Tripods are one of those things that few photographers want to spend money on, me included. I’m certainly guilty of (regularly) trying to support a $3000+ camera and lens combo on a cheap, questionably capable, travel tripod. I think I’ve finally found a less questionable, much more capable affordable travel tripod.
But now that my wife, Diana, and I have been working with some bigger, heavier glass, like the Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 and the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 Art, we’ve been dire need for some more legit, significantly beefier tripods. Per usual, I didn’t want to spend a thousand bucks on a new tripod. After and extensive search, I think I may have found the answer: the Leofoto Ranger LS-284C Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod, a much more capable travel tripod.
The Leofoto brand and their LS “Ranger” series tripods were not on our radar until we stumbled upon a travel tripod ranking post from David Berryrieser of The Center Column, a website dedicated to scientific testing and ranking of photo tripods. At the top of David’s “travel tripod” ratings, which scores tripods based on stiffness, height and weight, were a few well known brands: RRS, Feisol and Gitzo and one brand I didn’t recognize: Leofoto.
Near the top of David’s ratings for travel tripods was the Leofoto LS-284C (Amazon / B&H). It was most notably marked as a cheaper tripod ranked among significantly more expensive tripods. That got me intrigued. It was also interesting to see that my beloved old Sirui T-025X (now superseded by the T-25SK) was ranked in dead-last place for overall stiffness in David’s tests. Yeah… I guess I already expected that.
The stand out characteristic of the Leofoto LS-284C was its price, we paid about half the price of an equivalent Gitzo for the kit with a low-profile ballhead. That’s much more in-tune with my “I want to support my heavy $3000 camera and lens on a cheap travel tripod” mantra.
Specifications and Design
In all seriousness though, the Leofoto LS-284C seemed to offer a lot of the things we wanted in a new tripod, regardless of the price: excellent stiffness, low weight, a compact folded size, and a decent extended height. We had a few minimum design standards in choosing a new tripod, all of which were met by the specs of the LS-284C:
- Folded length of less than 20″ (51cm)
- Folded, the LS-284C is 20.5″ (52 cm) long with the ballhead vertical but only 19.75″ (50 cm) with the ballhead flopped to the portrait shooting orientation. It’s 17.75″ (45 cm) with the ballhead removed.
- Minimum 47″ (119 cm) extended height without a center column
- The maximum height of the LS-284C is 50″ (127 cm) with the ballhead installed and the legs fully extended
- Less than 3.5 pounds (1.58 kg) weight
- The LS-184C weighs 3.14 pounds (1.42 kg) with the ballhead installed. The legs weigh 2.46 pounds (1.12 kg) by themselves.
All of these requirements greatly narrowed the possible choices we had available to pretty much exclusively “travel” tripods. The folded length requirement of less than 20″ is so that the tripod can fit in a standard 20″ carry-on style luggage bag for airline travel.
Diana and I each always travel with an absolute maximum of one 20″ carry-on sized roller bag and one small backpack that can fit under an airline seat. If it doesn’t fit in one of those two bags, it’s not coming along. Often times, we each only bring a small 25-30 liter backpack (like my REI Ruckpack 28) for our ultralight trips and completely forego the roller-style carry-on.
Luckily, the LS-284C is small enough in diameter and folded length to easily strap to the side of one of our backpacks and it barely fits into our roller carry-on if we flop the ballhead over to the side. If using in a smaller bag, the ballhead can be removed to shorten the kit to 17.75″ (45cm).
After some testing and experience with other tripods over the years, I’ve found that I wanted to make sure that any full size travel tripod I get, would be capable of extending to at least chest height (about 47″ (119cm) for me), without the use of a center column. This number is certainly a personal preference, and ultimately depends on certain factors like the height of the photographer, the camera, and how the photographer prefers to use the camera. Full extended, the LS-284C is just a few inches taller than this minimum desired height, at 50″ (127cm) tall with the included LH-30 ballhead installed. Optional use of the removable center column brings it to 60.4″ (153cm) tall, more than I typically need.
