Update September 2017: Since I wrote this post, Vanguard have launched the new VEO 2 line. As of writing, you can still buy the original VEO, but if you are interested in the newer model you can see my review of the VEO 2 here.
For the last six months I’ve been travelling the world with a set of Vanguard’s VEO gear – a collection of bags and tripods specifically aimed at travellers. That means they’re light, sturdy, and designed for the rigours of travel.
Six months of travel across three continents and nine countries seemed like a decent amount of time to test the gear out and form an opinion. So you know, I’ve been shooting with a Canon 6D and various lenses, including the spectacularly weighty Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS II. I’ve also used lighter mirrorless gear, including the Panasonic Lumix GX8.
I’m a massive proponent of a tripod for travel photographers (read why you need a tripod here) – the bottom line is that they just open up so many more creative possibilities. The main downside is that they can take up a bunch of room and weight – a bit of a problem for travel! This is why the VEO line is so cool – it’s designed to be as small and lightweight as possible, whilst still offering maximum support for your gear.
Today I’m going to share my thoughts on the VEO gear I’ve been travelling with, specifically the VEO 235AB aluminium tripod, the 265CB carbon fibre model, and the VEO 37 shoulder bag. I’m going to compare it to some of Vanguard’s other gear that I’ve been using for around eighteen months, as well as some of the other options on the market right now.
A quick heads up as to the objectivity of the review. I’m not going to lie, I love Vanguard products, which is why I agreed to be an ambassador for them. And the VEO tripod packaging even has one of my photos on it. So obviously it must be great, right? I’ll do my best to outline the pro’s and con’s of the gear from various perspectives, but I’m not going to pretend I’m entirely unbiased!
What’s good about the Vanguard VEO Gear
Let’s talk about the tripods first, and the two things that make them fantastic for travel: weight and size.
Yes, this tripod is light! Compared to the Vanguard Alta Pro 254CT which I also use, which weighs 4.6lbs with the BBH-200 head, these tripod are a dream to travel with, both coming in at 3.3lbs. The Carbon Fibre VEO 265CB is bigger and more sturdy, but that carbon fibre frame means it ends up weighing the same as the aluminium model.
I have no problem at all carrying either of these tripods around all day, either in a shoulder bag or backpack, although as the carbon fibre model is sturdier with a couple of inches extra reach, that’s the one I tend to use for the majority of my work.
The other awesome thing about this tripod line is how small it folds up. Because the central column folds inside the legs when packed away, Vanguard have managed to get the folded size down to 14.8” for the aluminium model, and 15.4” for the carbon fibre model. That’s small enough to fit inside a shoulder bag with no problem!
There are of course other things about the tripod that I love. It’s quick and easy to put up and down, and the arca-compatible mount plate means it’s fast and easy to get the camera up and down. The ball head has a spirit bubble for helping to get the tripod level, and is fast and easy to adjust. There are markings on the tripod to help with panning shots, and the legs can be adjusted to three different angles to help with stability or to position the tripod for different shots. Speaking of legs, they have rubber feet which can be screwed to reveal spikes, meaning versatility no matter the ground.
So yes, I’m happy with the VEO tripod range – they’ve accompanied me all around the world for much of 2015, and I’ve shot thousands of frames atop them, including many long exposures measured in minutes, and I’ve been delighted with the results.
Let’s talk about the bags.
Picking a camera bag is no easy feat. I’ve actually got a variety of them now, including the Vanguard UP RISE II 33 messenger bag, and the Vanguard Heralder 49 backpack, both of which are great, the latter being my go-to bag for long days of shooting with multiple lenses and camera bodies.
The VEO bags are designed around the VEO tripods. The VEO 37 shoulder bag for example, which is the one I’ve had the most use out of, has a special zip at the bottom of the bag so you can easily slide the tripod in and out of the area reserved for the tripod.
Other features of the bag include a padded area for your tablet (up to 11”), a full length side pocket with lots of little compartments for accessories, a water bottle holder, and a rain cover – the latter of which is super useful when the weather turns against you!
