The Manfrotto 190 is a flexible and solid tripod designed for serious photographers seeking a decent, stable platform. A significant step-up from budget entry-level tripods without the cost higher-end options, the 190 series strikes a compelling balance of price and performance, and has justifiably become Manfrotto’s best-selling range.
In this review I’ll look at the latest version of the 190 series, the MT190 collection, available as before in a variety of versions with three or four leg sections, and in either aluminium or carbon fiber. All four MT190 models are built in Italy and feature Manfrotto’s innovative 90 degree column mechanism which allows the centre column to lift out of the top casting and angle down by 90 degrees in a single movement, allowing you to shoot at very low positions or pointing straight down. Like other higher-end tripods, the MT190 is designed to be sold legs-alone with a plate for mounting a head of your choice, although if preferred, Manfrotto also offers kit versions of the two aluminium models with a basic ball head.
In terms of new features, the MT190 series employs a redesigned 90 degree column mechanism housed within (rather than on top of) the main body to save space, new Quick Power Lock levers to hold the leg sections in place, an Easy Link thread on the main body to mount accessories like video lights, a bubble level under the head plate that can be rotated to avoid obstructions, and redesigned leg angle selectors which claim to be quicker and safer to use. The core premise though remains the same: a tripod that’s sturdy, flexible and reliable, without costing the Earth.
The Manfrotto family
With four models in the MT190 series (six if you include the ball head kits) and three more in the stronger MT055 collection (or five if you also include its kit options), it’s useful to understand Manfrotto’s naming convention to work out which will be most appropriate for you.
The MT190 and MT055 are now essentially identical other than their weight and load-handling. The 055 range remains the heftier of the two, with thicker legs to handle heavier camera systems, although this in turn makes them heavier and more expensive. It’s important to put this into perspective though – both ranges can easily handle most cameras and lenses, but those who have the heaviest cameras and biggest lenses will find the 055 range preferable. Interestingly while the 190 models were historically smaller and shorter than their 055 counterparts, the latest MT190 have now grown to virtually the same size; the choice really is mostly down to weight and load now.
Within each range, you have the choice of aluminium or carbon fiber construction; aluminium models are indicated by a single X in the name, while carbon fiber ones are indicated by a CX. The carbon fiber models are lighter, more rigid, feel less cold to the touch, and able to dissipate vibrations faster, but they’re also more expensive. Conversely some may prefer the weight of an aluminium model if they shoot a lot in windy conditions.
Manfrotto also offers versions of most tripods with three or four leg sections, simply indicated by a number 3 or 4 at the end of the model name. Their maximum heights when fully-extended are roughly similar, but having four leg sections means each section can be shorter, allowing the retracted, transportable size to be smaller overall. Since each section has to fit inside the last though, the fourth section is thinner than the third with a negative impact on overall stability. If you travel a lot and want to squeeze a tripod into a smaller bag, then go for four leg sections, but if you can accommodate a larger tripod or demand the greatest stability, go for three leg sections.
Finally, Manfrotto tripods with the 90 degree centre-column include the PRO tag in their model name. Since all current MT190 and MT055 tripods feature the 90 degree column, they all have PRO in their titles. So to decode the specific model name reviewed here, MT190XPRO3 refers to the MT190 collection with aluminium legs, a 90 degree column and three leg sections. Simple when you know how!
Manfrotto MT190 and MT055 size and weight
All four versions of the MT190, whether three or four leg sections or aluminium or carbon fiber construction, share the same maximum heights and loads. With the centre column retracted or extended, their maximum heights are 135cm or 160cm respectively, while their maximum loads are 7kg. Their minimum heights are also almost identical: 9cm for the three leg section models or 8cm for the four-sections.
