Manfrotto 709B Tabletop Tripod

The Quest

The quest to find a compact, lightweight travel tripod can be an interesting one. There are a lot of "travel tripods" out there that frankly, aren't much better than their full-sized friends. They're still bulky, heavy and/or expensive and probably overkill for what we, as RF shooters - will likely ever need. If you swing a big DSLR and zoom lens, sure - you'll need something like those. But for us, there has to be a better way!

Thus the "tabletop tripod." They compromise on one very important aspect; the legs. They're named so because they must essentially be used on a table, mailbox, wall or some other object as the legs merely serve to stabilize a ballhead, basically. They have very short legs that fold out to form the tripod; some 5-8" in length. You'll need to decide if this very important difference will work for you or not. If you plan to shoot meadows of flowers and scenic landscapes in a far-off land - these probably won't be of much use to you. But if you're traveling to a more "table-rich" locale, such as a city or Disney World... A tabletop tripod might be just the ticket!

The Options

As luck would have it, Leica makes such a tripod. It's very highly regarded as well-built and stable. The downside is finding one complete with the ballhead and they tend to be rather expensive - around $110 without and just over $300 complete. The legs are a bit of a unique design in that they are always in the spread position, but rotate around the central shaft. When collapsed, you have a somewhat awkward shape to contend with. It's also somewhat tall:

On the lower-end of the scale you have those really tiny, pocketable tripods. They work very well - for a Point-and-Shoot. Those with flexible legs won't hold the weight of an M safely and even those with fixed, or rigid legs aren't very safe. Joby Gorillapods, appropriately sized - make a potential solution, if somewhat inelegant. Best to leave these types for other uses.

The Manfrotto 709B

Then there's the Manfrotto (Bogen) 709B tabletop tripod. It's a scaled-up version of the mini tripod with fixed legs, in a very stable platform that can easily handle an M with even a heavy lens attached. It's made of aluminum and has strong, single-section legs that fold out, much like a traditional tripod; however there are no joints and nothing to extend or lock. Unlike the Leica version, when the legs are "collapsed" (towards the center, for storage) the entire unit is straight - and being made of aluminum, extremely light. Fantastic format to stash in a bag or lash on with a loop. It weighs a mere 6.4oz.

The tripod comes with a decent ballhead that locks solidly in place in any position. The mount post is a 1/4-20 thread (which matches the M) and the round platform/plate turns on it - allowing you to snug it up tightly to the camera. There is a notch in the ballhead socket to swing the camera fully sideways in a portrait orientation. Just like you'd expect from a basic ballhead - this one works the same. It can hold up to 4.5lbs, which easily covers an M with even a Noctilux mounted.

The problem is that the tripod is too short to hold a camera with centrally-located tripod threads (like the M8/M9) in full portrait orientation and further complicated by the need to lean it out over a leg for stability. Therefore, unfortunately - this tripod limits you to a relatively landscape-oriented position on such cameras. You can still tilt it pretty far, but portrait orientation is out. Full stop. It works great on M7 and older film bodies, the Zeiss Ikon and Voigtländer Bessa cameras however.

As mentioned above, where it differs from the Leica version the most is in overall height. The Manfrotto is not as tall, whereas the Leica version has a little bit more height to it. It's not a huge difference (about 4") and if anything, the Manfrotto might be a tad more stable because of it, lighter in weight and smaller to carry. It stands at a minimum/maximum height of 4.3" overall (the Leica, by comparison - stands at 7.8" tall). Folded up, it's 7.9" including the ballhead. Since it's lower than the Leica version, composing and focusing through the viewfinder isn't quite as easy.

The tripod comes in black and silver versions; black being denoted by the "B" in the the part number (e.g. 709B), though it seems hard to find a silver version.

Conclusion

The Manfrotto 709B tabletop tripod is small, light and inexpensive - coming in at under $40. It's not very flexible and does require something to stand it on, but will provide you with a very stable platform for your camera if you can live with this. Similar in function to the Leica version, but much cheaper and more travel-friendly - with the downsides that it doesn't work with the M8/M9 in portrait orientation and might be a little trickier to focus/compose with since it's lower. They're quite common and can be found from a variety of retailers as well as by auction.