Peak Design is a company that puts a lot of emphasis on design and usability…and they aren’t afraid to try something new or different in an industry that tends to be a little on the traditional side and their travel tripod is no exception.
The Peak Design Travel Tripod is a very compact and light tripod with a unique design that gives it advantages in some areas and disadvantages in others. Overall, it’s a great option for those looking for a tripod that is light and easy to pack.
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I definitely appreciate a company that thinks out of the box to try finding better solutions.
That different approach shows with this tripod (but was it a swing and a miss or a home run?).
First of all….It looks different than any other tripod out there.
But do these innovations actually make it a better tripod?
Let’s take a look…
This is a travel tripod so the primary purpose is to be easy to travel with and carry in or on a pack when hiking to your next photo destination.
The Peak Design tripod is unique compared to many other tripods on the market. The ball head is especially unique (more about that later). It’s this unique design that allows this tripod to be very compact.
It measures 15.4″ when fully collapsed. That means it can fit in any normal-sized suitcase and will be easy to strap to the side of a backpack when hiking.
It is extremely efficient in its use of space, with almost no gaps when folded down.
Peak design claims that it folds to the size of a water bottle. Check out the photo below to see for yourself…
One thing that Peak Design does really well is their presentation and their packaging.
When you first get it, you’ll see that it comes in this nifty box. This is probably the nicest box I’ve ever gotten a tripod in (if not especially useful).
Inside that, you have a pretty nice soft case that would be very useful to travel with.
Now let’s move onto the other features…
The (Infamous) Ballhead Design
The ballhead is probably where Peak Design took the most risks.
Like I mentioned earlier, they went very different from the traditional ball head design in order to make it more compact. They definitely succeeded on the compactness but what about the actual functionality of the ball head.
Overall, I like the feel of it and the ball head tightening mechanism. It’s not as sturdy as bigger and heavier ball heads, but for a travel tripod, it is quite sturdy.
I have seen some complaints that portrait orientation only tilts to one side. But that’s how most of the tripods out there work. An L-bracket is a better option for almost every circumstance.
That takes away the benefit of travel compactness, but you can always pack your ball head separately. If you do a lot of landscape shooting, then you probably have a favorite ball head anyway.
The one thing I don’t like is that the plate requires an Allen wrench to attach to your camera. However, it is small enough that you can leave it on the camera and it won’t get in the way of handheld shooting.
On the very positive side, the mount is Arca Swiss compatible so you can use Arca Swiss plates and more importantly, L-brackets on this tripod.
PRO TIP: Instead of just flopping the ball head over to the side for portrait orientation, grab an l-bracket so you can keep the ball head in the exact same position and just flip into portrait orientation.
I highly recommend the 3-legged Thing Ellie PD l-bracket. It is really well made and works great with this tripod as well as any other Arca Swiss compatible tripod. I leave one on my main camera almost all the time.
In addition, you can add a universal plate to the tripod and use your own ballhead if you prefer. That will add some weight and bulk to the tripod overall, but I like that Peak Design recognized that their ballhead may not be perfect for everyone and made that option available.
Invertible center column
Center columns are a mixed bag.
They let you easily adjust the height of the tripod, but the more they are extended, the less table the tripod becomes. Unless I really really need the height, I try to never use the height of the center column
The Peak Design center column is thinner than most, but well designed so it doesn’t seem less stable. It’s sort of a diamond shape rather than round which seems to give it more stability for the size.
That small size works with the overall design to add to the compactness of the tripod.
It’s easy to adjust up and down and the tightening knob pushes in to get out of the way. That’s a good feature because it gets out of the way of the ball head adjustments when you are ready to shoot.
My favorite feature is the ability to shorten the center column.
Getting low to the ground is very important if you like shooting landscapes so I was happy to see that Peak Design thought about this.
They made it pretty easy to switch over to “low mode.” Once you remove most of the center column, you can splay the legs out wider and get real close to the ground. More on that below…
The first thing you’ll notice is that the legs are not your typical round cylinders (like the center column).
This is for two reasons as far as I can tell.
First, it certainly adds to the rigidity of the legs. So even though they are relatively small in diameter, they are pretty sturdy.
Second, the flatter shape allows the legs to fold down more compactly, another factor that contributes to the small form factor when folded.
This is one aspect of this tripod that I really liked and I think gives it a leg up (pun intended) on a lot of the other travel tripods on the market.
Max height (center column raised): 152.4 cm (60″)
Max height (center column down): 130.2 cm (51.25″)
60/51 inches is pretty good when it comes to max height for a travel tripod. Even with the center column all the way down, you’re still getting about 4.25 feet of height.
Having a tripod with a decent maximum height gives you a lot more flexibility with your shooting.
