Review of Manfrotto 293 Telephoto Lens Support

Last Update: 2/12/10 - added measurements for use with non-Olympus DSLRs and lenses


This is my review of the Manfrotto 293 Telephoto Lens Support. It consists of 2 sections:

  • The first section covers the bracket's use with an Olympus E-520 DSLR, combined with the Oly 70-300mm lens and the EC-14 teleconverter, a popular setup with nature photographers (giving the equivalent of 840mm on a 35mm camera).

    At the end of this section I discuss how well I like the bracket and whether I think it is worthwhile (hint: I do like it and it is worthwhile!)

    A person with any DSLR and any lens could use this section to judge how well the bracket would function with their combination. The 293 bracket's minimum support length is about 6.5 inches. So just measure on your camera from the center of the mounting hole on the bottom of the camera to any non-moving place on your lens where it could be supported. If this is 6.5 or more (max is about 10 inches), then you could use the bracket with your camera and lens combo, without modification.

  • The second section covers the bracket's potential use with shorter lenses, including just the 70-300 lens by itself (without the EC-14 converter). This requires some minor modifications to the bracket assembly.

    Using Bracket with 70-300 Lens + EC-14 Teleconverter

    The problem with the Olympus 70-300mm lens is that it does not have a tripod mounting ring, so the camera/lens setup must be mounted on the tripod via the camera's mounting thread. This makes for a very front-heavy arrangement, especially when combined with the EC-14 teleconverter, which is fairly heavy itself, and also because the E-520's attachment thread is way back towards the back of the camera (probably at the position of the sensor, to facilitate panoramic photography).

    I have often found it difficult to position the focus point exactly where I want, because there is so much leverage against the tripod head's tilt knob, that as soon as you tighen it and let go, the focus point moves slightly. It isn't so much a problem of the weight of the setup or even the quality of the tripod head - it's mostly because of the terribly unbalanced camera mounting position, way back behind the center of gravity of the camera/lens combination.

    The Solution?

    The 293 bracket appears to be a nice, if somewhat cumbersome, solution to this problem. The only worry is that the specs indicate that its minimum length would be too long for the 70-300+EC-14 combination. But, the good news is that the bracket is just short enough, as shown here:


    brack_detail The support platform can be set to meet the body of the lens at the point directly in front of the manual focus ring, as shown in the picture. Because of the way the platform is bevelled, it can be positioned very close to the focus ring without actually touching it or impeding its movement, as shown in the detail at right.

    You might have noticed that I do not show the velcro strap that comes with the bracket. This is somewhat because it is hard to find a good place to use it on this setup, but mosty because I see no need for it. If you tighten the bracket's head correctly, the camera and lens will stay put, with no movement at all, without any need for the strap. Here is a shot of me holding the setup upside-down:


    When you do this, a very small gap does appear between the edge of the lens and the edge of the support platform. But, as soon as you turn the setup rightside-up, the lens settles back onto the support. And, of course, this is an extreme test. In actual use, the lens stays supported by the platform all the time.

    Does it Work?

    Initial testing

    When I first got it, I tried it out at home. It worked just as I hoped. When you mount the camera/bracket combination on your tripod head, you mount it at the center of gravity of the combination, as shown here:


    Because it is perfectly balanced, the focus point stays where you point it. I found that I didn't even have to tighten my tripod head's tilt knob to achieve this, unless it was tilted greatly up or down. Generally, the tension on the tilt mechanism was enough to keep it perfectly in place. Of course, this is because the camera/bracket combination is perfectly balanced and exerting essentially no leverage against the head's tilt knob.

    Not only does it stay where you point it, but there is no "jiggle" because the front of the lens is supported.

    In the Field - first test

    I was able to try it later outside, in a state park in Salisbury, MA, taking pictures of a Snowy Owl that was very cooperatively posing on a picnic table. This is a perfect example of where a bracket like this is useful - I drove to the spot, didn't have to carry the equipment far at all, and had plenty of time to setup the camera and tripod.

    brack_tripod I carried the camera separately in my normal way, in a bag with just the tripod quick-release plate mounted on the camera.

    The bracket was pre-mounted onto the tripod head at home, adjusted to exactly accomodate the camera/lens combination. The shot at right shows the bracket pre-mounted on the tripod, without the camera (in use you usually angle the bracket tilted upward more for easier carrying).

    In the field, I did not have any trouble mounting the camera onto the bracket once I had the tripod deployed and ready to accept the camera. It is not really any more difficult to mount the camera onto the bracket than it is to just mount it onto a regular tripod head.

    Not surprisingly, the bracket worked just as at home, giving much smoother all-around movement of the tripod head, allowing much finer placement of the focus-point, and making the whole setup more solid.

    In the Field - later use

    I have now used the bracket numerous times in the field, often in fairly exacting situations. For example, I have used it while hurrying through the forest trying to keep a Great Grey Owl in sight; also, shooting pictures of Warblers, which often perch very high in trees and move very quickly.

    I have found that once you have the bracket mounted, you kind of forget that it's there. The camera just sits on it and since they move as one piece, it essentially has no effect on your normal use of your tripod head (loosening the tilt or pan adjustments, changing the angle, etc).

    In shooting the warblers, it really helped because the camera was so well balanced that even tilting the camera at an extreme angle upward made little difference and I was able to place the focus exactly where I wanted. I also found it to be similarly helpful for shooting downward-angled macro-like shots of bees and flowers.