For the sake of travel, we always want weight to be as low as possible, preferably less than 3.5 lb with the ballhead installed. The LS-284C together with the LH-30 ballhead, weighs 3.14 pounds total.
At this weight, the LS-284C feels fairly dense when fully folded, but seems feather light when the legs are extended. Despite feeling so light, it still feels strong and supportive. My wife and I both have used ours as pseudo walking sticks on occasion.
The LS-284C certainly met our minimum requirements on paper, and also offered some a key design point that made it more desirable than some other tripods we were considering, such as the Gitzo Traveler GT1545T Series 1 and Sirui T-1204SK. First and foremost, the Leofoto LS-284C is a center-column-less design. While it comes with a removable center column, it’s purely optional and unlike the other options we were considering, the Leofoto tripod was not designed with such a center column in mind.
Why is that a good thing? Here’s why: Nearly all other tripods are designed around center column, which requires negative space between all three of the legs in order to make room for the center column when the legs are folded for storage. This extra space requirement for the center column makes the tripod occupy significantly more volume when folded up, which can take up significantly more bag space.
The LS-284C is one of a few travel tripod designs on the market that doesn’t try to make space for storing it with a center column attached. As a result of this design decision, when folded, the LS-284C is even smaller in diameter than the much smaller Sirui T-25SK travel tripod, even though the LS-284C’s legs are significantly larger in diameter.
Even though I leave the center column at home, my wife, Diana, has opted to pack her center column on her LS-284C as she prefers using it for the extra height and clearance when using her filter system, especially for allowing the whole camera extra clearance to the legs in the portrait orientation.
The LS-284C tripod and LH-30 ballhead appear very well built, with a nicely machined billet aluminum central apex, nicely finished composite legs and an overall feel of high quality construction. The leg hinge joints are nice and stiff, which I personally prefer. The twist locks of the leg sections require only about 1/4 of a turn before they release for extending the legs, which makes deploying the tripod relatively fast and painless.
Initially, the telescoping leg extensions were not the smoothest on the LS-284C. Out of the box, they felt like they had just a slight amount of friction and resistance when telescoping, probably from the factory matte finish of the carbon fiber. I hoped they would smooth out a bit and, luckily, they did after a few days of use. Now they seem to extend much more smoothly than when straight out of the box.
The leg locking tabs can be pulled out to unlock the legs and the legs can be opened to detents of 55 degrees and 85 degrees in addition to their standard 23 degree opening angle.
After unlocking the leg and opening it fully, the locking tab will automatically retract to the lock position, a nice feature that reduces handling time when adjusting the legs to different angle lock positions.
The rubber feet of the tripod are removable and can be replaced with (the included) steel spikes for use on soft ground or as an offensive weapon. In most cases, the rubber feet are likely to be more appropriate for normal use, but spikes are nice when using on grass or against slick rocks. The included steel feet are a little on the short side for really digging deep into soft earth, but a standard 3/8″-16 thread size means that a number of third-party tripod foot spikes should be compatible.
We did like that the included rubber feet, and the spike feet, include a sealing o-ring on each foot to prevent water incursion into the threads of the tripod leg.
One notable extra: the LS-284C’s legs disassemble easily for cleaning by fully unscrewing the leg twist locks and it’s notable that the leg shims are a single piece design. The design makes it much less likely to be accidentally lost when compared to the traditional two piece tripod leg shims found on nearly every competing tripod brand. It also seems like the shim design would be less likely to become detached from the leg under wear-and-tear, which is how traditional tripod legs can get stuck, or overextend.
With some care, the plastic shim piece can be removed from each leg section and the twist lock collars can be fully removed for cleaning. Leofoto also sells replacement leg shims for the LS-284C and their other tripods.
Unfortunately, the leg twist lock collars are not sealed in any way, so incursion of dust or water into the leg is still possible, but that won’t stop us from trying to get it dirty when we need to.
The LS-284C features a side facing 1/4″-20 thread between two of the hinge clevis points on the apex of the tripod for mounting a magic arm, and a bottom facing 1/4″-20 thread for attaching an optional carabiner for hanging a camera bag.
