Twist Locks vs. Flip Locks

There are two commonly used types of tube locks used on tripods.  Flip locks (also known as lever locks) use a plastic or metal lever to operate a cam to compress the upper tube and clamp the lower one.  Twist locks use a threaded collar to compress a piece of plastic between the two tubes, locking them together.  People tend to have strong opinions as to which provides the better ergonomics, often refusing to buy a tripod without their preferred style leg lock.  Here though I want to address the question more relevant to this blog, “which style leg lock provides better performance?”

I recently had the opportunity to test side by side the Manfrotto Befree Advanced in both the lever lock and twist lock versions.  As far as I know, this the only model tripod to be offered in both lock types in an otherwise identical package.  The quality performance of the higher end Manfrotto tripods has provided some anecdotal evidence that flip locks are capable of performing well.  Since all of the highest performing tripods have twist locks, that alleviates any worries on that front.  A direct head to head contest between the two though will be the best evidence we have to date regarding the superiority of one vs. the other.

I tested the stiffness and damping of the two tripods in the standard way that I do for the rankings.  Ten measurements are taken on each tripod at full height (center column down) and averaged.

Here are the test results for the lever lock version:

Yaw Stiffness171 +/- 1 Nm/rad
Yaw Damping0.129 +/- 0.013 Js/rad
Pitch Stiffness659 +/- 3 Nm/rad
Pitch Damping0.289 +/- 0.029 Js/rad

Here are the test results for the twist lock version:

Yaw Stiffness173 +/- 1 Nm/rad
Yaw Damping0.140 +/- 0.014 Js/rad
Pitch Stiffness661 +/- 4 Nm/rad
Pitch Damping0.295 +/- 0.030 Js/rad

That is about as close to a tie as it comes.  All of the measurements are within error of each other.  I see absolutely no difference in stiffness between the two tripods here.  If there is a difference in stiffness, it is too small for me to detect, and certainly too small to make any difference in photography.  The biggest difference between the two tripods is that the lever lock version weighs 105 grams (3.7 ounces) more.

This data does not imply that all lever locks are equivalent to twist locks.  But, if there is a difference in performance in general, I have yet to find any evidence of that.  It is of course still reasonable to have a preference for one type of lock based on ergonomics.  Just not performance.

18 thoughts on “Twist Locks vs. Flip Locks

  1. I’ve been a huge fan of this site for a while now, as someone who obsesses over tripods for some weird
    reason. I dunno, every guy seems to have their gadget fixation, watches, cars, headphones… mine is
    tripods…

    Anyways, you should definitely check into the Slik lineups a little bit more. They have a LOT of great options,
    from ultra-light (sub-2lb) backpacking tripods to “beater” boat anchor tripods.

    They do have at least one lineup that has had both twist-lock and lever-lock iterations if you buy one
    generation or another. You might have to acquire one or both of them used, but they do exist in nearly
    identical forms. Their lever-locks are an all-metal design, too, which does make them really heavy but they’re
    also quite stiff.

    Personally, I’m a fan of twist-lock, because I feel like a catastrophic failure is less likely.

    Anyways, I have quite a few backpacking/hiking friends who would love to see you perform tests on some Slik
    tripods like the Pro CF line or the Lite CF line. The Slik Lite CF-422 in particular is one of the top choices for
    backpacking/hiking, because it’s way taller and stiffer than literally all other “travel” designated tripods, and
    yet it’s also lighter than them as well.

    1. Thanks. Obviously I obsess over tripods too, so I understand. I will bump Slik up my priority list. You are not the only one who has suggested I test them. I believe they just released some updated versions of their tripods, so the time is ripe.

    2. Seems like the Lite CF-422 has been discontinued. The 635 PRO seems like is the most comparable model.

    3. Thanks for this.
      Didn’t consider Slik before.
      I agree with you now, having just looked at their new carbon fibre range.
      They have a centre column which I don’t like but this can be shortened by removing a tube.

  2. Oben also makes tripods with either twist or lever locks. they might not bear the same
    model numbers but they are identical apart from the locks.

    1. Which models specifically? To me it looked like the aluminum ones had flip locks while the carbon fiber ones had twist.

      1. I’ve took the time to look at all their tripods, and in fact it seems you are right. My bad.
        There are a few aluminum with twist, and a few carbon fiber with levers, but no
        combination. I’ll venture to say that they may have discontinued a few models, because
        when I last looked at this (last summer) I had a different impression.

  3. Would there be any difference in how
    much you tighten the twist locks? Do
    you use a torque wrench to tighten
    twist locks?

    1. Conceivably yes, there could be some effect on stiffness vs the tightening of the twist locks. I have done some very informal tests in the past and found that it doesn’t matter exactly how tight the twist locks are, as long as they are tightened firm. So no torque wrench. I just tightened them as I would in use.

  4. Hello, You are doing great work. I think flip locks are better as they are faster in deployment and we can adjust
    the torque. Also twist locks are user dependant as if user forgets or by mistakenly do not tight it completely it
    may cause problem.

  5. Hi! The site is a breath of fresh air. On twist locks versus flip: I have had MANY tripods and manufacturers over
    time of both persuasions, and have sworn off of flips for the foreseeable future (now use RRS). I have pinched
    so much flesh and lost more than a casual amount of blood that it’s twist only for me. Maybe you could add a
    rating column for “Did it Draw Blood”? Once again, great work!
    Bob

    1. Hahah, yes. That is the downside of many fliplocks. I will not that some fliplocks have a much smoother cam action that significantly reduces that risk. The twist lock vs flip lock debate seems to be one of the more polarizing in tripods. I’ve seen some people refuse to buy a tripod without flip locks, which is mystifying.

      1. I used to be one of them, with the old-style twist locks where you had to deploy each
        section one-by-one and then slowly lock them (and you better lock them right otherwise
        you’d be rotating the other section instead of locking it). Ever since Gitzo changed over
        to the G-locks and everyone followed it, I no longer have a preference.

    2. Angle selectors can also draw blood. The standard pull-out tabs can pinch the webbing of your thumb against the ridges of the spider if you’re not careful!

      That’s one reason why I like my Feisols: no pinch points.

  6. One of the reasons that people have in the past not liked twist or collar leg locks is that they
    allowed legs to spin and if you did not follow a ritual for setup and take down the legs just
    spun and could not be locked. The rule is that you set up top down and retract or collapse,
    bottom up. That way the leg above the one you are retracting is locked, and therefore, will
    not just spin. Also this means that when setting up you have the sturdiest setup as the
    smallest diameter leg section will be the least used if you don’t need maximum height. The
    smaller diameter the more vibration may be present or transmitted. Larger diameter less
    transmission.
    Many newer tripods with leg collar locks, now have anti spin legs which is great, but as i
    said above, the least amount of the skinniest leg is the best use.

    1. Every modern tripod I have tested has some sort of anti spin mechanism on the legs. I actually haven’t tested the effect of using which leg. Could be interesting.

      1. Opps, didn’t see this before I commented! Rod’s described it better than I did, but that’s
        exactly my issue. In general this was a problem with twist locks before 2008; it’s pretty
        much a non-issue now.

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