In The Field
In the field the Ascend-14 handles brilliantly. It is one of those tripods that you stop having to think about as you start shooting, letting the mind focus on photography. Unlike the reverse-folding designs, setup and takedown of the tripod is identical to one the lacks a center column. Extend the legs, spread them out, and everything is ready to go. Plus, you have quick access to a center column. Those who are proficient with the reverse folding design may object there, as it doesn’t take that much time to fuss with the pull tabs for setup and takedown. I have always found these extra seconds distracting, taking me away from watching the light and my subject. I want to be able to handle a tripod without ever looking at it, and in that respect, the Ascend delivers.
Stowage is of course where the Ascend shines. For pandemic related reasons I have not had the opportunity to take the Ascend on an airplane, but have used it on local outings. I prefer to strap my tripod to the side of my pack. This is an awkward task for traditional tripods with a center column due to their much larger diameter. As shown in the image to the right, the Ascend fits neatly into the side pocket of my compact Lowepro Photosport 200AW backpack, identical to the stowage position of the RRS TFC-14. The Ascend gains me a center column for no overall increase in size.
I was shooting the Ascend at the beach, and like any tripod, had to be extremely careful to keep sand out of the moving parts. Its not impossible to clean sand out of a tripod, but is a task that typically takes me an hour or two. I therefore take care to make sure the feet and bottom leg sections are the only parts to contact sand and salt water. These then get rinsed with fresh water and dried before being packed up for long term storage. It is these situations where I would have appreciated a dedicated carry case for the Ascend be included by RRS. It is remarkably easy to accidently have the backpack tip over and get dirt/sand/grime into the finely machined moving parts at the top of the tripod. Presently, RRS does not offer a carry case for the Ascend, much less one that fits the tripod well.
I have used the Fuji GFX 50S and 32-64 f/4 on the Ascend and never felt like I was lacking stability. This is roughly equivalent to a full frame DSLR and fast zoom, such as a 24-70 f/2.8. Admittedly though, there was very little wind and so this did not provide a challenging test. I would feel very comfortable using up to a 70-200 (or equivalent) on the Ascend in typical shooting conditions. Longer lenses may also be workable, but will require more careful attention to minimizing sources of vibration, as one cannot rely on the tripod itself for much damping.
I have been using a Peak Design capture clip so was using a Peak Design quick release plate. This was not problem with the screw clamp I current had on the BH-30 shown, but would not have been possible with the lever style quick release found on the integrated Ascend head. If you choose to go with the integrated head, make sure it will be compatible with the other gear in your workflow before committing.