The differences between the four models are their overall weight and retracted size for transportation. With no head fitted, the aluminium MT190XPRO3 measures 59cm when folded-down and weighs 2kg / 4.4lbs. The four-sectioned MT190XPRO4 version measures 49cm when folded-down, saving 10cm in length, but weighs a tad more at 2.1kg / 4.6lbs. Meanwhile the carbon fiber MT190CXPRO3 measures 61cm when folded-down and weighs 1.6kg / 3.6lbs, while the four-section MT190CXPRO4 weighs the same but measures 52.5cm when folded-down, saving 8.5cm in length. So the carbon fiber models are actually a tad longer, but save you 400-500g or around one pound in weight over their aluminium counterparts. Remember though, carbon fiber also has the benefit of reducing vibrations faster and not being as cold to the touch in freezing conditions.
If you’d like to accommodate heavier loads, the MT055 range will handle 9kg (2kg more than the MT190 series), and is available in aluminium or carbon fiber with three leg sections, or in carbon fiber alone in four leg sections. The extra build required to handle this load increases the weight of each MT055 model by around half a kilo (or about a pound) over the equivalent MT190 version.
As noted earlier, on previous generations the 055 series was also comfortably taller than the 190 series, both in terms of maximum height and folded-down length. But with this latest MT series, the MT190 range has grown to virtually match the size of the MT055. Again the MT055 models are heavier to accommodate the extra load, but in terms of maximum height with or without the column raised, or their carrying size when folded-down, there’s little to choose between them. It really is mostly a case of choosing whether you need that extra 2kg of load capacity and if you’re willing to carry around the additional half kilo or extra pound for the more substantial build.
This does however mean the MT190 has grown to become quite a substantial tripod: one that’s gratifyingly tall enough to be usable by many photographers without having to extend the central column, but equally one that’s unlikely to fit inside a bag unless it’s designed for it. If you’re looking for something smaller or lighter, Manfrotto will steer you towards the 190go which keeps the new 90 degree column collar, but employs twisting locks and shorter leg sections for a 45cm folded length and 1.35kg weight. Manfrotto also offers the 290 collection, Befree models, and a variety of compact or tabletop options.
Manfrotto MT190XPRO3 design
All four models in the MT190 series (and the three MT055 models) employ the same Quick Power Lock levers to hold their leg sections in place. Manfrotto claims they’re easier to operate one-handed than before, but I never had any issues flicking the levers on the older models with one thumb, nor would I say the new design is any less (or more) likely to trap an unsuspecting finger. The new Quick Power Lock does however seem to grip the leg section more firmly than before, although the sound when snapping it shut is a louder and sharper ‘clack’ than before which may be less discreet if you’re setting-up in a quiet location. As before, you’ll also find a tool clipped onto one of the legs that can be used to tighten (or loosen) the clamp / lever mechanism if you need to make adjustments.
The legs themselves feel solid and well-built in aluminium or carbon fiber, but if you opt for the former versions, two of the three upper sections now feature thick rubber coatings around their top halves, making them easier to grip and feel less cold. In contrast, the carbon fiber versions without any leg warmers as standard, can feel quite slippery in comparison.
At the top of each leg where it meets the main body casting, you’ll find Manfrotto’s new leg angle selectors. Previously there were silver squares which were pushed in at the top to unlock the leg angle for positioning. Now there’s a much longer spring-loaded rectangle that must be slid downwards to unlock the leg. There’s a raised section at the end that gives you something to push your thumb against, but again I didn’t find them particularly easier or safer to use than the old design. As before, there’s three lockable angles, each of which allows the tripod to be used with the centre column all the way down for maximum stability. If desired, you can hold the lock down and keep angling the legs all the way up until they’re perpendicular to the casting; this allows very low positions, although you will need to raise the central column or employ the 90 degree position to move it out the way.
Which brings me to Manfrotto’s unique selling point: a central column that can be lifted up and angled down by 90 degrees to facilitate unusual or very low angles. I found this invaluable on earlier models and use it regularly for shooting with the camera pointing straight down. Previously the capability required an unusual-looking oval housing positioned above the main body casting, making the overall tripod size larger than models without it. In use, you’d loosen the central column, extend it fully, then push a button at the bottom end to push it into the oval housing; this would then let you tip the column down by 90 degrees before sliding it back through again to the desired length and tightening for use.
If it sounds unusual, it is. When you first perform the operation, it looks and feels odd, not to mention precariously loose, but once you’ve tightened the column lock, it feels as robust pointing sideways as it does in the traditional vertical orientation.
