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Benro Tortoise 35C And GX35 Head Review

When I heard that Benro was releasing a new series of tripods designed primarily for lightweight travel photography, I jumped on the chance to test one out. Luckily Benro agreed to send over the Benro Tortoise 35C Carbon Fibre Tripod And GX35 Ball Head, which I requested as it’s the tallest version in the range. It comes with the new GX35 low profile ball head, the sturdiest in a new ball head series which accompany various tripods and their kits.

Benro Tortoise 35C Tripod And GX35 Ball Head Review

Table of contents:

Quick Introduction to using tripods

Love ‘em or hate ‘em tripods are an essential accessory for many photographers and videographers. A tripod can come in handy whether you shoot landscapes, cityscapes, wildlife, interiors, portraits, travel, time-lapse or videos and some other subjects too. That’s not to say all photographers want or need a tripod all of the time, with many arguing it slows and weighs them down.

Benefits for photographers using the Benro system

As a landscape photographer slowing down to think about a composition can be a positive thing, so while we’re on it, here’s a list of why a tripod can be useful for photography, and for landscape photography in particular:

  1. To get as near to base ISO as possible for the cleanest images, even in low light
  2. When using graduated filters, having a set of legs is ideal
  3. When using solid ND filters to make long exposures you definitely need a tripod
  4. Exposure bracketing and focus bracketing both benefit from a solid base to maintain the exact composition you’ve set-up
  5. For more accurate panoramas (especially in low light)
  6. To help with compositions by slowing down and evaluating the scene throughly
  7. To get sharper images in a wider range of conditions, even when its windy
  8. Easier to get low down compositions, especially when using a no centre column design
  9. To get yourself in shots for scale or effect using a remote trigger or camera self timer
  10. When shooting astro, night scenes and Milky Way
  11. Extra stability when using longer, heavier lenses

Using the tripod in the field on a windy sunset

The new Tortoise tripod range from Benro

Benro has been making feature-rich, extremely well priced tripods for over 25 years. They shifted to giving their tripods more memorable names like ‘Tortoise’ and ‘Bat,’ rather than focusing on complicated tripod model numbers.

The new Tortoise range slot into Benro carbon fibre tripods under the Combination Series and all come in a kit with a ball head included. The range has been designed to cater for the vast majority of shooting situations which a tripod can be used for, as listed above. The ball heads are all available separately too, including this one on test the GX35 Low-Profile Dual Panoramic Ball Head (£150 at launch).

There are currently seven Tortoises all made from carbon fibre and all being columnless. The range starts off with a tabletop mini version, going on to video-specific models with panning heads. Tortoise are Benro’s most compact systems, folding down to around 8cm diameter making them ideal for travel and hiking for landscape and other types of photography.

5 leg sections fully extended with 6-foot photographer

Shooting in the forest, I used the Benro Bat 15A With VX20 Ball Head to take a self timed photo so you can see the fully extended height with all leg sections opened up. I’m 6’2”, was on a slope and the height was fine. The tripod didn’t flinch with a Sony 100-400mm GM lens mounted, with no creep or movement whatsoever.

The Tortoise range particularly appeals as they have their centre column removed, which gives a few standout benefits:

  1. The tripod compacts down smaller for travel
  2. You can get lower to the ground without making any adjustments to the set-up
  3. They are more stable with slightly less wind vibration
  4. They will be slightly lighter without a centre column

Shooting macro low to the ground with no centre column

One of my favourite benefits of having no centre column is the ability to get extremely low to the ground, which has several uses like shooting macros. You can see the Voigtlander 65mm f/2 E-Mount Macro Apo-Lanthar Aspherical manual focus lens, one of the sharpest lenses I’ve ever used, perfect for slow photography!

Benro Tortoise 35C Tripod And GX35 Ball Head Specifications

I chose this kit as on paper it looks very useful indeed, with a good max height for having no centre column, that also packs down to a compact 56cm for hikes to landscape locations. There’s an optional carbon fibre extension column for the 3 series, which adds just the right amount of height for taller users when shooting on a hill for example and is a great option to have. Speaking of accessories, the good people at Benro told me that there are a number of other accessories in the pipeline for the Tortoise Series, including longer steel spikes for extra stability in softer ground. The spikes you get in this kit are perfectly useable for the majority of situations though and it’s nice to get both rubber and spiked feet included in the first place.

