Chinese photo-equipment company Benro has been making tripods and heads under its own name for the past decade. At NAB 2012 they introduced a new line of kits with fluid heads for video use, and these started shipping in October. Benro's US distributor sent me three representative kits, with both aluminum and carbon fiber sticks and three different fluid heads, to test and compare.
The kits are largely differentiated by their heads: the S2 head is rated for a 2.5 kg camera (5.5 lbs), the S4 should support a 4 kg / 8.8 lb camera, and the S6 can carry a 6 kg / 13.2 lb load. Benro offers kits for these heads with aluminum and carbon fiber (CF) legs. One vendor, Adorama, prices these kits as follows:
Kits with aluminum legs:
Kits with carbon fiber legs:
All kits use three-section tripods with center columns; the S2 kits use a slightly smaller set of sticks than the S4 and S6 kits, but the design is the largely the same regardless of size.
Benro supplied me with the aluminum S2 and S4 kits, and the carbon fiber S6 kit.
Basic specs on the three kits, succinctly summarized on their box labels. The S6 load spec appears to be a typo.
All the kits consist of three-section tripods with flip-lever leg locks, a non-removable center column with a leveling bowl, and a flat platform with a 3/8" screw for attaching a head. The three heads have fluid pan and tilt, quick-release (QR) plates, and a single handle or pan bar.
Benro S2, S4, and S6 Video Tripod Kits.
Tripod legs are of black-finished aluminum or carbon fiber. One leg has a closed-cell foam rubber grip on it.
Tripods use aluminum or carbon-fiber legs and have closed-cell foam grips.
Leg sections are clamped in place using flip-lock paddles. The middle section has an anti-rotation fitting in it so that it doesn't spin when unlocked; its paddle will always remain on the outside, parallel to the top-section's paddle, making it easy and predictable to operate by touch alone.
All three tripods use these flip-out leg-locking paddles.
Lock tension is adjustable using the supplied, clip-on combination cable clamp and paddle wrench.
Each tripod has a snap-on combo lock-paddle wrench and cable clip.
The legs come together at a black-painted top casting, and held firmly in place with adjustable bolts. The legs have pop-out stops that land on any of three limits in the top casting, letting each leg lock at (roughly) 30, 60, or 80 degree settings.
Pop-out stops allow legs to hit three different limits.
These let the tripod go very low—low enough that the center column becomes the limiting factor in how close to the ground you can get (about 16" to 18", depending on the head).
Legs terminate in rubber feet, which can be removed and replaced with metal spikes. A set with three spikes, plus hex keys to adjust the leg bolts and tighten the hex bolts on the head, is supplied with the kit.
Each kit comes with two hex keys and a set of spiked feet.
The top casting incorporates a bubble level, a magnetic compass (!), and a small, freely-spinning metal loop, the purpose of which is undocumented.
All the tripods have bubble levels.
The tripods include magnetic compasses, and a rotating metal loop of unknown purpose.
A center column slides freely through the top casting and is locked in place with locking collar. It has a spring-loaded, pull-out hook at the bottom from which you can hang a stabilizing weight, should you feel the need.
The center columns have spring-loaded weight hooks.
The columns are topped off with an elegant blue-anodized leveling bowl. The bowl locks in place with a twist lever; the twist lever's head can be pulled out and rotated to position it for best advantage, like locking levers on high-end support gear. Twisting the lever less than half a turn frees the bowl to rotate freely, up to about 15 degrees in any direction, making it quick and easy to level the head even if the tripod itself is standing slightly askew.
The leveling bowl allows fifteen degrees of freedom in any direction.
The leveling bowl has a standard, 60mm-diameter platform with a 3/8" mounting screw. The heads screw down on those platforms, but can be removed if needed.
The three heads scale up from the featherweight, single-sided S2 to the feature-rich S6. All heads offer a fixed amount of fluid pan drag, fixed or variable fluid tilt drag, and a slide-in quick-release plate similar to those on lightweight Manfrotto or Vinten heads. All have their own bubble levels. Their handles are clamped to rosettes, allowing rotation to many angles or complete removal when necessary.
The S2 head, a very light, single-sided design.
