Review by Emil von Maltitz.
Anyone who reads my reviews will probably understand by now that I’m pretty into my tripods. I think I have about seven of them floating around the studio, and they all get used. Each one has a purpose, even if it’s just that it’s an old one that can get ocean spray on it, or that it isn’t a train smash if it gets stolen. The thing about tripods though is that they take up space. They take up space in the studio. They take up space in your bag. They take up space on the side of your backpack when you are carrying it. Even the the small and light ones are really quite awkward to pack into a bag when you are travelling.
Back in the 1980s Cullman tried to address this problem and came out with an innovative folding design that basically allowed the legs to be folded flat. So, rather than the traditional tripod design where the legs are each situated at about 60 degrees to each other when folded, the original Cullman design allowed the legs to fold flat, i.e. three legs in a flat row. The design is not without it’s complications though.
Evidently some patents must have worn off as several other tripod brands are trying their hand at the oddball folding design first seen on the original Cullman Magic (I think it was in the 1980’s). From the outset, one needs to realise these fold flat tripods are not intended for regular tripod usage. It’s really designed for the travelling photographer who needs a compact and light, but still sturdy and rugged tripod that will fit easily into travel luggage.
Build and Design
Like all of SIRUI’s tripods, the S-2204-N has a definite feel of quality to it. If anything I found the leg locks firmer and seemingly stronger than the locks on the N-3204x that I tested in Namibia. This is probably only a perception, but the tripod felt good in the hand when using it. Really good.
Because of the folding mechanism, the tripod doesn’t exactly look like a tripod when it is folded. Rather, it looks weirdly like a piece of folded weaponry. That aside, it has the look and feel of a professional calibre tripod and is eons ahead of the light and nasty aluminium tripods that I know some travel photographers resort to in order to save space and weight.
The metal components of the tripod are made from durable forged metal, rather than cast metal. SIRUI argues that forged metal makes a more compact, heavier duty material that gives a better strength to weight ratio. Certainly, from my use of SIRUI tripods in the past, the metal components show very little wear. They also seem to have a perceived hardness to them which I really like. The metal is also anodised with a black satin finish to increase wear resistance.
The angle locks at the top of the leg, have two settings at about 120 and 165 degrees. This doesn’t leave much room for leg spread adjustment. The higher-end SIRUI tripods have three angle adjustments. Of course this doesn’t mean that you absolutely have to position the legs at the angle stops, but the reality is that a tripod is more stable when it is set to the angle stop itself.
The one leg has a neoprene rubber coating to help grip the tripod. This is a nice feature on all of the SIRUI tripods that I have tried to date. It felt a little pointless on the S-2204-N as when the tripod is folded it is surprisingly awkward to carry in the hand. This is really a tripod begging to be strapped to your backpack or packed into a suitcase rather than being carried. Oddly, carrying the tripod when folded reminded me of carrying a folder of documents. It just doesn’t feel like you are carrying a tripod.
The tripod is also light thanks to the 8x Carbon Fibre that SIRUI uses in its design. This means that there are eight separate layers of thin interwoven carbon fibre that make up the tubes. Traditionally, tripods have been made using 6X carbon Fibre. The theory is that the 8-layer weave means for a lighter, stiffer tripod. This is a good thing. The outer weave leaves quite an attractive pattern that runs at a steep diagonal linear pattern around the leg. There are 4 leg sections to the tripod with the maximum diameter at the top section of 28mm. Despite starting out at a modest 28mm diameter, the lowest leg section, and therefore the thinnest still manages a 20mm diameter, so it doesn’t feel ‘too’ thin for a tripod of this size.
The feet have the same excellent screw in/out spikes that are on the N-3204x that I reviewed. This seems to be a standard feature of the SIRUI tripods and is one that I like. One proviso on the spike though. They are effective, but don’t grip quite as well as the FLM spikes (there’s a double-edged sword for the FLM – their spike might be more effective, but it also scratches floors more easily and pops out accidentally all the time whereas the SIRUI requires purposeful action to expose the points).
The leg locks themselves moved easily, and locked securely when I twisted them. It takes about a half turn to properly unlock a leg section. There are two distinct patches in the turn where you feel the leg unlocking. Overall I felt the movement was excellent. I had a definite impression of locking or unlocking a section, it wasn’t too difficult, and it held in place beautifully. The size and spacing of the logs also meant that I could grip all three locks and unlock all three in one go to extend the legs from their packed away position.
The tripod also has a rapid centre column that can be removed and replaced with a shorter ground level kit. My usual reservations about centre-columns remain, but their is an advantage to the folding design in this case. In most tripods the centre column is only in the sleeve of the tripod shoulder for about 50mm. Because of the folding design of the shoulder, the S-2204-N’s centre column is in the sleeve for a full 130mm. This more than likely makes the centre column more rigid, and theoretically more useable (still not as good as not using the centre-column at all).
The S-2204-N weighs in at 1.3kg without a head attached. Ironically, it could probably have been lighter if it had a traditional folding design as the rotating collar is quite bulky and solid. I suspect that the bulkiness of the shoulder section is the reason that the join between the rotating collar for each leg and the shoulder actually has an empty space (see image). By forging the metal components with this space, SIRUI have effectively tried to lighten the overall weight of the shoulder section of the tripod, something that isn’t necessary in any of their other tripods.
Then there’s the included monopod. One of the legs unscrews from the top of the tripod, leaving an exposed female thread onto which the top plate is attached. The result is a very light 114cm length monopod. 114cm is relatively short for a monopod, but you can extend the monopod by attaching the long centre column to the monopod via the threaded screw where the hook is usually attached. This lengthens the monopod to a very useable 152cm. I usually use a heavy duty Manfrotto pro monopod which is far sturdier than the monopod section of this SIRUI, but lugging the Manfrotto and a tripod around on assignment is a chore. Having the ability to switch between a monopod and a tripod without the additional weight of two items is fantastic. Of course the downside is you can’t have a tripod and a monopod at the same time, but you can’t have everything I suppose.
