Photo shot in Zagreb, Croatia, on my kitchen table after painting the domes of Mirogoj Cemetery.
I am speaking of the smallest of the relatively new line of Strada plein air field easels that are constructed out of heavy-gauge anodized aluminum, with a design which features a hinged painting support that is quick and easy to set up. (You can read my previous reviews of the Original and Mini Strada easels here and here)
Quick Review: Strada Micro...
Pros: Compact and incredibly durable. Fast and easy to set up and use. Awesome build quality. Cons: Limited to small panels. Limited mixing area. Deep well in the mixing area.
Manufacturer's website: StradaEasel.com
The Strada Micro™ measures 7 x 7 x 1.5 inches and weighs in at 1 lb 8 oz and the manufacture claims it can hold a painting panel up to 10 inches tall. It also comes with two side shelves that can be used to hold your painting tools or used to increase your mixing area. (I opted to use the shelves as extra mixing space, as I have with the Strada Mini.)
At its core, the Micro shares the same robust build quality and proven design of its bigger and older siblings. It can be easily opened and closed to access or protect your paint as you move around or store the easel. Like its kin, it won't suffer the indignities of being crushed or broken, nor will it bend or deflect from the inevitable blow-down caused by an unanticipated gust of wind. In other words, the Micro, like its brothers, is pretty much bomb-proof, sleek, and built like a tank. But it is a size that best serves the specialized needs of the ultra-light plein air painter who wants to set up far away from the car, or the itinerant artist who is planning to live out of a backpack during a lengthy trip. The Micro can work for the plein air enthusiast who never wants to paint any larger than ten inches tall. In truth, the Micro can stand up against its bigger brothers in every way except that the vertical limit is something to consider.
A Quick Side Bar on Tripods for the Plein Air Painter:
I also field tested one of the tripods Strada bundles with the Micro. Since the Micro rightly targets the fast & light outdoor painter, I intentionally chose the Sirui T-005kx, the most compact tripod Strada offers. (shown right) To be fair, I have never seen a tripod offered by a manufacturer that is robust enough to withstand the rigors of outdoor painting, and frankly, the T-005kx is no exception. First, it is a little undersized for the painter who stands six feet tall. (I'm a little taller.) Second, the integrated ball-head and build-quality of the Sirui falls far below the build quality of the Micro itself. And finally, the weight capacity of the T-005kx, a unit designed for photo enthusiasts and digital cameras, is too low for even the Micro, especially if you like to aggressively push your paint around or have to deal with the wind. (My benchmark for assessing push and wiggle is whether or not an outdoor easel/tripod combination moves more or less than a stretched canvas does in the studio.) In fact, the first time I set up this tripod in the field I accidentally pulled the last section out of one of the legs and lost the pin or ring that keeps that section connected. I never found that part in the grass below so it must be tiny. It isn't fair to fault Strada for this failure because the manufacturer is just trying to provide an attractive (and competitive) price to the buyer, but you should read my post on tripods here if you want a full summary of what to look for in a plein air tripod. In a nutshell, don't try to scrimp or save on your tripod because most push and wiggle can be directly attributed to the tripod's ball-head and legs, not the easel itself. However, having expressed my strong personal reservation, there are painters who like the T-005kx very much, Marc Dalessio being one. (link to autoplay video) I just don't agree.As a point in comparison, I now have eleven different kinds of outdoor easels. That's crazy, I know. They run from funky cigar pochade boxes I made myself to most of the sophisticated options you can buy from a commercial manufacturer. Because of this excess I have designated the Micro as a special use easel, the one I can jam into a modest gear bag when space and weight are of critical concern. Or it has become the easel I leave in the car for those times when I might spot a drive-by painting and just want to grab a quick sketch. It's handy.
For me, the built-in ten inch limit is fine when I am off on a trek and I need room for other essentials such as food, a tent, and rain gear. Or the times I am heading out the door on an adventure that may include a couple of ill-defined modes of transportation. You know, trips that begin with a plane, train, or automobile...and end up involving a ferry, a whitewater raft, miles on a trail, riding an elephant, hopping into a tuk-tuk, or hailing a passing rickshaw. (Okay, those last three are still on the bucket list, but they ARE going to happen...)
But if you are a recent convert to plein air painting and have been avidly searching online for the One and True Outdoor Easel that can do it all...well, the Micro ain't it. Instead, I'd steer you towards its older brother, the Strada Mini. At twice the size, which is still relatively compact, it can hold a panel or canvas up to eighteen inches tall and that should cover most of the panels sizes you want to carry out into the field. Anything bigger and I suggest you step up to a Gloucester Easel. (Yes, I have one of those easels, as well.)
But do not misunderstand me, the Strada Micro is just as awesome as its larger bros. It just loses out in the fraternal wrestling department because of its shorter reach. (Which is like dissin' Isaiah Thomas for being a little undersized for the NBA.) The Micro was never designed to be a big-boy bruiser, it was always intended to be the little punk in the family. The scrappy kid who is plucky and willing to be packed into tiny spaces as a surprise. Ultimately, there is no point to diss'ing Micro for its size because it is good at what it was built to do. You just need to appreciate you won't paint anything taller than ten inches as it comes stock.
So if you are waiting for a something smaller, and perhaps more compact to come along, don't hold your breath. With the Micro, I think the line of Strada easels have reached a certain size threshold and you are not likely to see anything more portable or durable come to market soon. Unless it is the Strada 'Nano'.
And honestly, should that ever happen maybe it will look like this...
I'm kidding. At least I avoided the 'Papa bear, Mama bear, and Baby bear' analogy, right? Thank goodness for that!...