The Peak Design Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod

This is a review of my 3+ years of experience with the Peak Design Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod (“PDTT”). I was an early Kickstarter backer of the tripod. Since I already had a closet full of tripods, mostly Really Right Stuff (“RRS”) tripods, why did I want another? (As to why a tripod in the first place, especially in this day and age of 7-stop IBIS and OIS, see here. The TL;DR: without a tripod, you are no longer the creator-in-charge of your image.) There were several reasons:
1. The geometry. The (at the time) new and innovative design of the legs that made it possible to compact the tripod down into a smaller circumference, thus making it even more portable for travel. The legs are trapezoidal in their cross-sectional shape, and the center column (more on that in a moment) is triangular in cross section. This means that the legs, when retracted and folded in, create a solid block with almost no wasted (what PD calls "negative") space.  See the effect here, and compare it to the nearest RRS competitive product, the RRS Ascend tripod (which did not exist at the time):

That difference is significant, almoat as thpough the tripods are in two separate product classes. This has two very positive outcomes for the traveling serious photographer: (a) the tripod is significantly easier to pack in compact luggage without disassembly; and (b) the tripod is also significantly easier to carry in your hand or across your body. I don’t see this second factor mentioned very much, if at all, in the reviews of the PDTT, but it is a very real benefit. Ease of carry is a significant issue when using a tripod and shooting outdoors.
 
2. The mechanicals. All my RRS tripods employ a rotating collar locking mechanism for each leg section. It’s a well-engineered solution, and once you become familiar with it, you can quickly deploy and pack your tripod. The PDTT uses cam locks on each leg section. My initial reaction to this design feature was negative. Ever since my early days with Gitzo Safari aluminum tripods, I had been accustomed to rotating collars. Flip locks seemed “toy-ish.” But like any approach to solving a problem, what matters is the quality of the execution. And I believe PD nailed it. In theory, flip lock mechanisms are more exposed to the rigors of the outdoors. But they are significantly easier to keep clean. And that matters. Rotating collars can trap fine grit, causing the mechanism to wear rapidly or even get damaged if not cleaned properly. 
3. The flexibility.  The PD can be configured with either of two center columns. One features an integrated ball head and clamp. The other sports a universal platform on to which one can attach via screw thread any tripod head one desires. One of the first negatives about the PD is that swapping between these two options is not as simple as it should be. When I ticked the boxes on the PD Kickstarter project, I definitely chose to add on the universal head platform. In fact, IIRC, the only way to get it at the time was to fund it additionally. One could only buy the basic tripod with the integrated ball head center column. If you wanted the option to mount your own tripod head, you had to pay extra to get the universal platform. I grumbled but did not hesitate. Still, as of this writing, I am happy I was forced to buy the basic package with the integrated ball head. If PD ever releases a version of the tripod with a combined integrated ball head and threaded insert for your own head—so we don’t have to carry two center columns—I will be first in line. 
Were there (potential and realized) negatives? Sure, all real world design is a compromise. And the PDTT had its share: the aforementioned flip-locks were perceived (by me) as a potential negative, but a “price” I was willing to pay to get that compact geometry; the apparent spindliness of the lower legs; and the presence, indeed necessity, of a center column, a “feature” I had assiduously avoided in all my previous tripods. The disadvantages of a center column are well-documented over at a superb website appropriately titled The Center Column. But the flexibility and advantages of one are also undeniable, even if they do inherently introduce elements of instability into what is supposed to be a stable platform. Historically, I had turned my nose up at center columns. That was about to change. Then there was the price. Many people complained about the “exorbitant” PD funding level of $479 for the carbon fiber version of the tripod. And when the tripod inevitably hit the retail market at $600, many more complained. Those people obviously never shopped RRS gear. Shrug. It is what it is. PD is a small San Francisco-based company. Although manufactured in China, these are US-oriented price levels. And it is backed by a lifetime, zero-hassle warranty. I know another US company in Cupertino that prices similarly. In both cases, you receive high quality products for value-based pricing. If you don’t see the value, you aren’t the customer. 

