anguard’s Alta Pro tripods are an excellent tool for the outdoor photographer. Or indeed, any photographer wanting flexibility in a tripod. It seems odd to talk about a tripod being both flexible and stable. The main reason we use tripods is to stabilize our camera rig. The flexibility comes in with how many different ways you can set up this tripod for field and studio use.
Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB 100 features an innovative center column that can be adjusted horizontally as well as vertically. This is the flexibility mentioned above. Horizontal movement allows a photographer to position the camera in almost any position needed to come away with the best image.
Horizontal Center Column
Nature photographers will see the flexibility benefit right away. By spreading the legs out as needed and moving the camera in both the horizontal and vertical planes, or any combination of those movements, a photographer can place the camera as close to a subject as possible.
Macro photography is definitely made easier this way. Handheld macrophotography can sometimes present a challenge. Trying to balance out a fast enough shutter speed to avoid image blur due to camera movement, while making sure to have a small enough aperture to avoid image blur due to focus depth issues can give you a headache.
But, most tripods don’t let you get in just the right position to be close enough for a true macro shot. That’s where the flexibility of the Alta Pro 263AB comes in. Besides the horizontal movement, it also has several different leg positions available. Add in the superb ball and socket head, and almost any camera position you could envision is possible, though a fully articulated 3-way head may be desired for the most versatility.
The Multi-Angle Central Column, or MACC, movement is easy to accomplish, too. Simply adjust one control, called the Instant Swivel Stop-n-Lock system, or ISSL, and the center column can be swung to a horizontal placement, or anywhere in between vertical and horizontal.
Solid and Stable
While that center column flexibility makes this tripod stand out for nature and outdoor use, the Alta Pro 263AB is also a fine tripod for general use. As a studio tripod, the horizontal column can come in handy for product shots or overhead point of view imaging. Also useful for portrait use, real estate photography, and any situation that requires a tripod.
All aluminum leg and column construction provides stability and durability while keeping weight down for portability. The three section legs extend and lock with easy to release flip lock levers. The levers are user adjustable as the tripod receives wear and tear from extended use, just access the small screw on the locks.
The leg angle adjustment has three locking positions at 25, 50, and 80-degree angles. The rubber feet screw back to reveal a steel spike, so this tripod can sit on a parquet floor or on an icy mountainside.
For added stability, a hook attaches to the bottom of the center column, allowing you to hang sandbags or other weights. If you have ever shot outdoors in high winds or if you use a panoramic head for spherical panoramas, you will appreciate this added feature.
Ball and Socket Head
It comes with the SBH-100 ball and socket head. The head is made from a magnesium alloy and has some nice features of its own. A quick release system that actually releases and attaches quickly is a plus. The plate locks in securely to the base, making for a sturdy and secure mount.
Two bubble levels are on the head. This is helpful for evening out the camera orientation after maneuvering the multi-angle center column. This also provides a level platform for ultra wide-angle shots that could look distorted otherwise.
A calibrated scale on the base is marked in 360 degrees. The head movements can be adjusted quickly and with minimal finger wear, yet lock in securely for stable and safe set up.
Rounding Out the Features
Tipping the scales at a little under five and a half pounds, this tripod makes a good compromise of stability and portability. Smaller travel tripods may weigh much less, but they won’t be as stable. Larger, heavy-duty tripods can hold heavier camera rigs, but those tripods aren’t as fun to carry to a location photo shoot or while hiking the wilderness or trekking through an urban landscape.
It collapses to a carrying size of 28 inches and extends all the way to over five and a half feet, 68 inches. That 68-inch measurement is with the center column fully raised up, it is 56 inches tall otherwise.
Maximum recommended load is a hefty 15 pounds.
Extra quick release plates can be purchased separately, allowing for multiple camera rigs to be traded out readily. A carrying bag is included with the tripod from most of the retailers, and it can also be purchased separately if you find a bare-bones deal from someone that didn’t include the regular kit items. It’s a pretty nice bag, it could be used for light stands, too, if you are so inclined.
What Is It Missing?
A ball and socket head is a very useful tool, and the SBH-100 is a good fit for this tripod. But, the flexibility of the Alta Pro 263 could be enhanced even more with a three-way head. A three-way head is different from the standard pan and tilt head, or even a ball and socket head, in that it allows for the utmost in adjustability of camera position and orientation.
Heads are removable with the Alta Pro tripods, so you could simply add your favorite three-way head to this one. Then, you will have the most versatility of all for camera positioning. Alternately, you could also add a fluid head for motion picture or video recording applications.
Vanguard has a winner here. The Alta Pro 263AB 100 is one of the most flexible tripods on the market, while still providing a very sturdy camera mount. The horizontal center column capability is one of the most useful features a nature photographer could ask for. Any photographer will find this tripod to be a very useful tool. It balances out a portable size and weight with excellent stability and versatility. If you only want one tripod in your gear selection, this one deserves consideration.