Vanguard's Abeo Plus 323CT sits in the middle of a new range of three tripods, available in either aluminium or, in this case, carbon fibre tubing. The model number gives a clue to which version is which. This 323CT has a 32mm diameter top leg tube, while its brothers have 28mm or 36mm tubing. The Abeo Plus range has a few interesting features on top of the standard expected tripod specs, but so it should...this particular tripod has retail price of £450 (or £650 with the BBH-200 head seen below!) And we're about to see if a tripod, that dips its toe into the Gitzo price range (expensive), can live up to its price tag.
Vanguard Abeo Plus 323CT Tripod Features
Well for starters the carbon fibre always makes the price higher for any brand of tripod. It's an expensive material, giving it a £180 premium over the standard aluminium Abeo Plus 323AT, but it does have distinct advantages. Firstly carbon fibre is more robust than the aluminium normally used. This means it's likely to last longer, so potentially a better long term investment. Secondly, although aluminium is light, carbon fibre is usually lighter and makes this model 350g lighter than the 323AT. One other less considered advantage is it absorbs shocks. So if you've clambering around on rough terrain and happen to jolt one of the legs while your camera is mounted, the vibration is less likely to reach the camera and cause any damage.
The legs have three angle settings, locking at 25, 50 or 80 degrees, and the feet have a choice of spikes, rubber grips or removable snow shoes (a unique feature of the Abeo Plus range).
The centre column is circular with a quick-release mechanism and dampened anti shock collar. It splits and can be reversed. There's a bag hook on the bottom end to hang a bag for ballast.
There are only three leg sections, but the long 32mm tubing of the top section ensures you can extend to a comfortable working position for someone around 6ft tall.
Quick Height Adjustment center column locking mechanism
Removable rubber feet, plus spikes and snow/sand shoes.
Quick release platform on ball & socket head
Maximum Extended height 1800mm
Folded height 670mm
Carbon fibre legs
Maximum loading capacity 12kg
Folded height 26 3/8inch
Three Leg Sections
32mm Leg Diameter
The tripod comes with a carry case and a small tool kit to tighten locks if they come loser with use. We're looking at the tripod bundled with the BBH-200 ball & socket head which has two spirit levels, panoramic scale and a quick-release camera plate.
Vanguard Abeo Plus 323CT Tripod Handling & Performance
Straight out of the box you may be forgiven for wondering what you just invested £450 in, but once you extend to maximum height, you soon see. Each leg is only marginally thinner than the one it slides out of, resulting in a large tube on the base section (about 24mm) And when extended you have a working height capable of being used at eye level for a 6ft photographer, without need to raise the centre column. And a sturdy one at that.
Vanguard Abeo Plus 323CT In Snow
Unlike many carbon fibre models Vanguard have gone for quick release leg locks, so it's much easier to extend. The upper section slides out freely while the bottom sections needs a light pull to extend as there's a small amount of friction. Although the support is very rigid when pushing down the legs do tend to flex more than their aluminium brothers so if you push from the side it does feel a bit springy.
The feet (or shoes!) are unusual, but something you quickly get used to. They're ideal for studio use as well as for soft surfaces. It does make the base a little bulkier and they can clog up with mud easily, but you can easily remove them and wash off any debris or leave them of if you prefer a less bulky design.
The centre column is not geared which makes it quicker to increase height and has a spongy dampening ring so if it's unlocked and drops it will reduce any sudden shock.
The hook on the base of the centre column is large enough to cope with most bag carry handles, to add ballast if necessary in strong winds or when using a long lens.
The leg angle locks are really easy to use, no chance of trapped skin like some models, and offer three positions which are also really easy to select. Using the widest splay is hampered by the fact the centre column is long. There's no centre column angle facility either, which you find in the lower priced Vanguard Alto Pro 263. You can split the column near the hook, take off the hook and attach the head to the new shorter side and reverse it in the tripod neck. It's all a bit long winded, and the short section doesn't lock tightly in the tripod neck so is not ideal. Manfrotto have a better solution by removing the majority of the column leaving the short bit still in the neck with head already attached.
Below is a video taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and an attached Tamron 500mm mirror lens with flat field 2x converter, giving similar magnification to a 2000mm lens. It shows the tripod's stability in comparison to a lower priced model (£500 difference). Notice how the Abeo Plus is quick to regain stability. This was in studio conditions. If the same test was done in windy conditions the Abeo Plus would ensure a more stable support during longer exposures as the weight and more solid structure would combine to assist.
Value For Money
Carbon fibre is what makes this expensive at £450 without head (£650 with head reviewed here), and you're paying an extra £260 for that benefit. If that's too much you can opt for the identical brother the Abeo Plus 323AB made using aluminium. For those who're baulking at £650, it may help you to know that there's a Gitzo model - the Gitzo GT5542LOS Series 5 (also carbon fibre) that has a price tag of just short of £1850 and that's without a head! In fact Gitzo dominate the top end of the tripod market and it's only when you get below the £500 mark (without head) that any competitors join in. So The Vanguard makes a brave move to compete with Gitzo's GT2540FL (£629) and is joined by Manfrotto's £484 057 Carbon fibre with 4 section legs taking it to a higher 205cm but with a much heavier 3.7kg weight and a geared centre column plus the newly introduced 3 Legged Thing with their X5 Frank Evolution at £449 (with head), lighter weight at just under 2kg, but slightly lower max height of 168cm.
Vanguard Abeo Plus 323CT Tripod Verdict
We've already mentioned the cost several times and that's the big issue. Once you look away from tripods in the £100-£200 bracket you have to be really serious about your support, and the Abeo Plus 323CT won't let you down. The tripod is strong, easy to manoeuvre on uneven surfaces and is as good as they get for robustness. The snow shoes may be seen as a bit of a gimmick, but the size and solid build, and low weight for the size, are definitely strong points.
The Vanguard Abeo Plus 323CT is strong, easy to manoeuvre on uneven surfaces and is as good as they get for robustness.
Vanguard Abeo Plus 323CT Tripod Pros
Quick to stabilise
Quick release leg locks
Vanguard Abeo Plus 323CT Tripod Cons
No macro arm for low angle shooting (column can be reversed)
Quick release plate needs coin to attach tightly to camera