I preface every review with the same disclosure. I am not a professional. I do not shoot test charts. I do not try every lens with every camera. All opinions are my own, and are only based upon my own experiences with the gear. I haven’t had a ton of gear, or all of the expensive gear. I won’t list every specification or test for every specification. My review is not meant for professionals – if you are a professional, you shouldn’t need a review from an amateur. The information below is simply my own observations while doing normal photography, and is for other car enthusiasts and amateurs like myself.
I received the new Dolica CX600B502D/S tripod in early April of 2013, and have used it a lot. The whole tripod is only slightly lighter than the AX620B100 that I had before.
Update (6/27/2014): I’m still using it a lot, and it’s definitely my go to tripod. It’s held up well, and it is easy to take everywhere. I have noticed that one of the legs has gotten a little stiffer, and it appears that it just needs to have the leg bolt adjusted, but I haven’t done that yet. The ballhead still works fine, and I’ve had no trouble with the TSA when flying with it in my luggage. I haven’t run into a situation yet where it has let me down. I still don’t like the strap on the case, but the case has held up for me. I might change the strap at some point in time. What I would really love is if they made a larger version of this same tripod (much bigger and stiffer legs), sans ballhead (basically a Feisol Series 4, but cheaper in price).
The quality of the tripod seemed to be excellent for the pricing. The fit and finish do not seem cheap, and no blemishes were noticeable, even after I have been using it for months. I disassembled the whole tripod, and didn’t find anything that appeared to be of low quality workmanship.
Everything on this tripod can be disassembled with easy, and everything fits together smoothly. It has a feel of better quality than the other cheap tripods.
The carbon fiber legs are not anti-rotational legs, but they do extend out very quickly and smoothly. Not being anti-rotational has not been an issue for me, but it is a Series 1 class tripod. I expect that it might be a bigger issue on another tripod, such as a Series 4 or 5.
The legs are carbon fiber and are 1″ in diameter. Gitzo says that a 24mm leg diameter is their Series 1 and a 28mm is a Series 2. This Dolica falls in-between at just over 25mm in diameter, so I would say that this is a pretty solid Series 1, which I would consider a travel tripod, especially at this height. This is a tripod designed for people under 6 feet tall, as it only extended to 60 inches (5 feet).
The legs reverse over the top of the ball head to make the whole unit shorter. The whole tripod folds up to about 16 inches, and fits inside the padded case that it came in, if you fold it up this way.
The Ball Head
The ball head has a large sweet spot where I can set the friction, and it gives just the right amount of resistance. It doesn’t stick when I move the camera around on it. Panoramic function is also smooth, and I find that I use that a lot more than I originally expected to, as it makes it a little quicker to get the composition of the photo just right.
In May, I shot about 400 shots on the tripod with the D600. I did 3 shot bracketing all afternoon, then came home and popped the photos in the computer, and checked for any drop/settling. There was no drop or settling out of any shot brackets. All were rock solid.
I have a Really Right Stuff camera plate for my D600 (the RRS BD600), and can verify that it works perfectly on the Dolica ballhead clamp. Dolica claims that the ball head is Arca Swiss compatible, and I can verify that claim. The Dolica can actually take a larger plate, so if your plate was not perfectly made, it likely can handle it just fine. Any Arca Swiss compatible plate (38mm) should be compatible with the Dolica ball head, as it is a screw type, not a level type clamp. I have used my KiwiFotos lens plate on my Nikon 80-200mm AF-S, and it clamps perfectly into the Dolica ball head’s clamp.
Quick Release Plate
I can also confirm that the quick release plate that comes with the Dolica ball head is a 38mm Arca Swiss compatible plate, and works just fine in other Arca Swiss compatible clamps. I tested it on my Sunwayfoto discal clamp, and it fit perfectly, with no “looseness”.
The Dolica plate did not work well as a lens plate though. I shot up at Road Atlanta, and found that I couldn’t keep it tight enough on the collar, so I ordered a lens plate specifically for the 80-200mm, and the Dolica plate went onto my N70 film camera. I have verified that the plate works in any Arca Swiss clamp that I could find, including the SunwayFoto lever clamps.
The case is a lightly padded cloth bag that has a shoulder strap. The strap is the only thing about the tripod that disappointed me. Since it goes all the way to the top and bottom, the tripod tends to want to rotate from the back of your shoulder to under your arm. It’s a bit annoying.
In order to get the tripod into the case, the legs jave to be flipped and reversed over the top of the ball head to make the whole unit shorter. This means that every time you want to carry it somewhere, you have to fold it up completely. The whole tripod folds up to about 16 inches, and fits inside the padded case that it came in, if you fold it up this way.
One of the items that I wondered if it would hold up was the Dolica tripod bag’s zipper. I am pleased to report that it has, and the stitching has also held up well.
Usability in the Field
I have been using the Dolica for a little while now. I now feel that I can highly recommend it as a light travel tripod, as an equivalent to a Gitzo Series 1. It is stable with a D600 and a 135mm lens, and you can push to a 200mm lens when you really need to. I do see some initial vibration when at 200mm when you first setup, so it isn’t as robust as a Series 2, but what more can you expect for the money? The 25mm CF legs easily work as well as you could expect from a Series 1, which typically would have only 24mm legs.
For how I shoot, which is usually at around fender height, this tripod is excellent, as it is lightweight and stable. I don’t usually raise the center column up, and I don’t usually extend the last section of the legs a lot when shooting car shows, so it is stable with my primes and the 24-120mm. I have shot some with my Nikon 80-200mm AF-S on it, and it is usable with it. At full extension, and with the center column extended though, it would be better to have a heavier duty tripod for a lens as heavy as the 80-200mm AF-S.
The fit and finish on the tripod is still in perfect position, and I have been really pleased with the quality of it. The only downside is that Costco is now selling the same tripod for more than when I got it. It’s now $259 on their website, and it was $199 when they originally introduced it.
The beauty of the Dolica is that at $199 it is a solid Series 1 and a very good value. At $299-315 (Amazon and TigerDirect prices), the CX600B502DS is still a Series 1 traveler tripod, but the cost gets you up to the cost of buying a set of Feisol Series 2 (28mm) legs, and the fact is that the Dolica ball head is a good one, but not as good as a more expensive quality one. Eventually, you will choose to get a more expensive ball head anyway, so the $299 price for the CX600B502DS is right on the edge of not being a good deal.
Dolica’s page on the tripod is here: http://www.dolica.com/tripods/cx600b502ds-60-ultra-premium-carbon-fiber-professional-tripod-with-integrated-monopod
Update: Dec. 2013
I managed to lose one of the rubber feet this past weekend, so I had to order another one. Dolica sells spare parts on their site, and the replacement rubber feet run $28 including shipping ($23 for the foot, and $5 for the shipping). I ordered one today, and their ordering system sent out notifications as it went through the shipping preparation process. In a matter of a few hours, it was showing that it was shipped out. It appears that their customer service is very quick.
This is the first issue that I have had with the tripod, and I have been very pleased with it over the past few months, and have used it for a lot of shots.