The Peak Design Travel Tripod is the Most Innovative Tripod Ever
posted Tuesday, May 21, 2019 at 9:00 AM EST
When someone truly innovates on a product you use every day, you notice it. You then question why you either never thought of the change before, or why you never thought it could be done better. That's the experience I had with tripods up until this point. I looked at what was available and took it at face value, never questioning if anything about the experience could improve. When I was debating whether or not to bring a tripod because of the weight or size, or when I was struggling to fit one in a side pocket of a backpack, I just grumbled to myself and said, "this is how it is."
This isn't how it is anymore. Thanks to Peak Design, I know there is a better way.
Peak Design has made small innovations in their bags, straps and clips to this point, but nothing they have done has felt like a monumental shift in thinking. They're all nice additions, but not earth-shattering advancements. That has changed with the Peak Design Travel Tripod, as it is the most innovative tripod I have ever seen, and it is a stepping point for all tripod designs going forward.
That sounds like hyperbole, but I assure you it is not: in my entire life, including 10 years as a photographer, I have never seen anyone take a chance on challenging the design of something seen by most as just a commodity.
No More Cylinders
As great as cylinders are for nesting smaller versions of themselves inside each other (like traditional tripod legs), they are absolutely terrible for spatial efficiency. Cylinders waste so much space when they're forced up against one another, and that's the first major place Peak Design decided to focus their efforts.
Instead of using the typical tube design for the three legs and center shaft, Peak Design went with an angular shape for the legs and a triangle for the center shaft. Those angular legs allow them to nest up neatly against the central shaft and compress the amount of space they take up horizontally by a massive margin. A tripod of the same size but with the more traditional design of four cylinders with legs that fold up takes up at least twice the space in a pocket or bag.
The angular legs extend in four sections to give a pretty good amount of height. Though it's not industry-leading with how tall the tripod can go, it's going to be more than enough for pretty much any use for a traveling photographer.
The result of their radically different design is a tripod that compacts down to the diameter of 3.25 inches (roughly the diameter of a water bottle) and expands to a height of 58.5 inches tall while taking up less than half the volume of traditional tripods of the same size.
A truly compact, omni-directional tripod head
Peak Design opted to not go with a traditional ball-head design, instead deciding to re-engineer the tripod ball-head to be slimmer and more compact without losing any of the benefits of a traditional design. Their implementation is a bit of a mixed bag, however, but overall compliments the tripod's design choices well.
The Peak Design Tripod head is controlled by a single tension dial, and when loosened you can get pretty much omni-directional movement. In order to properly nest down to the legs, the ball is held in place by three metal joints that jut out about 3/4 of the way down the ball, and allow the head free movement on top of the ball. If you're shooting in a typical landscape orientation, this design works very well. You get a pretty full range of motion for just about any landscape image I can think of.
In portrait orientation, your options are significantly more limited. Because of the placement of those metal bars holding the head to the ball, you can only properly set the camera in portrait orientation when leaning the head to the left, and in that position you only have a 30-degree range of motion tilting up or down. To get any other different angle, you need to unclip your camera from the tripod, physically reorient it, and clip it back down. However, even when you do this, you are still limited in your tilt range as those metal bars have not moved.
While you do get freedom of movement in a vastly more compact head than any other I've seen, your tradeoff is restricted movement in any orientation other than landscape.
For an illustration of this, as I understand it can be hard to visualize, please refer to our video review which is posted above and on our YouTube Channel.
Additionally, because all of the tripod head's movements are controlled by a single tension dial, it will be far more challenging to get smooth video with tilting and panning shots using the Peak Design Tripod. And that's pretty expected, as this is clearly not a video tripod. However, with other ball head designs, you could get a bit more broad use out of them and not feel like you're being shoehorned into only capturing stills.
I say all of the above knowing well and truly that I don't really care about any of it. The advantages of the compact head and well-designed dials and clips is just so gosh-darned excellent for carry-ability that any small issues that can arise because of them wash away. Is it the best ball head out there? No. But is it the best ball head for this tripod? I have to think the answer is yes.
