At RRS TQC-14 review time, B&H has 1,102 tripods available. While some of that count includes color variations of the same tripod model and many tabletop tripods are included, the selection is still vast and overwhelming. The TQC-14 is a small, lightweight model, a category highly-represented in the availability list, and perhaps more than for any other tripod type, design and build quality are especially big differentiators among the available lightweight models.
Let's make this easy: In this extremely-crowded market, the Really Right Stuff TQC-14 is right at the top in terms of quality and performance. There are very few other tripods similar in size and weight (or even moderately close to similar) that compete with the TQC's level of performance. With the ultra-high resolution of the current generation of digital cameras, a steady camera is more important than ever and, unfortunately, a significant number of beginning photographers make the mistake of buying low quality on their first tripod purchase. As long as the Really Right Stuff TQC-14 is sized adequately for your needs, there is little risk in buying this one.
Tripods come in all sizes, ranging from tiny tabletop models to super-tall models that can require a 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 very short period of time. Strength and rigidity are often the balancing factor between size and weight. A heavy short tripod is likely much stronger and more-rigid than a super-light tall tripod. So, tripod selection starts with choosing a model that offers the right balance between load capacity, dimensions and weight, along with the features it offers, for the need.
Shown above are top views of the RRS TVC-34, TVC-24L and TQC-14 tripods, illustrating top plate size differences.
The TQC-14 is in the small and light category, but its performance is at least equal to many tripods much larger and heavier. Let's take a look at the Really Right Stuff TQC-14 Carbon Fiber Tripod's measurements and specs.
|Really Right Stuff TQC-14 Carbon Fiber Tripod
|Max Height w/o Column Ext
|Max Height w/ Column Ext
|Top Plate Diameter
|Chassis Max Width
|Top Leg Section Diameter
There are no tripod weight capacity rating police and how much faith we put in this number is related to how high we regard the source specifying it. Fortunately, I fully trust what Really Right Stuff says. 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 for a low vibration approximation. Don't underestimate the importance of vibration control as there are many causes of vibration including wind.
Using this rule, the Really Right Stuff TQC-14 Carbon Fiber Tripod can be expected useful for about 12.5 lb (5.7kg) loads and that is likely more weight than most of us will be placing on a small tripod such as this one. I'll provide more-specific gear capacity advice later in the review.
The taller a tripod is, the more likely it will accommodate your eye-level height or even your eye-level height with one or more tripod legs positioned downhill below you. The latter is a frequent occurrence for outdoor photographers as well as those shooting from stairways, etc. This tripod's height, with the 11" (28 cm) center column extended, is 58.5" (148.6 cm). That height is adequate for me (6'/1.8 m) to comfortably photograph from a standing position on a flat surface. Remember that your tripod head and the camera/lens' tripod-mount-to-viewfinder height add significantly to the tripod's height during use.
While high is good, so is low. With the center column removed, this tripod goes right down to 3.3" (8.4 cm), nearly ground level, and that low height can be ideal for some compositions and also for table-top work.
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. This tripod's 17.7" (45.0 cm) folded length spec is very short.
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 which are seldom carried for more than minute while multi-day backpackers live at the other end of the spectrum. Those flying need to comply with luggage weight restrictions and in this case, tripod weight becomes a strong consideration. The RRS TQC-14, weighing in at only 2.6 lb (1.2 kg) is going to be very appealing to those in the weight-conscious groups.
The chassis is a substantial part of the tripod and it puts a mark on the overall weight and width of the tripod. However, as a rule, the wider the chassis and the closer it is to a true triangle in shape (vs. a circle with legs attached to the outside), the less able it is to flex and in turn, the more rigid it is. This is a compact tripod and its has a correspondingly small chassis. But, this part is quite strong relative to its compactness.
