Why Is Kickstarter Being Used to Launch the Most Expensive Travel Tripod in the World?

Why Is Kickstarter Being Used to Launch the Most Expensive Travel Tripod in the World?

The camera press went a little crazy this week as a small company announced that something tiny will sell for something massive. As someone who hates tripods and will go to some lengths to avoid using them, trying to get my head around the column inches has been fascinating.

Trying to find a news outlet or vlogger that wasn’t shouting excitedly about this new tripod was almost impossible on Wednesday. Even brand-specific rumor websites were running the story — a far cry from their usual fare of Sony firmware updates and Nikon lens patents — and every outlet tripped over itself to announce that there was going to be a new tripod that’s slightly smaller, slightly lighter, and quite expensive. It’s not for sale yet, but holy crap, it’s new and slightly different from all those other tripods that already exist.

There’s no denying that Peak Design’s new tripod looks fantastic. As companies go, Peak Design’s journey has been something of a triumph, both of design and marketing. The fact that a new product — launched via a Kickstarter no less — can create so much buzz is reflective of the quality and respect that this brand brings and generates. Kickstarter is a platform that generally breeds a lot of skepticism from photographers, having produced some rather dubious failures over the years, such as the Yashica Y35. With the Yashica, investors paid more than a hundred dollars for a woefully cheap piece of plastic that barely worked, a sign that, as though one were needed, investing in Kickstarter projects is always a gamble. I suspect that the list of photography Kickstarter projects that have garnered wide investment and then failed to deliver is not a short one. Backers of Meyer Optik Görlitz will not get a refund, a reminder that crowdfunding is not the same as preordering.

Bags Are Killing It With Kickstarter

For bag companies such as Peak Design and WANDRD, however, Kickstarter has been the perfect means of getting products to market, and these companies are now able to build on a significant amount of trust. Somehow, bags lend themselves to the crowdfunding model, with niche requirements addressed by well-researched, extensively tested solutions, presented through pretty videos featuring gentle voiceovers and the upsettingly enthusiastic, plinky-plunky “hey, we’re a fun, small brand with a nice product” soundtracks that Apple popularized 10 years ago and now drive me completely insane. The editors will not let me write what I want to do to people who use ukuleles in their Kickstarter videos (editor's note: you don't want to know anyway). You are selling a product. You are not making a cat video. For the sake of humanity, please stop.

Peak Design’s products are fantastic. I own a bag, my friends own bags, the straps are great, and I’ve heard so few complaints that you have to wonder when it's going to drop the ball. Are their products too expensive? Well, if people are buying them — and they are — apparently not. The early criticism of the tripod (leaving aside Northrup’s bloodied finger and the limitations of the ball head) is that $600 for a travel tripod is insane, and yet, the Kickstarter will clear ten times its goal by the end of this week. The fact that Peak Design managed to convince every major vlogger and their milkman to shout about something as mundane as a tripod is testament to the company's reputation and a triumph of marketing. It’s more than a couple of days later and I’m still writing about it and you’re still reading about it. Clearly, the marketing team is doing something right.

The Blessed Comments Section

The usual arguments play out in the comments: “It’s too expensive!” Then don’t buy one. “The legs look unstable!” Then buy a heavier tripod. “The legs look like they might bend!” Then buy a bigger tripod. “They’re forcing me to use a hex key!” Then buy literally any other tripod. “You can’t see the bubble when you put the camera on!” It’s a travel tripod, not a magic tripod. “It’ll be too wobbly for really long exposures!” Then maybe a super-lightweight tripod is not for you. In short, this is a travel tripod, not a magical, weightless unicorn that will follow you around and intermittently hold your camera very, very still for you because you've decided that the clouds aren't quite right. Compromises have been made, and, like any product, it will have some limitations. For Peak Design, getting this tripod into the hands of so many noisy influencers is very successful, but the company is aware that this carries a risk, as any flaws will set the tone at a very early stage.

So Why More Crowdfunding?

