Manfrotto 055XPROB and 496RC2 head £229
20th Oct 2011 | 14:44
Heavyweight photography credentials yet still light enough to carry with ease
Overview and features
One of the biggest names in tripod manufacture, Manfrotto offers a huge range of tripods, monopods and heads to suit almost any requirement and budget, from tiny tabletop supports to fully professional carbon fibre kit. This reasonably priced combination, available for sale separately, comprises the 055XPROB aluminium tripod and new-generation 496RC2 ball and socket head.
Despite weighing 2.9kg – slightly heavier than most competing tripods of its size and class – the maximum load capacity of the combined Manfrotto 055XPROB legs and 496RC2 head is 6kg. That's slightly less than the 8kg ratings of the Benro A-297EX and BH2-M head and the Giottos MTL9361B and MH1311652 ball head.
The Manfrotto's rating is split between 7kg for the 055XPROB legs and 6kg for the 496RC2 head but, in our tests, the kit felt every bit as strong as the Benro and Giottos products.
The legs are of the time-honoured three-section type, but the difference in diameter between each section is 5mm, compared with just 3mm in many competing tripods. The result is that the sections are particularly easy to extend and contract once you've released the high-quality and extremely effective clip-lock clamps. The section diameters themselves are a chunky 30mm at the top, 25mm for the middle section and 20mm for the bottom.
Multi-angle legs are now featured on the vast majority of current tripods, but whereas most feature three alternative angles, the Manfrotto has four. However, unlike the Jessops Major tripod, which also features four leg angles, the Manfrotto's legs can only be raised to a horizontal position, rather than being rotated almost vertically upwards.
By opening the tripod's legs to a greater angle from the centre column, you can reduce minimum shooting height with your DSLR from 71cm to 58cm. To go lower than this, you need to remove and invert the centre column, shooting with the camera upside down.
Maximum height with the legs and centre column fully extended is an impressive 187cm.
The Manfrotto 055XPROB features a pivoting centre column, which is absent on its slightly cheaper 055XB tripod. This particular feature is good but not great, as we'll come to later.
Other features include a bubble level on the tripod collar, but there isn't one in the ball head to help level your camera. The new-generation 496RC2 improves on its predecessor by including an adjustable friction damper, but there's no separate pan control.
Build, performance and verdict
Build quality on the Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod and 496RC2 head feels sturdy and dependable, from the rubber feet all the way up to the ultra firm-fitting quick-release plate on the head. All joints and controls operate very smoothly and easily, yet are very solid when locked in place.
Unlike some of Manfrotto's very cheapest tripods that we've used in the past, the 055XPROB tripod and 496RC2 ball head have a really professional feel to them, and are also very good value at the price.
One thing we would have liked to see, however, is the use of allen key screws rather than regular slotted screws for securing the head onto the tripod platform. This seems a bit of a penny-pinching measure.
In normal use, the Manfrotto 055XPROB legs and 496RC2 head combine to give rock-solid support, even at the highest available operating height of 187cm. Everything is quick and easy to adjust, from the top-quality leg section clip locks to the centre column lock and the clamping screw in the ball head.
The push-release catches for adjusting the angles of the legs has a similarly fast and simple action.
Speed and simplicity are carried through to the unique pivoting mechanism for the centre column, which relies on just one locking clamp, whereas most competing systems use two. All you need to do is to loosen the centre column lock, raise the centre column while pressing in a safety catch at its base, then pivot the centre column through 90 degrees. After pivoting, the same locking screw clamps the now horizontal centre column.
However, this simplicity comes at a cost. Competing centre column pivoting systems featured on the likes of the Benro A-297EX, Giottos MTL9361B and Vanguard Alt Pro 263AT all enable you to lock the centre column at practically any angle through 180 degrees in the vertical axis.
By contrast, the Manfrotto 055XPROB's centre column can only be used either vertically upwards or with a 90 degree pivot, as a horizontal boom. Compared with the competition, it lacks a bit of versatility.
You also lose the weight hook normally featured on the bottom of the tripod's centre column as this gives way to the safety lock release catch. Instead, a small hook forms part of the tripod shoulder at the top.
The sturdiness of the ball head is excellent and the friction damper featured on the Manfrotto 496RC2 is a useful addition. Unlike many ball and socket heads, there's a cut-out on both sides of the vertical position rather than just on one side, so you can easily flip the camera over to portrait orientation in both directions.
All operating functions are very quick and easy to use, build quality and performance are excellent throughout.
While simple to operate, the pivoting centre column only has vertically upright or horizontal options, lacking the full range of 180-degree rotation offered in many competing tripods.
Great build quality and excellent stability are the hallmarks of the Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod and 496RC2 head. But it's also extremely simple to use, especially when it comes to the centre column pivot facility. The only downside is that the pivot lacks 180-degree versatility, as it can only be used in regular vertical mode or as a horizontal boom.