The Vanguard Alto Pro 263AT tripod was awarded Best Accessory by the Technical Image Press Association (TIPA) in 2009. TIPA liked the tripod's innovative Multi-Angle Central Column (MACC) and Instant Swivel Stop-n-Lock (ISSL) System. Three years on we see if this tripod still outshines its competition.
Vanguard Alto Pro 263AT FeaturesThis Alto Pro 263AT has, like most other tripods on the market, quick-release legs, and an extending centre column. It also has feet that adjust from rubber pads to spikes with a few twists of the wrist and legs that can be splayed out wide for low level shooting. But, and it's a big but, the Alto Pro 263AT goes a few stages further by having a centre column that can not only be pulled out and set to horizontal like you see on some Manfrotto models, but it also rotates 180 degrees so the head can be facing the ground in a matter of seconds. It also has a hexagonal centre column that improves rigidity.
The tripod is supplied in kit form with the SBH-100 ball & socket head, carry case and SB100 stone bag.
- Multi-Angle Central Column (MACC)
- Instant Swivel Stop-n-Lock (ISSL) System
- Three quick release leg sections
- Hexagonal centre column
- Bubble spirit level
- 25, 50 and 80 degree angle legs
- Spiked / rubber feet
- Hook and stone bag to provide ballast
Bubble spirit level
Head mounting platform
Multi angle release
Vanguard Alto Pro 263AT HandlingThe Alto Pro 263AT is surprisingly light considering it's aluminium and not carbon fibre build. A considerable amount of the weight is in the heavy duty ball & socket head. There are a few interesting design features that make it easier to handle than many similar spec tripods. The key one is the Multi-Angle Central Column (MACC). This allows the centre column to be raised and then swung around 180 degrees, so you can get the camera into just about any position, above or below the subject. It's versatile for insect and flower photography, as well as offering more scope for table top photography.
The locking mechanism was a bit sloppy on the review model, but the tripod comes with an Allen key so you can tighten the locks and I'd soon got it rock solid. The leg releases can also be tightened with the supplied tool.
Vanguard Alto Pro 263AT PerformanceThe tripod is surprisingly sturdy, considering the height it extends to. I'm 5ft 10in and it towered above me when fully extended. For those who are concerned about the lighter weight, the tripod has the useful hook that you can hang your camera bag from (or a bag full of rocks). This not only keeps the bag off the ground, but adds extra weight, pulling down to stop any movement.
A stone bag is also provided that has Velcro straps to wrap around each leg. The bag (more like shelf) is positioned under the tripod and can be filled with stones to add ballast. I actually prefer to use the bag hook for stability as it's quicker to use then hunting around for suitable stones. I found it more convenient to use the stone bag as a handy accessory shelf where you can rest additional lenses, flash or filters while taking photos.
The rotating centre column can be used to get the camera right down to the ground and with a bag placed on the centre hook provides a very stable support.
Its hexagonal shape prevents rotation in the mount so it tends to be more rigid than some models with a circular column.
You do have to be careful that it's balanced correctly when the bag or hook isn't used as it can easily topple over when the camera is attached and the arm is facing downwards, as seen in the illustration to the left.
I had no problems with stability and was shooting at shutter speeds up to several minutes when used with a camera that had a Lee Filters Big Stopper attached.
The moon below was photographed with a Tamron 500mm lens attached to an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro 4/3 camera giving the equivalent of 1000mm. The exposure was 1/250 sec at f/8 and ISO 200.
With the Lee Filters Big Stopper attached I was shooting at lengthy durations of up to two minutes. This one on Baslow Edge was 117 sec at f/9.0 and shows the tripod has held the camera steady. The Olympus 9-18mm zoom was set at 9mm on the OM-D and ISO 200.
At £134 the Vanguard Alto Pro 263AT delivers a competitive mix of features with a few extras (case, tool and stone bag) thrown in, but it does have some serious competition. The Benbo Trekker, often referred to as the bagpipes of the tripod world due to the design, has a similar versatile centre column but it's not quite as easy to handle precisely as the lock also unlocks the legs and everything becomes loose. Three hands are ideal! Then there's the incredibly small and light Velbon Ultra Rexi L that we reviewed last year which is better for travel photographers. And the Giottos MTL9351B with MH5001 three way pan head has a similar rotating column with similar weight making it a seriously good alternative. The £95 Manfrotto 190XPROB can be rotated, but not with quite the same versatility as the Vanguard, it just removes and can be slotted back in horizontally and you need a head which will be about £44.
Value For Money
Vanguard Alto Pro 263AT VerdictI can see why this tripod caught the attention of the TIPA judges. 30+ editors of photography magazines know a thing or two about camera equipment and I guess they were blown away by the light weight, but sturdy build, the versatile and flexible controls and the positioning capabilities of the Alto Pro 263AT. Price for price it delivers a solid range of features that makes it a fine choice for photographers of all genres, and with no restrictions on height for all but the few giants in existence. Overall it was hard to find any faults.
|The Vanguard Alto Pro 263AT delivers a solid range of features that makes it a fine choice for photographers of all genres.|
Vanguard Alto Pro 263AT ProsMulti-angle central column
Sturdy hexagonal centre column
Excellent maximum height
Well postitioned angle leg locks
Vanguard Alto Pro 263AT ConsLess common quick release plate
|VALUE FOR MONEY|
Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT Specifications
|Maximum Weight Capacity||7kg|
|Number of Leg Sections||3|
|Head||SBH-100 ball & socket head|
|Box Contents||Tripod, head, case, instructions, tool, shelf|
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