I used to think of Velbon as a manufacturer of cheap aluminum tripods until I discovered their El Carmagne line of carbon fiber tripods. The name Carmagne stands for carbon and magnesium. I have no idea how to pronounce it.
I began looking for a new tripod because the lever locks on my Bogen 3001D had worn out after several years of use. My primary criteria were:
- Closed length
- Light weight
Price was not a major factor in evaluating candidates and I was prepared to pay a significant amount of money to achieve my desired performance characteristics.
After examining many different tripods, I decided to purchase the Velbon El Carmagne 640. This is a mid-sized tripod. It goes to 48″ high with the center column down which is perfect for me once you include the height of a good ball head and the camera (I’m 5’8″). It has a closed length of 17.7″ which is just small enough to fit in a regular backpack. With the short center column, the tripod weighs 3lbs and will easily handle a DSLR and all but the biggest telephoto lenses.
Note that Velbon makes two lines of carbon fiber tripods: the El Carmagne version which I am reviewing in this article, and the Neo Carmagne line. The tripods are very similar and share many of the same components. The main difference is that the El Carmagne line uses flip locks while the Neo Carmagne uses rotating collars. The Neo Carmagne is also marketed as Sherpa Pro in some countries.
The build quality of the tripod is excellent. The legs fit precisely without any slack. The center column is likewise snug. The leg locks can be operated with one hand, and when locked, the legs are tight and do not move or wobble when force is applied.
The legs are attached to the center of the tripod with a regular nut and bolt. This seemed a little crude to me, but functionally appears fine.
- Split center column. The center column is composed of two tubes that screw together. Since, I never raise the center column for stability reasons this feature eliminates the need to purchase a dedicated short column. Using the short column reduces the weight by ¼ lb.
- Neoprene grips. The upper legs are covered with neoprene grips.
- Stone bag. The tripod comes with a stone bag that hooks to the three legs for weighing down the tripod. The bag seems awkward and bulky so I will probably never use it.
- Accessory hook. The tripod comes with a hook that screws to the bottom of the center column. Normally you would use this to hang additional weight on the tripod to improve stability. I would probably only use this if it were extremely windy.
- Line markings. The tripod legs have regularly spaced markings on the legs to allow more precise height settings.
I did many comparisons with other tripods including the following
- Bogen 3001D, 055MF, 190MF
- Gitzo 1128, 1228
- Feisol 3401 and 3402
- Velbon El Carmagne 540
Generally, I only considered tripods with 4 leg segments because of their smaller closed length. However, all of the above tripods have 3 segment versions which typically have larger closed lengths and are theorectically more more stable because there is one less joint. The Bogen 3001D is the only aluminum tripod in the group.
The specifications of the tripods are shown in table 1. Height refers to the maximum height without raising the center column; tube diameter refers to the diameter of the largest leg segment.
|closed length||height||weight||tube diameter||sections||price|
I did not list load ratings because generally there is no standard way of measuring weight bearing capability that is consistent between manufacturers. You really need to examine the tripods in person. However, in general, larger diameter tubes typically translates into greater sturdiness and ability to support heavier loads.
Using the short column on the 640 saves ¼ pound and brings the weight down to exactly 3lbs.
Compared to Bogen
The Bogen 3001D was my main tripod for several years. It was made of aluminum and used lever locks. Although it served me well, it is hopelessly outclassed by all of the other tripods except in price.
Bogen also has a series of tripods called Magfiber which stands for magnesium and carbon fiber. I tried these tripods but I felt they were not very sturdy. This might be caused by the very thin and spindly fourth leg segments. Furthermore, the Magfiber tripods are heavy compared with the equivalent carbon fiber models of other manufacturers.
Compared with Gitzo
Gitzo is the gold standard of tripods and many consider them to be a work of art. Unfortunately, they are also are priced accordingly. Gitzo tripods are extremely well made and I would consider their construction to be slightly better than the Velbon.
In general, compared to the equivalent model Gitzo, the Velbon
- has a much smaller closed length
- has a shorter maximum height when the center column is not raised
- has larger diameter tubes (the maximum tube diameter is 1mm bigger but the difference is larger for the fourth leg segment)
- has lever locks instead of collars (the Neo Carmagne line has collars which many claim operate better than the Gitzo equivalent)
- is significantly cheaper (half the price)
The Gitzo 1228 is a direct competitor to the El Carmagne 640. I decided against the 1228 because of the much longer closed length and I thought the 640 would be more stable because of the larger leg diameter, especially on the fourth segment.
The Gitzo 1128 is an ultra-light tripod and it is in a different class than the Velbon 640 which is heavier and sturdier. Surprisingly, the Velbon 640 actually has a smaller closed length than the 1128. The Gitzo 1128 did not seem sturdy enough for me.
Compared to Feisol
Feisol is a Taiwanese company that manufactures a several different carbon fiber tripods and monopods. These tripods have excellent specifications and have been well received and highly praised by users. However, since Feisol only has one distributor in the United States I could not find a model to examine. They are the most inexpensive of all the carbon fiber tripods and may be extremely good value for the money.
Compared with Velbon El Carmagne 540
This tripod is the little sister of the 640. It is a very nice tripod and I almost purchased it instead of the 640. The 540 was tempting because it is ½ lb lighter and about 1 inch smaller in closed length. The tripod itself is very stable and subjectively I felt that it sacrificed little sturdiness, if any, compared to the 640. The 540 would certainly be fine for a larger SLR body with a 300 f/4 or a 70-200 f/2.8. I also felt that the 540 was also sturdier than the Gitzo 1128.
The main drawback of the 540 is its maximum height with the center column down. While the lower height is probably acceptable for a travel tripod, I also planned to use the tripod for general photography and hence chose the slightly taller 640.
- sturdy and light weight
- small closed size
- excellent price
- includes a short column and accessory hook
The Velbon El Carmagne 640 tripod is a sturdy lightweight carbon fiber tripod. It has a small closed length that makes it ideal for hiking and traveling. The tripod is well made and comes with a lifetime warranty so I expect that it will be very durable.