3 Legged Thing Punks Billy – first impressions

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3 Legged Thing are a British company that designs tripods with a very different attitude. They design a tripod as a modular concept so that it does more than just holds your camera. For information on that I would definitely recommend visiting their website because they will explain it far better than I can, and I don’t expect to use all the possible features or configurations.

They also design them to be a bit sexy…

…evidently.

Anyway, this is my initial few thoughts on the Punks Billy – currently the only Carbon Fibre tripod in the Punks range. I would like to say that I purchased the Billy with my own money from Jack the Hat, and that neither 3 Legged Thing or Jack the Hat have paid me to write this and all opinions contained within are my own.

The reason I purchased from Jack the Hat and not directly from 3 Legged Thing was the delivery service. Jack the Hat delivers to the Highlands and Islands postcodes of Scotland without any fuss and even next day using Royal Mail Special Delivery by 1pm. Sadly, 3 Legged Thing does not, and I wasn’t in a position to wait for a courier to sit on my delivery for an extra day just because they don’t like my postcode (even though I’m about a minute from the main Inverness-Aberdeen road which they drive along more frequently).

In this review I am not going to write about the specifications for the tripod because you can get them direct from 3 Legged Thing’s website here. What I am going to write about is how the tripod shapes up in actual use.

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When it first arrived it was in a very funky box, and struck me as being very well engineered, with excellent accessories, but sadly not including spikes as standard. It is possible to buy more feet, and three different ones for different terrain are offered, but this does then increase the overall cost. Given that two of their main competitors; Benro and MeFoto, both send their tripods out with a set of spikes included it is a bit disappointing. It should be said that you do generally pay quite a bit more for many of the similarly specified Benro tripods so it could be argued that you’re paying for them anyway.

When I put Billy up to his full height, I thought he was less stiff that I had expected. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed at the time, and somehow I needed up with a very odd angled image of it in the kitchen.

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Billy (and Travis) are two of the taller tripods and as an added bonus for me, being only 5ft 3″ that means that without the centre column the camera is still at very close to being eye level. I like removing centre columns as it allows a tripod to go much lower, reduces carry weight, and so I feel it gives me more flexibility.  The image above shows it with the centre column but I then took this out (very simple to do) for the shot below, and used it without the column for my first outing.

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With centre column removed and my D600 sat on the floor to show how low it goes

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As it was blowing a hoolie as we say up here in Scotland. I took it to the beach on the north sea coast to see how it would cope. Putting the camera on it actually made it much more stable, and even having the legs at almost their full extensions and splayed to the middle of the three leg positions, I was not more impressed.

The leg with the orange band at the top unscrews to become a monopod which is part of the modular design of the tripod, although I am not a great user of monopods it might prove handy.

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Carrying it on my rucksack was a doddle and I didn’t notice it was there as its weight is very minimal for the support offered. It does fold like a travel tripod; the legs go fully up the other way to that show in the image, so the head sits between them, but when on my tripod this configuration works better for me.

I really liked the big chunky grips on it as the air temperature was barely above freezing and the windchill was making it considerably below. I was using fairly thick gloves for every moment except the final shooting, and it operated fearlessly with my gloves on. In Scotland this is very important. Big grips and larger knobs are very useful.

Carbon Fibre comes into it’s own in the cold. It is way nicer to handle that Aluminium and I was actually glad the Travis (Billy’s non-carbon twin brother) was out of stock. Billy is basically the same as Travis but being carbon is around 220g lighter whilst, evidently, being stronger for it too. It would have been nicer still if one leg had a leg warmer, but rubber please not foam as the foam ones soak up water. A couple of strips of the same rubber as is on the leg adjusters would be nice. It would give you more grip in the wet too.

Using the centre column enables you to use the ‘Toolz’ carabiner to attach a weight, such as a water bottle, to the bottom of the centre column via its hook. This also can aid stability although I didn’t find it necessary even in the gale force winds I experienced.

Having removed the centre column you loose that attachment point but you still have the three eyelets on the head attachment plate which you can now use for the same purpose amongst others. This would place the weight very slightly off centre in its attachment but if it’s handing this should still be ok.

I have constructed a three way sling using three accessory carabiners and a piece of cord which I can rest bottle or even rocks in. One carabiner into each hole on the plate and the cord suspends between them. I didn’t use it on this outing, and it may just live in my bag unused. I wouldn’t be out in conditions much more difficult that I encountered today so this was a fairly good forward looking test.

