Budget Phone Tripods

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A few months ago, after much usage and handling, my old trusty mini tripod (the ones which camera stores throw in as a free gift) decided to commit seppuku and dismember one of its legs. Whilst waiting for some super glue to be delivered so I could fix my tripod, I also got curious at what other budget tripods were out there in the market.

There were heaps of listings on AliExpress for a bunch of models from a brand called Ulanzi, and wanting to try one, I couldn’t decide on which would be the best - so I did the only sane thing and didn’t buy any bought a bunch of them.

… So they arrived earlier (mind you this was shipped from China) than my superglue (which was ordered from a local store…), whatever! Let’s have a look at them!


A note on accessories

The tripods themselves don’t come with the pictured Ulanzi ST-07 phone clip (with cold shoe), however mine came as a bundle. These phone clips have a 1/4 thread both at the short and long ends.

A note on measurement

Ulanzi MT-08

Price: AU$17
Degrees of Adjustment: 1
Minimum Length: 14cm

Maximum Length: 27cm

Leg Length: 9cm

Leg Span (to centre): 7.5cm

Leg Span (to leg): 13.5cm

Detachable Head: No

Cold Shoe Mount: No


The tripod legs are made out of a pretty study plastic material, with a bit of rubber on the feet to add extra grip / provide slight vibration reduction (keyword slight). Whilst it’s not the best sort of plastic that I’ve seen before, it’s still better than other cheap quality plastics that you might experience. The telescoping pole and ball head bearing are metal, and provide a sturdy feel.

The ball head is pretty mediocre, being stiff in certain directions; however it tightens pretty well under normal load. As for the mounting mechanism, the base plate is padded with a layer of rubber allowing you to securely tighten a device onto the 1/4” screw.


In the hand, the tripod feels nice and comfortable with the rubber padding. The legs also clip together to prevent them from dangling around, which is quite nice. Under full extension, the MT-08 telescopes by 12.5cm.

But will it hold a camera?

I permanently keep my Canon EOS R + EF 35mm f/2 lens in my backpack; it would be great if the tripod could support this sort a payload of ~975g (front heavy)!

The MT-08 sort of supports the payload, however the tripod legs get pushed further past where they were designed to stop, which could be worrying. With enough effort you can get the tripod to counterbalance the torque and position the camera flat or tilted upwards, but angled down is a no go. Fair enough though.

Given it’s just holding up, I’m pretty confident that it won’t do well when extended, so as a good scientist engineer I’m going to be lazy and leave it as an exercise to the reader.


Alright let’s have a look at the MT-08’s big brother, the MT-16


Ulanzi MT-16

Price: AU$29.50
Degrees of Adjustment: 1
Minimum Length: 19cm

Maximum Length: 44cm

Leg Length: 14cm

Leg Span (to centre): 13.5cm

Leg Span (to leg): 24cm

Detachable Head: No

Cold Shoe Mount: Yes

At twice the price, I hope we get twice the performance!


The MT-16 is made out of the same materials and overall construction style as the MT-08, and my prior comments moreorless carry over (inclusive of its stiff ball mount bearing). Apart from just an increased size, this tripod also comes with a rotatable cold shoe mount on the side of the tripod, which would be useful if you needed to mount a portable mic or light.

The mounting mechanism is improved with a stationary base plate design, with a grooved knob to secure a device onto the tripod (again the base plate is layered with rubber)


The MT-16 is roughly 40% longer when retracted, but provides an extra 63% of extension of 44cm, which is a much more pleasurable “selfie stick” distance.


The tripod legs and feet are also improved, with much larger and better quality rubber on the feet of the tripod. The legs also contain sets of magnets that help to keep the legs together, a nice addition given the extra weight and size of the legs.

But will it hold a camera?


This tripod handles my ~1kg payload quite well; as the tripod pole makes contact with the plane surface and stops the legs from over-over-extending, and adds a fourth point of stability (although it isn’t vibration damped with rubber like the tripod leg feet). I was also able to tilt the camera downwards without it toppling over, however you do need to ensure that one of the legs is pointing in the same direction as the camera’s centre of mass.


