Two years ago I was lent the enormous SIRUI R-5241XL tripod to use in Namibia and subsequently review. I admitted in the conclusion that I had fallen in love with what I had dubbed “The Beast”. If there was one problem with the R-5241XL it was the sheer physical size of it. Every other aspect of the tripod was essentially an upgraded and improved version of the other carbon fibre tripods that are made by SIRUI. Now SIRUI have brought out the significantly smaller R-2214X tripod, which in theory takes all of the goodness that is the R-5214XL and squeezes it into a smaller and lighter package. In terms of competitors it is theoretically most similar to, as Hougaard Malan from landscapegear.co.za claims, compete directly with the more expensive and perennially popular Gitzo GT3543LS. So what are the similarities with the bigger SIRUI R-5214XL then? You get the same 10X Carbon Fibre manufactured leg tubes, oversized rubber leg locks, exchangeable rubber feet and spikes (both with water venting hole), raised spring loaded angle stops, and a systematic design that allows for switching between video bowl, centre column or flat plate. That’s it, in theory a ‘mini-me’ version of the R-5214XL, a tripod I affectionately nicknamed, ‘The Beast’.
Like all of the SIRUI tripods, there is a quality to the craftsmanship that belies the price tag. It isn’t quite the same as Gitzo and Really Right Stuff admittedly. However, the SIRUI tripods tend to come in at just over half the price of the similarly specced Gitzos (and significantly less than half the price of the similarly specced Really Right Stuffs). The leg tubes are constructed from 10x Carbon Fibre while the joints and screws are made from extremely durable forged metal. SIRUI have been at the leading edge of carbon fibre tripods, utilising 8x carbon weaves in their other tripod offerings. As a point of comparison, Gitzo, arguably one of the benchmark manufacturers in tripod design, use 6x carbon fibre (although they are upgrading their line to use what they call Carbon eXact, which I think is closer to Carbon 8x or 10x). What this essentially equates to is the number of layers of carbon fibre that were grafted together to form the tube. 6x has 6 layers while 10x obviously has 10 layers. In theory, the more layers you have the stiffer and stronger the material should be. You can also, in theory, make the material lighter and thinner than conventional metals by using very thin layers of carbon fibre with weaves that alternate in different directions. 10 layers is still the most I have come across in a tripod so far.The above image is a two three image stack with the first frame a high 1600 ISO shot of the stars and the meteor shower. The second two shots were a longer exposures of 5 minutes at a lower 200 ISO and about 30 second at 400 ISO while light painting the rock formations. There was no visible shift in the images when I stacked them. That’s thanks to a stable tripod and head. The other photographer’s all struggled with this shot due to slight changes on the image composition between frames caused by less capable tripods.
The basic idea behind the carbon weave that is used in carbon fibre tripods is that the thinner the carbon strands, the more weave you can add. The more weaves there are, the lighter and more rigid the material. An added point to this is that if the tubes walls are thin, then there is smaller change in the diameter of the tubes from the top to the bottom. The smaller the change, the more rigid the leg. So all things equal a tube with a wall thickness of 1mm (which the R-2214x has) made of 10 strands of carbon is going to be more rigid than a 1mm tube made of 6 strands. In theory at least, the R-2214X should be at the pinnacle of weight to rigidity. It’s also evident that SIRUI use a different weave on each layer – a crosshatch pattern – on the R series compared to their other carbon fibre offerings, which look like the weave runs in a diagonal pattern. The look of the leg tube is very similar to the pattern on the FLM carbon fibre legs (which also has a wall thickness of 1mm incidentally).
The forged metal of components are all black anodised and seem to be pretty hard-wearing. I don’t treat the equipment I review any different to the gear that I own. This means it gets abused. The black anodised finish of the tripod is still scratch and ding free after the Madagascar workshop, despite rolling about in the back of the vehicle without a bag. The same cannot be said for the blue anodised aluminium (probably duralumin of a softer aluminium copper alloy than the other metal sections of the tripod) angle locks. The edges of these show signs of abrasive wear after only a short period of time. The wear doesn’t impact on usage at all, and is purely aesthetic.
As mentioned above, the R-2214X shares the features list of it’s bigger brother. The first obvious difference between the R-2214x and the other carbon fibre tripods that SIRUI produce is the systematic nature of the design. This is something that I have long wanted in the SIRUI lineup. A systematic tripod differs from a conventional tripod in that it has a completely removable centre column that can be replaced with a flat plate or other accessory. Currently SIRUI offer the standard plate, a ‘rapid column’ centre column (RX-402C), and a half-bowl for video users (R2X-75A). I can’t really write about the half bowl as I don’t actually have access to any video bowl accessories, suffice to say that it’s a 75mm bowl and locks into place in the same way as the plate and centre column.
