extensive features list.
Is the Brian X1 worth buying? Hear me loud and clear here: Absolutely. However, the buyer should be aware of what limitations it has – many of them due to simply the size of the tripod. For what it truly is (a travel tripod) it’s an amazing package and one that has seen me personally go from not carrying a tripod to carrying the Brian X1 all the time. The bottom line is that the convenience, performance, and features make the 3LT Brian X1 and amazing value and well compensates for the negatives that are associated with travel tripods. I’ve never been excited about owning a tripod until now.
A few notes about this review: First, as should be noticed, I’m using a Really Right Stuff quick plate on my Brian X1. This should not reflect poorly on the AH2′s own head and plate. I use both on the behemoth 12lb’r that I mentioned and like it just fine for what it is – a simple plate and Arca Swiss mount. The Brian X1 and AH2 do not come with the RRS plate. Secondly, my Brian X1 is covered with several 3rd party stickers (Apple, Drobo, etc). This should not effect a readers understanding of what the tripod actually looks like. I never know what to do with the endless stickers I have and have found that it’s an excellent “gear tag” for quickly identifying my gear from those I often have on my tours. Thirdly, this is a long review and every word I write here make it’s longer. There was quite a bit to cover here, so thanks for your patience!