Of course, this being a messenger bag designed for travel, you aren’t going to fit all of your SLR your gear into it, especially with the tripod in there. I find it fits the tripod, a mirrorless camera like the Panasonic Lumix GX8 with a lens, a couple more mirrorless lenses, spare batteries and filters, cleaning cloths and a water bottle.
Without the tripod, I have been able to stuff two Canon 6D bodies with lenses attached into it, but it’s not really designed for that.
That said, I find it has been the bag that has accompanied me on more shoots than any other this year. It’s subtle, doesn’t look like a camera bag, and I can’t overload it to the point that it’s too heavy to carry. For mirrorless photography, or times when I’m just shooting with the one body, it’s perfect.
The other VEO bag is a small backpack, and to be honest, I’ve not used it very much as my gear configuration isn’t really suited to it’s dimensions. However, for a set of mirrorless gear, or smaller DSLR’s with a couple of lenses, this would be a great backpack to accompany the VEO tripod line as it’s small and well put together.
Things to keep in mind
There are some basic laws of physics that you have to consider when buying a lightweight tripod, particularly if you are using heavy gear. If you fully extend the central column, and stick a massive camera and lens combination on the top of a lightweight tripod, it’s inevitably going to be sensitive to things like wind.
The carbon fibre version has thicker leg columns to help with the stability (hence the higher load weight), but in windy conditions it’s best to avoid extending that central column – something you’ll find with all travel tripods.
In addition, this tripod range is designed to be cost effective and light weight, so you can’t change the head. There are ball head and pan head options to choose when you purchase, but you’re stuck with what you choose – unlike with a more expensive, heavier model like the Alta Pro, with which you can pick any head you like, such as the excellent BBH-200, and switch it out.
You also don’t get fancy bells and whistles like a central column that you can angle, such as with the Alta Pro range, nor does the tripod convert to a monopod like some of its competition, although to be honest that’s not a feature I’ve ever missed.
Personally, I find the ball head that comes with the VEO range is more than good enough for my needs. The only real issue is working in really windy conditions with heavy gear, but that isn’t a problem limited to the VEO range – any lightweight tripod would struggle. That’s why there’s a market for tripods that are much heavier and sturdier!
The Main Competition
There are a LOT of other tripods out there to choose from. I’ve asked around other travel photographers for their favourite brands, and came up with a list of some of the more popular options that compete against the two VEO’s I use, to give you an idea of what’s out there and how they differ.
|Vanguard VEO 235 AB||Manfrotto Be Free Aluminium||MeFoto Roadtrip||3 Legged Thing EVO3 Punks|
Carbon Fibre Models
|VEO 265 CB Carbon Fibre||Manfrotto Be Free Carbon Fibre||MeFoto RoadTrip Carbon Fibre||3 Legged Thing EVO3 Punks Rick|
* – price after applying exclusive 20% discount to Finding The Universe readers with code FindingTheUniverse in the Vanguard US store.
As you can see, there are a lot of different tripods out there, and this is just the tip of the iceberg, with plenty more brands and price points to consider.
What you’ll notice is that they aren’t hugely dissimilar in terms of what they offer. The main differentiators are weight and sturdiness – a key factor to consider if you have heavier gear especially. You’ll notice how different manufacturers have chosen different leg diameters for their tripods – usually the thicker the tripod leg, the more sturdy the final result.
One area they seem to vary wildly with is the max loading weight. Personally I’d not want to be putting anything too heavy on any travel tripod, anything above 6-8lbs would require something more substantial in my opinion. So I’d not pay too much attention to those numbers – whilst I’m sure the tripods won’t break if you load them to their max advertised weight, I’m not sure any of them would be hugely stable either!
When it comes to the aluminium models, the Vanguard VEO 235AB is particularly competitive on price, especially after you apply the Finding the Universe discount, and is amongst the lightest and smallest of the options out there.
Moving up to the Carbon fibre models, again, this is a very competitive space. On paper, the 3 Legged Thing Rick looks better, but the Vanguard has thicker legs, which in theory make it more stable. I’ve not tried the other tripods on this list though, so I have no real world experience to go by. Certainly, I’m very happy with the performance of all the VEO tripods I’ve tried, and am more than happy to both keep recommending them, and to keep using them!