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In-depth tripod review: Really Right Stuff Versa TVC-34 Mk.2: Digital Photography Review


Really Right Stuff’s Versa TVC-34 in the field with a 500mm lens, 50MP camera, and a suitably large and capable gimbal.

Really Right Stuff Versa TVC-34 Mk.2
Reallyrightstuff.com | $1100

What sets Really Right Stuff apart from most other brands is their attention to detail and focus on quality over quantity. This US-based manufacturer of camera support systems and accessories has consistently set the pace with high-end, custom-designed solutions for demanding photographers. Their recent ultra-compact travel tripod is an example of this commitment to innovation for those who need it, and can afford it.

In 2018, the company relocated from California’s central coast to Salt Lake City, Utah. This brought their entire manufacturing facility, and most of their employees, to both a more affordable region of the country, and closer to the distribution access of a major city. In the past, RRS products were only available direct from the manufacturer, but now they are also sold in the US by Amazon, B&H, and Adorama, along with various European and Asian outlets. While they are still proudly ‘100% made in the USA’ they are easily available all over the world.



Specs and what’s included

  • Maximum height of 148 cm (58.2″)
  • Minimum height of 9 cm (3.5″)
  • Folds to 53 cm (20.8″) with 14 cm (5.5″) diameter
  • Weighs 1.93 kg (4.25 lbs) with flat platform
  • 39kg (85 lbs) load limit
  • Three leg angles (26° / 53° / 86°)
  • Four leg sections (36.7mm top leg diameter/ 33 / 28.5 / 24.7mm)
  • 70mm platform secured with three hex bolts
  • Large weight hook under platform
  • Bubble level included on apex
  • Removable 42mm mushroom feet on standard 3/8″ thread
  • Includes detailed instructions

Really Right Stuff updated their Versa series of ‘systematic’ tripods a few years ago, with improved materials, ergonomics, and the addition of some requested features like sealed leg locks, threaded accessory ports, and a permanent weight hook on the flat platform. This updated lineup includes Versa tripods with three or four section legs, in ‘regular’ and ‘long’ versions for extra height, and extends to the smaller ‘Series 2’ tripods, and upwards to larger ‘Series 4.’ With these series names for each size, RRS is borrowing a Gitzo nomenclature, but there are significant differences as we shall see.

In the RRS tripod catalog, the same legs found on the Series 3 Versa TVC-34 can be ordered on the compact apex of their ‘Ultralight’ series, which forgoes the modular apex and insertable extras for a slimmer and lighter package. The Ultralight range includes Series 1 and 2 leg widths, as well as the Series 3 being reviewed here. The two different apex styles are also available by themselves, allowing existing owners of Versa Series 2 or 3 tripods to swap their legs onto a minimized apex, or Ultralight owners of the same size to trade up to a modular apex.

RRS TVC-34 ‘Versa’ on the left, and TFC-34 ‘Ultralight’ on the right. The leg tubes are the same.
(Image provided by Really Right Stuff)

Compared to others

This tripod was tested and compared with its modular apex peers. Left to right; ProMediaGear TR344, Really Right Stuff TVC-34, Sirui SR-3204, FLM CP34-L4 II, Leofoto LM-364C, Gitzo GT3543LS.

The RRS TVC-34 was tested and compared alongside tripods in the same class of ‘Series 3′ (33-36mm top leg tube diameter) “Systematic’ (modular apex with removable platform) type, in terms of size and utility, including products from Gitzo, ProMediaGear, SIrui, Leofoto and FLM.

All of these tripods were used in four seasons of sand, snow, mud, rain, and salt water; set up in the bog-like Atlantic salt marshes and the wind-swept Appalachian mountains. They have been loaded with gimbal heads, ball heads, geared and pano-heads, and up to 4kg (8.8lb) lenses attached to cameras ranging from APS-C to medium-format, shooting anything from long-exposure landscapes to extreme telephoto birds-in-flight. The only test they did not go through was being rough-handled at the airport, thanks to pandemic travel restrictions.

Height comparison

Below is a relative height comparison between the Really Right Stuff TVC-34 and a 6 foot (1.83m) photographer.

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First impressions

The wide stance and thick legs of the Really Right Stuff TVC-34 in their natural habitat.

The 36.7mm width of the top tubes, and the resulting larger diameter of the three nested leg tubes below, provide the RRS TVC-34 with the most substantial legs of tripods in the Series 3 size. This tube diameter is more in line with what other manufacturers call their ‘Series 4’ tripods, but RRS goes even larger for their own next-size-up tripods. This overbuilt design, while keeping the weight at, or below, their ‘Series 3’ competitors, is part of what makes Really Right Stuff products stand out from the crowd.

Another hallmark of RRS gear is the precise build and assembly of every part and surface. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the bright aluminum leg angle locks, which are rounded and recessed to avoid catching on straps or other material, but still have just enough carved out on the sides to be pulled out when changing the angle. Of course, they are much easier to push from behind with just a finger when grasping the leg, thanks to an indent on the back, and they ratchet down with a satisfying, spring-loaded click. (Also visible are the 1/4″ accessory attachment points.)

The included Versa platform is a thick disk of well-machined aluminum, secured by three hex bolts around the sides of the apex (‘SureGrip™’). A very large weight hook under the platform is a new addition to these Mark 2 tripods, but the lack of a set screw to secure a head is surprising. In addition, any head attached will be resting metal-on-metal, unlike the plastic covered disks on the other tripods in this class. This means that frequent head changes may result in some scuffing on both surfaces, and more vibrations may be transmitted.

