I think we would all agree that there is no “perfect” tripod, any more than there is a perfect camera bag, or a single do-everything lens. Kathy likes to remind me that there is no such thing as a too-large diamond 😉 and the same might generally hold true for tripods. But sometimes a tripod can be a little too large, particularly for travel.
A few years ago I sold my older and smaller Gitzo tripod, which was pretty good for travel, ending up with just a Big A$$ RRS tripod and ball head as my only camera support. And that is great for a large majority of our travel, as lately most of our travel has been by car, and it is no big deal to make room for a B.A. tripod. But while the B.A. will kinda fit in a large suitcase, it is really overkill and takes up a lot of space. And yes, I could check it separately with our other luggage, but that means another bag, etc. Enter the interest in a travel-specific tripod.
I had read about the Peak Design tripod, but when it came out I dismissed it because I thought it was pretty pricey, I already had a really good tripod and had not come across a situation where I really wanted something smaller. But when I started thinking about our Hawaii trip I wondered about buying something more suitable for packing. I mentioned this to Kathy, and being the wiser of the two of us, she asked me if it was possible to rent one. Well, duh-huh! So I checked out Lensrentals and sure enough, they have them to rent, for a (large-ish) fraction of what one would cost to buy. But the cost was still less than buying a cheap tripod that I probably would not be happy with.
OK, so much for the long-winded intro.
I rented the carbon fiber model, which sells for $600. It’s a little lighter than the aluminum model, and I’m sold on the advantages of carbon fiber in a tripod. It folds up into a neat little package that takes up about the same space as a re-useable water bottle. And it comes in a nice cloth carrying case with a detachable shoulder strap.
My biggest concern was whether it would be stiff enough. I tested it at home and was impressed by how solid it felt, even though the lower legs are pretty skinny. The only time I had trouble with movement in the field was a few times when I extended the center column. But I hung my backpack on the hook and it settled right down.
My second concern was whether the tripod would be tall enough to prevent me from having to do contortions to see the viewfinder. I’m proudly old school and tend to keep the screen folded closed and compose through the viewfinder. But it was tall enough that even extended the minimum amount (when closed, the head is nested on top of the legs, so you have to raise the center column slightly in order to be able to adjust the head) I was easily able to use the viewfinder. No problemo!
The leg locks are really cool – they are grouped together on each leg so you can pretty much open them with one movement. On my rental model they were a little stiff, but they can be adjusted with the included tool, which I would probably do if I owned one. The legs generally extend easily, although on my model one of the sections was a little stiff, as though it had been bent.
The camera mount – it’s not exactly a ball head although it functions like one – takes a little getting used to but is very user friendly and holds the camera securely. I used an L-bracket instead of the included camera plate, and was pleased with that combination. I don’t think I would like to use the stock plate with the camera “flopped over” for vertical shots. There is an option to replace the standard head with another head, but that would make the tripod longer and kind of defeats the purpose of the design.
I’ve been using Peak Design straps for several years and have been very happy with them. I don’t yet own one of their backpacks, but am seriously considering one. I thought the early versions were kind of ugly, but the newer ones look pretty nice. This tripod is elegantly designed, well made and I can imagine it being an “only” tripod for many people. Unless you are shooting with big glass, in high winds or in rushing streams, it would probably suit most uses. I especially like it with the X-T4, even with the 55-200 lens.
Will I buy one? Possibly. I was quite impressed and can see me using one again. If I had one I could take it just about anywhere without worrying about making space. Would I replace my B.A. unit? Probably not, but if I owned a Peak Design tripod and got used to using it, you never know.
I didn’t take my own pictures of the tripod – these are all borrowed from B&H. Hopefully no one will mind.