As a quick aside here, Peak Design did their best to make their tripod compatible with Arca Swiss plates. However, since Arca Swiss isn't really a "standard," not all Arca Swiss-style plates are going to work. For example, I have one Arca Swiss plate made by Sirui that works on the Peak Design Tripod just fine, but another that is unbranded (and I honestly can't remember where I got it) doesn't work because the base notch is a bit too thick.
The Peak Design Tripod ships with Peak's own plate, so you'll be good to go out of the box. To see if any other hardware is compatible, you are going to have to test the Arca Swiss plates you have at home to see if they are compatible with this particular tripod.
The Center Shaft
Peak Design's Tripod features the aforementioned triangular central shaft, which allows the three legs to nest up closely and completely eliminates wasted space. The shaft itself is much thinner than you probably have come to expect, but it doesn't feel substantially weaker. Though yes, it probably is rated to hold less than its competitors (this one holds over 80 pounds), you aren't going to ever need it to hold more than 80 pounds. Sure, you can't lean on it, but that's a price to pay for light weight and a preposterously compact build.
At the bottom of the shaft is the tripod's stability hook, to which you can attach your camera bag or a sandbag in order to enhance the overall stability of the tripod while shooting. This is a pretty standard tripod feature. What isn't standard is what is underneath that hook.
The hook can be quickly removed to reveal a spring-loaded compartment that hides an Arca-swiss compatible cell phone holder. I'm sure some of you have experienced trying to use a tripod to hold up your camera phone, and without a dedicated tripod mount, it's never a fun experience. Well, thanks to this nifty little addition, you never had to remember to bring a phone mount, as the Peak Design Travel Tripod will always have a cell phone mount neatly hidden away in the central shaft.
As thoughtful as this addition is, putting a cell phone tripod clip in the base of the center shaft also means that removing that central shaft for low-to-the-ground angle photos is a lot harder than it is on other tripods. In order to remove the central shaft, you have to tilt the ball head to the side, and use a hex key, or Allen wrench, down a hole in the center of the ball.
This isn't a deal breaker, since it's not super hard to do and it doesn't take very long, but it is more inconvenient than other designs that employ a screw mechanism. It's also unfortunate that you can only do this when you have a hex key, and so you have to remember to always bring one with you if you intend to want low-angle photos. I think the reason this particular issue stands out to me is that it's the only thing about this tripod that doesn't feel like it has the Peak Design touch. Having to use a separate part in order to fully take advantage of all the tripod's features seems at odds with everything else about the tripod's design, and how Peak seems to have approached it as a whole. It stands out to me in a way that I cannot ignore.
On the upside, Peak Design does include a hex key with your tripod, and the tripod bag that it ships with has a dedicated small pocket for it.
What we liked:
- Extremely small and lightweight
- Contains multiple instances of new designs, culminating in a big leap in tripod innovation
- Sturdy build with parts designed to offer high-levels of vibration dampening
- Well-conceived compact ball head dramatically reduces the height of the tripod
- Included cell phone tripod clip
- Peak Design offers multiple accessory options, such as an attachment for your own ball head, or spiked feet (default is rubber feet)
What could use improvement:
- The ball head, though compact and sturdy, restricts movement in portrait orientation
- Removing the central shaft requires a hex key
If you've followed my reviews, you know that I have been hard on Peak Design in the past. I hold them to a high standard, only because it appears to be the standard they have set for themselves. And in this case, I think they deserve nothing but praise.
Though I can nitpick about little things on the Peak Design Travel Tripod that I don't like, I would only be kidding myself. I have small quibbles here and there, but they are nothing when compared to the advantages of this wholly unique design.
Sometimes you encounter a product that is so easy to love because of how thoughtful everything about it seems to be. From the big things, to the little and almost unnoticed things, the entire finished product just makes you smile. With only one exception (the hex key requirement of removing the central shaft), this is as succinct a summary of the Peak Design Tripod as I can give. I think this tripod is even more exciting when you consider what can be done with this design. Peak Design has innovated, and now everyone can iterate.
The Peak Design Travel Tripod enters Kickstarter today and goes through July, with two options of the tripod available: carbon fiber for MSRP $599.95 and aluminum for MSRP $349.95. It will be available after the Kickstarter for purchase online at peakdesign.com and through major retailers in time for the 2019 holiday season.