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I first tried the ProMediaGear TR344/TR344L Pro-Stix Carbon Fiber Tripod at the PhotoPlus Expo in New York City. I was impressed enough by what I saw that I bought one for long term evaluation. In my never-ending quest to find the ultimate tripod, this one deserved attention.
I've now been using the TR344L for over 5 months and ... I'm still impressed. Does the ProMediaGear dethrone Gitzo and Really Right Stuff as the class rulers in my regards? Read on to find out.
Tripods come in all sizes, ranging from tiny tabletop models to super-high models that can require a tall step ladder to use. Along with a vast size differential, a large weight differential exists. You can carry the lightest tripod all day and barely know it is there while the heaviest will become burdensome in a short period of time. Strength and rigidity are often the balancing factor between size and weight. A heavy short tripod is likely to be much stronger and more-rigid than a super-light tall tripod. So, tripod selection involves finding a model that offers the right balance between dimensions and weight, along with the features it offers, for the need.
Let's take a look at the ProMediaGear TR344/TR344L Pro-Stix Carbon Fiber Tripod's measurements and specs.
|Specifications||ProMediaGear TR344||ProMediaGear TR344L|
|Load Capacity||60 lbs||(27.2kg)||60 lbs||(27.2kg)|
|Max Height||59.30"||(150 cm)||70.70"||(179 cm)|
|Minimum Height||3.80"||(9.70 cm)||3.80"||(9.70 cm)|
|Folded Length||20.80"||(53 cm)||23.80"||(60 cm)|
|Weight||4.0 lbs||(1.815 kg)||4.3 lbs||(1.950 kg)|
|Measured Weight||4.5 lbs||(2.04 kg)|
|Top Plate Diameter||2.736"||(6.95 cm)||2.736"||(6.95 cm)|
|Chassis Max Width||4.506"||(114.4 cm)||4.506"||(114.4 cm)|
|Top Leg Section Diameter||1.349"||(3.42 cm)||1.349"||(3.42 cm)|
ProMediaGear's USA machine shop is turning out high-grade products worthy of strong confidence. An oft-used rule of thumb for tripod load capacity is to exceed at least 2x the weight of the gear intended to be mounted on it. While a much heavier than stated capacity load can be placed on most quality-rated tripods, the amount of vibration experienced can become too high at some point. That point is often considerably lower than the load capacity and 1/2 is a fraction commonly used. Don't underestimate the importance of vibration control as there are many causes of vibration including wind.
Even half of the ProMediaGear TR344/TR344L Tripod's 60 lbs (27.2kg) load rating will far exceed what most photographers will ever expect to place on it. I'll provide more-specific gear capacity advice later in the review, but this tripod is really strong.
The taller a tripod is, the more likely it will accommodate your eye-level height or even your eye-level height while one or more tripod legs is positioned downhill below you. The latter is a frequent occurrence for outdoor photography as well as those shooting from stairways, etc. and photographing upward, such as the night sky, is also easier with a tripod that positions the camera overhead. At the same time, it is nice to be able to quickly fully extend a tripod and have it at perfect normal standing height and the standard height model is more likely to fit that desire. I'm (6'/1.8m) and have long used the standard 58-59" standard-height 3-series tripods, but I am more frequently appreciating having some extra height available and opted for the "L" version of this one. The long version of this tripod goes really high. Remember that your tripod ball head and the camera/lens' tripod-mount-to-viewfinder height add significantly to the tripod's height during use. Note that taller tripods will show very slightly more vibration than shorter equivalents.
While high is good, so is low. Getting the camera right down on the ground can be ideal for some compositions and also for table-top work. This tripod's 3.80" (9.70 cm) minimum height with legs fully splayed is quite low, yet comfortable to work with at this height.
A tripod's folded length is of primary concern for packing. A smaller retracted tripod, regardless of its maximum height capability, consumes less space. This means it is easier to fit into luggage and it does not protrude as far above a backpack. For their overall length, the PMG 344 and 344L are especially short when folded with this feature responsible in part by the slightly narrow leg angle in the normal position.
