In-depth tripod review: ProMediaGear Pro-Stix TR344
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In-depth tripod review: ProMediaGear Pro-Stix TR344

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ProMediaGear’s TR344 ‘Pro-Stix’ tripod with their Katana Pro Gimbal supporting a full-frame camera and 500mm prime at lacrosse practice.

ProMediaGear Pro-Stix TR344
Promediagear.com | $1030

ProMediaGear was founded in 2009 by three brothers that combined their engineering degrees, a full-service machine shop, and a passion for photography. Initially, they developed innovative flash brackets out of personal need, producing them at their facility in suburban Chicago. Today they design and manufacture world-class gimbal heads and video sliders, along with ball heads, plates, monopods, and of course, tripods. All of their products are made in the USA, most in their own shop, and distributed worldwide. PMG isn’t afraid of a little color in their metals, so if you wish, you can order your tripod apex or gimbal anodized in a striking red.


Specs and what’s included

  • Maximum height of 150 cm (59.1″)
  • Minimum height of 9.7 cm (3.8″)
  • Folds to 53 cm (20.8″) with 12 cm (4.7″) diameter
  • Weighs 1.85 kg (4.08 lbs) with flat platform
  • 27 kg (60 lbs) load limit
  • Three leg angles (24° / 50° / 84°)
  • Four leg sections (34mm top leg diameter/ 30 / 26.2 / 22.4mm)
  • 69mm platform on custom-fit insert
  • Large weight hook under platform
  • Large bubble level attached to apex
  • Removable 38mm mushroom feet on standard 3/8″ thread
  • Includes dust bag, tools, and 44mm spikes

ProMediaGear offer their Pro-Stix tripods in a ’34 series,’ with 34mm top tubes, or their ’42 series’ with giant 42mm top tubes. All of their tripods are available with 3 or 4 section legs, and in either ‘regular’ or ‘long’ models (which can go up to 1.96 meters, or 77 inches). Within the 34 series, PMG offers tripod kits with integrated center columns, as well as an optional center column for either series of tripods.

On top of these choices, PMG has recently introduced a Compact Apex model, the TRS tripod, which provides a much slimmer packed diameter and a few grams less aluminum at the top, while forgoing the interchangeable apex attachments like leveling half-balls or center column. This apex is also available by itself, allowing existing owners of modular TR34-series to swap their legs onto this space-saving apex, if desired.

The PMG TR344 being reviewed here on the left, and the new TRS344 Compact Apex.
(Image provided by ProMediaGear)

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 PMG TR344 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, 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 ProMediaGear TR344 and a 6 foot (1.83m) photographer.


First impressions

The ProMediaGear Pro-Stix TR344 with the equally well-machined BH-1 ball head.

As expected from a boutique machine shop, the aluminum apex, platform and leg locks are very finely milled and finished, with subtle details like two 1/4″ accessory ports (one under the huge bubble level) and a larger 3/8″ threaded port to hold various extras on top. Under the plastic-topped platform is a generous weight hook and access to the head retaining screw. One design detail that is immediately apparent is that the leg locks do not have a rubber cover, but have a grip pattern cut into their aluminum exteriors. With the exception of FLM, this is rarely seen on tripods of this size.

Compared to modular apex tripods from Gitzo and RRS, the TR344 is the lightest of the tripods in this size class, with the most compact diameter, and in the three-way tie for smallest folded length. All this, yet it extends to an impressive 1.5 meters (59.3 inches) in height on 34mm leg tubes. While each numeric difference to similar tripods of this type may seem slight, the combination makes the TR344 stand out as the most space-efficient design.

The TR344’s leg angle tension screws are another unique detail. Unusually, PMG uses a single bolt and a tension retaining cap. This small detail prevents the leg angles from loosening over time.

The modular portion of the apex is a proprietary insert, attached with six hex bolts on unique flanges. This means that removing and replacing it is not a quick operation, and using any other brand’s video bowl or 70mm accessories is not possible. ProMediaGear sells a 75mm bowl with flanges that fit, so that means some leveling tools are interchangeable, but this attachment for modular inserts is unusual, and in my opinion a little over-engineered.


