The Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB tripod has been around for at least the last ten years and is well-loved by those that use it. It’s a good all-around tripod if you dabble in a range of different types of photography but for astro-specific photography, its bulk and weight along with a fiddly connector plate make it something you might think twice about setting out with at night.
Given that the most important considerations when choosing a tripod for night sky photography are portability, ease of use and stability, while this tripod may be heavy to carry, it’s pretty darned stable once it’s up. If it doesn’t fit your needs or budget, we’ve reviewed plenty of other models in our best tripods guide.
Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB: Key specs
Leg sections: 3
Weight: 5.38 lbs
Max load: 15.4 lbs
Folded height: 28.15 inches
Ball head or pan/tilt head: Ball head
The Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB tripod scores well on stability, mainly because of its weight. But at over 5 lbs, it’s not something you want to take on a long hike and with a folded-down length of around 30 inches, it wouldn’t fit into an airline carry-on case. It does, however, have one great feature that might just make it worth the extra back pain from lugging it around: its legs splay out from the centre column and the centre column itself can be swivelled to 180º which means it can be used very low to the ground which is great for very long exposures of star trails.
Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB tripod: Design
- Flexible leg position
- Adjustable center column
- Too heavy and bulky for long travel times
The star attraction of the Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB is its multifaceted flexibility and the sheer amount of positions you can get it into. You can put it up in a standard tripod position and get all the variations the ball head allows, but a neat thumb-press button at the top of the legs allows you to splay them from anywhere between the standard 25º at its most upright position all the way to almost 90º to the centre column.
Not only that, but the center column retracts and can be angled at 90º from the splayed legs and means the camera can be as low as ten inches from the ground. The ball head can swivel allowing you to point the camera directly up into the sky and the two bubble levels next to the connector plate mean you can easily check the position without necessarily having to look at the back of your camera. This unusual configuration is perfect for night sky photography not least because once the camera is lower to the ground, there’s far less risk of a sudden gust of wind affecting your carefully timed long exposure.
But this flexibility and stability come with a downside and that’s the weight of the tripod. It’s made of aluminum and at just over 5 lbs, it’s the heaviest tripod we’ve tested so far. It’s also the bulkiest to carry. It comes with a top-opening, hard-wearing nylon bag that has an adjustable shoulder strap but you still wouldn’t want to carry it further than a few minutes walk from your home or car.
The legs comprise three sections which are fastened with clip stoppers rather than twisting in place like most of the others we’ve tested. This doesn’t seem to impede the stability as the stoppers themselves are made of tough plastic and have enough resistance when closing to suggest they won’t become loose any time soon. The top part of the legs have a spongy grip added that is satisfying to handle and is designed for gaining a good grip in cold or wet conditions.
The Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB comes with rubber feet but they can screw off revealing a spike that will enable it to pierce the ground for extra purchase. This makes them easy to replace if they wear out. You can also buy bigger screw-on spikes and clamps if you’re going to be using the tripod in softer or rougher terrain.
Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB tripod: Functionality
- Fiddly screw connector plate and connecting mechanism
- Solid and stable once up
- Clip legs easy to put up and take down in the dark
With only three leg sections on each leg, it means the Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB only has two clips to fix into place when setting up the tripod. This was very easily done in the dark and it was up in no time but the same can’t be said for the connector plate that affixes the camera to the tripod. The connector plate uses a screw rather than a D-ring which means you need a coin or a tool to tighten and untighten it. Handily, Vanguard has included a little kit that features such a tool and it’s supplied hanging with durable string from the apex of the legs. Hanging from here means you won’t lose it and it’s there when you need it but the swinging and the clanking around against the legs became quite annoying and during long exposures wasn’t great for reducing wobbles.
Ideally, you would affix your connector plate in the light before you head out into the night and then simply leave it on your camera. The kit comes with a spare plate so it does mean you can use two cameras at once but, during the testing process, we had several tripods to use and the lack of easy D-ring disconnection became quite annoying. Vanguard may have solved some of the problems encountered with this screw plate design by supplying the tools but it creates problems if you then want to remove the toolkit and store it elsewhere. It would be much easier if they had just engineered the plate to incorporate a D-ring.
The plate itself should easily slide in and out but it took a while to get the knack. There’s a knob with a rubber grip that tightens the plate into place and there’s a small, red quick-release button that will stop the camera from slipping out if the knob becomes slightly undone. We did find, however, that the colder conditions affected the properties of the metals used in the plate and holder which meant the mechanism was a lot smoother indoors before we took it out than when we were out in the dark and cold when it was a much tighter fit.
The Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB is great for mirrorless cameras and it will also happily carry a DSLR with an equally hefty lens attached. There’s no ‘falling into place’ that you sometimes get with heavy lenses on some tripods. Where you affix it is where it stays.
Should you buy the Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB tripod?
If you don’t intend to walk or travel too far with your tripod, the Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB is a great option as it’s well suited to photographers who don’t travel too far from home or wander too far from their car. If you enjoy other types of photography – especially macro and close-ups – you’ll find the multiple options for positioning the camera a really great way of developing your compositional technique.
Features that can wear out – like the rubber feet and the ball head itself – can easily be removed and replaced. The price is very reasonable considering the versatility it incorporates and it’s certainly something you can invest in knowing it’s built from solid, well-engineered components and designed to last.
If this product isn’t for you
If you’re looking for something at a similar price point but that’s lighter to pack into a suitcase or for walking far to your vantage point, the Benro Slim is just over half the weight at 2.2lbs and packs down to a neat 20 inches.
If it’s the versatility of the swiveling central column that appeals, the Manfrotto 190 Go! has a similar mechanism and the carbon fiber version is a bit lighter at just over 4lbs although it’s a more premium product and has a price tag to match.
For those who don’t intend to carry their tripod anywhere at all and don’t mind the bulk, the Benro Mach3 9X CF Series 3 is still lightweight at around 4 lbs but comes with a variety of head options including tilt heads as well as ball heads.