All other aspects being equal, lighter is better. All other aspects are not always equal and a compromise is always being made to achieve lighter weight. The farther/longer you have to carry a tripod, the more important light weight becomes. Weight does not matter much for studio-use tripods that are seldom carried for more than a minute while multi-day backpackers must think much differently. Those flying must deal with luggage weight restrictions and in this case, tripod weight becomes a strong consideration.
Though my TR344L moves the (digital) needle on the scales slightly beyond the rated weight (to 4.5 lb / 2.04 kg), it is still a very light tripod for its size and strength.
The apex is a substantial part of the tripod and it puts a mark on the overall weight and width of the tripod. However, I often find that a larger (as a triangular measurement) chassis is less able to flex and in turn, it is more rigid. Thus, I pay attention to the chassis max width measurement.
The 344/344L has a rather compact apex, but it utilizes a triangular shape to maximize strength relative to size and it has another advantage. This apex is relatively deep with a thick wall, increasing strength and rigidity without increasing the diameter.
While the diameter of the top plate may hint at the strength of the tripod's chassis, it more-directly ties into the base size of the head being attached. This measurement is taken from the perimeter of the top-most portion of the top plate, showing the surface width available for contact with a head. A tripod head with a base that exceeds the top plate dimensions (or vice versa) can be used, but some of the width benefit (improved stability for example) will not be fully realized. This tripod works well with up-to-full-size ball heads such as two of my favorites, the Really Right Stuff BH-55 and the Arca-Swiss Z1.
All other aspects being equal, larger diameter leg sections will provide greater stability and lower vibrations. Leg wall thickness and construction details are of course heavily in play here as well. A downside to thick leg sections is that they make a tripod more difficult to carry and control via the top leg section.
For the specifications of this tripod, the top leg sections are slightly thin. The TR344/TR344L is easy to grasp and very comfortable to carry via the top leg section.
Tripod manufacturers typically offer many different models and the model name often indicates how the model fits into the family. The ProMediaGear TR344/TR344L Pro-Stix Carbon Fiber Tripod model name breaks down as follows: TR is for "Tr"ipod, 34 refers to "34mm leg diameters" that perform similarly to Series 3 tripods from other manufacturers (typically on a 00-5 industry scale), 4 indicates "4" sections per leg and the L in the refers to "L"ong. I've long settled on 3-series tripod models for my daily use tripods as they are typically very strong and stable while being moderately small and light.
Starting at the top of the tripod, we have the part that holds everything together, the apex. The apex's size and strength are keys for the overall strength and rigidity of the tripod. Skimp here and nothing else matters.
The ProMediaGear TR344/TR344L Pro-Stix Carbon Fiber Tripod has a very solid one-piece, anodized, precision-machined aluminum apex with a modular top plate solidly-secured via 6 bolts. Removed, the apex can accommodate a ProMediaGear TRBU75 Pro-Stix 75mm Half Ball Leveling Head or a ProMediaGear TRB3475 Pro-Stix 75mm Bowl Adapter.
Especially when using a ball-style head (usually my primary choice), the level of the tripod is often not important. But, there are times when I need the tripod's top plate to be completely level. These times include when I'm using a gimbal head or want to create a panorama image using the ball head's panning base. For those times, the ProMediaGear TR344/TR344L Pro-Stix Carbon Fiber Tripod has a very large spirit/bubble level mounted to the side of the apex. Due to its positioning, I thought the level might get in the way or be susceptible to damage, but ... neither has been an issue. The level's mount is made of rugged machined aluminum and the large size is easy to read.
Perhaps not immediately seeming important to you is the comfort of the tripod in your hand. I carry a tripod a lot and any sharp design features where the chassis meets the top of the legs, the natural handholding location, meets not-well-padded parts of the hand. Thus, a smoothly-design leg to chassis transition can make a big difference in the pleasure of using a tripod and this one is among the most comfortable I've carried.
