I tend to think of a tripod as a necessary evil. Even with today’s image stabilization, a tripod is still a requirement in many cases, so it’s important to find one with the right balance of characteristics. What does that include? Small size, sufficient height, good vibration absorption, high durability, easy handling, and light weight. However, these features often conflict with each other! In this review, I’ll look at how the Peak Design Travel Tripod (especially the carbon fiber model that I use) balances them.
The origins of Peak Design can be traced back to 2011 when Peter Dering founded it after a 4-month trip around the world. That’s when he introduced his first product, Capture V1, on Kickstarter. The interest in it was enormous. He reached a total of 5,258 backers who put in $364,698. To this day, Peak Design continues to use Kickstarter to raise funds for its product development.
The tripod I’m reviewing today appeared on Kickstarter in 2019, and of all the company’s products so far, it has generated the most interest among the public. A whopping 27,169 backers raised a record amount of $12,143,435. To me, this shows that there was a high demand for a proper travel tripod among photographers.
But how does the tripod perform in the field? That’s what I’m testing today.
Table of Contents
Design and Construction
There are two tripods in the Peak Design portfolio, the only difference being the materials used. The cheaper of the pair uses aluminum alloy for the legs, while the tripod I’m reviewing today is made of carbon fiber. Compared to aluminum, the main advantages of carbon fiber are the high strength at a low weight, and the good vibration absorption.
Two tripods of the same design made from different materials provide an interesting comparison. The aluminum alloy model weighs 1.56 kg (3.44 lbs), while the carbon fiber version weighs 1.29 kg (2.81 lbs). They cost $380 and $650 respectively.
Another way to think of it is, for a 270 g savings in weight, you pay $270 extra. That’s one dollar per gram you save! All other specifications are the same. Both tripods are 39.1 cm (15.4 inches) when collapsed. They share a maximum height of 152 cm (60 inches) when the center column is raised, and 130 cm (51 inches) when it’s not. Even the load capacity is the same – 9.1 kg (20 lbs) on both – although keep in mind that load capacity ratings are inconsistent between tripod companies.
So, although I’m reviewing the carbon fiber version today, much of what I say about the Peak Design Travel Tripod applies to both variations.
One of the main selling points of this tripod is the minimization of dead space. Peak Design has designed the legs and center column so that when folded, everything fits together like the petals of a snowdrop flower. This gives a much smaller packed volume than most tripods out there. The tripod is practically a cylinder when folded, so it fits easily into the side pocket of a backpack.
As you can see above, the tripod legs are made up of five sections that are tightened using four quick-release levers. The four levers are positioned one over the other, so you use four fingers simultaneously to loosen them. I measured that it takes about 15 seconds to unfold the tripod completely.
In terms of cleaning the tripod, the four lower sections can be removed without tools using the lever at the end of the first section. This can come in handy if, for example, you were shooting with the tripod submerged in muddy water or the sea. If needed, the stiffness of each lever can be fine-tuned with the included hex wrench.
If you need an extremely light, tabletop tripod for a particular shoot, an unusual feature of this tripod is the ability to remove the extendable leg sections entirely, and replace them with a set of tripod feet. The whole tripod will then weigh just 0.774 kg (1.7 lbs), although the maximum height is now just 36 cm (14 inches), or 58 cm (23 inches) with the center column up.
The tripod is fitted with rubber feet as standard. These are probably the most versatile choice. However, if you often shoot on surfaces like slippery ice, loose dirt, or gravel, replacing the rubber feet with metal spikes is worth considering. These will snap into the ground like the spikes of an ice pick, potentially increasing the tripod’s stability.
Center Column and Tripod Head
On this tripod, the center column is not the usual circular shape. It is more of a triangle with rounded edges. Interestingly, hidden within the center column is a smartphone holder that you can pull out and clamp to the tripod head. I found this useful for some behind-the-scenes shots on my phone in the field.
The tripod head itself works in the opposite way of most conventional ball heads. The ball with a diameter of 3cm is firmly connected to the column. What moves is the rest of the head, to which you mount the camera. This type of “reverse ballhead” is gaining traction not just from Peak Design, and while it is a fast and light solution, it does have some downsides.
Namely, if you want to take a panorama, for example, the tripod head cannot be moved only horizontally. The whole thing is either locked or unlocked. Another thing I don’t like is that in order to move the head, you first have to raise the center column slightly – only about 1cm, so it won’t really affect rigidity, but it does affect the ease of use.
