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First Impressions: VANGUARD Abeo Plus 323CB Tripod with BBH-200 Professional Ball Head

by Peter West Carey on 01/04/2013

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Vanguard is a new brand for me and I’m always curious to see different companies’ takes on standard photo gear. The VANGUARD Abeo Plus 323CB Tripod with BBH-200 Professional Ball Head has some common features with other high quality carbon fiber tripods, but the head is a little unique.

Gear Used

Specifications

Taken from the B&H Photo Video listing

General
Load Capacity 26.4 lb (12 kg)
Maximum Height 75.19″ (191 cm)
Maximum Height w/o Column Extended 57.28″ (145.5 cm)
Folded Length 30.75″ (78 cm)
Weight 7.27 lb (3.29 kg)
Head
Head Type BBH-200 ballhead
Quick Release Yes, QS-60
Legs
Material Carbon fiber
Leg Stages/Sections 3
Leg Lock Type Flip-lock
Independent Leg Spread Yes
Spiked/Retractable Feet Yes, rubber feet convert to spikes
Center Brace No
Center Column
Center Column Type Rapid
Center Column Sections 1
Bubble Level Yes, 3

Ergonomics

Peter-West-Carey-review2012-1213-9902For me, the key to a quality tripod is its inherent ease of use. Can I get to the knobs? Do they turn easily? What about the simple task of extending and retracting the legs? And most of all, minor adjustments to the camera position once it is on the tripod?

Vanguard tries to make this tripod more useful by making adjustments easier. The leg locks move smoothly and feel tight. More importantly, the snaps that lock the legs can be adjusted as time goes on. There are ample foam pads around the upper legs for making carrying the tripod comfortable. And the unit blissfully has only two control knobs on the tripod head (apart from the locking dial on the side of the quick release plate).

For ergonomics, I give this tripod an 8 on a 10 scale. It is easy to handle and it comes with a carry bag, which made the transit of an airport a breeze, especially since this tripod is a little longer.

In Real Life

One trick up the sleeve of this tripod is a self centering mechanism. It is the orange switch you see in the imag4e below.

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That switch seems like a gimick to me but is proving useful the more I use it. The idea is with the switch on, the tripod will ‘soft lock’ when the ball head is centered. By ‘soft lock’ what I means is the tripod will hold in place when the mast holding the release plate reaches the center for the ball unit. This helps quickly bring the head to level if the tripod has been leveled already with the two included bubble levels.

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While it is not perfect, I was impressed with how well it held position with a heavy camera (Canon 7D with battery grip and 28-300mm L lens…about 6lbs of gear). It’s not like I would leave the camera unattended while in the ‘soft lock’ position, but it does a very good job of helping me find center. It’s useful and not a gimmick.

As for the legs, they extend and retract smoothly as expected of a new device. The height with just legs extended is perfect for a guy like me, 6’1″. The feet on this thing are interesting, but I don’t know how often I will use that feature. There are the normal feet then there are these “snow shoes” that help with snow and sand. They just clamp on and I wouldn’t want to leave them on all the time. Remove all of that and there are spikes. I haven’t tested the spikes but it snowed last night, so it won’t be long.

I appreciate the quickness with which this tripod inverts. I have inverted the main column of a tripod a number of times to get down low and shoot things like ants. It has been cumbersome with units that need parts screwed off and back on and Vanguard solved that problem by adding the simplest of push buttons. Take a look at the photo below with the buttons just up from the bottom of the lower part of the center column.

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A quick push of those buttons and the center column can be removed and turned around. If you have the time, the head can also be removed (three allen head screws secure it). You then unscrew the hook seen in the image above, which reveals a bolt head. Screw the ball head onto this shorter stem and shooting non-inverted, just a few inches above the ground as the legs can splay out to 80 degrees, making close to ground, upright photography possible.

What Could Be Better?

I would really like to see the quick release plate actually be quick release. Screwing this one in and out just seems silly when my 20 year old Bogen has it down pat; a quick lever (with a safety switch) and out pops the camera. I also wouldn’t mind markings on the lower legs to help me determine leg length when not using the tripod fully extended. I know this would decrease the ‘cool’ factor of that carbon fiber look, but it would be very helpful.

Conclusion

What I like about this tripod is the ease of use. The legs extend quickly and the flip-lever clamps don’t need a lot of force to activate. Adjusting height is easy and switching to inverted, macro-style shooting is simple. The self-leveling action of the ball head is a boon to landscape photography and makes my job easier. I am wary though that it will fade over time, but we shall see. For now, it is easy to find a level setting without a lot of guess work. And really, that’s where this tripod excels, making my job easier without a bunch of features I won’t use. I heartily recommend the Vanguard Abeo Plus 323CB Tripod and BBH-200 Professional Ball Head based on this first hands-on testing.

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