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, especially when a rapid column is provided. The TQC-14's 1.53" (3.87 cm) top plate (measurement is taken from the perimeter of the top-most portion of the top plate) is a direct match for an RRS ball head that I'll tell you about later in the review. A tripod head with a base that exceeds the top plate dimensions can be used, but some of the top plate's width benefit (improved stability for example) will not be realized. Similarly, a head with a smaller base can also be used, but the smaller diameter can be a stability limiting factor.
All other aspects being equal, thicker leg sections will provide greater stability and lower vibrations. Leg wall thickness and construction details of course 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. The TQC-14's legs are rather thin, with the top leg section measuring 1.125" (2.85 cm) in diameter. For comparison, the Really Right Stuff TVC-24/24L Series 2 Carbon Fiber Tripod's top leg section diameter measures 1.29" (32.7mm) and the Gitzo GT1555T Traveler Carbon Fiber Tripod's top leg section diameter is 1.00" (25.4mm).
Tripod manufacturers typically offer many different models and the model name often describes how the model fits into the family. The TQC-14 model name breaks down as follows: "T" is for "T"ripod, "QC" is for "Q"uick "C"olumn (vs. "F"ixed or "V"ersa "C"olumns), "1" refers to Series "1" (typically on a 00-5 industry scale) and "4" indicates "4" sections per leg.
Here is a Really Right Stuff tripod comparison chart:
Again, we see that the TQC-14 is small and light, living at the bottom of the RRS standard tripod offerings.
Starting at the top of the tripod, we have the part that holds everything together. In addition to "chassis", this part is referred to as the "apex", "main casting", "spreader", "spider", "collar" and probably many more terms. The chassis' size and strength are keys for the overall strength and rigidity of the tripod. Skimp here and nothing else matters.
The TQC-14, pictured to the right above, gets a smartly-designed compact-but-substantial type-3 black anodized, CNC-machined apex. As is common with smaller tripods, a spirit level is not provided, making precise tripod level setup more challenging to obtain.
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 carry 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. The TQC-14's relatively thin carbon fiber legs are easy to grasp and comfortable to hold when opened to their first leg angle stop, though the center column pinches modestly if the highest grasping point is utilized. When completely folded, the rapid column eliminates the inside finger clearance and grasping around the perimeter of the tripod feels more natural to me. Holding two legs means the grasped 2-leg surface is rather large, but especially with the light weight of this tripod, it works well. And, this perimeter grasp is comfortable.
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 is significantly increased vibration when the column is in a raised position, especially at full height where the difference in vibration dampening is dramatic. Another disadvantage is that the tripod's minimum height is limited by the length of the center column.
The TQC-14's 11" (28 cm) non-rotating aluminum center column can easily be removed without tools, unless the top plate's set screws are tightened, in which case a hex key wrench is required. The top plate is rather narrow and it is easy to apply significant torque to it with a camera. Top plate set screws are most-typically used to lock a tripod head in place, but in this case, the set screws are used to secure the top plate onto the rapid column, preventing it from twisting loose in use. In addition to being completely removed, the TQC-14's rapid column can be installed upside down for a potentially right-on-the-ground camera position.
The choice of aluminum for the rapid column is an interesting one. Aluminum is heavier than carbon fiber, but the difference would only be slight in this small part. More advantageous is aluminum's lower friction coefficient, allowing it to slide more smoothly.
RRS provides a strong hook on the bottom of the rapid column, permitting stabilizing weight to be used, or just giving you somewhere to hang your hat. When the column is reversed, the hook is located on top, which facilitates hanging the tripod somewhere.
A large wing-style rapid column lock is provided just above the tripod's apex. This lock works very smoothly and the column locks tightly. The 2.08" (5.29 cm) space between the rapid column lock wings limit the usable tripod head base size, though most will not find this dimension limiting even when using heads one size larger than ideal on this tripod.
The tripod head mount thread size is 3/8"-16, fitting most models.
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.
Models having independent leg spread feature angle stops just above the leg pivot axles and this seemingly basic design feature plays an important role in the tripod's functionality. One of the primary tripod 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? The latter invites failure and consider that failure may mean your camera and lens hitting the ground. Or, is there solid material between the chassis and the leg lock?
