This is the Vanguard AltaPro 263AT tripod with the Vanguard SBH-100 ball head, otherwise known as the Alta Pro 263AB 100 kit. Vanguard’s middle of the range tripod, perfect for compact DSLRs while you’re on the road, offers some incredible features of higher priced tripods at an affordable price. The key feature that sets Vanguard apart from other similar tripods, is the Multi-Angle Central Column System (MACC), which allows photographers to adjust the centre column to just about any angle, making it easy to keep the tripod where it is most stable, but allowing the camera to get the perfect angle.
What’s In the Box?
- Vanguard AltaPro 263AT Legs
- Vanguard SBH 100 Ball Head
- Carrying Bag
The AltaPro 263 is an aluminium tripod with many of the bells and whistles of higher priced tripods. Weighing in at 2.44kg (5.38lbs) it’s not the lightest tripod in town, but with decreased weight, comes decreased stability. The aluminum has a nice matte finish that seems like it will stand the test of time after getting bounced off a few rocks on the side of a camera bag. The knobs and locks are all an injection-moulded plastic, however they seem solid and are easy to operate, even with gloves on. All of the screws are metal.
Each leg is covered in a dense foam, covering half of the upper section. The foam is a great feature when working out in the cold, as grabbing an handful of aluminium can give you quite a shock in the cold.
Features Over the Other Guys
Let’s talk about a few features that help set this tripod apart from the competition in this price point.
1. Spiked Feet or Round Feet, In One – The Vanguard AltaPro has spiked feet integrated in their design. By twisting the bottom rounded foot up a screw post, the spiked foot is revealed. The spikes themselves aren’t massive, but a nice touch over having to buy them separate.
2. The Multi-Angle Centre Column – The centre column can be twisted, turned, inverted, partially inverted, swiveled, extended… the list goes on. If you can dream up an angle for the centre column, the AltaPro can handle it. The centre column also has a retracting hook, perfect if you need some counter balance or a lower centre of gravity in tough shooting conditions.
3. Panning Head – No need to pay extra for funky panoramic adapters here, the base of the tripod head has an integrated 360 degree base, making panoramic stitching incredibly easy.
4. Push Button Leg Locks – Finally, no more getting your fingers trapped in a medieval torture device known as leglocks. When spreading each leg of the tripod out, one just has to push a button on the side of the leg to get past the lock. Finally! The legs also have quick settings of 25, 50 and 80 degrees, making low angles easy to achieve with the push of a button. The button does not have to be pushed to fold the legs back up, they simply ratchet into place. Nicely done.
6. Multi-tool Included – Vanguard is nice enough to include this solid little multi-tool for tightening leg locks, adjusting allen bolt grub screws, and swapping 1/4-20 to 3/8 mounts on the tripod head. If only they threw in a bottle opener, maybe next time.
7. 1/4-20 or 3/8 Head – The SBH100 head is easily adaptable from 1/4-20 to 3/8 with the included insert. The 263AT also has a 1/4-20 to 3/8 adapter built into the base. These can all be easily changed out in the field if need be from the included multi-tool, but you’ll likely be doing this once at home before setting out for a shoot. Again, a nice touch.
The big question, how does it handle in the field? Using a Nikon D800 with a Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8VC lens and a Tamron 180mm f/3.5 Macro, the Vanguard did an exceptional job of keeping the setup stable for 1/4-2 second exposures, the true test zone for any stable tripod setup. At 5.3 lbs, it would be a bit heavy on a backcountry expedition, but for shorter day trips, would be right at home. At maximum height, the camera was resting right around eye level, saving a lot of back strain from hunching over to see through the viewfinder. The infinite adjustability and ability to get the camera into any position was welcome and stability was still rock solid. The addition of a nylon travel bag for the tripod is a nice touch as part of the kit, especially if you need to throw your tripod in some checked luggage or carry it over your shoulder.
We loved the push button leg locks in the field. With a full set of winter gloves on, grabbing the tripod leg and using your right thumb to unlock and change the angle was a breeze. No more pinched fingers trying to pull the leg lock out, then pinching it again while setting the desired angle. The AltaPro also features 3 bubble levels (one on the tripod, two on the head) to make setting up landscape panoramas a breeze. It was stable in the moving water, allowing for sharp photos around 1-2seconds in length.
For around $230-240, you’ve got a full-featured tripod and head combo ready for your next adventure. The AltaPro will be a great setup for in studio use and on your next photo trip. It has the right combination of features for just about any photographer and looks like it will hold up to some regular abuse on the side of our pack. If it does have problems, the tripod is backed by a lifetime warranty in Canada.
Disclaimer: If you’re working around water with your camera, have a backup plan. A rogue rock, fish or stick could attack your tripod and submerge your entire system. Insurance is a must. We wouldn’t advocate doing this with any tripod, but nice to know it could be done.
There is a downside to so much adjustability… and it’s that there is so much adjustability. There are two knobs for the folding neck (one pivot, one height), a safety release for the tilt, a safety catch for the centre column max length, and then the pan base and ball head releases on the head. I was forgetting which knob controlled which part with so many options available in the field. I would certainly need a few more outings with the AltaPro before attempting to take it out and shoot some stars in the darkness.
The leg locks also came a bit loose from the factory for our liking, but it was easily fixed with the included multi-tool. Not a big deal, but important to know before leaving the multi-tool at home and setting out on your first shoot.
The Short Story: The AltaPro 263AB 100 has loads of features more commonly found on the higher end tripods at an affordable price.
Photos from the Field
Folded: 715mm 28 1/8 in.
Extended: 1730mm 68 1/8 in.
Diameter Leg: 26mm
Max Weight: 7kg | 15.4 lbs
Weight: 2.44kg | 5.38 lbs
Where to Buy
Amplis.com Store – $229.99 – Vanguard – Alta Pro 263AB100 Tripod
Don’s Photo Shop – $229.99 – Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB 100 Tripod W/SBH 100 Ballhead
Henrys.ca – $239.99 – Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT 3SECT TPOD/BHEAD
Gosselin Photo – $244.99 – Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT Trépied en aluminium avec tête de balle SBH-100