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I started off on the beach getting shots of the crashing waves and I was very pleased with the results (see above). The tripod held my Nikon D600 with Nikkor 14-24/f2.8 lens (which is not light) very securely, much more so than my MeFoto Roadtrip does. Already Billy was proving he was worth the money.

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I moved on from the beach at Kingston (sadly not Jamaica) to the sea wall at Portgordon, and the variable leg angles proved very useful. My MeFoto Roadtrip annoyed me a lot by having less positions, but the Billy has three very useful angles and so I could actually have each leg at a different angle to take into account the terrain. Billy had one leg set short and at the most extreme angle sticking onto on the sea wall (which I was hiding behind), one leg in the middle position on the rocks to my left side, and one leg in the most upright position and on the debris and pebbles to my right (seaward) side.

The wind was seriously strong and I was struggling to stand up in the gusts, which shows what Billy is capable of standing in.

Using this configuration meant that I personally was being bent over a bit more than I would have liked and I actually wished that I had brought the centre column with me. I would also have like a bit more height from an aesthetic point of view, to get higher up onto the waves and to capture the swirling seas coming into the harbour. You live and learn, and I have already put his column back in for the next trip. Removing it is simple and it can always live in my rucksack if needed. It really doesn’t weigh enough to make a substantial difference.

After not being initially confident in the stability, and having a concern about the tripod being so light it wouldn’t stand up to wind, I was really pleased with the performance so far. Admittedly I did find as much shelter as I could in my shooting positions but that was more to do with my staying warmer, and reducing spray, as it was giving Billy the best the chance.

As the hail started to fall I had moved along the coast again to Strathlene near Buckie, and took temporary residence inside a beach shelter.

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I could work with Billy at full height (minus the column), using my heaviest lens, without any issues at all. I was out of much of the wind, although the hail was finding every conceivable gap.

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I did level this off before using the camera, and the bubble levels in the head and tripod itself were very handy. I also have a spirit level bubble which is great as this means you can independently level each part of the set up as required.

As the quick release plate is compatible with Peak Design products, so I was able to use my hand strap and the tripod at the same time. This was great security for when I released the camera from the tripod, and convenient. There is no safety mechanism on the release of the camera quick release from the head; you absolutely must have a good hold of the camera before you loosen it. I know some reviewers have moaned about this, but it’s just a case of forming a working practice (or habit) to get around it. I don’t see it as a problem because, to be honest, you should have a good hold of the camera at this point in proceedings anyway.

The hail continued but I still managed to get some decent shots:


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Having frozen my arse off for a couple of hours I decided to make a break for a cafe to warm up, and the public car park proved to be both my undoing and Billy’s.

The public toilets were closed but they didn’t let you know that until you’d gone up the chequer plated slope to the door, which meant you then had to come down again. I hadn’t realised that the chequer plate slope would be colder than the surrounding ground, and with the previous rain combined with spray coming off the sea, it was covered in a thin layer of invisible ice. The car park itself had some puddle but these weren’t properly frozen so I hadn’t worried.

Completely unprepared, I slipped on the ice and was airborne from the top of the slop, for a few milliseconds, before crashing onto the tarmac of the carpark at the end of the slope.

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Poor Billy got a few war wounds in the process, but at least it will give him some genuine Punk character I guess. I was bloody annoyed at the time. First outing too.

My left knee and my left hand didn’t come off too well either…

…I guess I won’t be playing Twister for a few days.

My camera equipment, cosy within the Lowepro heavy duty padding and armoury of my Whistler 350AW was absolutely fine. Thankfully.

Although one trip, two if you count falling over, really isn’t enough to make a full review or judgement on Billy, I have to say that over all I am, so far, I am impressed. I would have liked slightly thicker legs, but that’s probably more for my confidence than because I feel they’re actually needed. I come from the old heavy tripod is good school, although I detest carrying them.

I am delighted by the three position legs, and the removable centre column. I love the weight and ease of carrying. I love the chunky grips and the smooth running head, although I would have really liked the head from the more expensive range with its built in panoramic bit.

Had I the requisite £400 then I might have gone for the Albert to gain some extra height but that’s because I spent a lot of time on the side of lochs and I do like to put the legs in the water, and so its feet are often a foot or more below my feet, but given the price difference and the colour way (which is way more me), I am very happy so far.

Because I like to put the legs in water, I also like tripods which you can easily take apart and clean or dry out. 3 Legged Thing make lots of the tripod user serviceable and there are great how-to videos and exactly what you need to do available on their website and YouTube channel.