Benro Tortoise legs splayed open

Tortoise 35C Carbon Fibre Tripod and GX35 Ball Head specs and pricing

Benro Tortoise 35C Carbon Fibre Tripod

£320.00 at launch for the kit with head

Tripod leg series

Series 3

Material

Carbon Fibre

Maximum Height

156cm (1560mm)

Max Height with optional centre column

196.5cm (1965mm)

Minimum Height

19cm (190mm)

Folded Height including ball head

56cm (560mm)

Total weight with GX35 head

1.92kg

Payload weight capacity

15kg

Leg Lock Type

Twist Locks

Leg Sections

5

Independent Leg Spread

Yes

Feet

Rubber and metal spikes included

Carry bag included

Yes

Benro GX35 Low Profile Aluminium Ball Head (included)

Available separately for £150

Head Type

360° Panning Ball Head

Base Mount

3/8"-16 Female

Camera Mounting Screw

1/4"-20 Male

Quick Release Plate Type included

Yes, Arca-Swiss Type

Load Capacity

35 kg

Bubble Level

Yes (1)

Friction Control

Yes

Independent Pan Lock

Yes

Material

Aluminum

Ball Sphere Diameter

40 mm

Base Diameter

51 mm

Dimensions

90.0 mm

Weight

400 g

Long exposure using Tortoise and ND filters

Long exposure solo tree (13 seconds). Tripod: Benro Tortoise 35C And GX35 Head, two legs extended

Lens: Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 DG DN Art Lens with a Lee100 Little Stopper and LEE100 0.6 ND Grad Soft Filter to balance the sky. Camera settings: Focal Length: 42.8mm. Exposure: 13 Seconds. f/8. ISO 100

Testing the tripod and head methodology

I took the tripod out numerous times over a couple of weeks, using them in different situations with / without wind. What I haven’t been able to test is longevity, sea water and general maintenance. A tripod definitely needs looking after in order to perform faultlessly, especially if you shoot in salt water or sandy environments. If you shoot in sea or sand, basically just take the legs apart and rinse off the legs and shims, then put it back together.

A nice touch with the Tortoise range is the shims are single-piece, which means they are easy to get on and off without one half disappearing or causing hassle when putting back together. For this review I shot how I would normally, which is outdoors in whatever conditions I’m given. I was mostly looking for ease of use, quick adjustments and sharp results, using a timer to ensure I wasn’t responsible for any shake. At the end of the day it’s not about what I can do with them, it’s about what you can do!

100 percent crop of tree long exposure showing sharpness

100% crop showing absolute sharpness with a 13 second long exposure, this tripod is plenty stable with just two legs extended as I was low to the ground.

Test

 

Fully extended

Fully extended with optional extension column

✅ Yes all the way to 1965mm

Low to the ground

✅ Yes to shoot macro at 190mm

Long exposures

✅ Up to 30 seconds

Longer lens

✅ Sony 100-400mm GMaster - 1.4kg

For hikes attached to backpack

✅ Approx 2 miles each way

With spikes and rubber feet (included)

✅ Both

Wind

✅ Approx 12mph

Rain

✅ Light under canopy

Calm conditions

In water

❌ Hoping to soon!

First off I took the kit together with a Bat Aluminium tripod (see the review of the Benro Bat tripod here) and set them up in local woods to get some forest vibes and close-ups. I put them both in a basket because there was a basket in the woods to put them in! The two tripods couldn’t be more different, with the Tortoise being the tallest carbon fibre, 5 leg section no centre column model, whilst the Bat I chose was the smallest, aluminium model available: Benro Bat 15A With VX20 Ball Head.

Two Benro tripods in a basket

Two Benro tripods in a basket in the woods.

Designed for travel with 5 leg sections

First up lets talk about having 5 leg sections, as this may not appeal to some shooting with heavier gear or need the most stability. Typically the fewer leg sections, the less joints there are to cause vibrations, but I chose this kit for portability versus extended height as I am over 6-foot tall and this reaches a healthy 156cm. The next model down is the Tortoise 34C Carbon Fibre Tripod with the same GX35 Ball Head, which has four leg sections and a higher 18kg payload. The downside for me is the max height of 143cm, which is fine for shorter shooters, but not so much for me. They all compact down really well and can be stowed in hand luggage when travelling.

The Tortoise 35C is most definitely aimed at users who want to strike a balance between a full size tripod which can support just about any gear, against low weight and compact folded size for hikes and travels. There are much heavier, more stable and considerably more expensive tripods around, but this kit is extremely affordable for what it offers. If you travel or hike to your destinations then a total combined weight of 1.92kg is extremely low for a 15kg payload, particularly as the legs are so compact when folded down.