When extended, the tripod also seemed to handle the payload decently well, but unfortunately the tripod isn’t built with off-centre mass payloads in mind - the pole was at a few degrees of tilt. I could probably fix this with a longer video plate.

At full extension, the telescopic arm wasn’t able to support the weight and slowly retracted by about 5 cm before stopping at 17cm of extension.

One way the manufacture could mitigate the legs from spreading out too far, would be to add another link from the centre pole to each leg to form a truss system that would restrict the extension angle of the legs

“At twice the price, I hope we get twice the performance!"

The MT-16 definitely justifies itself for being twice the price as its smaller MT-08, with a nice improvement in load support and extension length. The cold shoe mount, and the screw knob make the mounting process easier, whilst leg magnets help hold the legs when collapsed


Ulanzi MT-32

Price: AU$31
Degrees of Adjustment: 2
Length*: 28.5cm

Leg Length: 22cm

Leg Span (to centre)*: 12.5cm

Leg Span (to leg)*: 21cm

Detachable Head: Yes

Cold Shoe Mount: Yes


Unlike the MT-08 and the MT-16, this tripod foregoes the telescoping functionality and replaces it with ‘gorilla pod’-like legs. The more metal and less plastic I see, the happier I am.
*: These rubberised flexible legs allow you to bend them (to an extent) to wrap around objects, or to adjust the load system (i.e. redistribute the weight on the surface)


The tripod head is detachable from the base, allowing you to add your own 1/4” tripod head if you wanted to. In terms of the build quality of the tripod head, it’s much better compared to the MT-08 and MT-16; and the ball head is able to experience zero friction when loosened for adjustment (yay!). The cold shoe mount is located on the tripod head, and is also rotatable to allow different shoe directions. The knobs are of much better quality as well, and an additional knob near the plate allows for pan control without affecting the ball head!

On the tripod base, a 1/4” thread exists which allows you to add another accessory if you wish


The tripod head uses an Arca-Swiss compatible quick release system, which is great for compatibility with my other gear, as I don’t need to change between proprietary tripod plates (looking at you Manfrotto).

At the same price point as the MT-16, the MT-32 feels much sturdier and I would prefer it over the MT-16 as I personally wouldn’t use the telescopic extension (ever)

But will it hold a camera?


Yassss! With some adjustments to the flexible legs, I could even get it to point nearly 90° downwards!

Conclusions

So uh, I bought these tripods just as a gander under the premise that I would use my original mini tripod after I superglued the broken leg back, but uhhh…

In terms of build quality, from best to worse would (unsurprisingly) be the MT-32, followed by the MT-16 then the MT-08. By far, the MT-32 beats the two other tripod models with its better material.

As for usability, I’d put the MT-32 in front, followed by the MT-08.
!!!?
Whilst the MT-16 has better load support for heavier payloads, practically I wouldn’t really be using the tripod for my DSLR / mirrorless cameras anyway. The MT-08 on the other hand, is smaller and lighter (EDIT: I realise I never weighed any of the three tripods, meh whatever). Whilst I do forego a cold shoe mount, the ST-07 clip has an inbuilt one, so I’m not really losing out on much either. As for the limited extension length; I’m a decent human being so I won’t use a selfie stick. And heavy payloads… well that’s just a luxury.

If I were to pack one of these tripods to live in my bag, it would probably be the MT-08 just because it’s so tiny - which is great because my bag is always packed.

The versatility the MT-32’s flexible legs is also quite favourable however, plus its ability to mount Arca-Swiss compatible gear (although I do keep an Arca-Swiss / Manfrotto combination QR plate in my bag) makes me want to also give it a try as an EDC - but it is rather large, and I don’t really mount my EOS R on a tripod that much…


Why the heck do you keep your camera in your bag.

Well sometimes when you’re out you see an opportunity and beat yourself over it because you couldn’t be bothered to bring the camera I ask myself this question every day.

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