All three of the centre sections lock in place by tightening three Allan-key driven worm screws that are set 120 degrees apart from each other, in between the leg hinges themselves. The flat plate has a slight textured plastic spacer glued to the molded steel design to assist with gripping the base of the tripod head. To ensure a locked head, there are also three Allan-key driven worm screws that tighten against the base of the tripod head. What I really liked about the flat plate is the same thing that I loved about the R-5214XL’s flat plate: The sturdy hook which can be used for hanging a weight (such as the camera bag) to stabilise the tripod) can be removed to reveal a 4mm Allen key that can be used on all the worm screws as well as the standard lock screw on most tripod mounting plates.
The RX-402C centre column can be added to give the R-2214X an additional 380mm of height. This is a significant boost that can mean the tripod can reach 1,83m in height. Add the height of the ball-head and you get to 1,94m from the ground. That’s high. I am a relatively tall 1,81m in height, so the camera can be stabilised at a height above me. For some of the work that I do, this is fantastic. However, a tripod is not always used on a level surface. In fact, if you are using the tripod for landscape photography, there is a good chance that you are sometimes standing on rocks with the legs lowered to a point below where you are standing. This is why height matters. It’s not that you need the tripod to reach above you (although this can be useful), it’s so that you can get the legs to a stable point that is sometimes below you.
At the end of the legs are the removable rubber feet. These are exchangeable for sturdy stainless steel spikes that look like the screw on arrowheads from ‘Rambo’. Unlike some of SIRUI’s other tripods where the spike retracts into the rubber foot, you have to choose either the foot or the spike with the R-series tripods like the enormous R-5214XL and the R-2214X. This is easily done by screwing the foot or spike into the bottom of the leg (A relatively fine thread of eight teeth, meaning that the feet can’t accidentally unscrew).
Both the rubber feet and the stainless steel spikes feature two small holes drilled into them. For the foot it acts as air and water drainage hole. The spike on the other hand has the hole for no apparent reason, as the screw isn’t hollow like that of the rubber foot. With the larger R-5214XL the holes were an obvious necessity when extending the leg tubes; the large suction action created by the large tubes was immediately apparent. Oddly, the same suction is not evident on the smaller R-2214X tripod. So the holes are there essentially as drainage holes for water in the case of the rubber foot. For the spikes, I’m not entirely certain what the hole is designed for (bets are on for aesthetics, weight reduction, and a place to tie a grappling hook and line to in the event that you do use them as arrow heads ‘Rambo style’).
The R-2214X has leg spread angles of 220, 520 and 820. This allows the tripod to get as low as 115mm from the ground. Unlike travel tripod designs though, where the legs can flip up over the head, you cannot reverse the head so that it hangs below the shoulder (or ‘apex’ of the tripod). This is a technique that allows the tripod to essentially get the camera right down to ground level. The conventional technique though is to reverse the centre column so that the tripod head hangs below the shoulder of the tripod. This can still be done if you add the optional RX-402C centre column.
The actual angle stops are controlled by an aluminium slide lock (painted blue) that slips out from the top of the tripod. It is a sturdier design than the spring designs of SIRUI’s smaller tripods, but comes with the limitations of all slide stops. This is the fact that they can get jammed when you pull the leg out to its stop. I found I had to give the leg a tap (make that slap) to jiggle the leg back a bit in order to slide the stop out to the next notch. What is a nice touch though, is the spring reloads. When you push the legs back to a narrower spread the stop automatically clicks back to the smaller angle (unlike other slide angle stops I have used in the past from Gitzo and Velbon). Something else that is easy to miss initially is that the leg lock can be pulled out in two stages. Stage one means that the spring reload is active, stage two locks it out. This is so that you can still spread the legs using just one hand. If you pull the lock all the way out to stage two and then spread the leg to the maximum angle of 820 then the angle lock automatically bounces back down to stage one, meaning that as you bring the legs together again the lock automatically clicks at the 520 and 220 marks. This is a nice touch and makes working with the leg angles really easy. I also think that the design is somewhat more rugged than the click switch design of the other SIRUI tripods (Traveler, Water Series, etc.)
Still going with the smaller R-5214XL line, the R-2214X has the neoprene leg warmers on all three legs. This makes the tripod easier to handle in the cold and wet, and also protects the tripod legs from bumps and bangs. There are plenty of positives to using carbon fibre in a tripod. The downside, apart from cost, is that carbon fibre can be quite brittle, so is prone to crack if it receives a sharp blow to it. The neoprene leg warmers just give that added bit of confidence in the durability of the R series (the other SIRUI series have two legs wrapped in neoprene while leaving a third bare).