Benro Tortoise 35C And GX35 Head, low to the ground

After burn crescent moon (1/4 second). Tripod: Benro Tortoise 35C And GX35 Head, low to the ground

Lens: Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 DG DN Art Lens Camera settings: Focal Length: 70mm. Exposure: 1/4 Sec. f/8. ISO 100

Benro Tortoise Tripod in use

Straight off the mark the tripod performed extremely well. When you twist the leg locks the heavier leg sections just fall smoothly downwards, which I like as it saves time. The twist locks can all be gripped in one go despite there being four of them, and undo with a small turn. Similarly tightening them is quick and easy and they feel incredibly smooth in use. The leg sections all have a nice carbon fibre weave if you like a bit of artistry, in keeping with the overall high quality look and feel of the entire product.

When you pull the legs outwards to stand the tripod, they instantly click into the first locking position as the tripod has an automatic leg angle system. Again I like this as it saves time if you want to put the tripod up in a hurry. A simple click of the leg angle adjustment lever and you can angle them right down to their flattest point, allowing you to get down to ground level. If you want to freestyle and choose your own angle, there’s a button to press for each leg which let’s you go cray-cray and choose any odd angle you need.

Crop showing pin sharp results

100% crop showing pin sharp crescent moon

I’ve not used a five section tripod before thinking it might be cumbersome, but there was no noticeable difference, simply one extra twist lock to tighten. The main benefit to having more leg sections is of course the compactness when the legs are stowed. When I lugged it around on the camera bag it was the perfect size, shorter than the one I have now with three leg sections and just fit perfectly overall.

There are a lot of hills where I tested the tripod so I constantly found I was using one or two legs shorter than the others. Getting the right angles, getting level and tearing down were all effortless and dare I say enjoyable thanks to extremely smooth twist locks, easy leg adjustments and a quick system to use overall. Switching between spikes and rubber feet was equally easy with no problems and high quality materials found in both.

The genius Benro tripod extension system

3 section carbon fibre extension column

If you need to get the tripod a bit higher, Benro has an optional matching Series 3, 3 section carbon fibre extension column. This nifty bit of kit was a revelation for me as I thought it would require you to take the base plate off the tripod legs and thread through like a centre column. In other words, arduous. It was precisely not like that at all, but was in fact super quick and simple to add. You just unscrew the ball head, screw on the extension and mount the head on top of that, so the extension sits above the base plate. Genius! I’ve included a video from Benro here which shows the extension in action. If you need extra height to shoot over something, because you’re on a steep slope or because you’re tall, this is a must-have accessory.

Benro carbon fibre extension column video

Benro Tortoise 35C tripod likes

  1. Folds down extremely compact and fitted onto my camera bag perfectly
  2. Twist locks are really smooth and quick to use
  3. One piece shims don’t fall off as often during cleaning
  4. Nice leg locks which automatically lock when opening the legs
  5. Legs glide out smoothly when you release the twist locks
  6. I never noticed any sagging despite using a heavy 100-400mm lens
  7. Love love love the low height you can get to without a centre column
  8. Built in quarter inch mounting points, a handy feature for accessory mounting
  9. The extension system is simply brilliant!
  10. Nice looking carbon fibre weave
  11. Warranty extension to 5 years with registration - this really demonstrates Benro’s product durability

4 second exposure of tree tunnel

Rainy tree tunnel (4 seconds), calm conditions. Tripod: Benro Tortoise 35C And GX35 Head, fully extended legs with fully extended 3 section carbon fibre extension column

Lens: Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens with a Hoya Revo SMC 77mm Circular Polarising Filter to cut down the glare from the wet foliage. Camera settings: Focal Length: 100mm. Exposure: 4 Seconds. f/10. ISO 100

Benro Tortoise 35C Gripes

  1. No bubble level on the legs, just on the head. I’m used to setting the legs level for panos so this would take some getting used to for me
  2. The weight hook was too short to hang my bag on for extra stability. It worked fine with the tripod bag, although it was empty and it would never cross my mind when weight saving to bring a sandbag. Please Benro, make the hook bigger!
  3. You get a tripod bag included, no bad thing at all, a nice touch indeed. The bag is so swank it seemed a shame to ruin it in the mud and dirt! This is not a dislike, but I had to put it somewhere.

Showing sharp details at any exposure

100% crop of tree tunnel. 4 seconds exposure? No problem with everything extended to the max at around 196.5cm (yes the camera was at over 2 metres)

Benro GX35 Low Profile Aluminium Ball Head Review

Let’s talk about the ball head. Like all good relationships there has to be trust. When you put £1000’s of gear onto a ball head which measures just 90mm wide and weighs 400g you want to be able to trust it. I’m happy to report the GX35 dual panoramic ball head is easy to trust and it didn’t take long to get used to Benro’s pull and twist safety locking mechanism for the quick release.

