Peak Design Travel Tripod Design Review – Yay or nay

The Peak Design Travel Tripod is an interesting tripod and I like where they’re going with the design but I think it’s got some faults… I’ll try review them. For those that don’t want to read all of this, please scroll down to the bottom.

I’ve always wanted Peak Design to make a tripod and I emailed them a while ago offering to help review and design a travel tripod. They can’t trust every person who emails them, but I would have given personal information, signed an NDA, had backing by a popular photographer, etc. I’d also return the product if that’s what they wanted i.e. I’m not trying to score myself something for free here.

I had several ideas floating around my head and I offered my design ideas for free (without further communication and agreement, this offer is now retracted) and my time for free because a part of me simply wanted a good product to be available; in the same way, I’d like to see a small, waterproof bag, I can use for long wet hikes (taking off a 40lb+ backpack to get to camera equipment is annoying). I’m not 100% satisfied with the travel tripod market and I felt my ideas were worth listening to. I don’t want to sound like one of those bitter old guys (actually, I’m not that old) but YouTube has an aura of dishonesty about it when it comes to the popular photography channels. Some of this comes in the form of subtly misleading the audience or subtle dishonesty and some of it is full blown libel/slander. I can understand Peak Design’s choice to give the tripod to popular YouTubers but I think it would have been beneficial for someone like me to offer up ideas i.e. someone with more experience making stuff, experience hiking 15+ miles a day multiple weeks in a row, etc.

My respect for popular YouTubers has declined at an ever-increasing rate this last year, especially since the Steve McCurry video (for those unfamiliar, a certain YouTuber slandered Steve McCurry and then fictitiously, ignorantly/dishonestly and illogically claimed it was not slander… I digress.), but it’s not easy doing reviews and whatnot for equipment; it’s time consuming, it’s at times rather boring (not so much for new products like this) and it’s challenging to be thorough. I respect the quality of their videos. In the same way, I’m not a fan of the Kardashians but I respect what they have achieved. Would I trust them to give an honest review of makeup? No. Would I trust them to sell/promote it? Yes. Additionally, an acquaintance was given a Peak Design Travel Tripod and I trust their motives, so I know not all popular YouTubers are out to screw you, haha. I’m not trying to sound like Mr. Amazing here. I’m not great at reviewing things and they do a better job at it than me, but I also think I’m better suited to finding fault with products; more importantly, I’m better at suggesting a work around (it’s one thing to complain; it’s another to offer up a solution).

In my eyes, Peak Design’s choice to allow popular YouTubers to review their Travel Tripod and give feedback isn’t entirely about getting feedback from technically competent people. It’s not entirely about judging the tripods design; a lot of YouTuber’s have proven themselves straight up incapable when it comes to technical subjects and engineering, so that would be a crap-shoot. I believe this is an advertising campaign. I respect that, and I’d do something similar in their shoes… But I also feel I’d give it to technically competent critics as well.

To conclude my rant(?) about dishonesty… The kickstarter page has an “us vs them” table:

Peak Design Travel Tripod Closed Length 39.4cm
Minimum Height 14cm
Weight 1.27kg
Gitzo 1 Traveler Closed Length 42.4cm
Minimum Height 32.5cm
Weight 1.45kg

Peak Design, what’s going on here? The actual specifics for few Gitzo Tripods are different:

Gitzo GT1545T Series 1 Traveler Closed Length 42.4cm
Minimum Height 22cm
Weight 1055g
Gitzo GT1555T Series 1 Traveler Closed Length 35.5cm
Minimum Height 20cm
Weight 1030g
Gitzo GT0545T Series 0 Traveler Closed Length 36.5cm
Minimum Height 20cm
Weight 895g

I guess this doesn’t fit in with the whole “wow it’s so light compared to the competition” shtick, eh? This literally is not defensible.

