Design & Operation
The design of the Peak Design tripod is obviously unique. A product will often have a single design principle upon which everything else is built around. In this case, it is the asymmetric profile of the leg tubes. In order to minimize the negative space left between the tubes, they are not round. They most closely resemble a large pie wedge with the center cut out, which is of course exactly the shape you choose to minimize negative space. This design decision informs much of the rest of the tripod.
Elsewhere, we see that attention to detail has been paid in the design to minimize the folded size of the tripod wherever possible. Most of these features will be discussed further down in the review, but for now, lets just look at the single piece of aluminum that makes up the apex.
When folded you may forget that the apex piece of the tripod is even there, but it is the core element that holds the whole thing together. Unlike most tripods, the center column locking mechanism is housed underneath the leg hinges, allowing the maximum possible space along the length of the tripod for the leg tubes and creating a pocket for the ball head to sit into when not in use. The apex is cut to precisely allow the carbon leg tubing to sit as close the center column as possible while still allowing space for interlocking strips of metal to securely hold the respective tubes.
This is an attention to detail in design that we don’t typically see in tripods. The result is a tripod unlike any other we have seen, but also one that requires numerous small, complex, and expensive parts.
Overall the build quality on the PD tripod is excellent. The tripod is mostly all metal and carbon fiber, but there are some plastic parts. The metal parts are machined aluminum with nice scratch resistant matte black finish. As much as I would like to see all the non-carbon parts made from metal, I understand that there must be some compromises to save weight and cost. You may balk at the cost saving part given the price tag, but this tripod contains a lot more small, complex and precise parts than your typical travel tripod. This drives up the cost but is also what allows the PD tripod to be unique. Like any plastic part in a tripod, I have concerns about the long term durability, but fortunately Peak Design offers an excellent warranty and has a proven customer service record. It is in their own best interest to make sure that this tripod lasts. Also, we don’t see any plastic parts in any structural portion of the tripod. They are in places where the lighter weight of plastic makes it the best choice, such as the cover directly above the flip locks.
To fit between the compact legs, the center column is a rounded triangular shape. It is also rather narrow compared to the center columns found on other tripods and there have been some legitimate concerns voiced over its sturdiness. I am happy to report that the center column is a very good match in stiffness for these legs. It would be inappropriate on a much larger systematic tripod, but works very well here. The data on this is discussed more thoroughly in the “Test Results” section.
The center column secures via a thumbscrew that pops out from the side of the tripod. The more typical twist lock with a butterfly knob is omitted here to save space. This isn’t the only tripod to use such a center column lock and it is most notably found across the range of Manfrotto tripods. The implementation here works well and holds the center column securely without any detectable slipping.
During the design of the PD tripod, there was some debate over the decision to use an aluminum center column in the carbon fiber tripod. From a structural standpoint, this is the correct design decision as I have noted previously on this site’s blog. Aluminum maintains strength in both the bending and torsional directions necessary for strength in a center column. Carbon fiber, while stronger than aluminum, is only strong in one direction.
The PD tripod uses flip locks on the legs. This is necessary as twist locks won’t work on leg tubes that are not round. Unlike most flip locks on the market these ones are made entirely of metal. They are much higher quality than we are used to seeing from flip locks in fit, finish, feel, and durability. Many flip locks have the tendency to snap shut but the PD ones open and close smoothly and with little effort.
Included with the tripod are a set of low-profile rubber feet that bolt onto the bottom leg section. These are my favorite type of feet on all tripods for the exact reason they are used here. They keep the folded length to a minimum. Unfortunately though PD does not a standard 3/8″-16 threaded foot because the bottom leg section is not thick enough to support such a threading. Using a smaller thread (10-32 here I think) size does help save weight, but in practice you are going to be stuck using only Peak Design feet.
Peak Design does offer a small set of spiked feet. These match the overall design of the tripod well and keep the overall package compact. Such small spikes are limited in their usefulness though. They are appropriate for softer ground such as turf, forest floor, loose dirt, or hard packed snow and ice. For sand and snow though, you would ideally want much longer spikes to dig deep in to the looser surface. I don’t know of any available option for this on the market.
With the head attached, there is no top plate on the PD tripod. The head screws directly into the center column. This saves a significant amount of weight and bulk compared to tripods that have a mounting platform for a head which also has a mounting platform.
If using a a different head with the PD tripod you need to use the 3/8″ adapter and you of course lose this advantage. The 3/8″ adapter also screws into the center column like the ball head and provides a large metal surface upon which you can mate the head of your choice. The adapter is well made and fits perfectly with the design of the rest of the tripod. Three small set screws in the plate provide a small amount of additional rigidity and make sure that the attached head does not accidentally become loose. I would prefer to see these set screws have nylon tips to avoid damaging the finish on the head.
Peak Design uses small spring loaded lever release angle selectors for the travel tripod. These take up a minimum amount of space and allow for the tubes to make up more of the length of the leg than would be possible with pull tabs. Every little bit counts. There are only two angle selections possible because of the small amount of space available on the apex of the tripod for the angle selection indents. The first setting is the standard 23 degrees for setting the tripod up at full height. The second is the low angle setting which spreads the legs out to about 80 degrees, allowing there to still be enough ground clearance to use the tripod. To use the low angle setting, note that you must remove the lower portion of the center column with the included hex key, and thus the necessity of carrying the hex key with you.
Carbon Fiber Quality.
Based on the test results in the next section, I can safely say that PD is using a high quality carbon fiber in their tubing. Based on my experience working with PD, I can say that they spent a lot of time and effort making sure this was the case. The tubes have to be custom made to the odd shape of the legs and this adds significantly to complexity and expense of producing this tripod. The exterior of the tubes shows a very nice looking 0 – 90 degree fabric weave wrap. I don’t know what the interior layers are, but they perform very well for their size.