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I've got a Nikon D80 DSLR camera, and I normally use a Manfrotto Monopod as a support when I'm taking photos. But on a recent holiday, there were some fantastic scenery shots that I wanted to take, but I would definitely need a large steady tripod to get the best picture. I scouted around in the local town to see what I could get and came across this Vanguard Mk4 tripod. At the time, I paid the equivalent of £25 for it from a photographic shop and thought that I must have been paying way over the odds for it, being on holiday, but I did need it for the holiday. However, when I later checked the web, I was really pleased to see that in the UK, these things were selling for nearly £40 plus, so I had in fact managed to get myself an absolute bargain.
So what can I tell you about this tripod? Well for a start, it is extremely fully featured with so many hidden extras that you wouldn't really notice at first. Starting off with it the compacted condition, it measures 61.5 cm tall. Width wise across the collapsed legs measures about 9.5 cm across, but allowing for the folded down head etc, the max total width is about 14 cm. With the whole assembly being made of silver/grey coated aluminium with strong black plastic connections, the overall weight of the tripod is only 1.45 kg, and the completed assembly also has a nice little built in solid handle to help you to easily carry the tripod around.
Opening the tripod out, the minimum working height with the head in position is 60 cm. From there, each leg is made up of 3 interlocking sections with grip locks, where each leg can then be individually extended and locked in any position with the grip locks to bring the height up to 130 cm. The legs themselves are lightweight but robust, with a triangular cross section of 27 mm diameter, and come with a centre brace between the 3 of them for added rigidity. This brace is braced across the top struts, allowing you to create all sorts of configurations below it with leg extensions to cater for the roughest of terrains. In addition, the end of the leg also has a nice little rubber foot on it to ensure that it doesn't slip once in position.
In the centre of the tripod you then have a central column which comes off of the centre brace and passes up through the neck of the tripod to the head fixture. The base of this column also has an additional lock collar on it to enable you to lock the tripod in the fully open position, or any position in between up to the fully closed position. Within the central column there is also a screw thread which is operated by a small winding handle on the side, and operating this raises the head of the tripod up further to the max working height of 162 cm, where there is also a locking collar on the column just above the tripod neck to lock the column in position if required, although the winding mechanism seems to be enough to hold it anyway. So once everything is set and locked down, this tripod does provide a very sturdy base for your camera, catering for a max load at the head of up to 3 kgs, and I've had my Nikon camera on it fitted with a 400 mm lens with no problems. The tripod also has a nice little added touch of a spirit level just above the winding handle to help you get the tripod level.
Now looking at the head of the tripod, it is a three way pan and tilt head. So basically you can mount your camera in pretty much any angle across 360 degrees in any plane, and any combination of angles therein. Each plane on the head has an independent turn lock to lock the head in position, and the forward/back tilt plane has an extended handle which doubles as the turn lock, but also enables you to do panning shots as required. The camera itself is mounted onto the head via the small square mounting piece which basically screws to the base of your camera and is then locked in position on the tripod via a spring clip, allowing you to have quick release of the camera from the tripod.
As I said previously, I used to use a standard Manfrotto Monopod as my primary base support for my Nikon DSLR camera, but since getting this tripod last year, it has opened up a whole new world of photography to me as I try and experiment with different shots etc using this tripod as the base. Being so light in weight, it is easy to strap this on to the side of my rucksack to carry it around, and the versatility of it means that I can quickly set it up anywhere, even in the most rugged of terrains, to take a decent shot. With so many features to make adjustments to the position of the head, you are pretty much guaranteed to be able to get your camera in the exact position that you need.
Where I have found it particularly useful is at night when I have tried to photograph the stars or a comet trail. In those situations, you are using a long exposure, meaning the camera needs to be still for a long time, and hence you need to set the camera on a tripod and use a remote to operate it. With this tripod, I can get the camera up high enough to be able to get behind it and line everything up through the view finder, and then have faith in the tripod to hold it steady enough for long enough to take the shot. Likewise, I've also managed to get some decent wildlife shots setting the camera close in on the tripod at the required height and using the remote to operate the camera. There have also been many opportunities when we have wanted the 'family shot' on a hillside overlooking a valley, and the only way to do that correctly was to use the tripod to get the angle right. So this tripod has really opened my eyes up to an endless list of opportunities to get decent camera shots in a variety of situations.
In summary, previously this tripod was not something that I would have thought that I needed, instead relying on my trusted monopod as a base, or a small simple tripod that I could keep in my pocket. But when I did get it, it opened up a whole world of photographic possibilities. It is stable and totally versatile to cater for any situation, equally packed with loads of little extra features such as the lock collars, 3 way head and the spirit level to cater for the most demanding photographer. Hence, I have no hesitation in giving this a 5* recommendation.