Really Right Stuff TFC/TVC-34/34L Mk2 Tripod Review

The needs for a tripod vary significantly and the number of tripods in my kit is perhaps second to only the number of camera cases in my closet. Still, certain models rise to the top in their importance and performance.

What is the best tripod? My answer is the Really Right Stuff TVC-34L Mk2 Tripod. If I could only use one tripod for the rest of my life, this is the one I would choose.

My search for the ultimate tripod is continuous and I'm not hesitant to switch to a model that I think is better as tripods are one of the most important accessories in my kit – perhaps too important to be considered an "accessory". There are seemingly thousands of different tripod models vying for a place in your kit. The tripod market has become a very crowded one, and discerning the good from the bad has become increasingly difficult.

Unfortunately, most beginners start out buying a low-quality tripod, and this typically means buying a second tripod. That is, if the first tripod does not turn the photographer off to tripod use altogether. Though increasingly difficult, selecting a good quality tripod is at least as important as it ever was. With the ultra-high resolution of current generation digital cameras, a steady camera is more important than ever.

Some time ago, Really Right Stuff, designer and manufacturer of some of the best-functioning and highest-quality camera accessories available, sold only Gitzo brand full-size tripods. There is a narrow selection of tripods that compare to the Gitzos, especially the carbon fiber models and the Gitzo GT3543LS/GT3542LS had been my "ultimate" choice for years. Gitzo carbon fiber tripods perform amazingly well and were, for a long time, unmatched by anything else I tried. Then RRS entered the market.

RRS now designs and produces a wide range of their own tripod models. As expected, these tripods are aesthetically beautiful and they function incredibly well. While the performance difference between the Really Right Stuff and Gitzo carbon fiber tripods is minimal, I opted to go with the RRS TVC-34L for my primary tripod model and now the Mk2 version is out.

Really Right Stuff TVC-34/34L, TFC-34/34L Mk2 Tripod with Head

What is New with the Really Right Stuff Mk2 (Mark 2) Tripods?

This is the list of updates delivered with the Mark II update:

  • New 1/4-20 threaded socket accessory ports on the sides of the apex – Permits attachment of a wide range of accessories including a BPC-16 or BC-18 Microball.
  • New twist locks with integrated wipers and O-rings seals – Helping to keep particles out of the locking mechanism, providing better resistance to the elements, keeping threads clean and smooth while providing better tactile feedback.
  • New collets replace the old locking gibbs – lock engagement is reduced to half the travel for faster locking and unlocking with less effort.
  • New vented clevis – Decreasing air pressure buildup allows smoother leg extension and retraction.
  • New 5/32" apex set screw size – Now the same hex key wrench used for camera and lens plates can be used to lock or loosen the top plate.
  • New improved knurling pattern – Feels better on your skin

So, that list is relatively short and that leads to a good question that I'll answer right at the beginning of this review.

Is it Worth Upgrading to the Really Right Stuff Mark 2 Tripods?

Most of those with an original Mark I version Really Right Stuff carbon fiber tripod are going to find it at least somewhat difficult to justify the upgrade cost. While the Mk2 versions are equal or better in all regards, the amount of better is going to be found minimal to many.

My personal decision: I upgraded all three versions of my RRS carbon fiber tripods to the Mk2 models.

If you see anything on the upgrade list above that seems important for your needs, definitely upgrade. If you just like having the latest gear, don't let me hold you back. If you are happy with your current RRS carbon fiber tripod model, you already have an awesome piece of kit and you will likely find a better way to spend the upgrade cost.

Which Really Right Stuff Tripod Model Should I Get?

Tripods come in all sizes, ranging from tiny tabletop models to super-tall 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 factors between size and weight. A heavy short tripod is likely 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.

RRS has tripod models available that accommodate nearly every combination of size, weight and strength requirements, so the first task is to select the right model(s).

What the Model Name Means

Before looking at the table of RRS tripod models below, it is helpful to understand the model naming convention. I'll use the being-reviewed Really Right Stuff TFC/TVC-34/34L Mk2 Tripod model name for the example:

T is for "T"ripod. That was easy. Next is F for "F"ixed apex or V for "V"ersa (as in versatility) apex with removable top plate. RRS also has Q models, referencing a quick column being included (vs. optional with the V models). The 3 refers to Series "3", typically on a 00-5 industry scale. The 4 indicates "4" sections per leg. The L refers to "L"ong, medium/standard does not get a letter and S is for "S"hort.

