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Review: Aoka Compact Tripod

I have had Manfrotto tripods for decades. They are solid and built to last a lifetime.   In the studio, they have been perfect, but in the field, they are cumbersome and heavier than I want to carry. My son purchased a Benro carbon fiber travel tripod, and I was impressed that the build quality seemed to equal Manfrotto.  Upon looking around I discovered that there were quite a few tripod manufacturers that were making quality gear besides the few well-established names.  While poking around on Amazon, this Aoka tripod popped up as a suggested product while I was looking at compact gear.  I fell hard for Amazon’s profiling algorithm and purchased it, despite not knowing anything about the brand.  That’s not like me.  It appears that Artificial Intelligence has mastered the power of suggestion.  Did Alexa just call me a “sucker” under her breath?

First, a quick view of the specs:

Make and Model:  Aoka CMP163C

Ball Head:  Aoka KB20

Materials:  Carbon fiber, aluminum, stainless steel

Collapsed length:  Just under 10 inches/25.4cm

Total height without extension:  Just under 16 inches/40.6cm

Total height with extension:  28 inches/71.1cm

Weight:  15.5 oz/440g

As compact as this tripod is, it is loaded with features, such as the following:

Locking 3-position hinges on the legs

Separate center 12-inch/30.5cm post extension

Removeable rubber pads, exposing sharp metal feet

Accessory arm mount, ¼”x20 thread

Accessory weight mount and carabiner

Metal phone holder with ¼”x20 threads on back and bottom

360-degree smooth rotating head with scale for panoramas

Arca-Swiss type QR plate with removeable stops

Bubble level on mount knob for setting up multiple vertical shot panoramas

While I could find no fault with its stability, Aoka still provided a way of attaching a weight below the ball head.  It screws into the base and has a small carabiner to hang whatever one chooses.  In the field this could be a water bottle or anything with enough mass to add extra stabilization.  This would be particularly useful on uneven ground, or with a lens-heavy camera setup that upsets the balance.  Whatever you put on top of this thing is going to be expensive, so it is worth keeping upright.  With the help of my son’s welding skills, I built a simple but compact weight that should add a little insurance in the event I can’t position the legs adequately. 

My first day out with it I noticed that one of the bolts on which the leg pivots has a threaded bolt head, with female ¼”x20 threads.  Unsure of what this was for, I did a bit of searching and found that it is a mount for an extension arm like the one I show in the photo below. This could be used for mounting a microphone, light, or external monitor.  A small LED light like the Litra Torch, mounted to the accessory arm, can be useful for vlogging, macro photography, or portrait catchlights.  There are no rules, just options.

This is not a toy tripod.  The construction, fit and finish are on par with my old-school Manfrottos.  The ball head feels more like a fluid head, with just enough damping to allow for smooth movement.  The legs lock definitively.  The camera mount is rock solid.  There is no wiggle, wobble, rattle, or slop in any of the mechanisms.  It is almost constructed entirely of woven carbon fiber and metal, apart from the rubber grip on the (metal) QR plate, the removeable rubber feet, and the bubble level.  It is a serious tool, despite its size.  When exposing for several seconds at night, it prevented any discernible movement of the camera.  I have mounted everything from a GoPro to a full-frame Nikon DSLR with no movement or failure of any kind.  

My range of uses for the Aoka is rather limited, but I find it indispensable.  It makes a wonderful tabletop tripod for food, product, and still life photography.  I have also taken it out for shots around the city, and out in the desert.  Of course, I must operate within its height limitation, but ultimately find it more useful than I had anticipated. 

I take this little thing everywhere I take a camera now.  Unless I am using my Mamiya RB67 or Crown Graphic 4×5, or shooting something that calls for a full-size tripod, I will probably reach for the Aoka. 

You won this round, Amazon, but I will never give up my free will.

*Alexa plays “Free Will” by Rush*

Hmm…I think I need to buy that album.