In the Field
I was an early recipient of the PDTT; it arrived just before Christmas 2019, and I first traveled with it on a trip to Tanzania (as the pandemic was unfolding). It was a funny moment when the TSA X-ray screening inspector at my departure airport in California shouted out “is that the new Peak Designs tripod?” That’s how new it was; more importantly, that’s how recognizable its compacted shape was and is. 
In Tanzania, my first shooting opportunity with the PDTT was at an overlook of the Ngorongoro Crater. On that trip, I was shooting with the Sony A7r4 and the A9.  The Crater presented a classic, if a bit boring and static, panorama opportunity. The fact that the PDTT was with me on this trip was itself fortuitous. The trip was a wildlife imaging venture. Participants were not discouraged from bringing a tripod, but we were told that one was not necessary. And it wasn’t. But in our group, one of us had one. And when a landscape opportunity presented itself, it was a great one to have. On that trip, the PDTT was outfitted with the universal head option, and I had also brought the Arca Swiss L60 compact leveling head “just in case.” The panorama was just such a case. The PDTT did what it was supposed to do: deployed quickly and provided stability for an 11-shot pano. My good friend with me on that trip borrowed for his on shot on his A7r4. 
Since that time, I have carried the PDTT to Italy, Chicago, on cross-country road trips, to wine country here in Northern California, into the desert at Joshua Tree, at the Golden Gate, New York City, Atlanta, Dallas, etc. later this month, it will accompany Mary and me on a barge cruise in Burgundy. It is excellent and performs within the seeet spot of its range with lightweight camera gear like the Leica M11 and the compact and lightweight M lenses. That’s a 60-megapixel platform, and the PDTT is stable enough for it except in very windy conditions.  It is beyond convenient; it is essential to compact one-bag travel photography. 
The Verdict
“You can have my RRS tripod when you can pry it from my cold dead hands.” Yep, that’s how much I love my RRS gear. An RRS tripod remains permanently in my car, because I never know when I might need it. When I photograph with the Phase, I always use an RRS tripod. Even the most compact and lightweight of RRS tripods is heavier-duty than the PDTT. And those 151 megapixels demand every bit of possible stability. But for anything else where the luxury of car-based photography—and the ability to carry the biggest tripod my back will bear—is not an option, I carry the PDTT. If I am flying with checked luggage—almost never, but it happens—then it’s the lightest RRS tripod that will handle the gear I have. Otherwise, it’s the PDTT. 
I have lighter 3-legged rigs from Rollei, Sirui, and Shiftcam, but these are really pushing it for stability under load. They are better suited to something lightweight, like a P&S or iPhone (yes, even computational photography benefits from additional stability; in fact, it might benefit proportionately more.)
Improvements?
Sure, nothing's perfect. Peak offers a small combo hex key tool for making adjustments. So you don't lose it, they also offer a small holster to hold that tool that snaps on to any one of the legs. It works great, unless you turn your tripod upside down, or it brushes up against your clothing. And then it's gone, sometimes for good. The Ulanzi discussed below has a much better tool integration.
It would also be nice if Peak offered a carrying strap alternative to its carrying case. the carrying case & strap combo is nice enough, but there is no easy way to attach a strap to the tripod itself, so you don't have to carry the case. I suppose one could simply look for places to attach the PD anchors and work it that way. RRS has a much better offering for the Ascend that makes it very easy to attach any strap with QD release components.
Alternatives
There is an another similar tripod on the market called the Ulanzi & COMAN Zero Y/F38 Travel Tripod (who . It is similar enough to the PDTT to be called “copycat,” but there’s no shame in that if one can improve on the original. Thery even have a copy of the PD quick release system, including a back strap accessory It costs a fair bit less than the PDTT at $329, $370 less than the PDTT (and it includes a spare center column for a universal platform, so it might be worth a look if you’re on a tighter budget. I haven’t tried it for the simple reason that its specs aren’t any better than the PDTT I already own, and in one significant factor—compacted length—the Ulanzi is disqualified for me. The Ulanzi compacts to 18 inches [though different specs are reported for it on the web], that’s 2.5 inches longer than the compacted PD, which means it will not fit inside my preferred compact photography backpack, the Tom Bihn Synik 22. If I’m gonna carry something that long, it might as well be an RRS. To make the comparison less advantageous, the Ulanzi weights in at 1.1kg, a fair bit less than the PDTT at 1.27kg. Every little bit matters. As they say in one-bag travel, take care of the ounces, and the pounds will take care of themselves. You may find the weight differential more important than the compacted length.
I hope you found this helpful, or at least worth reading while drinking something you enjoy. 😉 Want more detail; here is an excellent review. Cheers! 
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