The Vanguard Auctus Plus 323CT won the 2011 TIPA Award for best tripod of the year. This is a big, robust carbon fibre tripod, well constructed and featured. At $630 (SRP) it is priced competitively, especially when you consider the included accessories (carrying bag, leg spikes, leg snowshoe attachments) you’d have to pay extra for with other brands.
The Auctus Plus 323CT is part of Vanguard’s high-end tripod line, which also includes a lighter Plus 283CT and a pair of aluminium models (Plus 323AT and Plus 283AT). The “Plus” designation means that the tripods have a geared centre post. The same four models without the geared column are available as the Auctus (without the Plus) line.
The gear mechanism is called Extreme Support Height Positioning (ESHP) Wheel System, which is very smooth. Each revolution of the gear wheel raises the column by approximately 15 mm and there are twist locking rings on the top and bottom of the column shaft to lock the column in place. The column is made in two sections, and you can remove the lower 33-cm section if you want to drop the tripod head low to the ground. You can do that easily enough because the three-click leg stops give you a spread of 25, 50 or 80 degrees.
The leg locks are twist style, and it takes just a quarter turn to lock/loosen the sections. The gaskets between the leg sections are designed to keep out dust and sand. Each leg section is printed with a measuring scale (with one-inch ticks).
Even though this tripod is made of carbon fibre and magnesium alloy, it weighs a hefty 3.5 kg without head. The geared mechanism contributes some to that weight, but even the non-geared version is 3.2 kg. In short, it is a beefy unit, with 31 mm, 27.5 mm and 23.5 mm diameter leg section tubes. It measures 71 cm collapsed but extends to 142 cm (column lowered) and an impressive 177 cm (column fully raised). It has a conservative load rating of 18 kg.
The legs are equipped with metal spikes, but the tripod comes with soft textured rubber tips that fit over the spikes, plus larger diameter snow feet that fit over the rubber tips. Also included is a carrying bag.
I like Auctus Plus 323CT as a studio tripod where a rock solid platform and geared column are definite benefits and the extra heft isn’t a penalty as it might be on a trek through the back country. But if you can deal with the weight, it makes a rigid field unit too. It also seems well suited as a video tripod, and is nicely matched to something like Manfrotto’s big 055M8-Q5 combo video-photo head.