The heavy-duty nature extends to the oversized and bulky twist leg locks themselves. The oversized rubber is fantastic to work with. It’s easy to grip, even when wet, or when wearing gloves. Then there is the lock itself, which has a wonderful positive feel to it. Being a 4-section tripod, there are three leg locks. It is easily possible to grab all three and turn at the same time, meaning setup and strike down are quick and easy.
A final touch to the feature set is an easily readable circular level on the tripod shoulder. There isn’t much to say about it other than it works.
The R series began with the physically enormous R-5214XL. Some photographers love oversize tripods (full disclaimer – I’m one of them), most don’t. Large tripods mean an increase in weight, which make them harder to travel with. They are also sometimes harder to manhandle into position due to their increased weight and size. The R-2214X brings all the goodness of the R-series to a more manageable, packable size. It weighs 1,6kg with the flat plate, and only measures 510mm when stowed. That is really small and light for a tripod that can reach 1,45m without the centre column. In fact it is 500g lighter than the revered Gitzo GT3543LS! It is also 60mm shorter than the Gitzo when closed, yet is only 10mm shorter when fully extended. These are figures that make a difference when you are carrying the tripod any significant distance, or when you are trying to squeeze the legs into your airline baggage.
I used the R-2214X exclusively while running a workshop in Madagascar. I found that the size was perfect for the mixed photography that we were doing and the fact that we were constantly having to pack our equipment into the relatively small confines of a four wheel drive (4 photographers, a driver and all the equipment that a photographer lugs about makes even a large Nissan Patrol appear like ‘small’ confines). Not once did I ever feel that the tripod was too large for packing. This is something that I do experience occasionally with my personal tripod, which is an FLM CP30-L3S.
Setup was a breeze, and very quick at that. The oversized leg locks is something that I particularly like. Working height for me when standing up on level ground is to have all of the legs fully extended (please note when I say ‘working height’ I don’t suggest that all images be shot at the tripod’s working height – composition comes first and should be established before you set the tripod up). The tripod is also large enough that you can do the whole ‘balance on a rock’ thing while having one or two of the legs extended out to different and sometimes lower positions.
One thing I did find was that the rubber feet were not as grippy as the rubber feet on some of the other tripods that I have used. Shooting on Kwazulu-Natal’s south coast on some rocks, I kept finding that the feet would slide out a little. It wasn’t really a problem, all you do is adjust the position until the angle locks engage or find a cranny where the feet will hook onto. Unfortunately this is where I do come into a criticism of the R series tripods in general. The rest of the SIRUI tripods have a rubber foot with a retractable spike (one of the best designs I have used incidentally). This means of course that you always have the option of rubber foot or spike on hand. The R series requires manually changing between rubber foot or spike. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but the fact that the spikes are loose little bits of metal means that they either get forgotten, or just as easily lost. So on the few occasions when I did need spikes rather than rubber feet, I invariably didn’t have the spikes with me.
Towards the end of the review of ‘The Beast’ I noted the peculiarity of including a bag with the tripod, when that bag can only fit the tripod and not the tripod with a head attached. Thankfully this is not the case with the R-2214X’s included bag. The well-made nylon carry bag has ample room for the tripod plus ball head. In fact the bag is big enough to accommodate the tripod plus the K-40X, SIRUI’s largest ball head (albeit it with the clamp dropped into the vertical slot). When the RX-402C centre column is added the head does have to be removed unfortunately.
While in Madagascar I shot a fair amount of long exposure seascape imagery as well as astrophotography at night. In all situations the tripod and coupled K-30X ball head performed admirably. If anything my respect for the small K-30X ball head increased on this trip, and I now prefer it to the larger K-40X ball head.
Not all is perfect though (to be fair it never is). When fully extended there is a certain whippiness or flex to the legs that surprised me. It didn’t impact on the images as far as I could tell. In fact I only noticed it while clambering on some rocks on a dawn shoot on the south coast, after I had already returned from Madagascar. The flex was noticeable because the rubber feet were slipping on the wet rock surface. That said, comparing it to a series 3 Gitzo or my FLM series 3 tripod, then the SIRUI has a noticeable flex to the legs whereas the former appear more rigid.
*Note – the tension on the leg hinges can be easily adjusted using the included torkscrew allen keys.
Choosing a tripod is never easy. I have written before that the four factors that influence the choice of tripod are weight, rigidity/stability, size and cost. There is no tripod that ticks all four boxes in my opinion. You can have rigidity, size and weight, but then will have to pay a ransom to get it. Or you can have rigidity, size and cost, but it’ll weigh a ton. The SIRUI R-2214X is one of the best attempts I’ve seen at getting all four boxes ticked.
