Manfrotto Element MII Red: Your versatile travel photography BFF?

The Manfrotto Element MII is a lightweight tripod aimed at hobbyists and entry-level photographers who need something sturdy yet easy on the pocketbook. But the tripod seems to check many boxes for such an affordable tripod. Let’s have a look.

Note: Manfrotto sent us the Element MII aluminum tripod and ball head to review and keep. However, this is a completely independent review. All thoughts about this tripod and ball head are our own.

Pros 

  • Decent build quality for the price
  • Versatile, quick and easy  to set up and operate
  • Nice light weight and size for travel photography
  • Is able to do hours-long time-lapse and long star trails photos in mild conditions with a heavy full-frame DSLR camera
  • Rubber grip on one of the legs for carrying and maneuvering the tripod
  • Large rubberized twist locks make it easy to deploy legs
  • Full height is good for a tripod that is less than 17 inches folded up
  • Ball head is sufficiently sturdy and easy to use
  • Versatile leg angle selectors on the top of the legs allow for changing the angle of the legs
  • 360-degree panning
  • The center column may be used as a monopod!
  • The tripod allows you to flip the camera upside down, allowing you to get close to the ground for macro or other photography

Cons

  • Aluminum instead of carbon fiber (then again, this makes it less expensive, so maybe not that much of a con for the price point)
  • The legs bend slightly when fully extended and you apply a small amount of pressure.
  • When the tripod legs are fully extended and you tap on the legs, it vibrates for about half a second afterward.
  • Leg angle selectors seem like they could be a bit wiggly and invite dust and crud, although so far in practice, they have worked well
  • Leg angle selectors sometimes switch positions when handling the tripod when it is folded up (it does not switch positions when in use, thankfully!)
  • Leg-locks rattle

Manfrotto Element MII tripod — Technical specifications

All of the technical specifications for the Flex Light Pro are from the official Manfrotto website.

  • Weight: 3.42 lbs (1.55 kg)
  • Maximum Height: 62.99 in (160 cm)
  • Closed Length: 16.73 in (42.5 cm)
  • Head Type: Ball Head
  • Safety Payload UNI/PdR 105:2021: 17.64 lbs (8 kg)
  • Maximum Height (With Center Column Down): 51.97 in
  • Base Diameter: 1.57 in
  • Bubble Spirit Level (No.): 1
  • Carrying Bag Included: 116241
  • Center Column: rapid
  • Color: Red
  • Leg Sections: 4
  • Top Attachment: 1/4″ screw
  • Base Type: 1.57 in
  • Easy Link: No
  • Friction Control: No
  • Front Tilt: +90°/-38°
  • Min Height: 16.93 in
  • Independent Pan Lock: yes
  • Ball Locking: Yes
  • Independent Tilt Lock: yes
  • Lateral Tilt: +90°/-38°
  • Leg Type: Single
  • Leg Angles: 25°, 35°
  • Leg Lock Type: Twist Lock
  • Legs Tube Diameter: 0.47- 0.61- 0.75- 0.89 in
  • Material: Aluminum
  • Maximum Working Temperature: 158 °F
  • Minimum Working Temperature: -22 °F
  • Pan Drag: NONE
  • Panoramic Rotation: 360°
  • Plate Type: 200LT-PL-PRO
  • Quick Release: Yes
  • Tilt Drag: NONE

Manfrotto Element MII tripodErgonomics and build quality

I am going to get this out of the way first. I am a night photographer. This tripod is most likely aimed at someone like me who photographs in the strong winds of the Owens Valley in California and requires rock-solid stability when doing star trails for several hours. Consequently, I typically use larger, sturdier, higher-end tripods.

I mention this because every type of photography has different tripod requirements. What works for you may not work for me, and vice versa.

The Element MII tripod is for, by Manfrotto’s own description on their web page, “a hobbyist and aspiring photographer who uses compact cameras, CSCs, and DSLRs.” And that seems to be accurate. Given that it’s relatively lightweight for an aluminum tripod at 3.42 lbs (1.55 kg), the tripod is also suited for travel photography.