A 1/4-20 threaded port is available on the apex between each leg (three total), enabling a variety of accessories (arms, cameras, displays, phones, etc.) to be mounted on the sides of the tripod. The spirit level utilizes one of these ports, but can be removed if all three ports are needed for other purposes.
Overall, this apex, with its black anodized finish and sharp design looks great and functions even greater.
Most tripods offer a solid top plate, a height-adjustable vertical/center column or the option of either with that last option of course offering the best of both worlds.
With a rapid center column, camera height can be quickly fine-tuned and very high camera positions are enabled without impacting the tripods fully-retracted length. The huge disadvantage of a center column in a raised position is the significantly increased vibration experienced, especially at full height where the difference in vibration dampening is usually dramatic. Another disadvantage is that the tripod's minimum height is limited by the length of the center column, unless that column is removeable or reversable. A center column typically adds weight and cost to the tripod.
At this time, ProMediaGear does not offer a center column for this tripod.
The tripod head mount screw is the common 3/8"-16 thread standard. A strong hook is provided under the top plate, ideal for hanging stabilizing weight.
Unless you are only going to use the tripod on a completely flat surface, typically a floor, you want a tripod model with independent leg spread. You want your DSLR tripod legs to open at various angles to accommodate whatever terrain you may encounter. For example, I captured this picture with two tripod legs fully extended at their tallest lock angle and one leg fully retracted and spread nearly horizontally to my left, balancing against a cliff.
Models having independent leg spread feature angle stops around the leg pivot axles and this seemingly basic design feature plays an important role in the tripod's functionality. When reviewing a tripod design, an important observation to make is how strongly the leg angle locks transition into the angle stops provided on the chassis. Is the stop a weak little tab that protrudes from the chassis? That design invites failure and it must be considered that this failure may mean your camera and lens hitting the ground. Does the weight distribution go straight through the apex into the leg through the leg cups? Or is there a vibration-inviting angle design being used?
The ProMediaGear TR344/TR344L Pro-Stix Tripod's angle stops were clearly designed from a strength perspective and are ideally integrated into the apex. The stops are solid and any leg pressure is directly resisted by a thick section of apex.
The leg angle locks are also solid, made of machined aluminum. Both the insides and outsides of the locks are curved for comfort and for functionality, assuring a finger does not slip from position when making adjustments. In addition, the outside is grooved. The angle locks slide within a machined grove in the leg cups.
The ProMediaGear TR344/TR344L Tripod features substantially-sized, smoothly-tapered, CNC-machined aluminum leg cups. When all is locked in place, this tripod provides a very high strength setup.
Angle stops are available at 22.5°, 50° and 84°. Most tripod models offer multiple stop angles and the specific angles made available are seldom a strong differentiator between models, but in comparison, the Gitzo GT3543LS tripod offers 24°, 55° and 90° angle stops. So, the PGM legs set at slightly narrower angles. This allows it to be taller relative to its retracted size while lighter and slightly more rigid relative to its extended size. The only downside to this feature is that the narrower stance makes the tripod very slightly easier to tip over. Another leg angle lock differentiator is ratcheting feature that snaps the angle locks into the locked position when leg angle direction is reversed from outward to inward with this tripod omitting that feature.
Note that when the TR344/TR344L's legs are fully closed, the leg angle locks cannot be fully adjusted. If not pressed inward fully before the legs are closed, the locks cannot be fully seated in their positions and vice versa is true as well. This is only slightly annoying, but opening the legs to a straight down position is all that is required to enable the full range of angle lock movement.
Don't like the force required to spread the legs? Loosen or tighten the axle bolts – only a single (provided) wrench is required (vs. two for some designs). Brass bushings keep leg angle movements very smooth.
Like the apex, the legs are a critical part of a tripod.
Perhaps the primary consideration for tripod legs is what they are constructed of with aluminum and carbon fiber being the two most-common options. Should I get an aluminum or carbon fiber tripod is a question to be asked?
