|The Sirui SR-3204 out in the cold, with the Sirui PH-30 Carbon Fiber Gimbal on top, loaded with a 150-450mm zoom on a full-frame Pentax.|
Sirui.com | $550
Back in a 2014 roundup of ball heads, Sirui was mentioned as a ‘relative newcomer,’ but today they are an established and well-respected brand, not only for tripods but also for such unusual items as humidity-control cabinets and anamorphic lenses. The full Sirui support catalog includes a very wide range of tripods and monopods, as well as a variety of those highly regarded tripod heads, including video and full gimbal heads.
Specs and what’s included
- Maximum height of 150 cm (59.1″)
- Minimum height of 14.3 cm (5.6″)
- Folds to 54.5 cm (21.5″) with 13 cm (5.1″) diameter
- Weighs 2.1 kg (4.62 lbs)
- 25kg (55.1 lbs) load limit
- Three leg angles (25° / 51° / 79° )
- Four leg sections (33mm top leg diameter / 29.5 / 26/ 22.2mm)
- 78mm platform screwed onto large handle
- Integrated 75mm video bowl
- Retractable weight hook inside platform handle
- Tiny bubble level included on apex
- Removable 38mm mushroom feet with non-standard M14 thread
- Includes padded bag, strap, tools, instructions and 36mm spikes
In the galaxy of Sirui tripods, the SR series is called the ‘Portable PRO’ line. This series all share the same magnesium apex with an integrated 75mm bowl, and sport 33mm top leg tubes, although the SR-3004 substitutes 4-section aluminum legs, while the SR-3203 has three-section carbon fiber legs and a noticeably longer packed dimension in order to achieve the same overall height as the other SR models.
There is an R-X series with larger leg diameters and optional center columns, but they’re not available in North America and are hard to find elsewhere. In this class of modular apex tripods, the SR series represents Sirui’s sweet spot between size, weight and stability for very demanding users.
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 SIrui SR-3204 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, Really Right Stuff, ProMediaGear, Leofoto and FLM.
All of these tripods were used in four seasons of sand, snow, mud, rain, and saltwater; 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.
Below is a relative height comparison between the Sirui SR-3204 and a 6 foot (1.83m) photographer.
|The SR-3204 magnesium apex and large, hollow handle with retractable weight hook inside.|
Sirui uses well-finished cast magnesium for the apex, integrated video bowl, and leg joints of the SR-3204, but these combine to make a larger and somewhat heavier top for the carbon fiber legs to connect to. This choice is a material balancing act, as cast magnesium alloys can reduce the transmission of vibrations more than machined aluminum, but need to be made thicker for the same strength. Gitzo has long relied on these same materials, with a different finish and smaller sizes, so the durability isn’t in question.
While the SR series are among the largest photographic tripods made by Sirui, they have many of the same features as the smaller, more portable tripods in the line. Three foam leg covers, a covered 1/4” accessory mounting point, and solid twist-locks all translate well to the larger size of the SR-3204. The spring action, press-in angle locks, however, require moving the thick legs down a bit first to unlock the angles. This might work well on smaller tripods with center columns, but they become cumbersome on a large, systematic tripod like the SR-3204. Other large tripods of this size and modularity have angle locks that can also be pushed from behind to unlock them, which is functionally faster with a hand gripped around the large leg tubes, and no center column to get in the way behind the angle locks.
Use in the field
|The Sirui gimbal fits nicely on top of the SR-3204 flat platform. Of course, a Sirui RX-75B leveling device might really complete the package. Alas, it isn’t compatible.|
Packed up, the SR-3204 is noticeably heavier than similarly sized tripods with modular apexes, but when stability for kilograms of camera and lens is required, this is not the biggest concern. The foam sleeves on each of the legs, however, tend to grab at camera bags and collect debris, and, really, only one is needed to provide a firmer grip on the carbon fiber legs when wet. Perhaps these grips are a carry-over from the aluminum version, where insulating a hand from all that metal is advisable.
The large magnesium apex has a comically small integrated bubble level, which was pressed into service (with a squint) in order to level a gimbal or panoramic head. This required loosening one of the top leg locks and pressing down to shorten each leg in turn, until level. While a bit tedious compared to a well-fit leveling device, this method of getting on the level was still an easy operation, thanks to the smooth operation of both the leg locks and the fit of the tubes which they connect.
When going to very low extremes, the maximum leg angle of 79 degrees became apparent when compared to the other tripods in this class. This angle keeps the apex much further off the ground than on any similar tripods, most likely to make room for the large platform handle. When a head is added on top, the end result is not great for low-angle photography, despite the lack of a center column.
Overall, the SR-3204 was a competent, if sometimes ungainly, support for the heavy gear it was pressed into service with. While it can be used in the field in all kinds of weather, thanks to the leg covers and rubber-wrapped leg locks, it still seemed more at home in the studio. Indoors, at a more relaxed pace, any need for leveling or adjustment didn’t require a third-party accessory, and with some extra time (and reading glasses) the bubble level could be useful.
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.
Sirui SR-3204 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.
Sirui’s SR-3204 was severely tested by the cantilevered weight and sensitivity of the vibration test. The initial shock was somewhat limited by the weight of the tripod and test equipment, but continued vibrations did not immediately abate, and then continued for a few seconds afterward. This performance ranks at the bottom of this very demanding type of large tripods but is far better than smaller tripods when faced with the same test.
The SR-3204 may not be the best of the tripods in this class, but it is the largest available from Sirui in most markets, and the most affordable choice (at almost half the cost) compared to similar modular apex tripods of this size. What it offers is all that the smaller Sirui tripods are known for; solid construction, excellent legs and locks, and a good place to mount one of their own heads.
The result is a tripod that has been scaled up to the ‘Portable PRO’ level, but does not quite hit the ‘pro’ mark
Extras like the integrated video bowl and interchangeable feet are hampered by their incompatibility, though only the feet are truly restricted. The combined result is a tripod that has been scaled up to the ‘Portable PRO’ level, but does not quite hit the ‘pro’ mark when compared to similarly large tripods. On top of all of this, if something longer or larger is desired, there is nothing else from Sirui available in all markets.
What we like
- Very affordable price for this size tripod
- Aluminum leg option for even lower price
- Integrated video bowl is one less item to buy
- Worldwide sales & support network
- Spare parts & repairs easy to obtain
What we don’t
- Top-heavy without the vibration benefit
- Large platform handle restricts low angles
- Lack of larger or longer options
- Fiddly leg angle locks