Vanguard Alta+ 264AP Aluminum Tripod offers competitive features at a reasonable price-point.
If you own an expensive DSLR camera, the second investment you should make is to choose a quality tripod that is capable holding your DSLR's weight and has adequate features to suit your needs. I have previously reviewed the Dolica Proline Photo Tripod as it was an affordable tripod that suited my Canon T3i quite well. After making the upgrade from the T3i to Canon's larger and heavier 5D Mark III model, I knew I'd have to invest in a new tripod as the Dolica was not adequate for a full-frame DSLR like the 5D.
Considering I already had the Ravelli AVTP tripod for video use, I began my search for a quality photo tripod that would suit my needs without breaking the bank. I ended up choosing Vanguard's Alta+ 264AP Aluminum model as I have heard many praises about their products in the past and the sub-$200 price-point was reasonable in my opinion.
The following review is based on solely on my personal use of this tripod over the past 3 months. No outside influences had any affect on the outcome of this review so rest assured, I am offering honest opinion on the product through my own personal experience.
The 264AP features a standard 3 leg design coupled with an extendable center column which is attached to the 3-way pan/tilt head. Each of the legs are highly adjustable in which I'll dive into more within the next section. This majority of this model is made of aluminum in a matte black finish. The rest of the counterparts (tripod head, leg clips, etc.) are made from die-cast magnesium. Each of the legs has large foam grips which are made to be durable enough for use in all weather conditions.
Vanguard also makes tripod legs in carbon fiber although they are priced significantly higher. Surprisingly, the aluminum legs are fairly light with tripod only weighing in at 4.41lbs with the head attached. Given the rigid design and build materials included in the 264AP, the overall weight is impressively light.
As I stated earlier, Alta+ 264AP's legs are highly adjustable allowing for adjustments in both height as well as the ability to arrange them in a 25, 50, or 80 degree stance.
Each of the legs has rubber feet which can be screwed in to reveal metal spikes which are ideal for use in uneven terrain like grass, dirt, mud, sand, etc. Since most of my photography is taken in my home studio, I haven't had to rely on the metal spikes though it is a nice convenience as I'll be prepared for any type of shooting environment should I choose to take this tripod out on the road with me.
The 3-way panhead attaches to a center column which can be raised, lowered, or even inverted should you require the need for a close up macro-style shot. You need to twist a knob to tighten the column in place and loosen to adjust the column's position. A great feature to this center column is an integrated anti-shock ring (the orange piece pictured below) which will protect your camera from any shock damage should the column become loose and accidentally collapse.
The 3-way panhead features an excellent two-handle design with a high degree of adjustable components perfect for capturing a shot from a precise angle. Throughout many of the online reviews, several people stated this tripod had a “fluid head”. Unfortunately, I've found this not to be the case as achieving a smooth pan or tilt with the included head is not an easy task especially when compared to an actual fluid head like the one found on my Ravelli AVTP Video Tripod. With that being said, the Vanguard Alta+ 264AP model was designed primarily for photo use so the lack of a fluid head is not that large of a downfall. The 3-way panhead does harness three built-in levels which is ideal for lining up a perfect photo and can help save you a lot of time on your photo editing in post.
As you'd expect, the head features a quick-release plate although I would have liked to have seen an extra quick release included for those of us who switch between multiple camera on a regular basis. The locking mechanism used to secure the quick release plate is stellar as it features a spring-loaded latch and added security button to ensure your camera stays mounted at all times without becoming accidentally disconnected. Another convenient feature in this mechanism is that the latch will stay in the “unlocked” position when the quick release plate is removed therefore making it easier to reattach your camera while only using one hand.
The panning feature within the 3-way head allows for 360-degree rotation although the tilt span only goes from +90 to -35-degrees due to interference with the legs. You're also able to easily switch from a landscape to portrait orientation quickly and easily using the side adjustment knob.
Lastly, Vanguard includes a free branded carrying case with each purchase which is convenient for traveling and storage purposes.
I've used this tripod as my main photo tripod for the past 6 months or so and I've been very pleased with its performance. The legs have been very stable when supporting my 5D Mark III which weighs in at 4-7lbs with a battery grip and lens equipped. The leg clips work excellent and have yet to fail when in the “closed” position.
As I stated earlier, the quick release system is exceptional and one of the best I've seen on a tripod in this price range. I love having the ability to mount my DSLR upside down for macro photography and that feature already come in handy multiple times for product shots used in recent reviews. There were a few times where I wished the legs extended just a few more inches in order to capture a perfect angle, but in most circumstances the 65 inches were more than enough to get the job done.
The 3-way panhead has been pleasing to work with, but it isn't comparable to a more expensive Vanguard or Manfrotto head. The two-handle design is excellent for dialing in the perfect angle with ease although I do wish it had fluid capabilities to make it more suitable for video-use.
Overall, I think Vanguard's Alta+ 264AP model is an excellent tripod at this price point. It's traditional three leg design is very stable and the aluminum material is both lightweight yet durable. While the 3-way panhead is far from being a perfect head, it works well for photography and lets you precisely dial in the perfect angle without much effort. If you're looking for a solid photo tripod without spending over $200, Vanguard's Alta+ 264AP Aluminum Tripod should satisfy your needs as it will match or beat Manfrotto's competing tripod offerings at this price-point.