Peak Design’s first product, the Capture camera clip system, launched on Kickstarter in 2011 and earned a cool $ 360,000. The product, which let photographers attach a camera to a belt or backpack strap, offered a simple solution to a common problem, and the campaign blew past expectations. Then lightning struck twice. Then again, and again, and again…
By the time of its eighth Kickstarter campaign in July 2018, which launched a line of travel bags and accessories, Peak Design was a household name among more than just photographers. That campaign raised over $ 5 million from more than 13,000 backers.
The company now delivers thousands of products daily to customers around the world. Peak Design isn’t just a Kickstarter success story — it’s a poster child for the American dream.
It’s no surprise, then, that Peak Design returned to Kickstarter to launch its latest product, the Travel Tripod. Billed as a “ground-up reexamination of camera tripod design,” it claims to be the most volumetrically efficient tripod ever made that can still support full-size cameras and lenses.
But what could possibly be so exciting about a tripod? Well, more than you may realize. I have spent a short time with a preproduction model of the Travel Tripod, and while some things may change between now and the final version, I am already very impressed with it. It is thinner, faster to set up, and much easier to carry (either in a bag or by hand) than my MeFoto BackPacker, which has served as my primary take-anywhere tripod for years. That this is Peak Design’s first tripod makes it all the more impressive.
The Travel Tripod’s origins can be traced back to Peak Design CEO and founder Peter Dering’s frustration with the lack of a good lightweight tripod that didn’t take up too much space in a bag. While innovations like reversible legs and carbon fiber had done their part to make tripods smaller and lighter, they all still had one big problem: Four cylindrical tubes (three legs, one center column) simply do not collapse in an efficient way. No matter how you try to shove them together, there’s too much unused negative space left over.
Peak Design solved this problem in the most obvious way possible: By not making the tubes round. The Travel Tripod has a roughly triangular center column with a very narrow diameter; the legs are molded to fit nearly flush against it when closed. Not only does this save space, but it makes the tripod much more comfortable to hold in your hand.
Another thing Peak Design did was remove all the knobs that normally jut out from a tripod head, opting instead for a single locking dial that encircles the mounting plate and tightens or loosens the head onto the ball joint. Some photographers may find the lack of an independent pan control to be a small issue, but Peak Design’s approach has cleaned up the ball head considerably; when it comes to sliding the Travel Tripod into a tripod collar on a backpack, there are no hard points to catch on the fabric or straps.
There is one knob that remains, which is used to raise or lower the center column, but it can retract to lie almost flush with the legs when the tripod is collapsed.
The quick release mount is compatible with popular Arca Swiss plates as well as the Peak Design Capture plate, so you can unclip your camera from your backpack and snap it into the tripod without changing plates. The head can also be completely removed from the center column and mounted directly to the legs for “low boy” operation. Alternately, the center column can simply be inverted for low-angle or downward-facing shots. Spread width is controlled by spring-loaded locks at the top of the legs.
But the coolest innovation — if I do laugh at myself slightly for saying this — is the universal phone mount that’s built into the center column. At the base of the column you’ll find a counterweight hook; many tripods have these, but Peak Design’s is different. Pull down on a spring-loaded collar around the hook and you can rotate it and pop it out of place. You’ll find it’s attached to a magnet, which pulls what looks to be a simple black bar a couple inches long out of the center column. This bar unfolds into a phone clamp that clips directly onto the tripod head.
This is the most over-engineered solution to putting a phone on a tripod that I’ve ever seen, and I love it.
As for actual cameras, the Travel Tripod can support a payload of 33 pounds (this is a conservative estimate — as Peak Design explained to press at their flagship store in San Francisco, the center column won’t actually slip until 80 pounds, but “capacity” is a somewhat vague term in the tripod world, determined by many factors). The carbon fiber version I tested weighs just 3.4 pounds and measures 15.4 inches when collapsed. With the legs fully extended and center column raised, it is 60 inches tall.
The collapsed length is a bit longer than some other travel tripods, but because Peak Design’s doesn’t rely on reversible legs, it can be deployed much more quickly. It also uses lever locks compared to the slower twist locks, although both camps have their supporters (as the Travel Tripod’s legs are not round, twist locks probably weren’t an option here).
While lightweight tripods will never replace heavy duty models for the most demanding studio applications, I was pleased with the stability and strength of the Travel Tripod. The legs sit wide and there is very little play between the sections, even fully extended. It is designed to support full-frame DSLRs with telephoto lenses, and of course works great for smaller mirrorless cameras, as well.
The center column does look worryingly narrow, but I found it to be surprisingly stable and secure. It’s the secret to the Travel Tripod’s volumetric efficiency, and it doesn’t appear to have come at a cost to stability.
Can a tripod really be exciting?
There’s a reason Peak Design’s bag campaigns have done so well. People love bags. We want functional bags, stylish bags, travel bags, new bags, retro bags, small bags, big bags — but tripods? We tolerate them. We’d rather not have to carry one at all. A tripod exists because there are things a camera can’t do without one, like long-exposures and time-lapses, but nobody ever buys a tripod because it’s cool.
The Travel Tripod is very good — excellent, even — but I can’t imagine its Kickstarter campaign will draw the same fervent enthusiasm that Peak Design’s bags have. Still, if you’re a photographer on the move who hasn’t been able to find a suitable tripod for your lifestyle, the Travel Tripod may be just what you’ve been waiting for. If you can afford it.
You can pick it up at a discount by backing the Kickstarter campaign (even with Peak Design’s successful history, you should keep in mind the inherent risks of crowdfunding before you do), but if you’d rather wait for retail, it will cost you. The carbon fiber version (tested) will sell for $ 600, while the aluminum model will go for $ 350.
For comparison, the MeFoto GlobeTrotter, which offers similar length and capacity specifications, is just $ 350 for the carbon fiber version and about $ 200 for the aluminum. The Travel Tripod is perhaps more fairly compared to the higher-end Gitzo Traveler series, which retails for up to $ 1,000. Gitzo has its diehard fans, and the Travel Tripod appears to stack up well against it.
But whether it earns $ 300,000 or $ 5 million on Kickstarter, the best thing about the Travel Tripod is that it brings fresh ideas to a rather stale product category. (Update: Just 2 hours after going live, the campaign has earned over $ 1 million in pledges, already twice its goal — whoa.) Peak Design has found a way to innovate where others have left well enough alone, and that’s something worth getting excited about.