Then there’s the matter of shooting vertical photos. I recommend using an L-bracket instead of a conventional plate, because otherwise, there are some restrictions on the range of movements once you flip the head vertically. Sine the tripod head is compatible with Arca-Swiss style plates, it’s pretty easy to find a good L-bracket.
Finally, if the original head does not suit you, any other head can be substituted. A universal adapter is provided for this purpose. Using a hex wrench, the original head is first removed and then replaced with the adapter. I have used the tripod until recently with my trusty gimbal head, as you can see below.
The tripod is obviously lightweight and portable, but that would be useless if it had issues supporting a camera. How does the Peak Design Travel Tripod perform in this regard? Excellently, I’d say.
The biggest load I personally put on the tripod was a Nikon Z9 with a Nikon 400mm f/2.8 G plus an Atomos Ninja recorder with mount. The total weight was just under 6.5kg, which is approaching the 9.1 kilo load rating. I found it to be free from any stability issues.
Such a massive setup looks strange on the small tripod legs. A bigger tripod is more likely to “look right” and it will naturally be more stable in windy conditions. But keep in mind that the Peak Design tripod is intended primarily as a travel model. In that sense, I think it does surprisingly well even with decidedly-not-travel setups like the one above.
The key is to know the tripod’s limitations. The five sections and center column are travel features, not stability features. With long exposures, telephoto lenses, and windy conditions, you’ll want to collapse some parts of the tripod. But once you retract the two thinnest sections, the tripod is immediately rock-solid even with a telephoto.
Still, the comfort zone of this tripod are wider-angle to medium telephoto lenses. For the photo below, at 35mm, I shot a 240-second long exposure in a moderate breeze, and I didn’t get any observable blur. (By the way, this is the same Prague Castle that I told you about in my recent Photography News, the largest coherent castle complex in the world.)
The Gitzo tripod I have used so far did not have a center column. I learned to live with it and never really missed it. This is not to deny its usefulness. Minor height adjustments using the center column are useful for composition and shooting over objects like fences. Just keep in mind that a fully extended column will harm the stability of a tripod. For long exposures, I recommend keeping the center column retracted.
Photographers looking for a lightweight, high-quality tripod will want to consider the extensive range from the Italian brand Gitzo. In terms of price and specifications, the Travel Tripod by Peak Design is most similar to the Gitzo Series 2 Traveler (for $649). Gitzo’s Traveler series has even smaller models, the lightest of which has a weight of just 0.9kg, including the head. But at that weight, you’re sacrificing a lot of stability. I wouldn’t go for a tripod that’s much lighter than this one from Peak Design, at the given height.
It’s not just Gitzo that’s worth considering. Something similar can be said of most of the other higher-end carbon fiber companies out there today, like FLM, RRS, and many others. There has been a renaissance in this part of the photography world, and lots of reputable companies make great carbon fiber travel tripods today.
So, just because I’m very happy with the Peak Design travel tripod, doesn’t mean it’s the only option out there. Where it stands out are the extremely compact design and the unusual features like the phone holder, integrated ballhead, and the ability to convert it to a tabletop tripod. Peak Design also is noteworthy for their limited lifetime guarantee on the tripod, so they definitely trust it to last for many years.
In the past, I often wondered whether or not I should take my tripod into the field with me. It was long past time for me to get a travel tripod – and this one has serve me well for almost two years of use so far.
They say the best camera is the one you have with you. In the case of a tripod, I would be rather cautious with that statement. Some lightweight models can do more harm than good, but the Peak Design travel tripod definitely is worth carrying in my bag.
Pricing and Where to Buy
The price of the carbon fiber model tested is currently $650 at B&H, at the time I’m publishing this review. If you want to save money, you can get the aluminum alloy version for $380. The package includes the tripod, a handy neoprene soft case, a hex wrench, and a bushing removal tool for maintenance.
When I really need to travel light, I use the ball head that comes with the tripod. If I know I will be shooting mainly with a telephoto lens, I replace it with my original gimbal head. This requires the purchase of a universal head adapter for $30. Optional accessories also include stainless steel spikes or the aforementioned ultralight conversion kit (both $30).
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about this tripod, and I’ll do my best to answer!
Peak Design Travel Tripod
- Build Quality
- Size and Weight
Photography Life Overall Rating