Really Right Stuff Tripod Comparison Top

Shown above are top views of the RRS TVC-34, TVC-24L and TQC-14 tripods (mark I versions), illustrating top plate size differences.

Here is a table comparing the current RRS tripod models:

ModelSerSecMax Height
in (cm)
Min Height
in (cm)
Folded Length
in (cm)
Tripod Weight
lb (kg)
Supports
lb (kg)
TFC-14 Mk21447.6"(120.9)2.8"(7.1)17.2"(43.7)2.30(1.04)25(11.3)
TQC-14 Mk21458.5"(148.6)3.3"(8.4)17.7"(45.0)2.60(1.18)25(11.3)
TVC/TFC-23 Mk22352.6"(133.6)3.7"(9.4)23.9"(60.7)3.30(1.50)40(18.1)
TVC/TFC-24 Mk22449.4"(125.5)3.4"(8.6)19.1"(48.5)3.30(1.50)40(18.1)
TVC/TFC-24L Mk22466.1"(167.9)3.7"(9.4)23.0"(58.4)3.70(1.68)40(18.1)
TVC/TFC-33S Mk23350.8"(129.0)3.9"(9.9)22.8"(57.9)3.70(1.68)50(22.7)
TVC/TFC-33 Mk23358.6"(148.8)4.1"(10.4)25.6"(65.0)4.30(1.95)50(22.7)
TVC/TFC-34 Mk23458.5"(148.6)3.8"(9.7)21.1"(53.6)4.40(2.00)50(22.7)
TVC/TFC-34L Mk23468.8"(174.8)4.0"(10.2)24.4"(62.0)4.70(2.13)50(22.7)
TVC-434362.9"(159.8)7.4"(18.8)27.4"(69.6)6.00(2.72)100(45.4)
TVC-444474.8"(190.0)7.1"(18.0)25.9"(65.8)6.50(2.95)100(45.4)
TVC-454584.5"(214.6)6.8"(17.3)24.8"(63.0)6.90(3.13)100(45.4)

* The RRS TFC 3-series tripods weigh .39 lbs (0.18 kg) less than the comparative TVC models while TFC 2-series tripods weigh 0.18 lbs (0.083 kg) less.

While a much heavier than stated capacity load can be placed on most quality-rated tripods, the amount of vibration experienced becomes too high at some point. That point is often considerably lower than the load capacity and 1/2 is the fraction frequently used. Don't underestimate the importance of vibration control as there are many causes of vibration including wind. Because of their weight capacity, I have long selected 3-series models for my primary tripod, so this part of the decision process was not difficult for me.

Next up is to select the number of leg sections. More leg sections equate to more locks (to buy and to adjust) and a thinner bottom leg diameter, resulting in potentially less stability. The quality leg locks and sections being made today have greatly equalized the 3 vs. 4 leg sections stability differentiator, though the price and adjustment factors remain for the RRS tripods. The advantage of the 4-section models is a shorter retracted length, including a shorter height when set up with all 4 sections retracted. I travel with my tripods and the reduced minimum folded length is especially advantageous to me, so I usually opt for a 4-leg-section model.

Next in the decision process was to select the maximum height needed. The advantage of the shorter models is a shorter retracted length, including a shorter height when set up for use with all 4 sections retracted, lighter weight and lower cost. The reduced minimum folded length is especially advantageous to me when traveling. Remember that your tripod ball head and the camera/lens' tripod-mount-to-viewfinder height add significantly to the tripod's height during use.

The taller a tripod is, the more likely it will accommodate your eye-level height. While that is important, consider that your tripod may sometimes require one or more legs to be below your standing level. The latter is a frequent occurrence for outdoor photography as well as those shooting from stairways, etc. Sometimes, especially for architecture photography, a level camera is important and a higher camera position is sometimes required for the best composition. My next commercial shoot after writing this review required exactly that. I was standing on a pelican case to look through the viewfinder.