I would like an L plate thing because I’m a landscape photographer and lazy, but then would it interfere with my use of the Peak Design hand strap?

I would like a set of free spikes included, and as it stands that adds to my cost, and so does adding the panoramic bit for the head which is also available as an extra. The Punks range is the cheaper range of the two 3 Legged Thing offer, but don’t let that fool you, these are not cut price or cheap tripods. For the money, I have to say it is one of the best I’ve every seen and knocks spots of other similarly, and many more expensively priced, tripods.

No, it’s not a Gitzo. But then neither is Gitzo anymore (it’s a rebranded Manfrotto by the look of it and not the same quality as the original).

The Billy and the Travis are the most conventional designs from 3 Legged Thing, and I like them all the more for it. I’m not big on centre columns as you can tell, and I remain unconvinced about telescopic ones.

I anticipate that Billy and I will have a long relationship, although possibly not leading to marriage, and I will update again in due course with some longer term observations. Until then, enjoy my site and please take time to comment, like, and share as it does my Google rating no end of good. You never know, one day I might even make some money at this, and if you want to buy me a cup of tea in the meantime, there is a link on the menu to Paypal Me. Thanks for reading.

 

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Review of the Lowepro Whistler BP350AW

All photos by the author, copyright of the author, all rights reserved.

First Impressions:

It’s bloody expensive. There is no getting around the fact that this is the most expensive camera bag (or any bag) that I have ever bought. So, it had better live up to expectations and they are going to be high. But then, when you think of the value of the equipment you’re placing in it, it does make sense to have something that you actually trust to do the job.

Here is what Lowepro have to say about their creation:

Empty it weighs 3kg. This is important, because most camera rucksacks weigh in around 1.6-2.3kg. So there is something about the extra weight that instills both confidence and fear. It is very, very, well made and this instills confidence, but then you have to actually carry it, with the added weight of your actual equipment. From unpacking it the attention to detail and build quality is obvious, straight away. To be honest, I have not had a lot of faith in Lowepro camera bags, to date, as they always seemed rather soft and well, floppy, for my liking. The Whistler doesn’t. It is in a different league. I think Lowepro starting improving quality with the Protactic range but this is a big step up again.

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The Whistler BP350AW and BP450AW both come with a host of straps, two of them both removable and bright orange. These can be moved to any of the suitable fixing points around the bag. This is very useful. At the moment they are acting as compression straps for the items in the big front section but they could also be used to affix any number of items to the front (or sides) of the bag.

I quite like the fact they are bright orange as it breaks up the grey, but I can understand they may not be everyones cup of tea. The good news there is of course that you can replace them with other suitable attachments or straps if you choose. The other news is that if you are using this bag for its intending backcountry use, they are not likely to be bright orange for very long…

There are Mollie style loops all over the bag to attach things to, including on the brilliant hip belt.

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One side of the hip belt features a pocket (which is actually a useful size) and the other side features some Mollie attachment loops. If you don’t know what Mollie attachments are, ask someone in the Armed Forces or take a look at the Lowepro Protactic range which is covered in the stuff.

The main reason for buying this bag was having a decent all season rucksack with a PROPER HIP-BELT. It’s in capitals because I cannot emphasise this requirement enough. It was a huge deciding factor in my choice of bag, and in this bag in particular. Everyone who goes more than a couple of miles into rough terrain, with any amount of weight, will tell you the value of a decent rucksack and most especially the value a decent hip belt. A hip belt takes the weight OFF your shoulders and puts in through your hips to your legs. Your legs are the powerhouse (try seeing, next time you go to the gym, the difference between what you can push with your legs compared to your arms).

Why therefore is it that probably around 85-90% of camera rucksacks don’t have hip belts? It is beyond me. Lowepro is the sister company of Lowe Alpine – both children of Greg Lowe. Greg Lowe, and his companies, have designed outdoor and backcountry equipment for explorers/climbers/hikers/skiers/etc for decades – almost all of Lowe Alpine’s sacks, even their day sacks from around 30l, have decent hip-belts. So, why on earth do most camera bags (which regularly have a considerably greater weight, for size, in them) come without this most basic and essential feature? Sure, make them removable if you wish to meet the requirements of urban use where a waist belt might be inconvenient, but for the sake of shoulders, backs, and necks, everywhere, give us the flipping option!

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Not only does the Whistler come with a decent hip belt, it also has good straps and a nice back system.

The shoulder straps have some fixed, and some elasticated, web straps for putting accessories onto, behind, through, or whatever. They are not over padded, but they are comfortable. This is something a company like LoweWhatever should get right.

