A decade or so ago, it was very difficult to find an affordable, professional-quality tripod for video use. Companies like Gitzo and Vinten made – and still make – excellent products, but they cost upwards of $1,000 for a set of legs with a fluid head. Bogen – now Manfrotto – was one of the first companies to offer decent, reasonably-priced tripods, and for years, I have recommended their products as the best option for microbudget production.
However, thanks to some truly value-priced new offerings from a company called Magnus, I’m saying “out with the old, and in with the new!”
Magnus manufactures three products that are designed for video (as opposed to photography) use. The VT-400, the VT-3000, and the VT-4000. Surprisingly, the price difference at each step of the ladder is only $10. That means the top-of-the-line VT-4000 costs only $20 more than the low-end VT-400. Since the VT-4000 sells for $150 – more than $40 less than the cheapest Manfrotto tripod with a (“mini”) fluid-head – this definitely begs a closer look.
The $130 Magnus VT-400 boasts aluminum construction, but I have to say that it feels a lot like plastic. It weighs 5.95 lbs, but – oddly – is rated for the heaviest weight capacity (15 lbs) of the three Magnus tripods. I say “oddly,” because when I mounted my Panasonic AF-100 on the VT-400, it didn’t feel very stable. The fluid head tilts and pans smoothly, but it gave every indication of being designed for very light cameras only.
Also, I wasn’t particularly pleased to see that the quick-release plate that attaches to the camera was made of plastic, rather than metal.
The advantage of the VT-400 is that it has a telescoping center column to allow for a little more height. The downside of the telescoping center column, however, is that the only way to level this tripod is to adjust the length of the legs. In a run-and-gun situation, this can be a real hassle, and that same issue has been my biggest beef with the low-end Manfrotto pods for years.
The $140 Magnus VT-3000 is a whole lot more than $10 better than the VT-400. At 7.75 lbs, it immediately felt sturdier and more rugged than the VT-400. The fluid head is more robust, and uses a metal quick-release plate. It took me a minute to figure out how to remove the quick-release plate from the head though, as it has an odd, geared design that requires one to unlock it, then turn a knob while pushing another button to release it.
With my Panasonic AF-100 mounted on it, the VT-3000 felt stable and secure.
The only elements of this tripod that seemed flimsy to me were the flip-locks on the legs. They’re made of a fairly thin plastic, and I wonder how well they’d hold up to repeated locking and unlocking.
I was very pleased to see that, in contrast to the VT-400, both the VT-3000 and the VT-4000 have fluid heads that mount with a 65mm half-bowl configuration. This allows the head itself to be quickly leveled, without touching the legs. This is a feature normally found only on tripods costing several times the price of these products.
The VT-3000 seems to be designed by people who actually use tripods, as it had a few small touches that I appreciated. Not only is there a mid-level spreader to keep the legs from flopping around, but there’s a small metal clasp on the underside of the unit that locks the legs together for transportation.
It also comes with a lightweight carry bag, which is a nice gesture by the manufacturer. Even though this is clearly an economy-priced product, Magnus is making its customers feel as though they’re getting more than they expected. This is a great attitude for a company in any industry to have!
Priced at $150, the Magnus VT-4000 really made an impression on me. It has similar all-metal construction to the VT-3000, and tips the scales a fraction heavier at 7.9 lbs.
This fluid head is a little nicer, with adjustable tilt and drag, and a more convenient quick release plate
The VT-4000 has much sturdier flip-locks than the VT-3000, and even includes a couple of allen keys to adjust them with.
Like the VT-3000, the VT-4000 comes with a carry bag, has a 65mm half-bowl to facilitate leveling the head, and has a mid-level spreader and leg latch. On the VT-4000, the leg latch has a little ribbon to pull it off with, which – like the carrying case – comes across as a little “mint on the pillow” from the manufacturer.
The VT-4000 easily handled my Panasonic AF-100. I was able to smoothly start and stop movement in any direction, with none of the friction or jerky motion that I sometimes experience with my Manfrotto.
Each of the Magnus tripods uses different quick release plates & attachment mechanisms. I don’t understand this decision, as it seems to me that it would be more economical (and user-friendly) to use the same plate for a range of heads, as Manfrotto does. As it stands now, the quick-release plate on the VT-4000 is substantially better than the other two.
Ultimately, the difference in price is so small – $20 – between the flimsy VT-400 and the full-featured VT-4000 – that it’s a no-brainer: get the better one! The VT-3000 is not a bad option, but the sturdier flip-locks and more convenient quick-release plate on the VT-4000 make it my choice.
To put this comparison in perspective, you could buy BOTH the VT-3000 and the VT-4000 for less than the price of the tripod I normally recommend, the Manfrotto 055x, which does not have the 65mm half-bowl (meaning that the legs have to be adjusted to level the pod).
Yes, there’s always a tradeoff: the Manfrotto is made of thicker metal and feels sturdier. However, if you don’t need the burliest set of legs on the block, or just want a lightweight tripod for occasional run-and-gun shoots, the Magnus VT-4000 makes a lot of sense for the video shooter on a budget.