"The standard-height tripod models do technically offer a slightly-measurable increase in rigidity over the "Long" model (when fully extended), but most users do not find the difference considerable on a practical level." [RRS]

At 6' (1.83m), I waiver between getting the standard height and the long model in the 3-series. I have been preferring the long models in the recent years.

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. With all of the RRS models able to fully spread their legs, there is little difference between the models and all are very good in this regard.

A tripod's folded length is of primary concern for packing and transporting. A smaller retracted tripod, regardless of its maximum height capability, consumes less space. Shorter makes it is easier to fit into luggage and shorter means less extension above a backpack. Another benefit for a short retracted length is that the tripod can be easier to use on a table top or similar without the legs fully spread.

The TFC vs. TVC decision was a challenging one for me. I mostly use my tripods with the top plate installed and, in that case, having a removable top plate was of little advantage. The TFC model with the narrower fixed plate was less expensive, more compact, and lighter, shaving a noticeable .39 lbs (0.18 kg) from the weight. In the end, I went with the TVC model for the versatility, the slightly wider leg stance and the increased space between the legs for grasping the folded tripod.

That the TVC can easily be converted to a TFC model via the RRS Fixed Apex Conversion Kit means I can easily change my mind later.

Really Right Stuff TVC-34/34L, TFC-34/34L Mk2 Tripod Folded

Really Right Stuff TFC/TVC-34/34L Mk2 Tripod Dimensions, Specs, and Weight

Let's take a closer look at the Really Right Stuff TVC-34 and TVC-34L Mk2 Tripod's measurements and specs.

ModelTVC-34 MK2TVC-34L Mk2GT3543LS
Load Cap50 lbs(23kg)50 lbs(23kg)55 lbs(25kg)
Max Height58.5"(148.6cm)68.8"(17.5cm)57.7"(146.5cm)
Min Height3.8"(9.6cm)4.0"(10.1cm)3.7"(9.4cm)
Folded Len21.1"(53.7cm)24.4"(62.1cm)22.6"(57.5cm)
Top Leg Dia.1.44"(3.66cm)1.44"(3.66cm)  
Apex Dia.  4.18"(10.6cm)  
Top Disk Dia.3.07"(7.80cm)3.07"(7.80cm)2.75"(7.0cm)
Spec Wgt4.4 lbs(2.00kg)4.7 lbs(2.15kg)4.5 lbs(2.05kg)
Actual Wgt4.2 lbs(1.9kg)4.6 lbs(2.09kg)4.3 lbs(1.95kg)

Note that the mark I weight is shown for the TVC-34, though this spec did not change in the mark II.

Really Right Stuff load ratings are always comfortable to me, not seeming over-inflated. The Really Right Stuff TFC/TVC-34/34L Mk2 Tripod can conservatively be considered useful for nearly 25 lb (11.5kg) loads, significantly more weight than most of us will place on a tripod.

This tripod has plenty of height for me (6'/1.8m) to comfortably shoot upward from a standing position. When standing on a level surface, I often extend only the lower two sections to quickly create a level tripod that is adequate for my height. With all legs fully extended and a head mounted, the 34L mounts a camera considerably higher than my eye level, though I often utilize that entire extra height when shooting on a hillside.

Really Right Stuff TFC-14 MK2 Tripod Inside of TVC-34L Mk2 Tripod

The RRS TFC-14 Mk2 is shown folded inside of the TVC-34L in the above image. While the size difference is obvious, I often travel with both and this rubber-against-rubber orientation is relatively compact for this purpose.

All other aspects being equal, larger diameter leg sections will provide greater stability and lower vibrations than smaller diameters. Leg wall thickness and construction details are other aspects that come heavily into play here. In general, you carry a tripod by the top leg section and very thick leg sections can become more difficult to control. RRS model have a moderately thick leg diameter. When I first used these models, I was accustomed to Gitzo's thinner leg sections and I didn't find the difference a positive one. After using the RRS models for a period of time, the difference no longer bothered me.