    The only area where it doesn't help is with vertical shots, which I suppose is obvious. When you tilt your tripod head vertically, the bracket no longer helps stabilize the lens because the lens is no longer resting on it, although it does kind of rest on the angled part of the support bracket and get a little support, I suppose. It doesn't hurt anything, but it is one additional piece that you have to worry about coming lose under these circumstances, so you have to make sure everything is tightened up before you go vertical. I think that if you used the velcro strap that comes with the bracket, it would help support the lens in vertical situations, although I haven't tried it yet.


    The biggest downside to the bracket is that it weighs 1.5 lbs. The E-520 plus 700-300 plus EC-14 weighs just over 3 lbs, so the bracket adds a considerable amount of weight to the setup.

    One the other hand, if you think of the bracket as being part of the tripod (as opposed to part of the camera), considering that my tripod+head weighs over 6 lbs, adding an extra 1.5 to it isn't all that much.


    So, when do I think a person would use the bracket? My original thoughts in this review said that you'd use the bracket when you had plenty of time for setup. But I have found that if you have the bracket pre-mounted on the head, the setup time is no slower than just using your tripod head alone. So I find that I actually use the bracket essentially any time I use my tripod with the 70-300 plus EC-14 combination.

    If you need to travel light, of course, then the bracket is a poor choice. But then you would probably be using a very light tripod or even a monopod.

    So, the bracket is certainly worth the money and effort. It definitely adds to the stability of the camera/ lens setup, which is one of the main problems with extreme telephoto picture taking. Bottom line - I get more "keepers" when I use it.

    Using Bracket with Shorter Lenses, like the 70-300 Lens alone

    As you can see above, the combination of the 70-300 lens plus the EC-14 converter is about the bare minimum length that can be used with an unmodified bracket (via the sliding mechanism, it can be used with much longer lenses).

    But what if you want to use a shorter lens, for example just the 70-300 lens alone? I have come up with a few modifications that anyone can make to the bracket that will allow just about any shorter lens to be used.

    Just looking at the bracket, you can see that if you reversed the sliding plate that has the support platform at its end, the platform would then be situated much closer to the camera.

    This picture illustrates what I mean:

    reverse bracket

    Removing the Knob and Reversing the Sliding Plate

    bracket knob The ability to accomodate shorter lenses starts with this reversing of the sliding platform. It is kind of difficult to accomplish, unfortunately. For some reason, Manfrotto has made the bolt holding the platform (under the rubber knob cover) non-removable - i.e. when you turn it counter-clockwise, it eventually stops and will go no further up, so you cannot remove it without some DIY work.

    To remove the knob, you have to first pry off the rubberized cover. Just put the edge of a screw driver under the edge and pry it - it comes off, revealing a silver metal knob, as shown at right.

    The reason the silver knob will not screw off is because Manfrotto has deliberately damaged the threads at the top of the center bolt that the knob is threaded onto. So, you need to clean this damage up as much as possible (e.g. with a file, or a dental tool, etc). You don't have to be too fussy, but clean it up as much as possible.

    Then, forcefully unscrew the knob. I used vise-grips and just forced it to unscrew all the way off. It isn't all that hard. As it unscrews, it removes the damage from the threads, kind of creating new threads as it goes along, leaving some flaky metal residue which you should clean up. Then just screw it on and off a few times and the knob can then be taken on and off just as though it was designed that way. Put the rubber cover back in place. After doing that, you are finished - the sliding plate can be positioned in the original way, or in the reversed way.

    Using the Reversed Sliding Plate - Easiest, Less Flexible Way

    The first way to use this reversed sliding plate is just to use it as is, which makes the support platform sit much closer to the camera.

    Here is a picture of the original setup of the camera plus the 70-300 + EC-14, mounted on the bracket with the support slider reversed:


    This is just an illustration of the idea. For the 70-300 lens plus the EC-14, you probably wouldn't want to mount it like this, since the original way works better.

    But it is one way to get the support platform much closer to the camera. If it works for the particular lens you have, then it is an easy way to do it - just remove the knob and reverse the slider.

    Using the Reversed Sliding Plate - Most Flexible Way

    The main problem with the above technique is that the support platform is too close, and can only be adjusted to be even closer, so it isn't very flexible.

    So I came up with an alternative method that gives you pretty much full flexibility. What it involves is removing the head from its position at the far end of the plate that has the tripod mounting screws, and moving it to the plate that has the support platform. Here is a picture of the head in its new position:

    moved head

    and here it is with the tripod mounting screw plate back in postion:

    moved head

    bracket This involves bolting the head onto the sliding slot in the platform plate. In order to do this, you need some additional hardware - a 1/2" 1/4 bolt, a lock washer and regular washer, plus a 1/4 to 3/8 thread adapter that goes inside the head. You cannot use a 3/8 bolt because it will not fit thru the slot, and then you need the thread adapter in the head's hole to accomodate the smaller bolt.

    Here is a shot of the attachment of the head from below:


    With this arrangement, you can mount a shorter lens like the 70-300 all by itself, as shown below:


    If this whole operation looks confusing, it isn't when you have the bracket and can slide things around and see how it works. I'm sure others could come up with other options, especially if you are willing to modify the hardware even more (e.g. drill additional holes, etc).

    I think this would be an ideal way to use the 70-300 for macro photography. The support platform keeps the end of the lens steady as a rock, and, as explained above, since the setup can be balanced on the tripod at its center of gravity, the camera stays where it is pointed and exerts just about no pressure on the tripod's tilt mechanism.