Ergonomics: Tripod

Manfrotto Element MII Aluminum Red tripod
Manfrotto Element MII Aluminum Red tripod

3.42 lbs. is relatively light for a tripod, making it easy to handle despite being made of aluminum instead of carbon fiber. Manfrotto makes a carbon fiber version of the Element MII that is a little lighter, if that is still an issue.

Manfrotto Element MII Aluminum Red tripod
Manfrotto Element MII Aluminum Red tripod rubber grip

One of the tripod legs has a rubber grip. This makes the tripod considerably easier to handle and carry. Another bonus of putting on my night photography hat for a second, is that since aluminum is colder when carrying, this is a nice way of keeping your hand a little warmer during those cold desert or mountain nights photographing.

Manfrotto Element MII Aluminum Red tripod - rubberized twist locks
Manfrotto Element MII Aluminum Red tripod – rubberized twist locks

While we are on the subject of rubberized grips, the twist-locks have some good, large rubberized grips. I have large hands, so being able to easily deploy the tripod is a bonus. The twist-locks are not quite as smooth as other tripods I own, including the Robus and Feisol tripods. They’re also a little noisier. In fact, they rattle when they are loosened, something none of my other tripods do. I suspect that they may also trap sand and grit easier than those tripods since they seem a little looser and not as well sealed.

Do bear in mind that I am comparing much higher-end tripods to budget tripod. On the other hand, this sort of comparison can be educational. After all, even if we cannot or do not wish to purchase higher-end tripods, it’s good to know about the differences.

Ergonomics: Ball head

Manfrotto Element MII Aluminum Red tripod
Manfrotto Element MII Aluminum Red tripod ball head

The ball head has rubberized grips for all the locks, making it nice and easy to turn. They appear to work smoothly and do not wiggle. There is no tension (friction) knob, so you must take care when adjusting the camera. The last thing you want is your very nice camera suddenly flopping over because you’ve loosened the lock! The plate lock—the lock that locks your camera to the tripod – seems fine and inspires confidence. I did notice that I felt like I could keep tightening past where I thought it might stop. This isn’t an issue, and for people like me who have a tendency to crank their locks really tight, I suppose this is comforting.

Manfrotto Element MII tripod — In the field

Informal test for vibrations with camera mounted

I set up a Nikon D750 with a Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye lens on the tripod for a quick test. The tripod felt stable even when the legs were fully deployed. I was pleasantly surprised at how tall the tripod stands without using the center column. This is fantastic since I dislike using center columns. Why? They introduce more instability by creating more flex, another locking mechanism, creating a “tower” on top of a pyramid, and increasing the opportunity for more vibrations. For this reason, none of the tripods I have purchased have center columns.

With the legs fully extended, I tapped on the upper part of one of the legs repeatedly. This introduced vibrations that lasted for at least half a second.

When I lowered the tripod by sliding the lowest (and thinnest) part of the legs back and locking them, the tripod did not vibrate repeatedly when I tapped on the upper part of the leg. At this point, the tripod stood at approximately forty inches in height instead of its full height of almost fifty-two inches (without the center column extended).

Also, when the legs were fully extended and locked, they bent slightly in the middle. I once used another budget lightweight tripod and it too did the same thing. I crave stability, perhaps in more ways than one, and I found this disconcerting. Again, you can circumvent this by shortening by sliding the thinnest part of the legs back.

If I were using this tripod for star trails or “stacking” for Milky Way photos, I would most likely not extend the thinner bottom section of the tripod legs.

However, if I were photographing landscapes such as waterfalls during the day or steadying the camera for portraits, I would feel comfortable using this tripod with the legs fully extended. I would feel comfortable using this for short-exposure time-lapses as well, such as time-lapses of clouds photographed during the day.

About those leg angle selectors

When I first encountered the leg angle selectors, I wasn’t sure how I felt about them. The design certainly seemed clever enough. After all, they allowed for three different positions for the legs. And one of these positions included folding the legs completely back so the tripod would be even shorter or could hold the camera upside down for increased versatility! This was an impressive range of motion. I could easily position the camera for close-to-the-ground macro work or detail work.

To change the leg angle, you must lift the selector up, then twist it to select another leg position.  When doing this, I found the leg angle selectors to be rather imprecise and wiggly. It also seemed to be a potential point of failure as well as something that could potentially capture unwanted crud eventually.