The apex is a substantial part of the tripod and it puts a mark on the overall weight and width. However, as a rule, the larger the chassis and the closer it is to a true triangle in shape (vs. a circle with leg pivots attached to the outside), the less able it is to flex and in turn, the more rigid it is. Thus, I'm interested in the chassis max width measurement. The RRS TFC-34 and TFC-34L Mk2 tripods have a rather small apex that is mostly round in shape. However, thickness also matters greatly and substantial thickness makes this apex very solid.

While the diameter of the top plate/platform may hint at the strength of the tripod's chassis, it more-directly ties into the base size of the head being attached with the smaller diameter of the two potentially being a limiting factor for stability. This measurement is taken from the perimeter of the top-most portion of the top plate, the surface width available for contact with a head. The TVC 34 and 34L accept most full-sized heads without a problem.

All other aspects being equal, lighter is better. All other aspects are not always equal and a compromise is always being made to achieve the lightest weights. The farther and 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 live at the other end of the spectrum. Those flying are required to comply with luggage weight restrictions and, in this case, tripod weight becomes a strong consideration.

All RRS carbon fiber tripods are or are among the best-in-class for their strength and rigidity to weight ratio. This factor alone can be the reason to choose one of these models.

Really Right Stuff TVC-34/34L, TFC-34/34L Mk2 Tripod Apex

The Apex

Starting at the top of the tripod, we have the part that holds everything together with the apex size and strength being keys for the overall strength and rigidity of the tripod. Skimp here and nothing else matters. Fortunately, skimping is not in Really Right Stuff's playbook and the apex of the Really Right Stuff TFC/TVC-34/34L Mk2 Tripods is solidly-constructed of corrosion resistant, anodized CNC-machined aluminum.

The design of the TVC spider is excellent with very robust thickness completely encircling (no split) the top plate/platform and transitioning into the leg axles. Three substantial set screws lock into a circular groove on the top plate, ensuring that it does not unintentionally release from the apex, even under pressure. "Carry your tripod over your shoulder with confidence. The SureGrip Apex Lock securely fastens your tripod accessory (Versa tripods only)." [Really Right Stuff] The TVC apex has 1/4-20 threads on each of the three sides, accommodating a wide range of accessories with the impressive little BPC-16 and BC-18 Microballs being especially attractive.

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 panorama or gimbal head or want to create a panorama image using the ball head's panning base. For those times, the Really Right Stuff TVC models have a spirit/bubble level (as previously mentioned, the TFC models do not).

The TFC models feature a smaller solid apex design that lacks a removable top plate, the 1/4-20 ports, and the level.

Perhaps not seeming important at first glance 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 carry location, meets not-well-padded parts of the hand. Thus, a smoothly-designed leg to chassis transition can make a big difference in the pleasure of using a tripod. RRS tripods have one of the most comfortable designs I've used. While the edges of the apex are not especially rounded, the apex is thick enough to create a flat surface wide enough to be comfortable.

Really Right Stuff TVC-34/34L, TFC-34/34L Mk2 Tripod Top

Top Plate or Vertical/Center Column

Most tripods offer a solid top plate/platform, 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 tripod's fully-retracted length. The huge disadvantage of a center column is significantly increased vibration experienced when the column is in a raised position, especially when extended to full height where the difference in vibration dampening can be dramatic. Another disadvantage is that the tripod's minimum height is limited by the length of the center column (unless it is removeable).

Starting with the easy description, the RRS TFC models have a fixed apex with no other option aside from what can be mounted on top (a universal leveling base for example).

Much of the TVC option's appeal comes with its namesake versatility related to what mounts in the apex. The solid top plate/platform is included and it is substantial in construction. A 15" quick column (providing up to 12.5" of vertical travel) is available as well as a 75mm video bowl. These options can be swapped relatively quickly, though loosening three set screws is not as quick as loosening a single captive thumbscrew as found on some competing models.

The tripod head mount screw has 3/8"-16 threads sized to fit nearly all available head models.

Really Right Stuff TVC-34/34L, TFC-34/34L Mk2 Tripod Hook

A removable hook is provided under the top plate, useful for stabilizing the tripod via weight (such as your backpack) or even tying it down.

Really Right Stuff TVC-34/34L, TFC-34/34L Mk2 Tripod Angle Locks

Leg Angle Stops

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 that allows the tripod legs to open at various angles, accommodating 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, balanced against a cliff.