Finally, in video comparisons showing the flick locks being opened compared to the twist lock tripods, the person demonstrating opens them in an incomparable way. For the twist lock demonstration, one leg segment is unlocked, then the next segment is unlocked, and so on. When the same person opened the flick locks, they released all of the locks first, then they opened the legs. You can do the exact same thing with twist locks–unlock them all at the top, then open the legs. I suspect the Peak Design Travel Tripod is still quicker to set up, but it’s a bit misleading if you’re going to give an apples to oranges comparison. Unfortunately though, because this comparison is deliberately misleading, even if the general theme/claim is correct i.e. it’s quicker to set up, I won’t believe it because it’s put forth in such a dishonest way. I’m trying to keep an open mind but this makes it hard.

The Peak Design Travel Tripod’s Design Review

Next up is something more concerning to me, the design of the product… I haven’t seen it in person; therefore, some of my information (definitely not all) might be inaccurate:

  • The legs are not cylindrical; therefore, for the same weight of material in a cylindrical structure, they’re weaker: cylindrical shaped legs are stronger. This might not necessarily be a problem.
  • The legs are less aerodynamic than cylindrical legs i.e. more wind drag and more unstable in windy conditions.
  • The legs seem to have some kind of plastic coating on them which will peel. I’ve observed this from a video. If the idea is to change the look of the carbon fibre, it would be better to use dyed resin. Refer to a carbon fibre knife handle I made, pictured below. I’ve kept the standard carbon fibre weave but I’ve added a secondary resin layer with a tiny bit of black dye.
  • The head has an exposed ball–grit and grime can get inside it. Most ball heads are a bit exposed but normally the camera goes on the top offering some protection. Only time will tell how problematic this is.
  • The centre column has a removable phone holder, but this sacrifices the strength of the hook assembly to weigh down the tripod. I’d have preferred to see a much more secure, fixed, piece in the bottom.
  • The legs at the shoulder joint have a poor hinge mechanism. This seems to consist of double bushings/washers, two bolts and a centre piece. How much the bolts are tightened determines how stiff the legs are to open, and when the legs are opened a lot, it naturally wants to unscrew the bolt. I’ve made a few assumptions here because I don’t have my hands on the product.
    • One way to help this would be to have a hexagonal head, and then the tripod assembly is machined so that the hexagonal bolt head fits into that perfectly. You still have to tighten one bolt but it means you don’t need two allen keys in the field.
    • Loctite will help, but a ball bearing assembly would be better, refer to my design below. This isn’t complete; you’d need o-ring dampeners to stop the legs swinging out.
    • Brass is a superior material for a washer, as it’s softer.
    • Nylon washers in line would be superior too; it’s self lubricating and can be molybdenum infused. Nylon is underrated for this kind of thing; in my opinion, people who criticise nylon generally don’t know anything about nylon. Look at the helicopter of mine in a photograph below (it’s an old photograph, sorry about the quality) and you can see a lot of connecting parts go from aluminium to nylon. What you can’t see is how pitch rotation is handled. Pitch rotation (for the helicopter to fly sideways and upside down) is done with four bearing races plus rubber o-rings for added friction. The result is you don’t need to tighten the blades when the pitch changes a lot (the pitch movement of this is an identical / comparable movement to opening the legs of a tripod).
  • The centre column goes to an incredibly narrow choke point near the head. Forces going directly down the tripod, i.e. a cameras weight, can be high but any knocks from the side risk snapping the tripod at the joint. Vibrations/movement are also more likely to be a problem with this design.
  • The optional feet are made of the aluminium. Titanium would have been better.
  • The optional feet have a screw hole but it’s in the wrong place and will allow dirt to get into the hole and potentially rust/block the bolt head. You could perhaps rectify this with a plug of some sort. Personally I’d have had the grub screw further up.
  • The ball head has a bubble, but it’s not visible when the camera is mounted. This might be potentially okay if you could line up the camera horizontally, so that you could then pan. However, the tripod head doesn’t have a separate panning dial. Even then, it wouldn’t be ideal. They’ve had to make sacrifices here for the size, but I’d try think of something else e.g. a camera plate with a spirit level in it. I accept they don’t want a sticky out bit (this is an awfully technical term, I know) on the tripod.
  • The centre column has to be raised a bit for the ballhead to function properly.
  • The leg latches are quick and easy to deploy but they might be harder to clean when they get dirt in them.

