A Travel Tripod With a Unique Twist: We Review the SmallRig AP-100 FreeRover Tripod

A Travel Tripod With a Unique Twist: We Review the SmallRig AP-100 FreeRover Tripod

The truth is that tripods are always tedious to bring around when traveling, but for a lot of us, it is an absolute necessity. This new tripod from SmallRig offers a feature that goes beyond what the form factor shows.

Travel tripods are always designed with portability as the number one priority. The fact that a tripod is easy to bring around could definitely affect how efficient, comfortable, and consequently, creative the photographer is when shooting in remote areas. However, it is never as simple as just making them light and portable. There has to be a balance between being light and stable, and being portable yet durable. At the same time, what’s the point of getting a new tripod if it has nothing unique to offer? Check out the unique twist on this tripod by SmallRig.

The SmallRig FreeRover AP-100

At first glance, this tripod looks and feels like most carbon fiber travel tripods in the market. It comes with 4 leg sections, three twist locks, carbon fiber rods, a ball head, and a center column. However, there are quite a few things that were done differently on this tripod that might be attractive to photographers on-the-go.

The AP-100 tripod comes in at 49 cm (19.3”) when fully folded. While it isn’t the thinnest travel tripod around, it would still fall under the easy-to-carry category with its more compact width. When all leg sections are fully extended, this goes up to 125 cm (49.2”) with the center column retracted, and 140 cm (59.1”) with the column fully extended. The center column is also relatively thinner than the adjacent leg sections, which is why the folded configuration is more compact. Unlike other travel tripods, this does not fold upwards the way most travel tripods are reduced in length. The tripod weighs 1.38 kg but can carry up to 15 kg because of the thicker (1.2 mm) carbon fiber rods and the unique lock mechanism for the legs. This is a little more than what most carbon fiber tripods can carry, and it makes sense because it subjectively just seems sturdier.

On the proximal ends of the legs are joints with a tab that you pull to unlock the legs and open them at a wider angle, specifically for low-angle shots and lowering the center of gravity for even better stability. The joint has three stops approximately at 45, 70, and 90 degrees. On the side of each joint is an additional 1/4"-20 thread for mounting extra accessories using a friction arm or similar mounting tools.

The 'Twist'

While physically the tripod uses twist-locks, the unique lock design makes it faster to set up in general. Instead of the usual linear friction control on each lock, these locks basically just have locked and unlocked positions, just like clip locks on other tripods. However, by controlling and handling the most inferior lock, which is marked with a rubber grip, this essentially controls all three locks depending on how many clicks you twist it towards. This means that with a bit of force to twist the lock to the point of feeling three clicks, you can unlock all sections with a single motion, pull out the sections with another, and lock all the sections by twisting them back. You can essentially set up each leg in about two seconds.

Center Column

The center column on the AP-100 is relatively thinner than most at just 0.7 inches (2 cm). On the upper 1/5 of the center column is an opening for the hex tool that can be found on the other end of the column by pressing the unlock button on the hook. Once unlocked using this tool, the majority of the length of the center column detaches with just enough length on the base to be held in place. Once the center column is chopped down, this allows the tripod as low as just 13 cm (5.1”) between the ground and the base of the camera, making it possible to shoot very low angle shots.

The Ball-Head

The head on this tripod was essentially designed to avoid putting additional bulk but sacrificed some functions that one might need. On the bottom of the head is a lever that is curved to follow the contour of the head. When the ball is locked, the lever folds onto the surface of the cylindrical shape of the head, leaving no protrusion. This lock replaces the usual knobs that we see on tripods, which are usually the thickest part of the head assembly. At the same time, instead of a knob on the quick release clamp, there is a ring (much like those found on lenses) that controls the two sides of the quick release clamp that apply pressure to lock onto the camera mounting plate. The quick release clamp follows the Arca-Swiss format, which makes it widely compatible with other mounting plates, L-brackets, cages, and rotating camera mounts.

This ball-head, while conveniently compact, does have some significant limitations. For one, there is no knob or alternative control for panning because there is no separate mechanism to pan the head without releasing the ball entirely. While it is not absolutely necessary for all use-cases, having that function is always handy for when the need arises, and it not being there might be a deal-breaker.