With such thick legs, the top of the tripod appears almost small, despite its generous diameter, and having the option to swap this out for an even more compact (but not modular) apex pushes the comparison even further. The result in either case is a handful of a support system, which is widely applauded by adventurous professionals as durable and dependable. There is nothing in the initial impressions that would put any of that reputation in doubt.

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Use in the field

The TVC-34 is stable even up to its leg locks in swamp water; and while somewhat sealed, no leg is impenetrable when fully immersed. The vented leg clevis allows for easy draining afterward.

The overall packed size of the TVC-34 is on the larger end of this class of tripod, but is minimized thanks to the smoothly machined aluminum apex, with the legs stowed under the rounded and unobtrusive leg angle locks. The total weight is similar to other modular apex tripods of this class, which is still a rather hefty 1.93 kg (4.25 lbs), but with 36.7mm leg tube diameters, the TVC-34 is among the lightest and most compact tripods of a ‘Series 4’ size, even if RRS themselves call this tripod a ‘Series 3.’ The thick carbon-fiber legs, rubber wrapped leg locks, and mushroom-style feet all fit nicely under the Versa apex, making this big tripod eminently portable, even when stowed in luggage or strapped to a hiking pack.

The rubber O-rings in the leg locks and very precise fit of each carbon fiber leg tube to the one below makes locking the sections together quite solid, but also requires more force to pull them out to full extension. This resistance might work itself out over a lifetime of use, but initially it means that unpacking the tripod and adjusting each individual leg, to level the tripod, is far more difficult than any other tripod in this class. While most tripod legs could just have the top lock turned and then a slight push to smoothly adjust a single leg length, the RRS tubes stubbornly stick together, requiring more concentration and downward force (which can be worrisome with heavy, expensive gear on top). If ever there was a reason to add a leveling device to the top, this is a good one.

The wide stance of the RRS Versa series is apparent when compared to some of the other tripods of this type and size, even though this is usually a difference of only a few degrees (26° vs 24°) at the leg angle lock. This provides more stability for heavier loads, and only sacrifices a few centimeters in overall height. The spread also makes working next to the splayed legs a little bit easier, until space on the ground gets tight, which admittedly would be a problem for any large or tall tripod. Curiously, if the bolts holding the legs to the TVC-34 apex are tightened a bit, the legs will retain more acute angles in tighter spaces without a dramatic drop in stability (but this requires careful use).

Maintenance

Maintenance for TVC-34 is detailed in the included instructions booklet and in online videos, and the two-piece shims and rubber and aluminum leg locks are easy to remove and clean. Everything fits together tightly, as expected from RRS, and the rubber gaskets can be felt (but not easily seen, as they are black on black metal) sealing the leg lock from excessive intrusion. It is only the two-piece shims that make cleaning a bit more bothersome, although they are very thick and built to last.

Spare parts and extra shims and gaskets are available from RRS distributors and the company website, though they’re a bit hard to find.

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Test results

Vibrations can make even the sharpest lens turn out mushy, blurred photos, and can ruin long exposures. In the typical use cases for this class of tripod, reducing the effects of vibration becomes extremely important, since longer focal lengths and higher resolutions magnify the effects of any movement, and environmental vibrations like wind and water will have an increasing effect on larger legs and gear. Camera vibration can be mechanically minimized with mirror lockup, electronic shutters, and a remote shutter release, while adding weight to the bottom of the tripod (with the weight hook or a tripod stone bag) can help stabilize the whole setup. However, not all sources of vibration can be eliminated, so we tested whether the tripod will dampen them or transmit and reflect them to the camera.

The tripod legs were fully extended, and our vibration analyzer for heavy-duty tripods (an iPad on a 3.2 kg (7 lb) cantilevered weight) was mounted directly to the flat platform’s 3/8″ threaded bolt with a long lens plate. An industrial solenoid valve with a plastic hammer was used as a source of vibration (a knock to the bottom of one leg). The resulting graph of all three accelerometers shows both the resistance of the tripod to the initial shock, as well as the rate of decay for residual vibration within the tripod.

Really Right Stuff TVC34 vibration resistance test results – click for larger graph

*Note that this graph is relative only to this class of tripods. The weight and test equipment was adjusted to provide a conclusive result for this size of tripod.

With the thickest leg tubes of a Series 3 tripod and very stiff construction, the RRS TVC34 resisted the initial shock of the vibration test more than other tripods in this class, and quickly dampened any remaining motion across the legs. This excellent result is the best of similar tripods that have been tested, just barely edging out the Series 3 Gitzo and ahead of the equally thick-legged Leofoto, proving that leg tube diameter and solid construction can be counted on to minimize vibrations.

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Conclusion

When it comes to support gear, Really Right Stuff is almost always considered the ‘ne-plus-ultra’ in terms of design, innovation, and high price. In other words, great stuff if you can afford it. The RRS ‘Versa’ TVC-34 tripod, however, is not much more expensive than a few other 3-series systematic tripods of high renown, but delivers nearly bomb-proof stability along with eminent portability in a very refined package. The reluctant leg extension, simple aluminum platform, and lack of any extras are the only issues to be found if one is shopping at this price point. When it comes to the competition at this size, RRS has simply gone beyond them, and seems almost equally at ease in rough use, demanding conditions, or being compared to five similar tripods.

What we like

  • Astounding build quality (as expected from RRS)
  • Best-in-class vibration resistance
  • ‘Series 4’ leg tubes at ‘Series 3’ weight
  • Swappable compact apex available
  • Spare parts & repairs available from USA

What we don’t like

  • All-metal platform with no head retention
  • No included spikes, bag, or extras
  • Premium list price



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