Use in the field

The full ProMediaGear travel package for long lenses; Katana Pro (formerly Jr.) lightweight gimbal on top of the TR344 legs.

Not surprisingly, the relatively light and compact TR344 is an easy hiking companion; equally at home being strapped to a backpack or carried with a head on top. Deploying it on site is easy and quick, thanks to the smooth, but not loose or wobbly, leg extension. When mated with one of ProMediaGear’s own gimbal heads or ball heads, the total package not only looks nice, but is cleanly functional and very portable.

The ProMediaGear leg locks require only a quarter turn to lock or unlock, with a reassuring feel in either state. Extending the leg tubes is fairly easy, but they don’t cascade out when unlocked. Instead, they slide with a gentle resistance from a precise fit. This balance between a tight and loose fit also means they are easy to adjust individually on uneven surfaces when unlocking just one of the legs and pressing down. However, because the lock collars are solid aluminum with only a grip pattern machined into them, they are not as easy to grasp as rubber-covered locks, and can be downright slippery with gloves on, requiring much more effort in the cold.

The included steel foot spikes are cleverly hidden inside the ends of the legs, behind the wide rubber feet. They screw into the rubber feet to provide a more aggressive hold on unstable ground, while the rubber foot above them prevents them from sinking too far or allowing grit to penetrate the leg itself. This means the spikes are always at hand.

Using entirely manual leg angle locks, unlike the spring-loaded and ratcheting style found on almost all similar tripods in this class, seems at first like a cost-saving anomaly. In real world use, though, the only practical difference when adjusting the legs is a click to indicate that the angle has been set. The PMG locks themselves are large, easy to push from behind or pull from the front, and have a very solid feel. They may be simple, but they work.

Overall, ProMediaGear strikes a balance between size, weight and utility with the TR344, and in regular use with large lenses (and PMG’s excellent gimbal) as well as heavy panoramic landscape gear, the legs never seemed stressed. The positive lock of the leg collars and the consistent tension on the leg angles meant that every opportunity to set up the Pro-Stix was both reassuring and familiar. When considering the available options for taller or even thicker (42mm) legs, as well as a compact apex, ProMediaGear easily deserves its place among the high-end of photography tripods.

Maintenance

Cleaning is easy, following the maintenance videos and instructions found on the PMG website. The leg tubes are very precisely mated, with the well-machined locks and receivers fitting together tightly. The use of a one-piece shim makes disassembly easy, although the plastic itself gets rather thin at the top and one of our leg shims broke into a two-piece assembly while cleaning salt out of the locks.

Spare parts of all types are available from the ProMediaGear website.


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 shutter-induced 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.

ProMediaGear TR344 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.

The ProMediaGear TR344 provides good dampening of the initial shock, and a definite reduction in the amount of continuing motion, however it takes longer than some others in this group to completely eliminate vibration in the legs. This is still excellent performance for the lightest tripod in this class, and puts the TR344 vibration performance right in the middle of similar tripods under this demanding test. Nothing to complain about here.


Conclusion

Using the TR344 with heavy gear and long lenses was easy and enjoyable, thanks to the compact profile and lighter weight of the whole package, without any corresponding compromise in height or performance. ProMediaGear’s careful engineering makes this possible, and raises the TR344 near to the top of its class. In addition, there are thoughtful features like the variety of apex attachment points, the hidden (but always there) foot spikes, and the large bubble level. Exploiting the systematic, modular apex was a little harder due to the proprietary attachment method, but many apex inserts and options are available from PMG.

In most instances, the use of manual leg angles and all-metal leg locks were not an issue, and the precise fit of everything made for a satisfying experience in the field. Overall, the ProMediaGear TR344 ‘Pro-Stix’ tripod is a high-performing support system that doesn’t distract with issues or shortcomings during long days of shooting.

What we like

  • Lightest and most compact of this class
  • Very well made and engineered
  • Thoughtful features (hidden spikes, big level, etc.)
  • Swappable compact apex available
  • Spare parts & repairs available from USA

What we don’t like

  • Proprietary apex attachment modules (bowl, etc.)
  • Leg locks hard to use in extreme cold
  • Premium list price

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