Alta Pro tripod: Serious Gear On The Go

Alta Pro tripod: Serious Gear On The Go

October 26, 2011

When archeological photographer, college instructor, and Vanguard fan Wayne Smith needed a compact tripod for traveling to coastal Maine from his home in Texas over the summer, he called on our Alta Pro 284CT for its portable lightweight and folded size. What he got was a whole lot more than he expected. Here are his thoughts on how it worked for him.

I recently had an opportunity to photograph the beautiful coastal communities of eastern Maine. Never having packed a tripod as part of carry-on luggage before, I thought it might be prudent to call the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The folks there were very helpful with sorting out the best solution to bringing a tripod on my trip (which was to pack it in my checked luggage).

In the past, I have enjoyed using VANGUARD’s Auctus Plus 323CT unit with a PH-55 pan head. But as I started to consider packing for the trip, it was clear my favorite tripod was a bit too large for my suitcase. After some searching, I acquired a VANGUARD Alta Pro 284CT Tripod and SBH-300 Ball Head.

With four leg segments, Alta Pro 284 CT packs into a nice short package. With head attached, it folds down to an overall length of slightly less than 26 inches, which is a perfect fit for my suitcase, and it weighs less than 4 lbs.

Besides being sized right for travel, the tripod also has a lot of features, including a multiple angle central column. I could not appreciate how useful this feature is until I found myself facing some interesting photographic challenges during the trip.

Other features of this tripod include low angle set-up capability and a very stable central column. The unit also includes a carrying bag and a stone bag. For the unfamiliar, the stone bag is a handy, fabric bag that attaches with Velcro to the legs of the tripod, forming a unique pocket for spare lenses or filters. This turned out to be very handy.

While hiking along with areas of the rocky Maine coastline, the tripod was light and sturdy enough to serve as a walking stick between photo locations. In all, it was extremely stable and performed beautifully. The multi-angle central column of the unit turned out to be a blessing. For one photo opportunity, I perched precariously on a steep, rocky drop-off, and I needed to use the tripod at an acute angle to get the best view. A wireless remote was the only solution to safely get the shot.

The ball head assembly was equally impressive. Apart from easily handling large lenses, I loved the smooth action of the ball head, and when set, the camera and lens were locked firmly into position. The ball head also has an interchangeable attachment screw, allowing for 3/8 inch and ¼ inch threads.

The most impressive aspect of the ball head assembly was the camera mounting plate. I thought it seemed a little large at first glance, but once mounted to the camera, it provided a snug, non-slipping attachment to the ball head. The mounting plate has two bubble levels built in, which were handy in a couple of precarious set-ups. The receiving bracket on the ball head includes a locking side pressure plate and a safety lock to ensure solid attachment of the camera.

Wayne in Maine 2

Included above is a photograph of my set-up close to the edge of a drop off site on Cadillac Mountain, in Acadia National Park, Maine. At certain times in the day, low-lying clouds appear to blanket the small islands off the coast. These make wonderful photographs. The intent was to take a series of images to compile into dramatic high dynamic range images. On this windy outcrop, camera shake and overall stability can be an issue, but by using mirror lock-up and fast shutter speed, I got some great shots.

The more time I have had to think about my experience with the Alta Pro 284CT and SBH-300 ball head configuration, I have realized it is more that a compact tripod; it’s a serious piece of equipment that just happens to take little space in a piece of luggage.