They should also allow for the fact that over 50% of the population has BOOBS. Yes, over because if you think about it, you can include MOOBS in this too. Shoulder straps, and sternum straps especially, have to allow for these and they regularly don’t. This is something this model, at least for my frame (and not hard to miss boobs) have got right.

The back system has firm padding with gaps to allow air circulation, which will be beneficial in warmer climes or on that singular day of Scottish summer we usually have.

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I have an ActivZone back system on my much smaller Protactic BP250AW, also from Lowepro, and which would be my go to bag for urban use. It does not have a hip belt. It has a waist strap which just makes you look fat (as it cuts into the stomach being 1/2″ thin) and take no weight off your shoulders what-so-ever.

It does do a reasonable job of keeping you cool though.

The back of the Whistler also folds in two, so you don’t have to open the whole rucksack up, if you plan the contents so that the most used items go in the top half (like your main camera body and lenses, batteries, etc). This is a matter of logical planning which will probably develop over time, according to use, and also according to the type of shoot and location you are going to.

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The back piece also has three slots for memory cards and a zipped compartment. The zipped compartment doesn’t have a great volume as it would dig into the main compartment, but you could sometime fairly flat in there. I have my Xrite colour chart and grey card in mine. Please can Lowepro look at Tamrac’s memory card slots though. Tamrac put in a red ribbon or tag on theirs, which you then pop out of the pocket to show instantly which cards are used and those without it showing therefore are those which aren’t used. It’s such a simple idea, and makes a whole heap of difference in use. I am actually going to sew ribbon to mine myself, because knowing instantly which ones are empty can make the difference between missing the shot and not.

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The main compartment, which comes out as a single unit by the way, has great dividers including the marvellous pouch ones that Lowepro (fairly) recently introduced. These are brilliant for batteries as they keep them slightly insulated and they also don’t fall out and end up clattering around in the main compartment. They are also great for things like stepping rings, or filter holder adapter rings, which otherwise end up lost in a pocket somewhere.

In the Whistler they are actually big enough to put something like a small Go-Pro in, if you wanted.

blythestormwhistlerreview-18Here is mine loaded up. As you can see I have plenty of space for the system to grow. One thing time, and ill purchases, has taught me is that more room is better, as otherwise you’ll upgrade in a few months time and loose money on your purchase.

This is also one reason I went for the 350 over the 450 size. I don’t have that much kit, and what I have being mirrorless, it doesn’t need the depth of the 450. The other reason is simple – I am 5ft 4″. The 450 would simply be too tall, and have too long a back length. Camera bags are, largely, designed for 6ft blokes. You cannot escape this fact and any woman will tell you. When I put on the Whistler wearing summer clothes (t-shirt, jeans) and tighten the hip belt I have around 18″ of strap on each side. This is a very common problem. Manfrotto sacks are worse, with them I have a whole 2ft of unused strap and it dangles below my knees! Some (Tamrac and Crumpler I am looking at you…) require a 32″ waist minimum otherwise you can’t actually get them tight enough to be useable at all. I have a waist pack from Crumpler which proves this point superbly. I can pull it as tight as it will go, jiggle, and it will go over my hips and hit the deck. Thanks Crumpler, great design…not!

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Hidden at the bottom of the camera block, and rolled up in the photo above, is the thin front cover for the removable camera block.

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Useful for when the block is removed, obviously, it also acts as a second barrier in use if not rolled away and this can be interpreted two ways – it is a barrier and something else to undo, therefore a pain in the arse that slows down your access, or a benefit in bad weather.

Up to you to decide which, but I have rolled mine away, for now. Should I want to remove the camera block and use the rucksack as a straight forward backpack (which it would be very good as, but rather heavy) then I will probably use it.

I do like the orange accents, not just because its compliments whilst contrasting with the grey (being girly) but also because it is useful in bad light. This was always a selling point of Kata bags, which Manfrotto ignored when they took them over.

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So, coming around to the other requirement I have for my backpacks; space to put what they lovingly call ‘personal items’. Now, in most bags this means your wallet and phone, possibly your car keys. Even camera bags designed for the ‘outdoors’ don’t expect you to want to eat or drink during the trip. This is very annoying, very impractical, and a complaint you will hear from photographers everywhere. Usually something along the lines of; “where the f*** do I put my lunch?”

