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 Stiffness||171 +/- 1 Nm/rad|
|Yaw Damping||0.129 +/- 0.013 Js/rad|
|Pitch Stiffness||659 +/- 3 Nm/rad|
|Pitch Damping||0.289 +/- 0.029 Js/rad|
Here are the test results for the twist lock version:
|Yaw Stiffness||173 +/- 1 Nm/rad|
|Yaw Damping||0.140 +/- 0.014 Js/rad|
|Pitch Stiffness||661 +/- 4 Nm/rad|
|Pitch Damping||0.295 +/- 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.