If you are shooting people, you can get the camera at eye level as opposed to looking up their noses. This is helpful if you want some travel photos with you actually in the photo.
Also, even if you are shooting landscapes, having that extra height lets you extend one leg more to compensate for uneven terrain and still keep your tripod at a workable height.
That being said, for maximum stability, I would recommend using the tripod with the bottom section (smallest legs) not extended and the center column as low as possible. That will add a lot more stability.
If you like to shoot landscapes with wide angle lenses, then you probably know that the ability to get low to the ground can really help you add a compelling foreground to your images.
Peak Design has a “low mode” where you remove a section of the center column which lets you extend the legs out wider and get the camera real low.
Min height (low mode): 14 cm (5.5”)
To be honest, I’ll probably leave the tripod’s center column in “low mode” because its rare that I extend the center column of any tripod.
Although, I did notice that you do need to move even the center column up about an inch or two in order to have full mobility of the ball head.
Clips vs. Twist
The locking mechanisms for the legs are clips instead of the twisting rings you see on a lot of tripods. Each approach has it’s pros and cons.
The clips flip out quickly and you know the tripod is unlocked. There were plenty of times I thought I tightened all the legs of a tripod with the twist rings and one section gave way when I put it on the ground.
The biggest downside to clips is that they’re either open or closed and you can’t tighten them more or less. This can be a problem with weather changes as the tension needed to lock them might vary.
Peak design fixes this by allowing you to adjust the tension of each individual clip with an allen wrench if they get loose or tight. It is an added step that requires a tool, but you shouldn’t have to do it very often.
Clips can sometimes get caught on things though. So be aware if you are walking with the tripod on your backpack.
Overall, the stability is pretty good for a super lightweight tripod
But that doesn’t mean its rock solid compared to the bigger heavier models out there.
Lightweight means less stability (just physics can’t design around that)
Alloy: 1.56 kg (3.44 lbs)
Carbon: 1.27 kg (2.81 lbs)
Difference: 0.29 kg (0.63 lbs)
It does have a hook on the bottom of the center column for adding weight. You can hang your camera bag there and it should make it more sturdy. Just be careful of doing that in the wind because a swaying camera bag will add to the camera shake.
No tripod is not perfect and you should use things like a remote trigger or the timer on the camera to get the best results when shooting at slower shutter speeds to avoid camera shake.
It can handle payloads up to 20 lbs.
But I wouldn’t use it for everything.
If you are shooting with a big telephoto lens for things like wildlife or birds in flight, you probably want a heavier duty tripod with a gimbal head.
Should You Get Aluminum or Carbon Fiber?
There’s about a $250 difference between the two options so this is a significant decision for most photographers.
The biggest benefit of choosing carbon fiber saving weight while maintaining rigidity and some degree of vibration dampening. Both of those things help you avoid camera shake from things like shutter vibrations or placing your tripod in moving water.
However, that range of vibrations that are small enough to be dampened by carbon fiber but big enough to affect your image is so small that you probably won’t notice any difference in practical use.
So the biggest differentiating factor is the weight. In this case, that is a difference of 0.29 kg (0.63 lbs).
So when choosing which one, you have to ask yourself, “how valuable is about half a pound?”
If you do a lot of hiking long distances or find yourself constantly up to the weight limit in your luggage, then the extra $250 could be worth it to you. A half a pound savings can feel massive for a 20 mile hike for sure.
But the average photographer is going to see very little practical difference between the two tripod, so for most of you, I would recommend the aluminum.
Other than that, they are identical in every way. I did actually reach out to the company rep and confirm that I wasn’t missing anything and that this is actually the case.
Inside the center column, they stuffed a little phone bracket that lets you mount your phone to the tripod. I give myself about 45 days before I lose this thing, but it is really useful for anyone that likes to shoot with their phone on a tripod.
Peak Design sells spikes for the feet separately. These can be useful when shooting in areas that have sand or soft ground.
They also let you replace the ballhead with a universal base that can fit any ballhead.
I really like this approach. The Peak Design ballhead is good and very light and compact, but it lacks some of the functionality of the bigger ballheads. So you can use the Peak Design ballhead when you need the minimum weight and size and then switch over to your favorite ballhead when you want the more robust option.
So should you buy the Peak Design Tripod?
This is a great tripod. The unique design makes it perfect for travel.
If the quirks of the ballhead aren’t an issue to you, then you’ll be very happy.
So yes, I do think it’s worth the investment for a lot of photographers.
But do you need the carbon fiber version?
Honestly, probably not.
Unless you do a lot of hiking and that 0.63 lbs. will make a difference to you. On longer hikes, every half a pound counts.
But for normal travel use, I’d say save the $250 and go for the aluminum version.
So there you have it, great design, unique approach to a ball head, and gets a lot of things right for the lightweight travel tripod user.