It would be remiss of me to not mention the packaging. It’s not the reason we buy tripods, but SIRUI really does make an effort to provide quality bags alongside the tripod. The small, flat, heavy-duty nylon ripstop bag that came with the tripod is of excellent quality with a heavy duty zipper and a beautifully made shoulder strap. I also love the fact that SIRUI provides both sized allan keys (hex keys) that you might need, as well as a spare for each! It’s these small things that garner photographer loyalty to a brand and SIRUI seem to be aiming to capture some of that.
To spread the tripod legs you have to press a red aluminium button above the legs and rotate two of the legs away from the folded flat position. Now you can spread the legs out to the angle stops. It seems finicky at first, but with some practice it becomes second nature and is really only marginally slower than setting up a traditionally designed tripod. An oddity of the design is that the legs are not at equidistant angles to each other. This can potentially result in a slightly less stable platform. I say only ‘potentially’ as I personally didn’t find any obvious instability as a result of the design, and continued to use the tripod in several instances (waterfalls, in flowing streams, perched awkwardly at the edge of rocks etc.) where instability could have been a problem, and it wasn’t.
As I mentioned above, when carrying the tripod by the hand, it feels a little awkward. This becomes particularly evident when you are walking and wanting to carry the tripod rather than strap it to the side of your bag, Conventional tripod designs allow the photographer to usually slip her fingers around one leg to comfortably carry the tripod (thicker fingers might require the leg to be pulled away from the centre-column slightly, but the point is the tripod can be relatively comfortably carried by the hand). I personally found I could never really carry the tripod with a sense of security. I always had it held with the tips of my fingers, or balanced like a large book.
Carrying by the hand is not the point of this unique design though. The point really is that the tripod can very easily be packed into conventional luggage. It is primarily designed as a travel tripod, not an everyday tripod. As a travel tripod the design is indeed clever. It’s folded length (without head) of 48cm means that it fits into just about any overnight bag (apart from a laptop bag). Additionally, the same thing that irritated me about carrying the tripod become a wonderful feature when strapped to the side of a backpack. Usually I find the increased bulk of the backpack a hindrance when walking through the narrow paths of some of the Drakensberg montane forests, catching branches, scraping rock walls and generally just getting in the way (there’s a reason why I often end up resorting to carrying the tripod). The S-2204-N folds flat, so now the tripod hugs the side of the bag in far more streamlined manner. I can see how this would be useful as a travel setup when you are walking through crowded street. The traditional tripod bashes into things while the folded S-2204-N doesn’t.
An oddity of the design is also that it forces the tripod to be a little lower than a traditionally designed tripod. Because of the height of the rotating shoulders, and the arrangement of the legs, the maximum height has to be dictated by the shortest leg tube. A traditional design would allow an extra 180mm of height. This does mean that you use the centre-column more frequently, but as I mentioned above, it is possibly a more stable design than other centre column designs. It’s a pity that the ground level kit still means that the tripod head is some 180mm above the ground though. Again due to the high rotating shoulder section.
The one bugbear I had in use with the unit didn’t have anything to with the folding design in the end. It has to do with the hook at the end of the centre-weight for hanging weight from the tripod. For some reason SIRUI opted to change from their very good retractable hook design to a screw-on hook design. The change is most likely to make the centre-column compatible with the monopod section, but I feel that it could have been implemented better.I fear that the screw-on hook is going to get lost, and it does occasionally snag on things. The one place it did snag on things was ironically when I was pulling it from my luggage (without the provided bag) and it snagged on some clothing. Still, it’s easy enough to remove the hook by simply unscrewing it. It just seems like a strange oversight for a tripod that really is thoughtfully designed.
That’s just it. The S-2204-N is a thoughtfully designed tripod. It’s not exactly an original design, but in some ways does improve on the original Cullman concept. Travel photographers who want something that really does pack easily or those who want a tripod that is not for everyday use, but stores away (It’ll even fit in a medium sized cupboard drawer) easily, should take a look at this tripod as an option. It doesn’t replace owning a larger N-3203x, but it fills a niche that some photographers need filled. From that perspective it’s an excellent tripod. For it’s size it’s sturdy and rigid, relatively lightweight and well built. The fact that it reaches to 180mm minimum height is another bonus over many other travel tripods that don’t reach down to ground level. At the end of the day this is a globe-trotting tripod. It dispels the myth that you can’t carry a tripod because not being able to pack. That excuse is gone now.
Load Capacity: 15 kg (33 lb)
Maximum Height Tripod: 141.0 cm (55.5”)
Monopod: 150.6 cm” (59.3)
Maximum Height w/o Column Extended Tripod: 115.0 cm4 (5.3″)
Monopod: 114.0 cm (44.8″)
Minimum Height Tripod: 18.0 cm(7.0″) Monopod: 38.0 cm (15.0″)
Folded Length: 48.0 cm (18.9″)
Weight: 1.3 kg (2.9 lb)
Material: Carbon Fibre
Head Attachment Fitting: 1/4″-20
Leg Stages/Sections: 3/4
Leg Lock Type: Twist lock
Diameter (Top Leg Section): 28mm(1.10″)
Independent Leg Spread: Yes
Spiked/Retractable Feet: Yes
Center Brace: No
Center Column Type: Rapid, reversible
Center Column Sections: 1 (also includes short centre column)
Bubble Level: Yes