Gear Review: Vanguard Alta + 233AO Tripod

Vanguard Alta-233AO-1 Lightweight Travel Tripod

Vanguard Alta + 233AO Tripod — Summary Review

Pros: Extremely light, compact, easy to carry. Fluid pan head is smooth and easy to adjust, great features and quality feel. Excellent all-round package.

Cons: Possibly a bit short in the leg  for taller users. At 6′ 5″ I needed to extend the central column  for comfortable viewing… making the tripod less stable. But hardly a valid criticism as this is supposed to be a compact tripod.

Price: c. €185 (for tripod / head kit)

Value: Excellent

Rating: Highly Recommended

View the Alta + 233 AO on the Vanguard UK website

Vanguard Alta + 233AO Tripod Kit — Full Review

Whether you’re locking on to a small flock of waders across the wide expanse of an estuary with your spotting scope, or using a telephoto lens to get close-up photographs of elusive wildlife, your gear will only deliver great results if it’s got the right kind of support.

When it comes to tripods bigger is often better in terms of stability… but there are limits to what you can comfortably carry in the field — so there’s always a trade-off. Then there are those time when you simply can’t carry a full size tripod with you: when you’re travelling, for example, or when the need to be mobile and nimble outweighs the stability afforded by extra bulk.

In those situations a lightweight, compact tripod is a must.

I have to say up front that I’ve always been a bit dubious of lightweight tripods… I love not having to lug my massive Manfrotto around… but in the past I’ve been disappointed with the stability of compact tripods. So it was with more than a little scepticism that I unpacked the Vanguard Alta + 233AO.

Lightweight but solid construction

Vanguard Alta Plus 233 Tripod with Meopta Meostar S2 Spotting scopeAccording to the marketing blurb on the Vanguard website the Alta + range is: “Hailed as the world’s most lightweight and compact high-quality tripods”.

The aluminium alloy legs and die-cast magnesium alloy collar certainly deliver on the lightweight side of things. The tripod and head combination felt incredibly light at just 1.6kg. What surprised me though was how solid this diminutive tripod felt. It’s well made, and the quality of the materials and finish throughout is top notch.

The whole tripod is a subtle matt-black colour — perfect for unobtrusive wildlife watching — and the top of each leg is covered in a padded foam sheath that makes it both very comfortable and, crucially, soundless to handle and move.

Setting it up was a breeze… it arrived as a kit with the fluid pan head already attached to the tripod. All I needed to do was attach the included quick release shoe to my scope, flick back the quick release catches on the legs and hey-presto — tripod scope combo ready to roll!

Performance in the field

I’ve been using the Alta Plus as my main birding tripod for several weeks now. It’s much more compact than my regular tripod, measuring just 60 cm long when folded, and reaching 145 cm with the legs fully extended.

That’s still a little on the short side for me to use while standing… but it’s manageable enough with an angled scope. It’s great for the children, because it makes it easier for them to see what Dad’s looking at through the scope — and it works well on walks / outings when you want to let other people take a look through your optics.

The height deficit is easily overcome by extending the ample centre column, bringing the scope up to a comfortable viewing height, but you do sacrifice some stability by doing that, especially in windy conditions (NB. for photographers the central column is reversible, so combined with the wide-splaying legs you can get your lens right down into the undergrowth — great for Macro shots). 

For sitting gigs… like sea watching from a headland for cetaceans or birds, this little tripod is ideal. The legs splay to  25, 50 and 80-degree angles, making it really adaptable to uneven terrain, and if the ground is soft the  rubber feet screw in to reveal metal spikes, making the Alta + sure footed in any situation. It’s very easy to adjust the tripod to the perfect position for comfortable extended viewing when sitting on the ground or on a small seat or stool.

For such a small tripod the stability of the Alta + is very impressive… and the handy hook at the bottom of the central column lets you hang additional weight underneath (a camera bag or day pack)  to further improve that stability.

The tripod was a joy to use when paired with my little 60mm scope, but I wanted to see how it fared with a bigger beast, so I gave the superb Meopta Meostar S2 82mm scope I’ve been using recently (review coming soon) a spin. I have to say that combination worked much better than I expected it to. In all but the windiest of conditions it was extremely usable, and the lightweight tripod offset the inconvenience of carrying a larger scope in the field. It worked so well, in fact, that the Meopta is still sitting atop the Alta + as I write this review.

The Alta + feels robust and very well constructed from quality materials. It feels as if it would hold up well to the rigours of extended use in the field, and I certainly didn’t encounter anything during the review period to suggest otherwise.

The PH-21 Fluid Pan Head

The Alta + tripod is compatible with a wide wide range of Vanguard tripod heads.

The AO kit that I reviewed came with the PH-21 fluid pan head. It is a lightweight fluid pan head capable of supporting gear up to 3kg in weight (so ideal for most spotting scopes). Its single lever operation and silky smooth movement makes it ideal for scope work, and it’s high quality finish matches that of the tripod it’s paired up with.

The auto-locking quick-release mounting plate works well. It is longer than most others I’ve seen, and sits along the length of the scope, offering a very stable base. You can also adjust where the scope is fixed along the length of the mounting plate — a small but useful detail that helps you fine-tune the centre of gravity of the set-up to suit your particular scope.

I loved using this head, and couldn’t fault its operation in the field with either the 60mm or 82mm scopes attached.

Summary

The Alta Plus 233 is a superb little tripod that delivers a host of great features in a compact, functional and very lightweight package. If you want a lighter alternative to a full-sized tripod, or are looking for something that folds small to pair up with your travel scope then check out the Alta Plus range from Vanguard. They really are very good.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank Vanguard Europe for submitting the Alta Plus 233AO Kit for review on Ireland’s Wildlife.

NB. Ireland’s Wildlife has no specific affiliation to any optics or gear manufacturer and all reviews on the site are completely independent and objective. If you’re an optics or gear manufacturer and would like to submit your wildlife related product for review on the site please drop us a line using the contact form and we can take things from there.

Vanguard Alta + 233AO: Vital Statistics

Taken from the Vanguard UK website:

  • Extended height(mm):1450
  • Folded height(mm):610
  • Weight(kg):1.6
  • Maximum loading capacity(kg):3
  • Titled Loading Capacity(kg):-
  • Extended height(inch):57 1/8
  • Folded height(inch):24
  • Weight(lbs):3.53
  • Maximum loading capacity(lbs):6.6
  • Titled Loading Capacity(lbs):-
  • Number of Leg Sections:3
  • Leg Diameter(mm):23
  • Head Specs:PH-21
  • Bubble level(pcs):1
  • Quick shoe included:QS-52
  • Swivel:360°
  • Tilt:+90°~-60°
  • Panhead movements:2-way Panhead
About Calvin Jones

Calvin Jones is a freelance writer, author, birder and lifelong wildlife enthusiast. He is founder and managing editor of IrelandsWildlife.com. He is also the tour leader and wildlife guide on our West Cork based Discover Wildlife tours.
Calvin is also co-author of bestselling digital marketing titles and offers digital business consulting services and training through Digital Marketing Success

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  1. […] of optical kit. On the plus side though, its small size meand it’s remarkably stable, even on a lightweight tripod like the Vanguard Alta + I was using. It’s also surprisingly robust. As you’d expect from Nikon […]

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