Review: Benro Mammoth TMTH44C and 3-way Geared Head
I’m sure the vast majority of landscape photographers would agree that their most important photographic accessories are their tripod and head. A good tripod reduces the risk of camera shake, allows you to shoot with shutter speeds much slower than are possible even with the excellent image stabilisation systems in modern cameras and importantly, slows you down, making for more precise, considered compositions. A good head will allow you to make small adjustments and fine-tune your framing.
For over a decade, I used a combination of Gitzo tripod and an Arca Swiss geared head, but with the Gitzo on, well, its last legs, and the Arca Swiss – after many years of heavy use and abuse – desperately in of a (probably very costly) service, I decided to have a look around and see if there was anything else that would work for me.
My search led me to the Benro Mammoth TMTH44C, paired with the Benro 3-way geared head, which I’ve been working with for several months now. The Mammoth is a fairly chunky carbon fibre tripod with four leg sections and interestingly, a built-in levelling head. Comparing it to the Gitzo range, it’s probably closest to a series 4 Systematic, and the 3-way geared head features a similar design to the Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head, but with an Arca Swiss style clamp.
First impressions were very positive. The Mammoth is very stable and feel solid, but at 2.25kg is not too heavy. It has a quality look and feel, definitely on a par with the premium brands out there. Fully extended, the head and legs allow me to shoot slightly above head height and also get down very low for ground level shooting. The twist locks on the legs have a positive action – not too many turns are required to loosen or tighten, and once locked, they don’t slip; with some tripods, you really have to turn the locks tightly to prevent them from slipping. Not so with the Mammoth.
These positive first impressions have continued with use. Only time will tell how robust and durable the Mammoth really is but I’ve had no issues since I started using it in the summer and trust me, as a working professional, I don’t baby my kit – it gets used in all sorts of inhospitable environments. The built-in levelling head will appeal to some photographers, in particular, those who specialise in shooting stitched panoramas, but to be honest, it’s not a facility I’ve really used. I’d prefer the option to swap it out for a lighter base attachment, but this isn’t a deal breaker; it’s better to have a feature you don’t use, than for a useful one to be missing. And with an RRP of £410, you get the quality of one of the high-end brands at less than half the price.
Shot at 400mm and pin sharp.
So what about the 3-way geared head? I was already familiar with it, having seen a few copies on the workshops I run, but had not used one myself. Coming from the highly-regarded Arca Swiss geared head, I’ve been really surprised by how well it compares. As mentioned above, in design, it’s closest to the Manfrotto 410 geared head. The key difference between the two is the fact that the Benro features an Arca Swiss style fitting, whereas the Manfrotto uses their proprietary clamp. This is a huge advantage for the Benro; the Arca Swiss fitting is more or less industry standard now and allows you to use an L-bracket on your camera, so that you can shoot in portrait orientation with the camera centred on the head rather than hanging off the side.
In addition to this, the Benro is slightly more compact, lighter and has a slightly heavier payload. Crucially, the gears are smooth, with very little, if any play, and none of the ‘backlash’ which plagued the Manfrotto 410 which I used for a while. In use, I’ve found it extremely accurate and stable. It’s ergonomically top notch, too, with large, easy to operate control knobs and a simple clutch mechanism to release the gears for making quick adjustments. It’s rated to hold up to 6kg, quite a bit less than the Arca Swiss it’s replaced, but despite this, I’ve not had any issue with movement – it’s a really solid head.
60 seconds in 50mph winds – and still sharp!
As you’ve probably gathered, I rate this head very highly. But is it as good as the Arca I was using previously? Being completely honest, no. But given that it’s £1,000 less expensive, I wouldn’t expect it to be. What is really surprising, though, is how very close it gets. With its smooth gears, ease of use, accuracy and stability, this is a really good piece of kit – easily the best of all the other geared heads I’ve tried – and with a street price of around £160, it’s fantastic value.
In use, the Mammoth and geared head have completely proved themselves as a professional combination. I’ve shot landscapes at 400mm and they’ve never been less than pin sharp. I’ve shot in 50mph winds on more than one occasion and have even managed a sharp 60-second exposure in these conditions.
I’d highly recommend both.