Ever since Peak Design launched their Capture Clip in 2011, they have carved out a unique and important niche for themselves in modern photography. From their systems for securing your gear to their line of bags to store it all, Peak Design has everything a photographer on-the-go could want. However, the one thing missing from their lineup is a portable, compact device for holding your camera steady on a beach, boardwalk, or windswept mountainside. That all changed in May of 2019 when they launched their first-ever Travel Tripod.
The Peak Design Travel Tripod
I’ve had a few tripods over the years, and the one I use most often is a set of Manfrotto 055XDB legs mated to a Manfrotto 496EC2 ball head. It works great for almost any situation with the main drawback being size and weight.
Traveling with that tripod is a chore, and even simple actions like extending the legs can be cumbersome. My Manfrotto rig supports my full-frame camera with a battery pack and 70-200 f/2.8 lens like a champ, but I wish it were easier to transport and set up.
That’s why I was so intrigued at the Peak Design Travel Tripod. It appeared to be a great solution for someone like me who wants a small, light, yet rugged and durable tripod. It would, in theory, be great for holding everything from my Fuji X100F to my Nikon D750 with a big, heavy lens. If it were as practical, transportable, and durable as Peak Design claimed, it just might be the only tripod I would need.
Since this tripod is designed specifically for travel, I wanted to put it through its paces in an authentic manner. I took it with me when my family flew cross-country to see relatives in Minnesota, and it performed amazingly well. In one week, I shuffled it in and out of airplane carry-on luggage, used it for several group photos at houses, cabins, and parks and photographed the Independence Day fireworks.
Aside from a few nitpicks here and there, I can confidently say that the tripod performed its duties with aplomb.
After our trip, my wife and I discussed how there would have been no way to get so many of our vacation pictures without the Travel Tripod. Our Manfrotto tripod was too big to take, and our GorillaPod was too small to be useful for outdoor group photos.
The Peak Design Travel Tripod made it possible to get shots of friends and family we only see every few years. It allowed us to capture memories we would otherwise have had no way of photographing.
The first thing I noticed when I got my hands on the Peak Design Travel Tripod was how diminutive it was. It’s barely bigger than my GorillaPod. But with the legs fully extended, it’s just as tall as a regular tripod.
Peak Design opted for a six-sided construction for the legs. This design lets them fold up close and minimize the amount of unused space in the middle. They also created a unique ball head that sits extremely low to the legs. This is a stark contrast to other ball heads which often feature a center column protruding upwards and thereby increasing the total height of the tripod.
Upon closer inspection, I found plenty of classic Peak Design touches implemented to make this as small as possible. The housing for each leg hinge has been shaped to hug the center column. Cam levers sit right next to the legs but offer plenty of leverage when extending them. Even the knob that allows the center column to extend is diminutive and unobtrusive – almost a little too much, as my fingers had trouble gripping it from time to time. (But more on that in a bit.)
After using this Travel Tripod, I don’t think I want to go back to my other tripod even when I’m not necessarily on the go. The convenience of something so small and light is hard to beat, especially when it can still hold my full camera rig.
Having owned other Peak Design gear, I thought I had a good idea of what to expect in terms of construction and build quality. Despite that, I found myself pleasantly surprised when I started putting it through its paces. The carbon fiber unit I tested feels solid, sturdy, and very well made
It’s difficult to tell how well this will hold up over the years. However, all the mechanical pieces on the tripod, from the cam levers that extend the legs to the collar that locks the ball head in place, feel extremely robust. Certainly just as good as any other tripod, and a lot better than some. The ball head has a satisfying chunkiness to it without being overbearing. Also, the overall quality of construction certainly inspires a great deal of confidence.
My wife and I have an Everyday Messenger and an Everyday Backpack – both of which get used daily. Even after years of use, those bags are holding up marvelously, with only a couple signs of wear and tear. As such, I expect the same level of quality and longevity from the Travel Tripod. From what I have seen thus far, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that this device would serve busy photographers for many years.
Ease of use
Small and lightweight are nice bullet points to have on the side of a box, but if a tripod is clunky and cumbersome, it will end up spending more time in a dark closet than out in the real world. This is an area where the Peak Design Travel Tripod excels, albeit with a few caveats. Setting up the tripod is a breeze, and you can have it ready to shoot within seconds. And that’s not an exaggeration.
Operations such as adjusting the position of the ball head, extending the center column, opening the cams to let the legs out, and attaching and detaching a camera, are all simple and fast. You can perform many of these operations with one hand in a matter of seconds. Moreover, when you combine that with the tripod’s total weight of about 3 pounds (a little more for the aluminum version, a little less for the carbon fiber version), it makes for a highly compelling product.
Fitting your camera to the top of the ball head is a breeze. Attach the mounting plate to your camera, and pop it on to the tripod with a satisfying click as the spring-loaded clip latches it in place. You can then turn a collar at the base of the head to adjust the tension of the spring clip to make extra sure your camera won’t fall out.