Models featuring independent leg spread have angle stops around the leg pivot axles and this seemingly basic design feature plays an important role in the tripod's functionality. One of the primary design observations to make is how strongly the leg angle locks transition into the stops provided on the chassis. Is the stop a weak little tab that protrudes from the chassis? This type of design invites failure and it must be considered that this failure may mean your camera and lens hitting the ground. Also, does the weight distribution go straight into the leg through the leg cups? Or is there a vibration-inviting angle design being used?

The Really Right Stuff TFC/TVC-34/34L Mk2 Tripod's Tripod features substantially-sized, smoothly-tapered, CNC-machined aluminum leg cups with also-significantly-sized angle locks and stops that, when all are locked in place, provide a very high strength setup with weight being directly transferred straight into the legs. The design of this tripod aspect is superb.

Most tripod models offer multiple stop angles and the specific angles made available are seldom a strong differentiator between models. All of Really Right Stuff's tripod have leg locking angles of 25, 55, and 85° and non-locking angles can be used if conditions permit. A tripod differentiator is ratcheting locks that snap into the current angle lock position when the direction is reversed from outward to inward for faster, more convenient set up and the RRS models have this feature. Push from inside or pull from the outside to open a tripod leg lock, open the leg just beyond the desired angle stop and reverse the leg angle direction, or simply open the leg fully, and the angle lock gently snaps into the locked position and slides over narrower set positions as the leg is moved inward.

One more differentiator can be the angle locks' ease of use and carrying comfort. The Really Right Stuff TFC/TVC-34/34L Mk2 Tripod leg locks are substantial in size, an especially good attribute from a strength position. There is just enough open space to the sides of the locks to be able to pull them out and it is easy to push the locks open from the back. My favorite part of the design is how smoothly the locks are integrated into the leg cup, making the tripod very comfortable in the hand while carrying.

Don't like the force required to spread the tripod's legs? Adjust the axle bolt tightness with the included wrench. Significantly-sized brass bushings keep leg angle movements very smooth. Nice is that RRS tripod legs do not fold past their normal folded position.

Legs

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 common question.

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 appreciate holding a carbon fiber model over an aluminum one. 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 leg 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 and the only current option if you want a taller-than ground-level RRS model.

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 plus the chassis height along with the leg angle set) determines the maximum height of the tripod. The length of the leg sections is also 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 setup 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 high-quality RRS tripod legs have a sharp-looking patented carbon fiber weave with a just slightly soft feel.

Really Right Stuff TVC-34/34L, TFC-34/34L Mk2 Tripod Bottom

New with the Mark II models is a slot cut into the back of each leg cup, as seen above, releasing air pressure when the legs are being extended or retracted. Do the air vents help? It is hard to discern the difference as the new leg locks are sealed, preventing airflow.

Really Right Stuff TVC-34/34L, TFC-34/34L Mk2 Tripod Leg Lock

Leg Extension Locks

Most tripods have multiple legs sections, allowing them to be set to 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 strongly 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 slower to use.

Twist locks, especially the short-rotation designs such as those that RRS employs, are very 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 but instead analyze the scene and adjust the camera height for the best composition. Hopefully, you also vary that height.

When retracted, all three of the Really Right Stuff TFC/TVC-34/34L Mk2 Tripod's leg extension locks (on each leg) can be simultaneously grasped and twisted 1/8 turn (perhaps even less) 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. Pull the legs outward and the tripod is ready to go in a very short period of time (at full height). Reverse the process to retract the tripod.

Moving fast, you can set the Really Right Stuff TVC-34L Mk2 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 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. With the long models, I sometimes leave the top sections fully retracted with the otherwise-extended tripod having a nice height for working on a flat surface. If I want a less-than-fully-extended position, I often 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 and quiet-venue photographers 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).

The Really Right Stuff TFC/TVC-34/34L Mk2 Tripod's leg extension locks make the grade, holding solidly under my full weight.

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 Really Right Stuff TFC/TVC-34/34L Mk2 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 manage to find myself in, 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 can greatly benefit from the confidence-inspiring support of a high quality 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 Really Right Stuff TFC/TVC-34/34L Mk2 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. The RRS legs have very impressive lateral stability and vibrations dampen quickly.

