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Review: Vanguard Auctus Plus 383CT with GH-100 Pistol Grip Head

by Chris Gampat on 03/15/2013

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Vanguard Auctus Plus 383CT and GH100 tripod head review images (1 of 9)ISO 2001-680 sec at f - 4.0

Vanguard’s tripods have been very impressive over the past couple of years. While they don’t have the household name that Induro and Manfrotto have had for a while, they’ve been gaining more ground as an affordable and all American-made solution to the market. Their Auctus Plus 383CT tripod is one of their flagships–and as a photographer that really hates tripods, I have to admit that this one is really quite awesome.

It also has become by far one of the simplest tripods that I’ve used while giving me all of the features that I really needed. But it has some quirks.

 

Pros and Cons

Pros

- Sturdy

- Excellent raising head

- Versatile adaptation for 1/4 20 and 3/8th tripod sockets

- Excellent tripod feet that can be very useful

Cons

- Expensive

- Tripod column isn’t the smoothest when moving up and down–so it can provide you with really shaky video if you’re looking to pan downwards.

Gear Used

For this review, we tested this tripod with the Canon 5D Mk II, Sigma 35mm f1.4 EX, Sony NEX 5R, Rokinon 24mm T1.5 cinema prime lens, and the Bronice ETR-S with 75mm f2.8 lens.

Tech Specs

Vanguard Auctus Plus 383CT

Tech specs taken from the Adorama listing of the unit

Number of Leg Sections 3
Leg Diameter 28 mm / 1.10in
Bubble level (pcs) Yes
Quick shoe included No
Extended height 1700 mm / 66.875″
Folded height 680 mm / 26.75″
Weight 3.1 kg / 6.83 lbs

Vanguard GH-100

Specs taken from the Adorama listing of the unit

Bubble level (pcs) 1
Swivel 360deg.
Tilt +35 to -90deg., +25 to -90deg.
Extended height 180mm / 7.125″
Maximum loading capacity 6kg / 13.2lbs
Weight 0.75kg / 1.65lbs

Ergonomics

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Vanguard Auctus Plus 383CT and GH100 tripod head review images (2 of 9)ISO 2001-180 sec at f - 4.0

One of the major stars of this production is Vanguard’s VG-100 pistol grip head. Indeed it is comfortable, versatile, and very intuitive in its design. The knob in the left of the image helps to release or grip onto the tripod plate that attaches into the tripod socket of your camera. If you want to rotate the camera, the knob on the right can help you turn it to the left or right.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Vanguard Auctus Plus 383CT and GH100 tripod head review images (7 of 9)ISO 2001-220 sec at f - 4.0

The front of this grip also features a useful bubble level so that the user can ensure that their shots are perfectly straight and aligned. Ergonomically speaking, this is a weird spot for it but here are other bubble levels all over the tripod and head.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Vanguard Auctus Plus 383CT and GH100 tripod head review images (5 of 9)ISO 2001-350 sec at f - 4.0

Using the silver ring in the center of the image, you can adjust the direction of the pistol grip. It can be angled in many different ways to appeal to your own personal comfort. To do this, you’ll need to use the tighten and loosen knob on the end.

To move the grip, you’ll have to squeeze it.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Vanguard Auctus Plus 383CT and GH100 tripod head review images (3 of 9)ISO 2001-250 sec at f - 4.0

To connect to the tripod, the grip will screw into the appropriate top of the tripod. This area can be interchanged out for a 1/4 20 and 3/8ths male tripod connector. To switch them out, simply twist the top of the tripod and the connector will loosen and pop out.

That’s a really nice touch from Vanguard.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Vanguard Auctus Plus 383CT and GH100 tripod head review images (8 of 9)ISO 2001-350 sec at f - 4.0

When connected to the tripod, the entire head and grip area can be raised and lowered. To do this, there is a hand crank/knob on the side of the tripod.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Vanguard Auctus Plus 383CT and GH100 tripod head review images (6 of 9)ISO 2001-280 sec at f - 4.0

The tripod has interesting feet as well. They’re webbed–to say the least. In real life use, we’ve found them to provide some excellent stability on nearly any surface.

The legs also extend by twisting the sectional joints. There are markers along them that help you to achieve a more even extension if you just care to pay attention to them.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Vanguard Auctus Plus 383CT and GH100 tripod head review images (4 of 9)ISO 2001-200 sec at f - 4.0

At the back of the tripod is another bubble level to tell you whether or not the entire package is straight and stable. Additionally, there are buttons on top of the tripod legs that enable it to do even more of a full split.

Yes–this tripod can indeed become more flexible than you are.

Build Quality

Nothing about this tripod feels cheap. Overall, it is very solid in its build quality while somehow or another remaining fairly light. I’ve held many heavier tripods, but this one is still able to take quite the beating. In my tests, I took it around on the NYC subway in its convenient sling case. After being battered by commuter after commuter in morning traffic, the tripod and head didn’t have a scratch nor any signs of damage.

My only major quibble was how the tripod column never raised or lowered very smoothly.

When talking about the pistol grip head though, there were a couple of small issues. For example, the plate sometimes came loose from the camera’s tripod socket when using mirrorless cameras–though this wasn’t a problem for DSLRs at all.

Also, I really wish that the tighten and loosen knob on the pistol grip actually had a tactile locking click to it. Instead, you’ll just need to tighten it until you’re satisfied.


Ease of Use

As stated before, this is one of the simplest tripods I’ve ever used right out of the box. The entire package was refreshingly simplistic and though tripods used to be a perplexing mystery to me, this one served its purpose as being intuitive and therefore helped me to speed up my workflow.

Performance

One thing that I absolutely must recommend is not using this tripod when you want to pan downwards due to the fact that the tripod column doesn’t come down so smoothly. Nor does the ball in the pistol grip. Because of this, this tripod is specifically designed for photo uses though some applications can apply to video usage.

The tripod also trekked with me through the end of a snow storm as I mounted a medium format film camera onto it and ventured out near a waterfront. It more than did its job and the fact that the head and tripod both had levels on them in just the right spots made it simple for me to get a better image while composing using the rule of thirds. It also helped with longer exposures and provided some excellent stability in both windy situations and due to what might otherwise have ended being a blurry image due to camera shake. To also help keep it sturdier and in place, the tripod has a hook for a counter weight in the center column. I’d often just put my camera bag on this to keep it all from blowing away.

At certain times, what I would really need was a monopod instead of a tripod and this tripod has served its use in acting like one. For example, one can extend the legs downward and because of the inherent design of the feet, it will provide lots of stability–enough to deem it as a makeshift monopod. Of course, it won’t give you the flexibility that a monopod provides.

One other very interesting tidbit about the tripod column is that it doesn’t tilt is you want to photograph something with your camera right above it–crane shot style. This would have been a very nice touch on this tripod.

Lastly, when packing the tripod away, you’ll need to take off the pistol grip head because it won’t all fit into the sling bag unless it is off and right next to the top of the tripod itself.

Conclusions

In the end, this is the tripod that has changed my mind about using them. Sure, they can still slow me down but they can also help me to get better images by providing me with lots of stability and also being very versatile. The Vanguard Auctus Plus 383CT in particular sticks with my Bronica ETR-S for photographing landscapes and long exposures, and it also helps me to do tests for this website.

If you’re a landscape shooter or someone that really diggs long exposures, then we recommend this tripod for you. For the casual video shooter, you might enjoy the head’s ability to pan from left to right very smoothly–but we recommend not using the center column’s scaling feature if you want the smoothest results.

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