I purchased a 263AT together with a PH32 3-way Pan and Tilt head a week ago having heard good reports about it and believing that at long last, I could gracefully retire my faithful though aged Leitz Tiltall. The Alta Pro had placed first in the TIPA ( Technical Image Press Association ) awards for 2009 in the Best Accessory section so I thought it had to be a fairly good thing.
The Vanguard tipped the scales at just over 2.05kg which wasn't too bad for a set of aluminium legs. Adding the PH32 to it made the total weight a very manageable 2.47kg or 5.44 lbs. With the PH32 but without raising the central column, the 263AT gave me a working height of around 57inches.
Vanguard are very keen to promote their key features of the Alta Pro series, being the Multi-Angle-Central-Column (MACC) which allows the user to position the hexagonal central column at ANY angle from 0 to 130 degrees without the need to remove it from the tripod, while also allowing it to rotate a full 360 degrees.
Then there is the Instant-Swivel-Stop-and-Lock (ISSL) mechanism which allows photographers to securely reposition the central column in one simple movement. You release the central column by a twist of the locking lever on the left of the first picture below, slide the column upwards, depressing the brass button and then locking the lever again. Releasing the ' orange ' switch allows the user to tilt the central column to a desired position.
The Alta Pro has a low minimum height which though is not unique is nevertheless a bonus for macro work
The PH32's ergonomically-styled levers are a pleasure to use. Three bubble levels assists in the task of accurate positioning though I found the grid screen of the 5D2 in live view rather more accurate.
Vanguard includes a ballast bag which they call a stone bag along with an unpadded carry case in the asking price which at around GBP120 discounted pitches the 263AT at the 055XProB market. Along with the PH32 head, I paid GBP175. Adorama's very nice US prices will set you back a mere $200.
Other neat touches include a rubber shock absorber located below the platform and spiked feet.
A pretty good deal one would say, so what's wrong with the Alta Pro, you may be tempted to ask?
Well the head, indeed any head, is secured to the platform by three grub screws which protrude into the outer edge of the base of the head, boring merrily into the metal .....
Vanguard have accepted this as being a design fault and as I write this, I understand that they have a redesign in the pipeline. For a potential buyer, this issue is covered by Vanguard's limited lifetime warranty so if down the line you could request an exchange of the redesigned part which could be the platform and central column or the head. I would have thought it would be less costly for Vanguard to redesign and replace the central column.
When I was taking pictures of the tripod earlier today I also noticed that to mount a 70-200 on a 5D2 on the PH32 head, I had to remove the camera's BG-E6 battery grip because the locking lever of the QR plate was in the way of the grip itself hence as the picture here shows, I mounted the 5D2/70-200 combination without the grip.
If I can mount the above without the need to use the tripod ring on the lens then all is well. Otherwise I am considering going for the 055CXPro3 with an 808 RC4. It's more money though....
Y'all take care now