In the world of tripods, there are many choices available to the photographer. The range of price is almost as wide as the number of tripods on the market. In this article, I am going to review one of the many tripods available, the Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT tripod. I purchased this tripod with the GH-100 pistol grip head. I am going to include it in the review.
During a recent meeting of my photo club, one of the members remarked that they purchase a new tripod about once a year. The reason given was because the tripods that they purchase do not last. They also stated that they do not spend a whole lot of money on tripods.
I too fell into the trap of skimping on spending money on tripods. My first tripod cost about $25 and lasted about a whole month. My second tripod cost me about $75. It was an okay tripod, but it was somewhat flimsy. It also did not survive being sprayed by water from the Pacific Ocean. Several days later, the leg locks began to disintegrate from the sand and salt water.
A quick search for tripod legs on B and H's website garners results ranging from $49 up to almost $3000. With tripods, the more you spend, the better the tripod. You will definitely will not need a three thousand dollar tripod. Doing your research before hand and being prepared to spend some money will save you some heartache. I do not realistically see a photographer needing spend that much.
Enter the Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT. I spent some time studying tripods and while I knew I had to spend some money the third time around, I did not have a big budget. I came across a package deal for this particular tripod. For around $200, I got the tripod and head together.
ABOUT THE VANGUARD ALTA PRO 263AT
The tripod is a three leg, three section aluminum alloy tripod with quick release leg locks. The tripod can extend to 52 1/8th inch (without head) without extending the center section and 65 inches with the center section extended (without head). Collapsed length is 24.75 inches (without head). The legs can be set at 25 degrees, 50 degrees and 80 degrees, allowing the photographer to put the camera just a couple of inches off the ground. Specifications state that the tripod has a minimum working height of 6.25 inches. The tripod weighs in 4.41 pounds and has a load capacity of 15.4 pounds.
The tripod also came with a little tool set that allows me to check the leg lock screws from time to time. I keep this tool in my camera bag. The quick flip leg locks are really user friendly and after almost four years of having this tripod, I have had no issues other than the occasional screw loose.
The extendable center section can be a source of frustration, especially if the photographer decides to setup just off the ground. Even though there is one knob and one lock to deal with, getting the center section extended can be somewhat difficult. The process is easy, but doing it is a whole nother can of worms. The photographer also has to worry about how far they are going to extend the center section. Extending the center section further out introduces more flex, so the photographer has to be careful so they have a solid platform for their camera. The center section also has a hook where you can hang stuff such as weight bags.
The one complaint that I have read about the legs on Vanguard tripods are the lack of locks. What I mean is that when the legs do not lock in place. When the user goes to move the tripod, then the legs will stay at the selected angle. I have had several rude surprises as I have grabbed the center section so I can move the tripod, only to have the legs fold in and usually my hand serves as the stopper.
The legs are equipped with rubber feet with retractable spikes. What this means is you can use the tripod in a variety of environments and have a stead platform. Retract the spikes when you are inside on the tile floor, extend them when you are outside in the dirt.
ABOUT THE GH 100 PISTOL GRIP HEAD
Like I mentioned earlier in this article, I purchased the tripod and head as a package. The pistol grip head is a solid head that offers dual locking quick shoe mechanism that will lock the camera in solid. It also offers 72 point panoramic rotation. The user can also rotate the pistol grip around and the head itself can be rotated so the camera is in portrait mode.
My previous tripod had a ball head and the GH 100 makes me miss having one and I am currently in the market for one. While I have taken many shots using the GH 100 with it rotated every which way, it is really not as user friendly as a ball head. When I want to position the camera down low to the ground, it really takes some manipulation to get the tripod where I want it. One of the weirdest things about this head is the placement of the bubble. The bubble is located where the quick release plate goes, so once the camera is attached, the user cannot see it. Bubble placement led to it's quick destruction by slamming the plate in place.
It is a good head for the price, but if you want user friendly, you might be best served by looking for another head.
LET'S TALK REAL WORLD USE OF BOTH UNITS TOGETHER
Like I mentioned, I paid about $200 for both units together about 4 years ago. I am honestly surprised that I have not had any major issues with this tripod. Although there are some things that I do not like about it, such as the missing leg locks, this tripod has seen a ton of shooting time. I have not given the tripod the “Pacific Ocean” test, but knowing I can get replacement parts sets my mind at ease.
All of the numbers I listed are very important. One of the main things I look at when choosing a tripod is height. My preference is a tripod that will place the camera almost eye level. This tripod does exactly that.
The collapsed length might be a little on the long end. Definitely something to think about if you hike the back country or take airline trips.
If weight is a concern, then you might want to keep going. The tripod weighs in just over 4 pounds. This number can definitely grow with a head on it. Might not be the perfect tripod for a backpacking trip. I am usually not that far from my vehicle when I am shooting, so it has not been that much of a concern. The tripod has some weight to it. Even then, with a DSLR and battery grip attached, the wind can knock it over.
Setting up the tripod a couple of inches from the ground takes some manipulation. This can be exaggerated if the camera is still on the head.
The Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT tripod is a great tripod for the price. While you need to spend some money for a tripod that will last, this tripod proves you do not have to break the bank to do it. My “photography wife” has the same tripod and she is a more prolific shooter than I am and she loves it.
Amazon sells the tripod by itself for $149.00 and also the tripod and pistol grip head as a kit for $249.00. Sometimes, you will be able to find deals on the kit. I paid about $200 for my current setup.