Vanguard SBH-100 and Alta Pro 263AT Review

Have you been looking for a tripod?  One that will help video family gatherings, hold your camera during children’s performances so you don’t have to, and help you take just the right picture?  Me too.  After tons of research, the legs and head I decided on was the Vanguard SBH-100 and Alta Pro 263AT.

The Head: Vanguard SBH-100

Vanguard SBH-100

An important part of any tripod is the head; the part that connects the camera to the legs.  There are many options to consider when deciding on a tripod head.  If you are going to mount a video camera and take mostly videos or landscape photography, you may want a pan head.  For general photography, a ball head is a great choice.  Most of how I use my camera is to shoot videos (check out my laser engraving videos on YouTube) and take general photography so for me, a ball head was just what I needed.  The particular ball head I chose is the Vanguard SBH-100.

The SBH-100 is a medium duty head that supports about 10 pounds of camera equipment.  The heaviest combination of camera equipment I have is a little bit over 2.5 pounds (a Canon T3i with a Canon USM 70-300mm zoom lens).  This head will support just about any upgrade I will want to make to my lens, body, or whatever.

Here are some features of the SBH-100 that influenced my decision (check out the end of the post for pictures):

  • two bubble levels
  • Quick release plate (two of them)
  • 360 scale for rotation

In addition to those features, the ball of the SBH-100 can rotate 90 degrees to easily go from landscape to portrait setup.  This is a common feature with most ball heads but it is very important.  Make sure any ball head you consider purchasing has it.

Vanguard SBH-100 - Quick release buttonVanguard SBH-100 - Locking knob

The knob that locks the ball into position is a little bigger than a $1 coin which makes it comfortable to use and easy on the fingers when you need to really lock down your setup.

A few things I would have liked to see different:

  • Larger button for the quick-release
  • Some way to align the ball back to a home position (added on the BBH-100 ball head which are about 50% more expensive than the SBH-100)

Overall, I have been very happy with the Vanguard SBH-100 and look forward to using it for many years to come.

The Legs: Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT

Vanguard - 263AT legs and SBH-100 ball head Without legs, a tripod really isn’t a tripod.  There are cheap tripods and very, very expensive tripods.  They come in plastic, aluminum, and carbon fiber.  The specific uses for your tripod will dictate what you buy.  For me, I wanted legs that adjusted in such a way that I could have the camera close to the ground and a center column that did more than go up and down.  I chose the Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT.

The Alta Pro 263AT set of legs are made of aluminum and have 3 section with lever locks for quick height adjustment.  At the bottom, there are round rubber feet (similar to a flattened sphere) that can convert to spikes with a quick twist.  The legs can spread out independently with stops at 25, 50, and 80 degrees.  That means you can set this tripod up close to a wall, on stairs, on uneven ground, very low to the ground, using just a tiny bit of floor space, etc.  The column of the Alta Pro 263AT adjusts to multiple angles, which is my favorite feature.

Vanguard - 263AT and SBH-100 - Legs at 80 degrees - Macro setupFor taking pictures low to the ground or at weird angles, a multi-angle center column is a great.  There are other tripods that have a similar setup but the Alta Pro 263AT won the 2009 TAPA Best Accessory award.  Not being big into photography, that did not mean much to me initially.  The bottom line is that someone other than Vanguard thought the Alta Pro 263AT legs were really cool, interesting, and worthy of recognition.  That got my attention.

The Alta Pro 263AT will support about 15 pounds which makes it a good choice to use with the SBH-100.  It has a little extra capacity for a larger head and heavier equipment if (or when…) I decide to upgrade.

The Tripod

Overall, the combination of the Vanguard SBH-100 and Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT makes for a really great tripod.  When I was in the market for a tripod, it was cheaper to buy the two separately rather than in a kit (rebates are great).  It worked out well since the SBH-100, when bought by itself, comes with two quick-release plates; when bought as a kit, you only get one.  Not a big deal but less money for more stuff is usually my choice if possible.

I hope this review has informed you about the benefits of the Vanguard SBH-100 ball head and Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT legs.  If you have any experience with these or other Vanguard products, please let me know in the comments.  If there is another tripod I should have purchased, leave me a comment and let me know why.  Have a great day

For more information on the SBH-100 or Alta Pro 263AT, check out the Vanguard site:

Vanguard SBH-100

Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT

(Some of the links on this page are affiliate links where I earn a small commission if you decide to purchase through those links.  It doesn’t cost you anything extra.  Thanks)

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  • clauditorium

    Thanks for the review! I’m shopping for a tripod and head, and I’m a bit conflicted. I like to take panning video shots of landscapes. You seem to say that a ball head is not ideal for that kind of thing, but I really love the mobility of a ball head. Should I really go for a pan head, or can a ball head be used for good pans?

