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Vanguard Tripod Review

Ahhh, photography, the hobby that keeps taking…  You bought the camera, you bought a few lenses, you bought the carrying bag or three, and you even got yourself a copy of some editing software.  Then it dawned on you that to shoot macros, long exposures, or even some long distance wildlife you are going to need a tripod.  No problem, right?

Vanguard ABEO Pro 283AT

And then you realize that there are virtually endless options, with prices going from pretty cheap to really, really expensive.  What to buy?  Tripods are a hard item to choose in a camera store or even purchasing online because it can be hard to know what is going to really matter when you are out in the field.  Every tripod manufacturer has their own selling features and marketing hyperbole.  But what really matters?

The tripod that is right for you may not be right for the next person, because the right tripod depends on your greatest need.  Several years of experience (and periodic frustrations) have taught me a few priorities.

  1. I am a macro shooter, so having a tripod that can be easily adjusted into a lot of crazy angles (including getting the camera horizontal) is important to me.
  2. I am not primarily a wildlife photographer, and I rarely pack very large lenses that would need a heavy duty tripod in the woods.
  3. I do shoot long exposures, so I need a tripod that is stable…on a variety of surfaces.
  4. Because I don’t often carry my tripod on long excursions, the extra money for a slightly lighter carbon fibre tripod is not a spending priority for me.
  5. I do shoot nightscapes of the stars, so having a tripod that allows me to easily compose in the portrait orientation and rotate the head up and down to change shooting angle is important to me.
  6. I don’t often shoot tripod mounted video that requires panning, so a panhead is not a priority for me.
  7. I am fairly tall (over 6 feet), so having a tripod that gets up to my shooting height is important.

That’s my list, but yours may differ.  Picking the right tripod is really about being aware of your shooting style and picking a tripod/head that maximizes those areas without spending money on a lot of features that you won’t actually use.

My new tripod/head of choice?  The Vanguard ABEO Pro 283AT with the Vanguard GH-300T Pistol Grip Ball Head.  Fortunately for me (and maybe you), this particular combination comes as a kit, which knocks around $100 off the combined price.

Why the Vanguard?

A number of reasons, but let’s start from the ground up. I’ve found the Vanguard to be extremely stable in all of the various shooting conditions I’ve used it in, thanks to its unique 3-in-1 all-terrain feet. It has rubber “snow shoes” that are shaped almost like hooves and have an aggressive tread pattern. I like using them in most situations because they grip so well and add a wider surface area for the tripod to rest on. These can be removed, though, revealing standard rubberized feet beneath. Beneath those are spiked feet for when you want to drive them in a bit to help in windy conditions.

That stability is helped by thick but light legs that have a nice foam gripping section near the top of the tripod.  The folded height of the tripod is 30 1/8th“/765mm but extends to 67 1/2″/1715mm – able to easily get up to eye height for me.

The tripod/head combination weighs in at 7.3lbs/3.3 kilos but is able to support 17.6 lbs/8 kilos.  My heaviest lens/camera combo in my kit weighs in at less than 7 lbs/3 kilos, so that leaves a lot of breathing room for using heavier combinations in the future.

I mentioned that macro shooting is important to me, and this tripod is an exceptional one for macro shooters because its flexibility extends beyond unique positioning of the legs.  It also allows for the center column to come up to its highest position and then rotate out horizontally to the ground.  It will lock solidly in place in this position and the tripod continues to be stable.  This allows me to shoot at a downward angle and means that I can quickly and easily get the tripod into the position that I need.  My previous tripod did not allow for this, so in many situations I ended up just shooting macro shots handheld, which adds an extra degree of difficulty (or impossibility, in some cases).

But nothing tops the pistol grip ballhead included in this kit for getting the camera into the position you need quickly and easily.  Ballheads are valued for their flexibility in this regard.  My previous tripod’s head had multiple locking knobs for making various adjustments.  This required one to adjust each of them and then lock them in the desired position…which could be a bit tedious.  This head simply allows one to squeeze the “trigger” and then rotate the ballhead into whatever position one desires.   When you release the trigger, the head is locked.

That simple.

It is an incredibly intuitive and easy system to use.  It is also very easy to make a fine adjustment to achieve, say, a level for landscape shooting.  It does have levers for locking things down even further or to limit movement on a certain axis, but I’ve yet to encounter a situation that actually required this.

One other key for me is that when the tripod is in portrait orientation, there is a locking lever that allows for the camera to be rotated up or down.  This is particularly important for those of us who want to rotate the camera up to a specific angle for shooting the stars.

One other very cool feature is that the ballhead also has a port for connecting it to your camera body via an included cable (several different ones are included) to become a remote trigger.  This is very nice for when you are making that fine adjustment and you need to get the shot quickly.  It also has a lock, so that you can use it in bulb mode to shoot long exposures.  This has the further benefit of reducing vibration and helping eliminate camera shake – key when making very fine focus in a macro situation.

The Vanguard also comes with a very nice carrying bag with straps that have allowed me to carry it in the field easily.

The only thing that I’m not crazy about is that the quick release plate isn’t as intuitive as the Manfrotto tripod I’ve used in the past.  It not only takes a little longer to release it from the tripod (by loosening a knob), but also requires one to have something like a coin (or the world’s hardest fingernails!!!) to loosen/tighten the actual plate to the camera, while the Manfrotto design has a little ring attached to the bolt that provides you enough torque to get the job done.  But hey, I’ve adapted.  Sometimes you can’t have everything.

There are lighter and more robust options out there (not to mention more expensive options!), but this tripod/head combo hits a sweet spot for me.  The Vanguard ABEO Pro 283AGH kit has become my tripod/head of choice.

About the Author

Dustin is a full time pastor/part time photographer from Pembroke, Ontario who shoots professionally but primarily for capturing beauty and sharing it with others. www.dustinabbott.net

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