As every serious DSLR photographer knows, having a good tripod is sometimes essential to capturing a shot, especially in low light or night photography situations. I have traveled all over the world and no matter where I go, a tripod always travels with me.

Innovations in tripod and head design have continued to improve over the years and Vanguard’s Alta Pro 263AT and GH-100 pistol grip head have many features that I like and will make my job easier.

Alta Pro 263AT Tripod The tripod itself is an aluminum alloy and not as light as its carbon fiber counterpart but I found the additional weight wasn’t a problem to carry and added to its stability. Its Multi-Angle Central Column (MACC) System allows the user to move the central column in all sorts of angles and positions (including upside down) ranging from zero to 180 degrees. I found this to be very advantageous over my older tripod that I could never seem to adapt into the configuration I needed to take certain macro shots. Similarly, the Swivel Stop-n-Lock (ISSL) System allows the central column to be repositioned easily in just a couple of seconds.

Stability is one of the main functions of a tripod as any slight movement can affect the image resulting in blur. Here again, the Vanguard engineers have done a great job by adding features such as camera vibration and shock control as well as a hexagonal-shaped central column and non-stick, rubber spiked feet for varying terrain. I took it out for a field test in a mountainous location and adjusting the legs around rocks to get it level was an easy task

Moving the legs into the desired position was as easy as pushing a button and they will adjust to 25, 50 and 80 degree angles. You can also anchor it down in windy conditions via a hook located at the bottom of the central column.

Together with the GH-100 Pistol Grip Head (see below) I found this tripod both functional and fun to use. This is probably the reason it won the 2009 TIPA Award to best new camera accessory.

The Alta Pro 263AT has a street price of about $150 and is available at many camera shops and online stores.

GH-100 Pistol Grip Tripod Head

While Vanguard does make some nice ball heads such as their SBH-100, the one that I prefer is their GH-100. The pistol grip design combines the functionality of a ball head together with smooth ergonomics. The Grip Position Release System allows the handle to actually rotate 360 degrees. This one-handed design was very helpful when using my right hand to position the grip while freeing my left to adjust my lens. By simply depressing the trigger grip you can pan a full 360 degrees including -32 to +90 degrees of side tilt.

The other problem I have had with other tripod heads is that they did seem to have problems handling the weight of a large DSLR, heavy lenses, and extra battery grips. All this wasn’t an issue for the GH-100 and the friction controls locked my gear into place without a hitch.

There are many times I wished I had the ability to take fluid panorama shots and with the flip of a lever the GH-100 offers a 72-click point panorama,  featuring a click-into-place positioning system that moves the camera 5 degrees per click creating nice smooth 360 panoramas.

Together with the 263AT tripod, the GH-100 (street price around $99 in the U.S.) accessory system should be able to handle all or your needs and will serve you well for many years. They have now become a permanent part of my travel camera gear.

(Tripod and head provided courtesy of Vanguard USA).