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First Impressions -- Vanguard 323CT


Boston Area, US
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benveniste Moderator Awarded for is high level skills in various areas, including Macro and Landscape Photography Donor Ribbon. Awarded for his generous suppport to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Nikonian since 25th Nov 2002
Fri 02-Mar-12 03:05 AM | edited Fri 02-Mar-12 12:54 PM by benveniste

Late last week, I got a chance to look over a friend's Vanguard Actus Plus 323CT, which was a tripod I hadn't even heard of a month ago. Tuesday I ordered one from Adorama. It arrived today, which was slightly faster than the promised 7-10 business days for free shipping. While the proof will come in the shooting, so far I'm happy with my purchase.

This is a 3-section, tripod constructed with carbon fiber legs and (at least according to a sticker on the tripod itself) a magnesium alloy canopy. Not surprisingly, the tripod is made in China; Vanguard is located in Michigan firm. Top leg diameter is 32mm and the claimed loading capacity is 18kg. Extended height with the legs at 25 degrees is 1450mm, which is about 15mm shorter than the Gitzo GT3542LS I was looking at. That will be the only comparison I'll make to a Gitzo; this tripod is offered at a significantly lower price point and with a different design philosophy. It you want a "knock-off" Gitzo look elsewhere.

For one thing, Vanguard uses the geared center column of this tripod as a major selling point. Out of the box it works smoothly and as advertised. While you can't swap it out for a flat plate, it is a 2 piece unit and when you remove the lower portion you are left with only 2-3 inches of travel. I plan on using it that way the majority of the time, since the height is a good fit for me without extending the column.

The feet are also a bit unusual in that the offer three different choices. The first is a large "snowshoe" with a rubberized bottom, the second is a more or less standard rubber foot, and then finally you get to a set of pretty hefty spikes. I can't tell you how well these pieces will stand up to field use; ask me in a year or so.

The major disadvantage I can see of these decisions is weight. With all the bits attached, the Vanguard weighs over 3 kilograms. Fit and finish seems to be a bit better than the few Benros and Dynatrans I've handled; I can't speak to Induro or Feisol.

Then there's the oddity of tripod heads. For an extra 10 bucks, Adorama was offering a package with the GH-100 Pistol Grip ball head. In addition, there's a mail-in offer for a free copy their SBH-300 ball heads. Neither of these units are Arca-Swiss compatible; my guess is that Vanguard is trying to get them out of the warehouse and concentrate their newer Arca-Swiss compatible products. I decided to spend the $10 anyway -- but I'll almost certainly end up offering the SBH-300 for sale.

The GH-100 is an odd pairing with the 323CT. It seems like it would feel more at home on a travel tripod; while it's rated at something like 13 lbs, I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable using it even with a 24-120mm VR, let alone anything beefier. Again, the proof will come in the shooting, but I've been so happy with my Markins Q3 I'm not sure the GH-100 has a place in my kit either.

So all in all, the initial signs are positive, but don't let the promise of 2 tripod heads for $10 make up your mind for you. Not only do both heads use proprietary plates, they use different proprietary plates. Staying within the Arca-Swiss "constellation" seems a better choice to me.

If you want to photograph a man spinning, give some thought to why he spins. Understanding for a photographer is as important as the equipment he uses. - Margaret Bourke-White

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