Vanguard Abeo Pro Tripod Kit
$498 / £529 | www.vanguardworld.com

The Vanguard ABEO Pro 283CGH kit, set atop nearly two feet of snow with a 5D Mark III and battery grip attached.

The Vanguard ABEO Pro 283CGH tripod kit ($498), which consists of the ABEO Pro 283CT carbon fiber three-section tripod and GH-300T pistol grip ball head, has a lot of good things going for it. For starters, the ABEO Pro 283CGH kit boasts 2013 TIPA and reddot design awards. This is partly because of the GH-300T's pistol grip, which has a built-in remote shutter release control. Furthermore, the ABEO tripod itself has an articulating center column, multi-angle legs, and three types of feet for different terrains.

At just shy of $500 for the carbon fiber version, the Vanguard ABEO Pro 283CGH kit is definitely a serious investment aimed at more advanced shooters. But with medium grade models from bigger names like Manfrotto hitting the wallet just as hard, could it be that the ABEO Pro kit is a bargain given the amount of advanced features it offers? Let's find out.

Specifications

ABEO Pro 283CT Specs

  • Maximum Extended Height: 67.5 in (171.5 cm)
  • Minimum Extended Height: 54.5 in (138.5 cm)
  • Folded Height: 30 in (76.5 cm)
  • Weight: 6.70 lbs (3.05 kg)
  • Maximum Load Capacity: 17.6 lbs (8 kg)
  • Number of Leg Sections: 3
  • Available Leg Angles: 25°, 50°, and 80°
  • Leg Diameter: 28mm
  • Bubble Levels: 1
  • Carbon Fiber Legs
  • All-terrain Feet with Snow/Sand Shoes

GH-300T Head Specs

  • Bubble levels: 2
  • Quick shoe included: QS-60
  • Swivel: 360°
  • Tilt: +90° ~ -8°
  • Lateral Tilt: +90° ~ -32°
  • Panhead movements: 360°
  • Built-in Shutter Release System
  • 8-stop Handle Positioning
  • Friction Control System
  • 38mm Standard Quick Shoe
  • 360-degree Panning
  • 72-point Click Head Mounting Plate Rotation

*Kit comes with a bag, tripod head adjustment tool, hex tool, and shutter release cable.

Basic Spec Overview

The Vanguard Abeo tripod kit is offered in three different iterations. There's the ABEO Pro 283AB, which consists of the aluminum version of the ABEO Pro tripod and BBH-100 ball head. Then there's the ABEO Pro 283AGH, which comes with the same aluminum tripod, but adds the GH-300T pistol grip ball head. The kit I'm reviewing (283CGH) is identical to the latter option, only the tripod is upgraded from aluminum to carbon fiber.

Vanguard's treatment of the carbon fiber on the 283CT model is a bit more subdued than other brands -  it sports a matte finish and the woven strands of carbon fiber are difficult to detect unless it's sitting in direct light. It's definitely less flashy than Manfrotto's 190 series, which features a dynamic iridescent patten of woven carbon fiber lathered with a high gloss finish. From afar, the Vanguard ABEO Pro 283CT looks like it could be aluminum, but its light weight soon abolishes that impression when you first handle it.

The ABEO Pro 283CT's  subtle carbon fiber finish. The ABEO Pro 283CT's plastic leg locks.

The ABEO Pro 283CT tips the scale at 6.70 lbs (3.05 kg), which is a bit on the hefty side. Keep in mind that its leg tubes are larger in diameter, placing it within the pro echelon of tripod models. But when compared to the Manfrotto 190 that I just reviewed, it's over three pounds heavier. Of course, the 190 has a carbon fiber center column and smaller diameter leg tubes, while the ABEO Pro 283CT is saddled with an aluminum center column. In addition, the ABEO Pro 283CT features very rugged magnesium castings. Unfortunately, the leg locks are plastic––a trend we've seen across price ranges low and high.

Thanks to the ruggedness of the ABEO Pro 283CT's construction, the tripod is capable of hoisting an impressive 17.6 lb (8 kg) maximum load. It has a maximum extended height of 67.5 in (171.5 cm) and can fold down to 30 in (76.5 cm) for transport. That's a bit more unwieldy for travel than a compact solution like the Manfrotto 190, but the ABEO Pro 283CT is not aimed at photographers wheeling their gear through airports. It's also worth noting that the ABEO Pro 283CT has a bubble level located at the top and comfortable foam grips on all three legs. The legs themselves are spiked at the bottom, but come with removable all-terrain feet and a set of sand/snow shoes. Leg angles can be set at 25°, 50°, and 80° for more stability.