At the same time, in order to minimize the size of the head, it seems that the solution was to have an enclosure for the ball joint, somehow acting as an outer layer connected to the main barrel of the head. The trade-off that resulted from this is that the motion of the ball is markedly limited compared to other ball heads. In application, the ball can only turn from side to side with very little room to tilt up or down, except to one side where a notch was left to allow the camera to turn vertical. However, when using L-brackets, cages, and rotating mounts, the plate would be perpendicular to the camera, leaving no possibility of tilting forward or backward when necessary.

Application and User Experience

Strictly speaking, the SmallRig FreeRover AP-100 tripod does deliver on what a travel tripod promises, which is to be easier to bring around when traveling, minimize the space it takes up in the photographer’s bag, and reduce the effort required to bring a tripod around regardless of the kind of location.

Perhaps the biggest advantage that this tripod offers over other travel tripods is the unique twist lock mechanism that allows for a much more efficient workflow of setting up the tripod. While this mechanism is not entirely new (I remember seeing this first on the very flimsy Benro iSmart tripod almost a decade back), this one has physically separate locks and requires quite a bit of force to unlock, unlike others that have the tendency to loosen by accident. The efficient controls can be very beneficial, especially for photography adventures that involve quick stops to take photos while still requiring a tripod.

Aside from being beneficial in terms of portability and speed, this is also one of the more reliably sturdy travel tripods in the market. Perhaps with the combination of the mechanism of the locks and the thicker carbon fiber rods, the legs have little-to-no wobbling when properly locked and seem to be able to resist shake in relatively windy situations. The 15-kilogram payload also (on paper) offers a lot more than the usual 10 kg that most other travel tripods offer, which also means that it can bear a bit more in terms of using larger camera bodies and/or heavier lenses.

The limitation of this tripod that may be a dealbreaker for some kinds of photographers is the fact that the ball motion is significantly more limited in terms of tilting the camera up or down. With only a few degrees of motion, the only option would be to reduce the length of one or two of the legs to achieve a bit more tilt. At the same time, photographers who’d prefer to have a panning action on the head might find it inconvenient.

Overall, this relatively longer travel tripod has a lot of convenience features to offer in addition to being reliably stable. At the end of the day, it would depend on the user’s preferences and style if the ball head’s limitations would matter.

What I Liked

  • Portable yet sturdy
  • Quick locking mechanism
  • Removable center column

What Can Be Improved

  • Limited ball head range of motion
  • No pan action


You can purchase the AP-100 tripod here.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

Nicco Valenzuela is a photographer from Quezon City, Philippines. Nicco shoots skyscrapers and cityscapes professionally as an architectural photographer and Landscape and travel photographs as a hobby.

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However, by controlling and handling the most inferior lock, which is marked with a rubber grip

Almost certainly "interior," not "inferior" intended...


Inferior is used in this case like in anatomy - low or lower in position.
The bottom grip is used to unlock - the most inferior grip.

Valid usage.

Their locks on their video tripod are pretty poor and slip very easy so I'd believe it if the intention was inferior. Can't even use the video tripods second extension because they just won't lock in place and stay put.

Inferior in this context (when describing an object in relation to others similar to it) = lower

Superior = higher

While I do understand that some of their tripods have less sturdy locks, this tripod in particular has locks that are superior in quality. Some might even think they are too tight.

Typically, I find a monopod a better travel tool. It can be a walking stick and a stabilizer. Panning is possible just by rotating. It won't permit very slow shutter speeds, but is generally far more convenient to carry and in some ways versatile too.

The deal breaker for me is that it has no panning function. Which is a shame, because otherwise it seems to be a well built, stable tripod. Maybe they will update it if enough reviews point out the same issue - like Benro did with their slim travel tripod, producing the exact same model (renamed to superslim) but with the main issues pointed out in the review fixed - the center column can be shortened, and ball head now has two controls, tighten and pan control.

It should be noted that many highly trafficked travel locations won't permit a tripod.