    • http://bluecapra.com/about-me Alan Reeves

      @clauditorium:disqus Thanks for the comment.  If you want to take mostly landscape pictures, I would seriously consider a pan head.  A ball head is great for quick adjustments and the SBH-100 does have the ability to pan but in landscape photography, you will often need fine adjustments to get things framed just the way you want.  

      Pan heads, especially geared pan heads, allow you to easily adjust just one axis at a time.  So, once you level your tripod, you can adjust the axis parallel to the lens to make sure that the horizon is level in your picture, something that would be difficult to do with a ball head.  To do good panning shots, you will need to have things setup level.  

      That said, you need to consider what you are going to be doing the most.  If you will be taking landscapes mostly, look at pan heads.  For me, the main reason I bought the tripod was to shoot videos in a very specific setting (http://youtube.com/bookwormlaser ) and shots of me and the family.  If you can find someone with both types to test, that would be the best idea.
      Of course, you can always get both a pan head and a ball head and swap them out when needed.  Start with the one you think will be used most and add some good legs. If you realize you need the other type, all you have to buy is the head, not another set of legs.

      I hope this helped.  Let me know if I can help.  Thanks

      • clauditorium

        Hey, thanks for the quick reply! That was indeed helpful. Unless I’m mistaken, you’re mostly referring to still photography. And while I’ll also be doing some of that with the tripod, I was wondering more about smooth movement while taking video. Just so I’m clear, are you saying that a pan head would be better than a ball head for doing, say, a smooth horizontal pan movement of a landscape during a video?

        If that’s the case, I’m considering choosing between the Manfrotto 190XProB or the Manfrotto 055XPROB, both with a Manfrotto 804RC2 head. Do you have any knowledge/advice about the merits of those?

        • http://bluecapra.com/about-me Alan Reeves

          Yes, a pan head would do better to do a smooth horizontal pan during a video but I must admit, I have little experience with pan heads. The SBH-100 can easily do horizontal pans but the benefit of a pan head is mostly in the setup and adjustment; you can adjust the axis individually unlike a ball head where you are either secured or not.

          Some ball heads (like the SBH-100) can be rotated horizontally after the ball is locked down via a built joint. That may not make a lot of sense but one difference between a SBH-50 and a SBH-100 is an extra locking knob that lets you pivot (or lockdown) the horizontal rotation. Check those two models out online and you will see what I mean

  • Mo

    Hiya Alan,

    Thanks for the detailed review. I have my mind almost made up between this and the 055XPROB from Manfrotto.

    The only thing that is holding me back from the Vanguard is that another review mentioned the grub screws securing the head bore into the metal on the centre column. Is there any way you can confirm if this is still the case? The review mentioned that Vanguard is working on a redesign to address this.

    Thanks a lot again!

    Mo.

    • http://bluecapra.com/about-alan-reeves Alan Reeves

      Hi Mo. Sorry for the late reply (I kept forgetting to check the legs). Not sure if I understand your question completely but I’ll try to describe all that I can.

      The screw that secures the center column, keeping it from going up or down, contacts a thin piece of metal that protects the column from getting all scratched up from the screw.

      The screw that secures the head to the legs is permanently attached to the legs with an adapter that is mounted to the part that attaches to the head (so you won’t lose it). The head screws onto the permanently attached bolt on the legs and once it is snug, there are 3 screws that keeps the head from unscrewing. These screw in and contact the head but once the head is screwed on to the legs, it really doesn’t move.

      The 3 screws that keep the head from moving were loose on my head and I never noticed.

      I hope I’ve answered your question. If not, please let me know and I’ll do my best. I’d be happy to send you pictures as well. Good luck

  • Nina Green

    The Alta Pro’s legs are certainly well-made, sturdy and remarkably versatile, but I have serious doubts about Vanguard ball heads. After less than two years of only very light, occasional duty, the horizontal pan (micro friction control) on my SBH-100 has completely seized up and I have to use the central column to rotate the camera.
    This in itself is not such a big deal; the ball and socket parts are fine and never slip when using a heavier lens. However, I find it hard to trust the head’s durability and will replace it with a more proven and reliable brand (Acratech, Giottos or Gitzo) when I can afford it.

    • http://bluecapra.com/about-alan-reeves Alan Reeves

      That sounds like a major pain Nina. I wonder if there is a problem with the threads on that knob. I’ve had my setup for a little over a year and have not had a bit of trouble. In the beginning, I used it frequently but now, rarely. Most of the time I use the ball to adjust the pan. Have you tried to contact the company and see what they recommend?