First there’s weight. Coming in at 1.6kg means that the tripod genuinely gets into the ‘travel tripod class’. Next rigidity; barring my concerns on the flex in the legs, the tripod is sturdy and stable enough to handle rigs of up to 18kg in weight. I don’t know any stills photographer who is likely to use a camera rig beyond 10kg (back of the hand calculation: a Nikon D5 with hefty pre-autofocus era – i.e. made of solid metal and HEAVY – 600mm F4 with an SB910 flash and flash extender, tripod head and the flash bracket is still only going to reach about 8.6kg in weight). In terms of size, it can easily be considered a full size tripod, and with the inclusion of the centre column can get to almost 2 metres off the ground. Yet, despite this the R-2214X packs down to just over 50cm without the head attached. Finally price: Currently in South Africa the R-2214X has a MRSP of R8,495 (but is on sale right now for R7 295). Landscapegear.co.za has the Gitzo GT3543LS listed at R11 995.00, but Hougaard has informed me that they only have one unit left that was purchased at the old pricing and once it sells the price will be going up to R12 695.00.
I have to point out that SIRUI have a class leading 6 year guarantee on their products. This is backed up by the supplier in South Africa, SunshineCo. If something goes wrong with your SIRUI kit, they will help you.
As I mention above, the R-2214X is not perfect. When you hold a Gitzo GT3543LS next to the R-2214X there is a difference in finish with the Gitzo feeling more ‘up market’. On paper the SIRUI is specced similarly to the Gitzo as well, yet it uses narrower tubes being part of their series 2. This does impact on theoretical stability. The Gitzo is a series three tripod with a maximum tube diameter of 32.9mm (the FLM CP30L3S has a maximum tube diameter of 30mm) while the SIRUI has a maximum tube diameter of 29.4mm. Those 3.5mm potentially make a difference. However, the SIRUI is 500g lighter than the Gitzo, and that also makes a difference. If we go on series alone, the R-2214X is actually punching above it’s theoretical limits and should really be compared to lower specced tripods, where it would easily outperform the competition. The SIRUI is that good that we expect it to hold it’s own amongst peers that are really in a different class entirely.
Ultimately, I am very impressed with the SIRUI R-2214X. Compared to the other tripods in the SIRUI range I think I would recommend this tripod over the likes of the N-3204X (which I really liked incidentally). There are refinements that make it overall a better tripod, not least of which are the better leg locks. It doesn’t have the same mind-blowing ‘wow’ factor that the R-5214XL has, but it is the closest tripod I have found to match the four criteria that most photographers look for in a tripod. This makes it a superb all-rounder tripod, and one that I would recommend as such. It has the added versatility and stability offered by a series tripod as well thanks to the interchangeable plate/centre column/bowl.
The final test for me is whether I would buy a tripod. This is a tough one. I am actually very happy with my current choice of tripod, a very beat up but still surviving FLM CP30L3S. If I didn’t have the FLM I would be very interested in the SIRUI. It would be a close call between the Gitzo mentioned in this article and the SIRUI R-2214X. To be honest, I’m not sure which would win at the moment. The near R5,000 difference in price is significant. I’m also torn by the fact that in reality I am trying to compare apples with oranges. The SIRUI is being compared to a tripod that is supposed to be in a different league (we should really be comparing a SIRUI R-3214X, which doesn’t exist yet, to the Gitzo GT3543LS). My verdict comes down to this essentially: the SIRUI R-2214X is the best tripod for its price point that you can buy right now. If you can afford the R5,000 addition, the Gitzo is maybe a better tripod (but it weighs more…just to add a little more complication to the equation).
Introducing the R-3213x
SIRUI have just released a 3-series, 3-section brother to the tripod in this review – The R3213x. The pros are that it is slightly more rigid and stable thanks to fatter 3-series legs and one fewer set of joints. The cons are that it is slightly heavier, it has a slightly longer folded size and it is priced about 10% higher. This specific model took home two prominent design awards from the photographic industry for it’s excellent specs, functionality and the value for money.
|Maximum Carrying weight||18kg||22kg|
|Maximum tube diameter||29mm||33mm|
|Minimum tube diameter||19mm||26mm|
|Maximum extension without centre column||145cm||141cm|
|Maximum Height with centre column||183cm||179cm|
Emil von Maltitz is a professional landscape and commercial photographer who spends most of his time photographing industry and agriculture for clients like Tongaat Huletts. You can find his incredible body of work here.