For those if us expecting to be in the hills for 8-12 hours, and sometimes longer, this is actually darned important stuff. We also might want to carry spare clothes, waterproofs, spare socks, and even toilet paper, nappy bags, and a small shovel (and if you have to ask what that is for then remember I just said we were out for more than 12 hours and would be eating during that period…)

The Whistler is brilliant for this. There is a huge space for all kinds of stuff and it even has the option to be two sizes due to the expansion panel – superb idea!

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In summer I actually need more room, as I will carry my jacket and possibly a fleece or thin insulating jacket. In winter I need less room but tend to carry more foodstuffs. The back of this compartment is also waterproof so you can put wet gear in it, and it has a drain hole in the bottom for the really wet stuff (or leaking water bladders). This will keep your camera safe from spills, and any excess water from your coat or waterproof cover when it stops raining and the sun comes out. I live in Scotland, I am ever the optimist.

The material itself is very robust, way more than their usual materials, and seems to be coated with a waterproof and almost rubbery top coat. This would lead me to believe the bag will perform well in wet conditions, although with zips always being the weak point, there is also a waterproof cover supplied to encase the whole bag. Of course, you can’t use that if you have anything strapped to the outside such as your tripod/skies/snowboard/climbing stuff.

This is a problem I have yet to see a way around and I am sure that Lowepro, and others, are still figuring that one out.

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There are two mesh pockets, this one (as shown) in the big personal stuff section, and another in the small personal stuff section (more of that in a minute). The waterproof cover arrived in the small one but I put in it this one as it made more sense to me. Waterproof cover in the section that is drainable and waterproof from the camera section of the bag, not the section that would drip it over the camera section and everything else like my phone/keys/wallet. But that might be me.

The small personal section is actually big enough to get snacks in, as well as your personal items as listed above. It sits on the top of the bag and has two key clips (one inside the mesh pocket and one out). I didn’t photograph it but it is larger than I thought it would be.

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On one side of the bag is an expanding pocket that doesn’t expand that much, and within it are two small envelope pockets. These look quite good until you realise there is no way to do them up. A little bit of velcro, like the pouch dividers have, would be great here. Otherwise, if you leave the zip open and tilt the bag, even slightly, backwards, everything in them falls out. I am using it for a notebook and pen, and the larger expanding pocket for maps. I wouldn’t put anything else in there really. It is the only flaw to the design I can see so far.

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On the other side is one of the best of most stable set of loops, straps, and fastening points I have seen on a camera rucksack ever. Period. I can put two legs of my tripod in the bottom fixed loop and then use the strap at the top to hold it firmly in place. This is by far the very best tripod attachment I have had on ANY camera bag. I have a biggish tripod and this is the only time it hasn’t wobbled about. I actually returned a Manfrotto Bumblebee, which I otherwise thought was quite good, because of this instability. I don’t need help falling over on slippery ground.

I just hope it doesn’t stretch, but if it does then the extra strap at the bottom can be employed to tighten things up, and I have option of adding a third strap to the middle.

Initially, first impression, I am very impressed indeed. My bank manager probably isn’t though. I am still suffering from pangs of guilt for having spent the money.

I took it out for a first trial walk today, to see if it was as comfortable in the field (or in this case on the North East Scotland coastal cliffs), as it was walking around the house fully loaded. So far, and I didn’t go that far, I believe it is.

My trip to photograph Bow Fiddle Rock today was in cloudy, +3°C at best, and blowing a good 35mph+ North Westerly condition. I was 90ft above the sea on the cliffs, frequently on muddy and slippery ground but I felt secure, stable, and comfortable. I felt like the 3kg of bag wasn’t there, and the kit itself was more manageable than usual. Having the weight correctly balanced, and transferred to the hips, was just bliss (compared to having it pulling you backwards and weighted on your collar bones).

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The tripod was essential for the long exposure, and yet it was secure and comfortable when on the pack. When I was carrying it by hand I slipped over on my arse, landed on my side, and sprained my wrist but that is probably just me anyway.

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I got some great shots in spite of the difficult conditions. My kit felt cosseted and looked after, and I have no doubt I could cope with a lot worse weather without issue.

Downsides? Well, there is the price. There also isn’t a way to use the waterproof cover with anything on the attachments points, such as a tripod, but I don’t know how you would possible get around this anyway.

The orange won’t stay orange for long, or at least not as bright or without some stains.

Other than that, we will see. I intend to update this review in due course when it has some miles under its hip belt, so we will see. At the moment, I would argue it was worth the (lots of) money.

Oh, you would look a right plonker using this in town though…but then that isn’t what it is for.

#lowepro #whistler #WhistlerBP350AW #review