Giottos Silk Road YTL8253 tripod

OUR VERDICT: The tripod is pleasantly light and apparently strong and solid, while incorporating a great innovation for space saving and easy field use.

Since the introduction of carbon fibre as a load-lightening alternative to aluminium in the manufacture of tripod legs, most if not all subsequent developments in tripod design have focused on improving head performance and versatility. It is hardly surprising that little consideration has been given to the centre column, which appears to have escaped attention largely because of the relatively minor and uncomplicated role it plays in the overall support structure.

Things are about to change, though, with the launch in January 2013 of a new range of Giottos tripods featuring a radical new Y-profile centre column, designed to address a problem which carbon fibre legs never did – that of bulk.

A tripod, whether extended or collapsed, carried in the field or packed away for transit, is the bulkiest element of a birder’s equipment and has the potential to take up considerable space. By changing the shape of the centre column, the innovative and unique design of Giottos’s YTL Silk Road series allows the legs to be stowed in a much more compact way, without the bulk of a tripod using a conventional centre column.

The new look sees the replacement of the traditional tubular column by one which is trilaterally concave. This results in the ability to accommodate the folded legs within the centre column’s profile, as opposed to their sitting outside its circumference, thereby reducing the size of the tripod when the legs are closed. The collar at the apex of the tripod is similarly tri-concave, the three indents accommodating the hinges for the legs. This new, compact system is said to save 30 per cent on space over the equivalent conventionally designed tripod.

Giottos Silk Road tripod comparison
The traditional round centre column (left) takes up much more
space, while the Silk Road's 'Y' tube (right) means the legs sit flush
with the column.

While I could appreciate this difference immediately, I wanted to see how the tripod performed in the field. Would there also be a difference in handling and operation?

The three telescopic leg sections extend and retract smoothly and almost noiselessly. Each section comprises eight layers of carbon fibre material which serve to increase the strength and rigidity of the legs; a foam layer covers approximately 40 per cent of the top leg section. The legs are locked quickly and easily by hardened plastic levers which can be adjusted for tension with the supplied Allen key. The lower leg sections also feature graduated leg markings, while die-cast aluminium spring levers at the top of each leg allow independent adjustment of leg angles.

Raising the Y-shaped, extruded aluminium centre column is accomplished by hand and it can be locked firmly in the desired position by turning a large, rubber-covered knob located on the collar. I did not need to extend it for my angle-bodied scope, but would have needed to raise it had it been supporting one with a straight body.

This is the smallest and lightest tripod in the range and it is capable of supporting loads of up to 5,000 g (including head), which is enough to cover all telescopes on the market with enough spare capacity to add a camera if you’re considering using it for digiscoping. I used it with Giottos’s VH6011-658D video/birding head (reviewed in Birdwatch 216: 43), which added 570 g weight to the system.

As well as supporting my 1,800 g 80 mm scope and stay-on case more than adequately, I found the tripod pleasantly light and apparently strong and solid. It was very easy to use in the field, where I discovered it to be less cumbersome and easier to carry slung over my shoulder than a more conventional tripod. For travel and transport, the compactness is undoubtedly a boon.

The Silk Road YTL series, which comprises a total of 12 carbon fibre and aluminium models, replaces Giottos’s MTL tripods. All models feature an exchangeable tripod thread so you can easily switch between 3/8" and 1/4", making the range compatible with any Giottos head as well as models from other manufacturers.

This is a nice tripod which incorporates a great innovation for space saving and easy field use. Why didn’t anyone think of it before?

Tech spec

Price: £220
Construction: carbon fibre
Weight: 1,120 g
Max height: 1,662 mm, with legs extended and centre column raised
Min height: 1,346 mm, with legs extended and centre column lowered
Closed length: 585 mm
Leg sections: 3
Guarantee: 5 years