Pros:

  • Allen key for the camera plate (you can secure it to the camera better). Also, miniature rant but whoever started calling this a wrench (it’s even on the wiki page) should stand on a lego brick. Okay, maybe that’s taking things too far.
  • The quick release mechanism is awesome.
  • I like the leg latches but these are a possible con too.
  • It packs away small.
  • It sets up fast.
  • It’s lightweight.
  • It looks like they have a good company machining the items.
  • It’s beautiful.
  • It’s beautiful.

Leg shape strength

I received a polite question about my claim regarding the leg shape and to explain why cylinders are superior: A hollow column is only as strong as its weakest point and cylinders are the strongest hollow columns against compression because they spread weight evenly. Try crushing an egg by applying even pressure to the top; shapes are weird.

PeakDesign employ a lead engineer from Specialized Mountain Bikes and if you look at the design of a stereotypical carbon fibre mountain bike, its sections are very similar looking to this tripod–perhaps coincidental. The primary strength of a bicycle comes from the shape of its frame; its frame being triangle based.

Triangles are a great shape for structural support when used vertically and they are used in specific supporting parts of bridges but that’s not to say the leg cross section should be triangular. The type(s) and direction(s) of force(s) and potential force (accidents) applied to a tripod is different.

In summation, different shapes have superior aspects to them but it depends on the structure, their placement in the structure and the type of force(s) applied to that structure. A tripod leg is potentially subjected to compression, shearing and tension (although not very much) from different directions. If the legs perfectly connected with each other, you might theoretically be able to increase the tripods strength when it is folded.

Does any of this matter in the real world? I can’t answer that because there is only so much I can see in the photographs. Much like a bicycle, tripods are potentially subjected to unexpected forces–the camera equipment falling, you falling while hiking, etc. In a lot of ways, this shape is simply not optimum.

The reason you don’t see trapezoidal wheels, fishing rods, bridges, etc. isn’t because no one has thought of it, it’s because it’s a bad idea.

For those that don’t want to read all of that. I have a few real world concerns I believe will happen:

  • The legs will peel
  • The centre column will snap at the bottom when a weight is added to the hook
  • The centre column will snap at the top, near the head
  • The legs will become loose/wobbly over time
  • The bubble will be unusable
  • The head will be hard to operate compared to other heads

That said, I find something quite lovable about it but I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few months time, you see a lot of people complaining. I believe the ManFrotto BeFree or a Gitzo Traveler is possibly a more reliable buy. Hopefully these complaints are just things that’re problems on paper and in the real world it’s the most awesome thing ever.

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3 thoughts on “Peak Design Travel Tripod Design Review – Yay or nay”

  1. Very recently I have started to look a solid tripod and a colleague of mine told me about the Peak Design’s tripod on KS, so I had a look at it. At first, their video and all the marketing stuff looked great and promising, however after reading more about it and actually rewatching the videos and photos I have started to have similar feeling as you have and similar points has started to pop up in my mind about it. I was basically deciding about Gitzo GT1545T and the Peak Designs Tripod (which is coming in approx Dec 2019). After long consideration and many hours of research I think Gitzo is a much safer and long lasting tripod (although a bit pricier in the end). Thanks for the write up and actually helping mi decide which tripod to choose as you basically mentioned some of the “expected” issues with the PD Tripod I was thinking about when considering it.

  2. Well done on pointing out the incorrect information on the comparison with Gitzo. I noticed that too but due to the closed feedback nature of Kickstarter and the overwhelming flood of cheerleader comments it seemed impossible to call out PD on this. I’ve bought into quite a lot of PD stuff, but finally the only products that statisfy me are the straps and the messenger bag. The rest seems too much form and too little function. The backpacks in particular are terrible in the real world. The tripod is interesting but I’ll be sticking with my Gitzos.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this review

    1. Thank you! I must also say that in practise this might be an amazing tripod :). I would have liked to see a few changes here and there, and the admin error with Gitzo was most peculiar.

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