A Unique Design in Action

Since the Vanguard ABEO Pro 283CGH kit consists of two main elements, I'll start with my experience in the field with the 283CT tripod and tackle the GH-300T pistol grip head in the following section.

As evidenced in the top image, the ABEO Pro 283CT is suited for a plethora of shooting environments. I was able to set it atop nearly two feet of snow without any of the legs sinking, courtesy of the snow/sand shoes that fasten over the factory-installed all-terrain feet. Although I'm way up in Maine, currently blanketed with snow, I feel as though I don't need to wait for summer to see how the shoes will fare on the beach in the sand. I would guess sand grains could work their way into the pivoting joints of the shoes, and that would be the only thing to watch. T

he all-terrain feet were fine for most grassy environments, but the underlying spikes granted the ABEO Pro 283CT the ability to really lock into the dirt. The three different foot types provide a terrific versatility that will suit just about any shooter. I was highly impressed with the ABEO Pro 283CT's footing selection.

A trio of footing options. The articulating center column that can be angled up or down 0 - 180º.

Just like the Mafrotto 190 series, the Vanguard ABEO Pro 283CT has an articulating center column that pulls up and out, and can be positioned horizontally. However, the ABEO Pro 283CT majorly one-ups the Manfrotto 190 series with the ability to easily move the center column vertically from 0 - 180º angles. This way, the camera can actually be mounted upside down underneath the tripod, set to perform like an angular boom stand, or mounted on a horizontal plane, perpendicular to the y-axis.

The transformation of the center column is not as smooth as the Manfrotto 190's, as a metal tab near the end needs to be pressed and the column must be pulled out carefully. If it's pulled too swiftly, the whole center column will pull off and has to be placed back in. But I'd take the ABEO Pro 283CT's ability to angle the center column over the Manfrotto 190's fixed horizontal orientation any day.

Flaunting its awards.

Another great aspect of the ABEO Pro 283CT is that the center column holder can be rotated a full 360º, which is ideal for panoramic photography. This can be accomplished by the simple flip of a lever, and circular movement is velvety smooth for the gentlest of pans. Another lever, which controls the angle of the center column, features an orange slide release and can lock the column in place in less than a second. With a steady hand, the camera can achieve vertical pans by holding the back of the center column and moving it up or down. At the top of each leg is a textured metal button that controls the angles of the legs. This is the most ergonomic leg angle setup I've used to date, and using it, it was obvious that Vanguard has put a lot of thought into exactly how photographers handle the legs.

A look at the center column conversion release button. Easy to press leg angle release buttons make leg widening for additional stability a snap.

I really liked the ruggedness of the ABEO Pro 283CT's magnesium castings, and the foam grips on the legs added more comfort, traction, and insulated my hands from the cold legs when out in the snow. In addition, the center column has a spring-loaded hook for adding weight. These are all features found on the most expensive pro models. For the most part, I was very happy with the Vanguard ABEO Pro 283CT.

However, there were a few misses. First off, the plastic leg locks don't really meld with the professional fit and finish of the rest of the tripod. They worked quite well, and I was able to flip them open and have the legs fall down instantly before locking them again, but metal levers and locks would have really completed the package. The other issue I had with the ABEO Pro 283CT was its overly flexible leg sections. I was interested in the flex of the legs compared to the Manfrotto 190 series tripod I recently reviewed. Knowing that the 190's legs are a smaller diameter, I expected the Manfrotto to have more flex with the legs fully extended than the ABEO, which has larger diameter legs. Much to my surprise, the Manfrotto 190 was more rigid while the ABEO showed more flex. Perhaps it has something to do with the ABEO's carbon fiber manufacturing process or the connection strength where the legs fit into the magnesium castings, but that was the one disappointment in my experience with the ABEO Pro 283CT.

Getting a Pistol Grip

While the Vanguard ABEO Pro 283CT carbon fiber tripod is a versatile dynamo, its head might steal the limelight. As part of the ABEO Pro 283CGH tripod kit, the GH-300T pistol grip head is a welcome addition, featuring a remote shutter release trigger embedded into the grip. Vanguard offers a variety of shutter release cables for specific camera models, and I received the TC1 cable, which mated perfectly with my Canon Mark III. There are two ways to shoot with the shutter release trigger. First, the button can be pressed independently, allowing the shooter to control when the shutter is activated. The second option is to press and slide the trigger upward, which is tantamount to manually holding a finger on the shutter release button. This is useful for bulb photography or action shooting.