The leg locks were a Mark II upgrade feature. As mentioned at the beginning of the review, the new twist locks have integrated wipers and O-rings seals that help keep particles out (not waterproof) of the locking mechanism, providing better resistance to the elements, keeping the threads clean (avoiding wear) and the locks smooth while providing better tactile feedback. The new collets replacing the old locking gibbs reduces lock engagement to half the travel for faster locking and unlocking with less effort. RRS calls the improvement "dramatic".

While some other manufacturer's twist locks are improving and coming closer to those of Really Right Stuff, the RRS locks are my all-time favorite. They are relatively low profile and have a comfortable rubber grip surface. The ultra-short-rotation design coupled with the sharp resistance release is quite impressive. Note that when loosening the twist locks, one is not typically pulling on the leg to learn when it becomes lose. Thus, the haptic feedback provided by the twist lock helps the photographer know how far to twist. With no feedback, the photographer typically must overcompensate, twisting farther than necessary and that negates the advantage of a short-throw twist lock. RRS got this one right.

Tripod Feet

The tripod must rest on something and we logically call that something 'feet'. The RRS tripods come with rubber-coated feet with a teardrop shape that keeps the legs off of the ground (out of the dirt) even when the tripod is at its lowest position.

Optional are spiked feet. While the price "per foot" is a bit steep, they are of remarkable quality, featuring machined stainless steel with an O-ring to keep them tight. I quickly became a fan of these upon receiving a set along with some other gear I purchased. The 3" (7.6cm) of length below the threads is significant and often welcomed. I don't recommend using these on a nice hardwood floor.

RRS also offers rock claw feet. I have not used the rock claws, but they are built similarly to the spikes and priced the same.

Gear Capacity Recommendations

The rated and tested load capacities of this tripod far exceed what most photographers will need supported. As discussed earlier, the load capacity of this tripod is high enough to support nearly any camera and lens – and even me. But, being able to hold heavy weights doesn't always mean that it will hold those loads without vibration and vibration cannot always be tolerated.

I started testing this tripod's vibration control with a gripped body and 600mm f/4 lens mounted, an about-11.4 lb (5.2kg) combination, on a fully-extended TVC-34L. To create vibrations, the camera was firmly tapped with the view through the viewfinder then observed. Repeated testing showed the vibrations lasting about 4-5 seconds. As the head and tripod foot have a role in the vibration, these numbers are nearly as good as it gets. At that rate, the Really Right Stuff TVC-34L Mk2 is easily 600mm-support-ready and a 2x behind the 600 also worked well.

There are stronger, more rigid tripods available, but high-quality 3-series models are often an excellent balance of size, weight, costs, and capabilities, and that's a very apt description of this tripod.

Really Right Stuff TVC-34/34L, TFC-34/34L Mk2 Tripod with BH-55 Ball Head

Recommended Tripod Head

The right tripod head can make a huge difference in your experience with a tripod and in your results. Do not let your head to be the limiting factor. Matching this tripod ideally is the Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head.

Build Quality

If you are a fan of high grade, built-in-the-USA CNC-machined gear, this tripod is going to make you very happy. Even the hook under the top plate is precision-machined. No cost-cutting measures are apparent in this design.

Tripod Case

In the past, I've found it difficult to find cases that ideally fit my tripods. I've been migrating to Really Right Stuff Tripod Bags and the large model works well for the TVC-34L. These cases have a classy styling and are tapered with rigid protection for the mounted head with the double zipper encircling the head, making the tripod easy to access.

Price and Value

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 and I regularly talk to those with regrets of buying low-quality models.

No one is going to mistake the price of Really Right Stuff 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, a lifetime for many of us, and the value will be appreciated every time it is used.

RRS tripods are expensive, but they are in an elite class, among the best available.

Really Right Stuff defines customer service excellence. It is very easy to reach an RRS representative via email, chat or phone and this company stands behind their tripods with a limited 5-yr warranty. The Really Right Stuff TFC/TVC-34/34L Mk2 Tripod used for this review was purchased retail/online.