The RRS TQC-14's small chassis dimension limits the strength available for leg angle stops. But, this tripod's smart design directs the pressure coming through these stops directly into a substantial part of the chassis for a strong, rigid hookup.
Most tripod models offer multiple stop angles and the specific angles offered are seldom a strong differentiator between models. But, the small "Traveler" tripod models often feature only two leg angles vs. the three found on the TQC-14. Another differentiator is ratcheting locks that snap into the locked position when direction is reversed from outward to inward. The RRS models have those.
Yet another differentiator can be the angle locks' ease of use. The TQC-14 leg locks are designed just like its larger counterparts, pulling out to enable repositioning. The locks are nicely shaped and easy to use. I like this design a lot and find them easier to use than the spring-loaded, side-pivoting traveler-style leg locks.
Don't like the force required to spread the legs? Loosen or tighten the axle bolts with the included wrench. Brass bushings keep leg angle movements very smooth.
Like the chassis, 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.
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 and 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) determines the maximum height of the tripod. And, the length of the leg sections is a strong factor in both a tripod's minimum height and its 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 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. I don't find the stability of the thinner lower leg section to be an issue in quality models.
The RRS TQC-14 of course gets carbon fiber legs and they are impressively-rigid for their small size. The legs are sharp-looking and smooth-operating.
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 is typically between lever or flip-locks and twist locks. I've used both and much-prefer the twist locks for many reasons, including their faster and quieter operation. The TQC-14 has short-throw twist locks that work at least as well as any I've used. It is easy to feel the resistance change when a leg section unlocks, allowing avoidance of turning the lock farther than necessary, maintaining the short-throw feature in use. After using these locks, it is hard to go back to lesser versions.
Want to know how strong a tripod's leg locks are? Fully extend the legs, tighten the leg locks and, while keeping the legs together (not spread), pull straight down on the legs, gradually with significant weight. 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 TQC-14 Carbon Fiber Tripod's leg extension locks make the grade, impressively holding my full weight when setup with the normal leg spread and even a single TQC-14 leg will vertically hold my weight, showing the extreme locking strength of these leg locks. I have confidence in these legs supporting my expensive gear and am comfortable recommending that you do the same. I will also rely on the tripod for moderate support when traversing difficult terrain.
Important to me is that the leg sections do not rotate when unlocked, allowing any individual leg lock to be tightened before others. Most quality tripods made today support this feature and the Really Right Stuff TQC-14 Carbon Fiber Tripod checks that feature box.
Lateral rigidity is a primary responsibility for 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 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 TQC-14's legs are laterally very rigid and vibrations settle out very quickly.
The tripod must rest on something and we logically call that something "feet". The RRS TQC-14 tripod's removable rubber feet feature a teardrop-shape that helps keep the legs off of the ground even when fully splayed.
As discussed earlier, the load capacity of this tripod is high enough to support nearly any camera and lens. But, that doesn't mean it will hold that load without vibration; vibrations are usually a limiting factor and vibrations cannot always be tolerated.
To establish my comfort level, I used a Canon EOS 5Ds R mounted to a Canon EF 600mm f/4 L IS II (weighs 12 lb / 5.4 kg) and a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens (weighs 6.3 lb / 2.9 kg). The lenses were mounted with a known solid ball head and with all adjustments firmly tightened.
While the TQC-14 had no trouble supporting the 600mm combination at any height, if no vibrations could be tolerated, I would only want to support this lens with the rapid column in its fully retracted position. Vibrations quickly increase as the center column extended until even a light wind would cause continuous vibrations at full extension. With legs fully retracted, the TQC-14 provided a rock-solid support for even the 600mm combo.