The mounting platform of the tripod’s apex, features a 3/8″-16 thread and is 1.85 inches (47mm) in diameter, which is a perfect fit for the included LH-30 ballhead.
The LH-30 ballhead that was included with our LS-284C is very nicely constructed. It’s extremely low-profile and stiff. Both the ball and the rotational axis have very smooth and even motion and can be tightened variably to allow as much or as little resistance as desired. There is no separate control knob for stiffness. Leofoto says the safe load of the LH-30 is 33 lb and from our impression, that rating seems to be realistic. The quick release plate for the LH-30 is Arca compatible, which is the only real tripod plate standard (sorry, not sorry, Manfrotto).
Beyond that, it’s a tripod that operates as expected. We found the LS-284C plenty stiff and strong to support our Sigma 105mm f/1.4 (a monster of a lens), and even feels rock solid supporting Diana’s Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 at 400mm.
The longer the lens, on any tripod, the more time that should be taken to ensure that any vibrations have fully settled before opening the shutter. Even with a substantial lens, we found the LH-30 ballhead to lock solidly without any noticeable sag nor any significant drift in framing.
Most induced vibration from bumping the camera seems to settle within 2-3 seconds when viewing through our largest lens at 400mm. Usually, a particularly rough bump can be damped nearly instantly by placing a hand on the tripod’s leg. Most lenses shorter than 100mm should dampen adequately within less than a second on the LS-284C.
Overall, the stiffness and damping of the LS-284C legs appears to be excellent and the extra stiff LH-30 ballhead complements the legs perfectly, even when supporting very heavy and/or long lenses.
Conclusions and Verdict
Overall, the Leofoto LS-284C looks, feels and performs like a tripod 4 times its price. Fit and finish are excellent, and the tripod’s design make it exceptionally compact when collapsed, but adequately tall when deployed. It’s very light for its size, it’s very stiff, and the included LH-30 ballhead performs well with even our heaviest lenses. I have no hesitation recommending the Leofoto LS-284C as the best travel tripod we’ve ever used (and been able to afford).
The one shortcoming of the the LS-284C is that its leg locks are not sealed against water or dust. I’d love to see a future design with sealed leg lock joints. I’d pay quite a bit more for some increased weather resistance, but that, of course hasn’t stopped us from using the tripods in wet or muddy conditions. Luckily, the legs seem reasonably easy to clean due to the use of a single piece leg shim design.
More than anything, I’m still awe-struck that the LS-284C is as good as it is for the price. We bought our LS-284C as a kit with the LH-30 ballhead, a center column, and a carrying case (check the current price on Amazon or B&H). We originally only bought one, but after only one day of use, we decided to buy a second, so that both Diana and I could have the same great tripod for each of our own cameras.
I’m convinced that there likely isn’t another travel tripod available on the market that offers as good a level of quality, stiffness, and weight at this price point. The Leofoto Ranger LS-284C Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod is nearly perfect.
Leofoto LS-284C Pros:
- Excellent strength and stiffness
- Excellent machine and build quality
- Included LH-30 ballhead is strong and operates smoothly
- Center-column-less design makes folded size very small
- Fits in standard 20″ carry-on bag
- User swappable/replaceable feet
- Foot spikes, hex tools, central carabiner clip and optional center column included
- Single leg shim design for easy cleaning
- Exceptionally affordable for what it offers
Leofoto LS-284C Cons:
- Leg twist locks are not sealed
Leofoto LS-284C Pros: Verdict: 4.9/5
For reference, this most of the equipment that mentioned or used in the creation of this review:
- Leofoto LS-284C Tripod Kit (Amazon / B&H)
- Leofoto LH-30 Ballhead (Amazon / B&H)
- Leofoto AM-2 Magic Arm (Amazon)
- Sony a7III (Amazon / B&H)
- Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM (Amazon / B&H)
- Sigma 105mm f/1.4 Art (Amazon / B&H)
- Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8 (Amazon / B&H)
- Moto X4 (Field Shots) (Amazon / B&H)
- Wine Country Camera 100mm Filter Holder (B&H)
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