[Updated: To my surprise, I switched my order from aluminum to carbon fiber! I’ve detailed why at the end of the post.]
When I traveled to Kauai in December, I needed a compact tripod I could carry and use easily. I’ve been lugging a giant Manfrotto beast for years—still do—but hiking in the jungle just requires something smaller and lighter. I ended up buying a Three-Legged Thing Punks Corey tripod, and it was exactly what I needed.
As you know if you’ve ever been in the market for a tripod (or if you’ve listened to our PhotoActive podcast episode about tripods), there are a ton of different options, most of which make sacrifices to achieve other goals: small and light can be more expensive; carbon fiber can be light but not as sturdy; sturdiness comes at the expense of weight; and so on.
The Travel Tripod
Now, Peak Design has jumped into the market with their Travel Tripod that looks verrrry interesting. It’s available for pre-order right now as a Kickstarter campaign (more on that in a minute). Go watch the video they created for plenty of close-up detail.
I’ll admit, one of the things that interests me most is that the Travel Tripod comes from Peak Design. I own two of their bags, which are excellent—simply unmatched design consideration and great materials. So if their design team is going to tackle the tripod, it’s worth a look.
My friends at DPReview got an early look at a prototype Travel Tripod, so I encourage you to check that out.
- It’s small, not necessarily in terms of height, but in volume. My Three-Legged Thing tripod is pretty compact, but it does stick out to the side of my Everyday Backpack. The Travel Tripod design brings everything closer to the center thanks to non-circular legs. It’s the same diameter as a water bottle, to give you a better idea.
- The ball head features just one adjustment ring to tighten the camera in place, versus two or more found on most other ball heads.
- A great, clever design addition is a magnetic mobile phone mount hidden at the bottom of the center column. Sometimes you want to set up a shot with a smartphone camera. I have a Glyph for this now, but I still appreciate the idea.
What I have questions about:
- The design requires you to raise the center column to use the ball head, which can reduce stability—moving the camera up off the three-leg support is going to be less stable. But how much? We don’t know yet. [Update: I was able to get my hands on one for a very short time, and while I didn’t have much opportunity to test it out, initially it appears that the center column is more stable than I expected. See below for more detail.]
- The cam levers that secure the leg segments are large for easy deployment, but will they snag and snap as you’re setting up or tearing down? The shape of the legs means you can’t use rotating locking rings.
- It’s not inexpensive, though there are tripods out there that cost far more. The aluminum version is $289, while the carbon fiber version is $479 (Kickstarter backer prices).
But as I said earlier, Peak Design is a company that thinks long and hard about design issues, so I have higher confidence that they’ve taken these items into account and engineered solutions.
The Kickstarter Question
As someone who writes about the photo industry, I get a lot of press releases about Kickstarter projects that may or may not have potential. Some established companies, like Peak Design, continue to run Kickstarters. Why?
I noticed Peak Design’s answer in a reply on Instagram, but they also explain on the Kickstarter page for the Travel Tripod, and I’m glad they do: “We launch our products on Kickstarter because it gives us the freedom to run our business exactly how we want. The funds we generate on Kickstarter make it possible for us to continue developing products without seeking venture capital. That means we’re not beholden to growth goals, revenue targets, or product timelines imposed by other people. Instead, we focus on doing what we love: building the best things we can possibly make, fueled by support from the best customers we could possibly ask for.”
Again, I go back to Peak Design as a company that has established a great track record of design and implementation (and Kickstarter follow-through, which is also important). I’m interested in the Travel Tripod as much for the folks behind it as for the product itself. The project has already almost tripled its funding goal as I write this on the first day, so unlike many Kickstarter projects, it’s already happening.
Aluminum versus Carbon Fiber
[Updated July, 2019]
I kicked in to purchase the aluminum version because carbon fiber seemed like a luxury I don’t need. The weight difference between the two models is just 0.29 kg, and I’ve heard that in general carbon fiber can be more prone to damage or weakness (listen to our PhotoActive podcast interview with Mason Marsh for more on tripods).
This week, however, Peak Design posted a lengthy and nerdy update about the stability of the Travel Tripod based on testing done by David Berryrieser of the blog The Center Column. And after seeing the carbon fiber model score higher on stability and dampening tests, I switched my pledge from the aluminum to the carbon fiber model.
The pre-production unit I had for a few days was carbon fiber, and in terms of weight I had two distinct reactions:
- When the tripod is condensed down to its smallest size, it feels heavier and more dense than I expected it to.
- When fully extended and I needed to pick it up and move it, that’s when it felt super light. I’ve only owned heavy or cheap tripods, except for the Three-Legged Thing travel tripod I bought in December, so the lightness was noticeable.
So, although it will cost me more, I’ve decided to get the carbon fiber model. The Kickstarter price for it, at $479, is still cheaper than the full retail price of $600. However, the campaign is in its final week as I write this, so if you want to order one (carbon fiber or aluminum), now’s the time to do it!
[Photos: Peak Design]
[Note: The links to the Kickstarter project are affiliate links that net me a small commission if you order using them.]