The theory’s the same on the latest MT collection, but the housing that facilitates it has been completely redesigned. Rather than a large black oval that sits on top of the main body casting, the MT series now employ a burgundy-coloured collar that sits within the body itself, occupying no additional space. It’s only when you fully extend the column and push the unlock button at the end that the collar can be released from the main body and be pulled-up and out. Once the collar is above and outside the main body, you can tilt the column over by 90 degrees once more and lock it securely in position.
It’s certainly clever and, with the redesigned plate at the end of the column, manages to save around 7cm / 3in in length over earlier models. In use it still feels like you’ve broken it though and at times the collar on my sample did get stuck for a short while. In all cases though, a little wiggling and pushing returned it to the proper position and all was well. I should also say that while the mechanism again rattles loosely as you move from vertical to horizontal, once the column is locked in place, it feels perfectly robust and secure.
Overall I remain fond of the ability to turn the column by 90 degrees and it certainly allows some very low and creative angles, especially with the legs angled straight out. The new mechanism felt stickier than the old one in my tests, but it may loosen-up over time and it definitely reduces the overall length while boosting stability – after all, the lower you can have the column retracted into the main body casting, the better it is for overall stability. The only downside is the button at the end of the column prevents Manfrotto from fitting a hook to hang a weight.
Staying with the main body casting, Manfrotto now includes an Easy Link, which is essentially a 3/8in female thread into which you can screw accessories – handy for mounting lights or anything else you fancy.
The final upgrade concerns the main plate for mounting heads. As before there’s a plastic section underneath the metal plate which elongates to accommodate a useful spirit level, but where this was fixed in position on previous models and could often get in the way of a head or camera at unusual angles, the new version can spin around freely by 360 degrees. It’s a simple but very considerate upgrade that ensures the spirit level never gets in the way.
Manfrotto MT190XPRO3 verdict
I shot with the MT190XPRO3 for several weeks and found it to be a substantial and serious tripod. At 59cm in length and 2kg for the aluminium version (before you’ve fitted a head), you certainly know you’re carrying it around. By sharing many of the specs of earlier 055 models, Manfrotto has repositioned the MT190 as a heftier, higher-end tripod that’ll satisfy anyone who desires a stable platform to position their camera at or above head-height or virtually touching the ground.
As an owner of several earlier 190 and 055 models, I really noticed the increased size of the MT190. It has, in effect, become an 055, but that’s no bad thing. It means the maximum height is tall enough for most photographers to never need to raise the central column, and the maximum load has also increased from 5 to 7kg. The ability to shoot comfortably without extending the centre column is critical for the best performance as raising it on any tripod seriously impacts stability and should only be used as a last resort.
The new leg locks appear to grip the leg sections more firmly, albeit with louder clicks as they snap into place, and I was particularly fond of the newly rotating spirit level under the head plate that no longer obstructs a head or camera above it. The redesigned 90 degree column collar is a cunning idea that shortens the overall length of the tripod compared to older versions, and while it still feels rattly while you’re making adjustments and sometimes needs an extra wiggle to get back in place, it tightens to become reassuringly solid. It also allows the column to clear the space beneath the main body casting, in turn letting you fold the legs right up for very low shooting positions. Meanwhile the addition of a thread on the side of the body casting allows you to mount accessories (although I’m sure I recall this from several generations past).
So overall the MT190 has grown-up to become a larger and more substantial tripod that further distances itself from basic budget models. If you’re happy with the size and weight – and it’s hard not to find a model to suit given all the options – then I can recommend it for serious use. You’d need to spend a great deal more to enjoy significantly better performance. Of the different options, my choice would be the three-section models for stability and if you can afford it, the carbon fiber MT190CXPRO3 version for lower weight and better vibration dissipation. But if budget demands, the aluminium MT190XPRO3 remains a fine choice. If you’re looking to couple it with a head, I’d recommend the Manfrotto XPRO BHQ2 ball head for speed or the Manfrotto XPRO geared head for precision.
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