First, what are the advantages of a carbon fiber tripod? Carbon fiber models are typically lighter than equally-weight-rated aluminum models and that is often a primary consideration for photographers. A huge carbon fiber advantage is its ability to better dampen vibrations. Carbon fiber does not transfer heat as easily as aluminum and if using the tripod in cold temperatures, you will much-appreciate holding the carbon fiber model. Also for consideration is that carbon fiber is less susceptible to corrosion than aluminum - especially if used in/around salt water.
What are the advantages of an aluminum tripod? Aluminum is a great material and its primary advantage in tripod form is low cost. Aluminum generally has a lower friction coefficient than carbon fiber, making it slide more easily for height adjustment.
Aluminum dents and bends while carbon fiber breaks. Neither is good and the latter is less likely, but dented and/or bent may remain usable. Carbon fiber is my nearly-exclusive choice.
Another important aspect to tripod selection is leg section length along with the number of sections per leg. Roughly, the number of leg sections times the length of the sections (minus some overlap and plus the chassis height along with the leg angle set) determines the maximum height of the tripod. Also, the length of the leg sections is a strong factor in a tripod's retracted length.
Because there is one leg lock on each leg section joint, tripods with more leg sections have more locks and for that reason, they generally cost modestly more. Increasing the number of leg sections also slightly increases the set up and take-down time. With each leg section having a smaller diameter than the one above it, tripods with more leg sections generally have a narrower lower leg section than the equivalent tripod with fewer leg sections.
General purpose tripods are most frequently offered in 3 or 4 leg section models and I generally choose 4-section legs for my primary tripods. Four leg sections give me a relatively-compact retracted size that is especially appreciated when traveling with a maximum height that works well for me. With quality-constructed tripod models, I don't find the stability of the thinner lower leg section to be an issue.
The TR344/TR344L features 10x layer woven carbon fiber for ideal strength and rigidity while maintaining light weight. These leg sections look and feel great, just as you would expect for a high-end tripod.
Most tripods have multiple legs sections, allowing them to be set up at various heights or retracted compactly. This means that leg section locks are needed and the first choice to be made is often between lever or flip-locks and twist locks. I've used both and much-prefer the twist locks.
What are the downsides to flip-locks? Some can pinch your fingers (it's painful), they are loud if not being very carefully closed (and closing slowing may lead to the first downside), the levers can catch on camera straps, backpack straps, branches, etc., and I find the levers to be considerably slower to use.
Twist locks, especially the short-rotation designs, are fast to use and fast can be very important. Some may argue that you only extend your tripod legs once when shooting and that speed is therefore not important. For some that may be the case, but hopefully you do not walk up to a scene and automatically select full standing height, instead analyzing the scene and selecting the right camera height from a composition perspective. Hopefully you also vary that height.
When retracted, all three of the ProMediaGear TR344/TR344L Pro-Stix Carbon Fiber Tripod's legs extension locks on each leg can be simultaneously grasped and twisted less than 1/4 turn to loosen the leg sections. Follow the three quick turns with leg extensions and give each leg lock the short turn that is needed to tighten it. The tripod is ready to go in a very short period of time. Reverse the process to retract the tripod. Moving quickly, you can set the ProMediaGear TR344/TR344L Pro-Stix Carbon Fiber Tripod up and take it down twice in under a minute.
If not using the tripod at full height, conventional wisdom says that the lowest legs should be the most-retracted as they are the thinnest. Quality tripods such as this one have very solid lower-leg sections and it is easier to reach the top leg extension locks to fine tune the height, so leaving the top section at least modestly retracted can make sense regardless of the lowest section's extension. If I want a less-than-fully-extended position, I generally hold the tripod head at the desired height and extend the legs in lowest-first sequence until I have the tripod secured at the desired height.
While lever locks can be adjusted to hold solidly against leg section retraction, that often means a very tight lever and a very loud snap upon tightening (wildlife photographers and those shooting in quiet venues take note). Quality twist locks hold very tightly with only a moderately-strong, silent twist.