Furthermore, upon handling the tripod for a while when completely folded, I found that the leg angle selectors would sometimes change positions. I found this irritating. The leg angle selectors never changed when I was actually using the tripod. However, if I choose a leg angle, I prefer that they stay at that angle.

Assuming that the imprecision and wiggly aspect do not pose a larger issue, I should think that the versatility and range of motion outweigh the occasional shifting of leg angles when folded.

Oh, hey, it’s also a monopod!

Does Manfrotto even mention that the center column can be used as a monopod? If so, I didn’t see it on their website.

If you unscrew the cap on the bottom of the center column, it pulls out. And hey, it’s a monopod! And as a bonus, you can also screw on a plastic hook for hanging stuff like a small light or something useful.

If there is a breeze and you are going to hang a small camera bag or a weight on the hook, I would recommend having the bag or weight on the ground and using a bungee cord or something else to tie it on. This is so the weight doesn’t swing and introduce vibrations or other movement. This is particularly important with this tripod, which, as I mentioned already, bends when fully extended.

Ball head in the field

The rubber locks continued to work well in the field. If I remembered to be careful when adjusting the camera using the lock, everything was easy to use. While the center column does not fully rotate, the ball head offers 360-degree rotation. This works well, negating much of the need for a fully rotating center column.

How does it work for really long exposures at night?

This is, again, beyond what this small entry-level lightweight tripod is designed for. While hardly ideal, it works well for exposures lasting from 15 seconds to even several minutes if there’s no strong wind. If I were doing anything critical, I would not extend the thin bottom legs.

Manfrotto Element MII tripod: Timelapse testing in the field

3.5-hour time-lapse video using the Manfrotto Element. MII Aluminum Tripod with a Nikon D750 DSLR and Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye lens.

Could the Manfrotto Element MII Aluminum Red tripod handle a 3.5-hour long time-lapse? I tested this in my back yard using a Nikon D750 DSLR with a Rokinon 12mm fisheye. I had the legs fully extended, but did not extend the center column.

The day was not windy, and whatever wind existed was blocked by the walls and trees. Still, I thought it might be an interesting test. You can see the results for yourself in the following time-lapse video.

Nikon D750 and Rokinon fisheye lens, creating a time-lapse video in my back yard on Manfrotto Element MII Aluminum Red tripod
Nikon D750 and Rokinon fisheye lens, creating a time-lapse video in my back yard on Manfrotto Element MII Aluminum Red tripod

Manfrotto Element MII tripod: Star trails testing in the field

67.5-minute long star trails in back yard. Pentax K-1 using Manfrotto Element MII Aluminum Red tripod. Los Angeles, CA. There's a lot of airplane trails in the photo!
67.5-minute long star trails in the back yard. Pentax K-1 using Manfrotto Element MII Aluminum Red tripod. Los Angeles, CA. There’s a lot of airplane trails in the photo!

Perhaps a more rigorous test was photographing long exposure star trails. I decided to try it later that night, this time with a heavier full-frame Pentax K-1 DSLR and a Pentax 28-105mm lens. This was also done in my backyard. This way, my camera could click away while I enjoyed a delicious homemade West African dinner and watching TV. Sometimes, the life of a Photofocus writer is a good one.

The star trails test was a more rigorous one. For instance, if the camera picked up vibrations in any of the frames, it would result in crooked or jagged star trails. It would be easy to see.

I also used a longer lens, using the lens at 28mm instead of 15mm since something zoomed in more would be more sensitive to vibrations. Like last time, I had the legs fully extended, but did not extend the center column.

As you can see from the above star trails photo, the tripod did well. There’s not any sign of vibration or wiggling, which would have shown up in the star trails.

Manfrotto Element MII tripod: A Jack of all trades?

Given what I demand out of a tripod as a night photographer, it sounds like I’ve been sometimes harsh in my assessment of this tripod. However, bear in mind that I’m basically almost “misusing” it.

What this tripod seems to be to me is a jack of all trades. It’s a mix of flexibility, portability, stability, and affordability. This seems to be a strong choice for a photographer who doesn’t want to break the bank but needs a tripod to do a little bit of everything.