The 100-400mm lens is a better size fit for the TQC-14 (the tail isn't wagging the dog so-to-speak) and vibrations experienced even at 400mm were considerably less than with the big 600 mounted. Still, the vibrations at full-rapid-column-extension lasted very noticeably longer than with the rapid column retracted. This is normal and this is why I avoid using rapid columns whenever possible. At least I avoid using fully-extended rapid columns as the amount of vibration increases with amount of extension. I'm very comfortable using lenses up to 100-400mm in size and focal length, including the 70-200mm f/2.8 options, on the TQC-14. Under strong winds and other adverse conditions, you will likely want to use shorter tripod heights when using the longer focal lengths.
As you likely expected by now, normal and wide angle lenses, those most commonly used on tripods of this size and weight, are easily within the TQC-14's load bearing capabilities, though at full rapid column extension, the setup is still susceptible enough to vibrations that good technique must be utilized.
The right tripod head can make a huge difference in both your tripod use experience and in your results. Do not let your head to be the limiting factor. A small, light head is typically desired for a small, light tripod and the perfect choice is the Really Right Stuff BH-30 Ball Head, shown on the TQC-14 above to the right, is the perfect choice. The Gitzo GH1382TQD Series 1 Traveler Center Ball Head also works great on this tripod (shown below), but I still recommend the BH-30 for this one.
If a modestly larger head is desired, the Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ball Head, shown above in the middle and below on the TQC-14, is another great choice, with its base just fitting between the rapid column lock wings.
Cheap, low-quality tripods are usually a waste of money that will leave you disillusioned to what a tripod can do for you and will dissuade you from using it at all. Using a high quality model will potentially greatly increase your image quality and it will be a pleasure to use and carry with you. Photographers that wished they would have purchased a lower-grade tripod model are rare (I have not met one). RRS tripods are not cheap, 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 products. RRS offers a limited 5-yr warranty on the TQC-14 and I expect that this tripod will last a lifetime. The Really Right Stuff TQC-14 Carbon Fiber Tripod was purchased retail/online.
The primary competitor to the RRS TQC-14 is its sibling, the fixed-column RRS TFC-14. To gain the extra 10.9" (27.7mm) when needed, I opted for the quick-column version. The TFC-14's advantages include a lower price and a modestly-lighter weight. However, The TQC-14's rapid column can be removed, dropping its weight by an about-equalizing 4.9 oz (139 g). That of course leaves price as the primary reason to get the TFC variant.
The other tripod line that had my very strong interest was the Gitzo Traveler Series tripods, more specifically the Gitzo GT1555T Traveler Carbon Fiber Tripod. I bought and owned one of these for several months and it is a great option, offering very impressive strength and rigidity for its size. Its smaller size, especially when folded, is the primary advantage it has over the RRS TQC-14. These two tripods are compared in the above and below images. Keep in mind that the Gitzo GH1382TQD Ball Head fits entirely within the legs of the GT1555T, making the with-heads comparison favor the Gitzo even more strongly.
This decision was not an easy one. I've used the Gitzo traveler models for many years. They are great quality tripods and I highly recommend them. But, in the end, my decision was to keep the RRS TQC-14. The RRS is slightly more solid with a lower profile mounting platform over the apex, leading to a more solid setup that is also slightly less inclined to tip over. I also preferred the TQC-14's more-standard leg locks and the additional angle stop.
While the TQC-14 is perfect for the lighter-weight, compact tripod needs, I generally advise on getting at least a 2-series model and, better-yet, a 3-series model for general-purpose use. The RRS TQC-14 is shown inside of the TVC-34 above.
I often travel with my compact tripod serving as backup, for a second setup at times and often for longer hikes. Really nice is that the TQC-14 stores very neatly inside the folded legs of the TVC-34, with rubber protecting all contact points, as shown below.
I've carried the Really Right Stuff TQC-14 on numerous outings, including for entire days in New York City.
And, in Baltimore.
This tripod was easy to carry and it performed awesomely. I look forward to many more great times together.
If there is room for a high-performing compact, lightweight tripod in your kit, the Really Right Stuff TQC-14 has your name on it.
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