Want to know how strong a tripod's leg locks are? Fully extend one leg, firmly tighten the leg locks and, while keeping the leg vertical (not spread), pull straight down, gradually increasing pressure until significant weight is applied. Note that exceeding the weight limit of a tripod could break it (I do so at my own risk), but quality leg locks will not retract under the pressure of my weight (170 lb / 77 kg).
Often, tripod leg locks will slip under my weight, but the ProMediaGear TR344/TR344L Pro-Stix Carbon Fiber Tripod's leg extension locks make the grade, holding solidly under my full weight. I tested this at the PhotoPlus Expo before making the investment in this long-term review.
To further test the strength of a tripod, also testing the chassis' strength, I fully extend the tripod legs, spread them to the first stop on a non-slippery surface and then hang from them. Again, exceeding the weight limit risks breaking the tripod (and there is a chance that I will hit the ground fast if that happens). But, I know that the ProMediaGear TR344/TR344L Pro-Stix Carbon Fiber Tripod holds my weight, and I am now confident in loading expensive gear onto these legs. I am also comfortable recommending that you do the same.
Supporting my weight may seem like an excessive requirement, but I often rely on my tripod to hold me personally. While not all photographers get themselves into the situations I get into, those of us who do need to rely on the tripod legs to support ourselves while navigating steep trails, stream banks, large rocks and other difficult terrain especially need strong gear. I've even pole-vaulted small streams using my tripod.
Important to me is that the leg sections do not rotate when unlocked, allowing any individual leg lock to be tightened before the others. Most quality tripods made today support this feature and the ProMediaGear TR344/TR344L Pro-Stix Carbon Fiber Tripod checks that box.
Lateral rigidity is a primary responsibility of the leg section locks. Applying lateral pressure (but not too much as this is a breakage risk) to fully locked legs will quickly illuminate any play and/or flex that exists. Also, with the tripod setup and legs fully extended with modest pressure on the top plate, a tap to the middle of the extended leg will cause visible vibration. How quickly that vibration dissipates is the observation to make during this test. This tripod shows little flex and few tripods dissipate vibration faster than this one.
Unique among similar-grade tripods is that this one forgoes rubber over-molded leg locks for machined aluminum ones. I was curious about this design decision and PMG's response was that they were a machine shop, not a rubber over-mold shop. There is a lot to be said about keeping production in-house, including for quality control reasons.
I'm still weighing the advantages and disadvantages of the metal locks, but anodized machined aluminum looks good and is very strong (as are the matching aluminum threads provided on the leg sections). In terms of comfort, rubber is softer in the hand and transfers heat less rapidly. Rubber is also less likely to scratch when contacting rocks and similar, including when leg locks are positioned near ground level on a tripod setup. Personal preference will play strongly into the rating of this feature.
O-rings are provided on the leg section threads, helping to keep water and debris out of the threads and leg tubes. I noticed a few of these pushing out when the leg locks were tightened. Upon inquiring about this with ProMediaGear, I was quickly sent a new set of O-rings. Apparently there had been a very small number of customers experiencing this problem and tighter-fitting O-rings were now being used, resolving that issue. PMG's customer service was especially great to deal with and that is a very important factor in tripod selection. Stuff happens and getting a tripod back into service quickly can be very important.
At the bottom of the tripod are the parts we logically call "feet". The TR344/TR344L's strong rubber-molded feet are nicely shaped for the legs splayed to any available angle with the legs resting nicely above the leg section locks even when at ground level. Significant threads lock the feet into the legs. Conveniently contained within the feet are gasketed, reversible hardened stainless steel spikes. Unscrew the feet, unscrew the spikes from their retracted position, quickly attach them in their to-be-used position and thread the feet back on to deal with slippery surfaces.
When the spikes are reversed, they fill most of the gap in the bottom of the feet. I expected dirt in the threads of the remaining gap to be a problem, but it has been a non-issue.
As discussed earlier, the load capacity of this tripod is high enough to support nearly any camera and lens and that it reassuringly holds me as well. But, being able to hold large weights doesn't always mean that it will hold loads without vibration and vibration cannot always be tolerated.