On the whole I use an Arca-Swiss type L-bracket instead of a regular quick release plate as it helps to quickly change from portrait to landscape orientation. I found that switching process effortless with my regular L-bracket and Benro’s very nice quality CNC machined quick release plate system, which felt really secure after twisting the secure locking mechanism.

There are pros and cons to both lever releases and screw-knob type releases. I’ve always favoured the old-skool screw-type knob, as I know if the gear falls off it was entirely my fault, rather than an accidental release of a lever. The Safety locking gives you an added layer of security as it pulls the grip very tightly into the Arca-Swiss type grooves. Benro does include the Arca-type PU56 Plate so you’re good to go if you don’t have a plate or L-bracket to begin with.

Benro GX35 ball head features

GX35 Ball head in use

The GX35 shares the same features with the other heads in the latest ‘low profile’ ball head range, all of which are available separately. These include having dual 360° panning functionality. This means you can pan from a regular pan knob, which rotates the rig from beneath the ball head in the way we’re all used to. You can also do 360° panning beneath the quick release plate with a mini panning lever (or locking knob). I didn’t think I’d care to use the extra panning knob, assuming it was maybe just superfluous. However when shooting the tree tunnel I needed to make fine adjustments to the composition and it proved to be really useful tweaking the rotation with the lever. It turns out to be a really nice touch that I would use often now I know about it.

Overall adjusting compositions with the GX35 ball head was smooth and quick, with the main locking knob feeling very solid indeed. There was never any creep and I didn’t miss the lack of a drag control system as the drag was perfect out of the box for the different set-ups I was using.

Fully extended legs for landscape photography

Misty sun landscape (1/8 second), calm conditions. Tripod: Benro Tortoise 35C And GX35 Head, fully extended legs.

Lens: Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens with a LEE100 0.9 ND Grad Soft Filter  to balance the sky, but yes the sun is blown out! Camera settings: Focal Length: 158mm. Exposure: 1/8 Sec. f/9. ISO 100

Benro GX35 Low Profile Ball Head Likes

  1. The extra panning lever feature is great and I used this for fine-tuning compositions after realising how useful it was
  2. Very solid feeling screw-lock for the ball gave me confidence in mounting longer lenses
  3. The pull and twist safe locking screw-knob for the quick release is nice and feels very secure letting you know it’s locked down tight
  4. Low weight and compact size. When the head is on the tripod you just don’t notice the extra weight at all
  5. Nice pan markings so you know where you’re at when composing
  6. Solid feeling materials used throughout

Benro GX35 Low Profile Ball Head gripes

  • I’ll get back to you when I think of some

Dark but sharp

100% crop, no problems with the tripod doing its’ job fully extended with all five leg sections open, during very low light

Conclusion 

When I heard about the new Tortoise tripods I jumped on the chance to test one. I did this because I like to travel light, invariably use a tripod for landscape photography and love not breaking my ageing back. The Benro Tortoise 35C kit checks these and a lot of other boxes for photographers who enjoy shooting outdoors. The system quickly becomes familiar and started to feel like home, inspiring confidence with a combination of excellent features and high quality materials that are used throughout.

The folded height fits perfectly on a camera backpack, unlike some three or four section tripods I’ve used over the years that stick out and risk becoming snagged on branches and whatnot. With a combined weight of 1.92kg it’s lightweight for the height you can achieve and despite being over 6 foot tall I never felt uncomfortable when shooting. Getting sharp images at lower ISO’s is a primary reason for using a tripod and the Benro Tortoise 35C and GX35 Head delivered perfectly, although I did use best practice where possible.

30 second long exposure, still sharp no wind vibrations

Long exposure cloudy landscape (30 seconds), windy conditions. Tripod: Benro Tortoise 35C And GX35 Head, low to the ground

Lens: Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 DG DN Art Lens with a Lee100 Little Stopper and LEE100 0.9 ND Grad Soft Filter to balance the sky. Camera settings: Focal Length: 38mm. Exposure: 30 Seconds. f/8. ISO 100

Now that testing is complete I’m sorry to give the Tortoise 35C and GX35 Head back to Benro, particularly when we’re able to travel a bit more again. It makes for an excellent all rounder, which can serve as your only tripod or as one to choose when you need lightweight stability and portability for travel. Add the clever extension column for extra height when needed and you’re set for any adventure.

Images - all photos made with the Sony a7R III which has 42 megapixels so you can really scrutinise sharpness from a platform. I mostly used the Sigma 24-70mm Art lens as it’s pretty new to me, so I wanted to give it a good run. Everything was shot in RAW, if you don’t shoot RAW why not take a look at our post Why Shoot Photos in RAW. Let me know if you want any details on any of the gear used for this review. Photos were minimally processed.

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By Nick Dautlich on 21/06/2021

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