I must admit, it took me a few tries to get the hang of this particular ball head. It was a little trickier than other ball heads I have used. However, the trade-off is a tripod head that is significantly smaller and more compact. If you’re using this device for travel, then you will be quite happy with the results.
The tripod ships with a Peak Design mounting plate that requires a hex-screw, which means you need to use a small wrench to attach the plate to your camera. The tripod ships with the wrench, which looks about the same as the small hex-key wrenches you might find with IKEA furniture. It even has a little pocket in the tripod bag for storage.
The downside to this arrangement becomes apparent every time you want to move your mounting plate to another camera, which could be several times during a given photo shoot. You have to locate the wrench, unscrew the mounting plate, stow the wrench, get your other camera, grab the wrench, and hold everything in place while you attach the plate.
It doesn’t sound like much, but within a few days of using the tripod, I had already misplaced the wrench a couple of times. It mars what is an otherwise quite simple setup. Of course, you could just get another mounting plate too. It is compatible with Arca-Swiss plates, so you might already have some that would work.
Peak Design has heard a great deal of feedback about this issue since the unveiling of this Travel Tripod. They are currently working on a solution to likely involve a custom-designed hex-key that attaches to the tripod itself rather than stowing it in a bag. The final version was not available for testing, but I am quite confident that it will address most of the concerns that exist with the current setup.
My solution was simple; I just left the mounting plate attached to my camera for the duration of our visit to Minnesota. The only time I removed it, was when I had to change the battery. Otherwise, the plate was unobtrusive. In daily use, I didn’t really notice it on the camera. It allowed me to snap my Fuji X100F on to the tripod at a moment’s notice.
As far as general usage goes, I found the Travel Tripod to be a top performer. It was solid and held my camera gear in place easily. Adjusting the position of the ball head and locking it in place is easy once you get the hang of it, and extending the legs is quick and simple. As a daily driver on demanding photoshoots, there might be better options that can take the constant weight and abuse of full-time photography.
However, as a travel solution, this tripod is outstanding.
Shooting in portrait orientation
Some online reviews have mentioned that the ball head doesn’t allow you to shoot in portrait orientation as easily as others, but I never found this to be the case. Granted, I rarely shoot in portrait orientation when using my tripod, but when I did, I just adjusted the position of the mounting plate or rotated the tripod a bit. It honestly wasn’t an issue for me. Though, I’m not saying it wouldn’t be an issue for everyone. Your mileage may vary, but I don’t see that this is a problem at all.
Peak Design products are known for little flourishes that might not be noticeable at first but can leave you pleasantly surprised over time. Their bags come filled with hidden pockets, magnetic closures, and thoughtfully-placed loops and straps. These things make them eminently practical in ways that I don’t often see in other bags.
This Travel Tripod continues that tradition. It comes with added accouterments like a cell phone holder stowed in the center column – accessible with a quick twist of the ballast hook.
None of these are reason enough to purchase a tripod, but they are nice to have in a pinch. The realization that you can mount a cell phone easily, remove the center column quickly, and attach anchor links securely, added a little more value to an already outstanding device.
Some of these, like the cell phone holder, are tucked away so well you might forget where they are or how to access them. However, once you figure out where everything is and how to use it, you might start to feel a little less like a photographer and a little more like Q from the James Bond movies.
One anecdote that illustrates the Peak Design philosophy has to do with the tension knob, which lets you extend the center column. I found it challenging to grasp at first, and it was a chore to use because of its placement so close to the actual column.
It seemed like such an obvious oversight, and at first, I was disappointed in how Peak Design chose form over function in this regard. That is until I realized that the knob is held close to the column magnetically. Just pop it out, twist it, and pop it back in where it stays out of the way. I don’t see this attention to detail on a lot of other products, and it speaks the thoughtful creation of this tripod.
Deciding whether this tripod is right for you might very well come down to a question of value.
Is it a solid, well-made tripod that can come along with you on your adventures? Definitely.
Is it worth the money? Possibly.
Was it the perfect travel tripod for my trip to Minnesota, along with my daily use at home? Absolutely.
Will it be the ideal solution for you? It’s likely, but that’s a question I can’t answer for you.
There’s no getting around the fact that this is an expensive tripod. If you opt for the carbon fiber version, you will spend ten times as much as a GorillaPod, which has been a constant companion for traveling photographers for years.
There are other travel tripods on the market which offer similar features for less money, but also plenty that cost a lot more too. Fortunately, if you want all the features of this tripod in a slightly heavier package, the aluminum weighs slightly more but costs 40% less.
Peak Design has built up a reputation for putting out quality products that meet the needs of demanding photographers and, in my experience, stand the test of time. The Travel Tripod continues that tradition admirably, and I am happy to recommend it.
Build Quality: 5/5
Ease of Use: 4/5