In this regard, there are no worries with this tripod. Even with a Canon EOS 5Ds R mounted to a Canon EF 600mm f/4 L IS II (weighs 12 lb / 5.4 kg), this tripod dissipated vibrations from a strong tap on the side of the camera in a few seconds, at least matching the best 3-series tripods I've used, including those from Gitzo and RRS. I'm very impressed.
I don't see a single indication that build and design qualities have been sacrificed for economic reasons on the ProMediaGear TR344/TR344L Pro-Stix Carbon Fiber Tripod. This is a high quality piece featuring best available materials and construction. No worries here.
The story remains the same. Cheap, low-quality tripods are usually a waste of money. They will leave you disillusioned to what a tripod can do for you and will dissuade you from using one at all. Your time is valuable and researching the purchase of a tripod costs you in that regard. The cost of a tripod failing, either mechanical failure or failure to function at a satisfactory level, can be far higher and this results in having to invest the research time over again. Of course, paying for a replacement tripod is similarly inefficient.
Buy right the first time and spend your time photographing (and enjoying the gear you are working with). Using a high quality model will potentially greatly increase your image quality. I do not remember talking to a single photographer that wished they would have purchased a lower-grade tripod model, but I regularly meet those with regrets.
No one is going to mistake the price of ProMediaGear tripods with one of the cheap options. Quality has a cost and the price for quality must be paid up front. The good news is that this tripod should last a very long time and the value will be appreciated every time it is used.
ProMediaGear offers a limited 5-yr warranty on the TR344/TR344L and I expect that this tripod will last a lifetime for most.
The right tripod head can make a huge difference in your experience with a tripod and in your results. Do not let your head be the limiting factor in a good support setup. This tripod was tested using the Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head, but the Arca-Swiss Z1 Ball Head is another great choice. One more great option is the UniqBall UBH 45X Ball Head shown in the image above. Same-brand head options are available, but I have not had the chance to use the ProMediaGear heads (Katana and Sputnik).
The Really Right Stuff TVC-34/TVC-34L tripod and the and Gitzo GT3543LS tripod are the two models I most-closely associate with the ProMediaGear TR344/TR344L Pro-Stix Tripod. All three are excellent options and I'm very happy when using any of these. Most of the differences seem minor, but the PMG option has a slightly narrower leg stance, it has metal leg section locks and it has quick-access reversible spikes included in the box.
|RRS TVC-33 / TFC-33 Mk2||3||3||58.6"||(148.8)||4.1"||(10.4)||25.6"||(65.0)||4.30||(1.95)||50||(22.7)|
|RRS TVC-33S / TFC-33S Mk2||3||3||50.8"||(129.0)||3.9"||(9.9)||22.8"||(57.9)||3.70||(1.68)||50||(22.7)|
|RRS TVC-34 / TFC-34 Mk2||3||4||58.5"||(148.6)||3.8"||(9.7)||21.1"||(53.6)||4.40||(2.00)||50||(22.7)|
|RRS TVC-34L / TFC-34L Mk2||3||4||68.8"||(174.8)||4.0"||(10.2)||24.4"||(62.0)||4.70||(2.13)||50||(22.7)|
If you have been desiring a Really Right Stuff tripod but have not been able to afford or justify the price, the ProMediaGear TR344/TR344L Pro-Stix Carbon Fiber Tripod should be a serious consideration for you. Even if you can afford any one of the other top-performing tripod models, the ProMediaGear TR344/TR344L is still very worthy of consideration.
ProMediaGear cut no corners on the TR344/TR344L Pro-Stix Carbon Fiber Tripod design and construction. The leg locks have a short rotation and they lock very tightly. This tripod is among the strongest and most-rigid models I've used in this class and it is ready for your largest gear, for heavy winds and for other tough photography conditions. This entire tripod is very aesthetically attractive and you will look good using it in the boardroom or on a high mountain pass.
Even if I had to end my ongoing ultimate tripod search with this one, I'd be a happy photographer.
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