Alternative Tripods

Our world is full of poor and mediocre-quality tripods. The ones in the table below are stand-out high-quality models that I am comfortable recommending, along with others in the respective manufacturer's similar line.

ModelSerSecMax Height
in (cm)
Min Height
in (cm)
Folded Length
in (cm)
Tripod Weight
lb (kg)
Supports
lb (kg)
Gitzo GT3533LS3359.8"(151.9)4.3"(10.9)26.5"(67.3)4.50(2.04)55(24.9)
Gitzo GT3533S3351.2"(130.0)3.5"(8.9)24.0"(61.0)4.30(1.95)55(24.9)
Gitzo GT3543LS3457.5"(146.1)3.5"(8.9)22.4"(56.9)4.50(2.04)55(24.9)
Gitzo GT3543XLS3479.5"(201.9)3.9"(9.9)28.0"(71.1)5.00(2.27)55(24.9)
ProMediaGear TR3433351.0"(129.5)3.8"(9.7)22.1"(56.1)3.70(1.68)60(27.2)
ProMediaGear TR343L3359.3"(150.6)3.8"(9.7)25.1"(63.8)3.90(1.77)60(27.2)
ProMediaGear TR3443459.0"(149.9)3.8"(9.7)20.8"(52.8)4.00(1.81)60(27.2)
ProMediaGear TR344L3471.0"(180.3)3.8"(9.7)23.8"(60.5)4.30(1.95)60(27.2)
RRS TVC-33 / TFC-33 Mk23358.6"(148.8)4.1"(10.4)25.6"(65.0)4.30(1.95)50(22.7)
RRS TVC-33S / TFC-33S Mk23350.8"(129.0)3.9"(9.9)22.8"(57.9)3.70(1.68)50(22.7)
RRS TVC-34 / TFC-34 Mk23458.5"(148.6)3.8"(9.7)21.1"(53.6)4.40(2.00)50(22.7)
RRS TVC-34L / TFC-34L Mk23468.8"(174.8)4.0"(10.2)24.4"(62.0)4.70(2.13)50(22.7)
UniqBall 36.33348.0"(121.9)3.5"(8.9)22.2"(56.4)4.90(2.22)77(34.9)
UniqBall 36.43455.9"(142.0)3.5"(8.9)21.7"(55.1)5.10(2.31)77(34.9)
UniqBall 40.44459.8"(151.9)3.7"(9.4)22.6"(57.4)5.70(2.59)99(44.9)

* The RRS TFC 3-series tripods weigh .4 lbs (0.18 kg) less than the comparative TVC models and the difference is .2 lbs (0.09 kg) for the 2-series models.

Here are a few thoughts on the models in the above tripod comparison.

The RRS and ProMediaGear tripods have a one-piece apex and require a hex key wrench to swap out the top plate. The Gitzo and UniqBall have a split ring-type apex design with a captive thumbscrew available for easy in-the-field change-outs. That feature may or may not be important to you. The UniqBall's built-in leveling top plate is an advantage. The Gitzo apex is cast.

Gitzo uses a harder-to-find star-shaped wrench for leg angle adjustment friction. The RRS angle stops are my favorite and their legs locks are also my preference. The size, weight, height and strength combination of the ProMediaGear is hard to beat.

Really Right Stuff TVC-34/34L, TFC-34/34L Mk2 Tripod Angle Locks 2

Summary

Like most of the other RRS products, the RRS TVC-34/34L is a modern work of art and "sculpted" is a fitting word for the design. Overall, this tripod works brilliantly and the high price is the only aspect I have found to complain about. For those looking for a high-quality tripod, the RRS lineup offers a full range of versatile, no-compromise, top-of-the-line, solutions.

What is the best tripod? My answer is the Really Right Stuff TVC-34L Mk2 Tripod. If I could only use one tripod for the rest of my life, this is the one I would choose.

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My Recommended Really Right Stuff TFC/TVC-34/34L Mk2 Tripod Retailers

Where you buy your gear matters. You expect to get what you ordered and you want to pay a low price for it. The retailers I recommend below are the ones I trust for my purchases. Get your Really Right Stuff TFC/TVC-34/34L Mk2 Tripod now from:

B&H Photo
eBay (Choose trustworthy sellers only)
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The Tip Jar
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