The S2 is a tiny head using a smaller quick-release plate than the S4 and S6. The QR plate has a 1/4" camera screw and a retractable anti-rotation pin.
It's a single-sided head, with most of its adjustments on the left side. At the base, there's a locking lever for panning; a large rotating knob in the middle for tilt locking, and a lock lever at the top for the QR plate. Behind the lock lever there's a blue-anodized release button for the QR plate's safety catch.
The right side has a rosette for the pan handle. On the S2, the handle can only be attached to the right side.
S2 and S4 heads have unlit bubble levels.
The S2 and S4 share the same bubble level in a bulge at the base of the head.
The S2 head tilts 85 degrees in either direction. It is not countersprung or counterbalanced in any way.
The S4 head, double-sided for more rigidity.
The S4 is an intermediate head with a bit more solidity. Like the S2, it has a pan-locking lever at the base and a large knob for tilt locking, both on the left, but its QR lock lever is on the right. Rosettes on either side let you mount the pan handle on the left or right as suits your mood.
The QR safety release is a large blue plastic button, instead of the smaller blue-anodized metal one on the S2. As you can see in the photo, it's rather loosely retained, and can flop around a bit.
The S4 is supplied with both 1/4" and 3/8" camera screws. When not in use, the 1/4" screw threads into the underside of the top platform at the rear, while the 3/8" screw lives under the front of the platform.
The S4 stores its 3/8" screw at the front, 1/4" at the rear.
The S4 tilts about 75 degrees back and perhaps 85 degrees forward—but not with the 3/8" screw in its storage place. That screw limits the forward tilt of the head slightly by whacking into the base. If done repeatedly or with vigor, it will likely mar the finish; I tried not to test this. If you're downshooting documents you can use the flexibility of the tripod's leveling bowl to add the additional tilt needed for a full 90 degree forward tilt.
The S4 appears to have a light counterbalance spring in it, as tilting the unloaded head all the way forward and releasing it causes it to spring back slowly.
The S6 head, with both a four-level counterbalance and a tilt drag adjustment.
The S6 is the heavyweight of the trio: it's the only one with adjustable tilt drag and adjustable counterbalancing. It still has left-mounted locking levers for both pan and tilt, but it also has a large, blue-rimmed adjusting knob for tilt drag. Like the S4, the S6 has a large and wobbly plastic safely release for the QR plate.
On the right, another blue-rimmed knob lets you set one of four counterbalance positions, one of which is no counterbalance at all.
The S6 shares the same QR plate as the S4, and the same two camera screw choices, but the S6 stores both of them at the back of the platform.
The S6 head stores 1/4" and 3/8" screws under the rear of the platform.
The S6 tilts back about 60 degrees and forwards around 80 or 85 degrees. Tilt drag can be continuously varied from none at all (or close enough as makes no practical difference) to a pleasingly high degree of resistance.
The S6 also has an illuminated bubble level, a very handy feature:
The S6 head has an illuminated bubble level.
The S6 ships with a button battery installed and a spare as well.
All the heads use QR plates with a slot for the camera-fixing screw. The slot lets you slide the camera back and forth for better balance. A rubber plug at the back pops out should you need to change the camera-fixing screw. The plates include an anti-rotation pin at the front for video cameras that accept them. If you're using a camera without the appropriate socket, or if you want to slide the camera back on the plate for balance, the pin can be pushed down against a leaf spring to retract it.
S2 and S4/6 quick release plates, top view.
S2 and S4/6 quick release plates, bottom view.
The S2 and S4 heads have thin, one-piece handles. The S6 uses a more substantial two-piece extendable handle. All handles have comfy foam-rubber grips.
S2 and S4 use one-section handles. The S6 handle has two sections.
The kits come packed in zippered carrying bags. The bags have carrying handles and come with detachable shoulder straps. The bags have internal zippered pockets containing the spiked feet and wrench kit as well as a packet containing one-sheet Chinese/English instructions for the head and for the sticks, the warranty card, and (for the S6) a spare illumination battery and a hex key for the battery compartment.
Travel bags for the S6 and S4 kits. The S2's is like the S4's, only smaller.
Next: Operation and Handling; Impressions; Conclusion...