The shutter release trigger in action. The GH-300T in all its glory.
However, we encountered a little difficulty with the GH-300T shutter release trigger and a 5D Mark III: No matter how slowly I squeezed the trigger, the camera would not simulate a 'half-press' on the shutter. Instead, it activated the AF and fired simultaneously. When using the 2.5mm connector on a Rebel camera, half-press works just fine, with another ~0.5mm of motion before the shutter fires. We're not sure if there's something wrong with the cable or the camera, but even the camera's shutter release behaves this way with the Vanguard cable plugged in, so we wouldn't be surprised if wires were crossed somewhere. (Please let us know if you've had a different experience with the GH-300T and the 5D Mark III.)
 
 
The trigger button offers about 3.7mm of total travel, with AF occurring about halfway with the Rebel T3i / EOS 600D. The benefit of having the shutter button embedded in the pistol grip is that the head can easily be adjusted during a shoot, and it made me feel as though I was hunkered down in the trenches blasting off rounds of RAW files.
 
The pistol grip itself is very easy to use and offers a tightness/looseness lever to provide the right amount of tension. But I found that even at the tightest setting, I could move the ball head without grabbing the pistol grip. Granted, this was with a lot of force, and the camera never fell even at the steepest angles, but it is worth noting.
The pistol grip handle can rotate a full 360º by pulling out the adjuster ring. The top plate on the GH-300T features a 72-point click rotation for panorama photography. 
Part of the GH-300T's allure is its positional versatility. The head can move 90º forward or to the side, and the grip can actually rotate around a full 360º circle by pulling out the adjuster ring. Furthermore, the base of the head can be rotated a full 360º with one of the smoothest deliveries I've ever experienced on a tripod head. The base features a highly accurate friction adjuster for just the right amount of tension. Up at the top, the mounting plate base can be turned a full 360º along a 72-click circle. This means the camera can be turned and clicked in place in 5º increments from 0º to 360º, which is any panoramic photographer's dream. Since the base can move a full 360º as well, the camera can be positioned vertically by turning the grip for higher resolution panoramas.
 
The mounting plate base itself has a large, rubberized dial for removing the plate, as well as a leveling bubble. Unless the camera is mounted correctly, the bubble can be difficult to see, but it works flawlessly. Of course, everything has its own lock or friction control to really ratchet all moving parts down tightly.
The handy head tool.
One of the things I really like about the ABEO Pro 283CGH kit was that it ships with Vanguard's versatile head/tripod tool that features tabs for loosening the head screw bolt (instead of fishing around for a quarter) and hex wrench holes. A hex head tool was also included, and it made setting up and adjusting much easier. Overall, I was blown away by the versatility of motion on the GH-300T head. In conjunction with the ABEO Pro 283CT's articulating center column that can be angled up or down, the configuration possibilities seem endless.

Summing Up

There's a lot to like about the Vanguard ABEO Pro 283CGH kit. It's certainly difficult to run out of ideas when it comes to setting up the camera in a multitude of angles. The ability to not only transform the center column but to also angle it up or down and spin it 360º is wonderful, whether shooting videos or stills. The GH-300T head can also be configured in so many different ways, and adds remote shutter control via the pistol grip shutter release button. The entire kit is well built, comes with a carry case, tools, and a shutter trigger cable.

My gripes were rare, but one stood out above the rest. The flex exhibited by the ABEO Pro 283CT with legs fully extended was greater than that of the Manfrotto 190's, the latter of which has smaller leg tube diameters. I also wasn't a huge fan of the plastic leg locks. Finally, the bug with my 5D Mark III's autofocus was a mystery that may be related to a faulty cable; at least it works with other models. Keep in mind that the flex issue was not a huge one, but definitely noticeable when stacked up against the Manfrotto.

Overall, this is one of the best tripod kits on the market at a price cheaper than its competitors. The aluminum version of the ABEO kit is even cheaper, and Vanguard offers the ALTA Pro (very similar to the ABEO) with a downgraded head for an unbelievably low price.

What we like:

  • Endless camera configurations
  • Extremely ergonomic and intuitive
  • Three sets of feet for all types of environments
  • Comes with carry bag, an amazing pistol grip ball head with shutter control
  • Smooth performance
  • Ships with tools

What we don't like:

  • Legs are a bit more flexible than competitors
  • AF control doesn't work with our Canon EOS 5D Mark III
  • Plastic leg locks