It's interesting to assess customers’ willingness to return to Kickstarter to support companies that have already established themselves as major players in the camera industry. Shouldn’t a successful brand like Peak Design be seeking a loan or taking on private equity to bring a product to market rather than relying on the speculative pledges of their large fan base? In crowdfunding, those stumping up the cash are investors, not customers, and those willing to risk their money are doing so based on those execrable ukuleles, gear acquisition syndrome, and a large amount of goodwill.

There’s also something seductive about this new commercial model, of feeling bound up in a brand, and buying membership into a special collective that has access to something unique. As a means of connecting with buyers, crowdfunding establishes strong bonds with dedicated followers — followers who appreciate a small company's desire to remain independent of shareholders and large investors who are typically more interested in the bottom line than whether a product is awesome or not.  A combination of brand loyalty and products that integrate with one another means that it’s far from unusual to see photographers strutting around proudly rocking every Peak Design product on the market.

Now Go and Make Ten Thousand Tripods

Peak Design travel tripod

Slightly smaller and slightly lighter than a lot of other tripods.

The patience of Peak Design’s fans for ever more Kickstarter projects does not seem to be wearing thin, and given that this model continues to work for Peak Design, you can expect to the company — and others — to stick with it for the foreseeable future. At time of writing, there were almost 10,000 investors, which suggests that Peak Design needs to take its millions of dollars, go away, and make 10,000 tripods. That is an insane number of tripods, and it only takes a small glitch in production to set that process back by 6 months or more and leave 10,000 people — most of whom are probably missing the best part of $500 — wondering where their tripod is. That lifetime warranty doesn't count for much if the product is sitting in a warehouse in China and wondering if it will ever see daylight again. This is not knocking Peak Design: it is an established company with a decent track record (although let’s not forget the camera straps), and whatever you think of the products, investors have demonstrated a lot of faith in its ability to deliver on its promises. However, this is a model that still carries significant risks, both for investors and for companies.

What does the future of the camera industry and the crowdfunding model? And there’s something else that intrigues me: does Peak Design make the majority of its money from the Kickstarter sales or from post-release sales? By the end of this year, it will probably have generated more than $20 million in crowdfunding alone since the company’s launch in San Francisco in 2010. If you have any thoughts on this — or anything else — please leave a comment below.

Log in or register to post comments

104 Comments

Previous comments
Usman Dawood's picture

I almost fell for the marketing when I saw how popular it was. I thought this must be great if so many people like it. Then I actually looked at the product and price and thought well this is boring.

hilarious you buy things according to popularity

thats why so many kickstarter things succeed. they buy from popularity and use no judgment to realize the product is crap. look at that ricoh camera. tons bought it where just looking at it, a reasonably smart person could see its bad. like this tripod.

The GR III?

(I think you may mean Yashika :P )

Usman Dawood's picture

Literally didn’t say that I buy things based on popularity. It’s there in black and white. How you managed to turn what i said Into something completely different is testament to how so many people don’t actually read properly but just make up their own facts and then project it.

Usman Dawood's picture

Maybe you should look up thinking fast and thinking slow. My original comment is actually quite good example of that.

Michael Comeau's picture

One thing to keep in mind with KickStarter is refund policy - you have to check with the individual company to see what their policy is with KickStarter projects.

I bought a WANDRD backpack off a Kickstarter and wanted to return it.

They wouldn't take it back. $200+ down the drain.

Sounds like they're using a page (or two or three) right out of one of Seth Godin's books. So if you're puzzled why the model works so well, he's the one go to, to understand why.

Fair point, they are a major player in the photography accessories world now. I use and love their straps and will get a messenger at some point but their business model needs to be reviewed, they can’t be a ‘startup’ forever.

Tripod wise I use a Sirui T-2005x for travel and the quality is amazing.

Nice counter to the negative reactions by some. In effect your article is a big fat fanboy glow to Peak Designs and passive aggressive shut down of anyone who disagrees. Instead of letting the environment play out you seem focused on defending them. If every purchase on Kickstarter is an endorsement that they have a good product does every non purchase or critique or product complaint become a vote against? I suspect not. Remember that Peak Designs has had failures (their strap attachments) and revisions (3 camera clip designs).

This does not mean I am not impressed with this tripod or Peak Design’s success. This is more about you being a journalist and not an influencer. Don’t worry about slamming me; I am just as bad. Afflicted with GAS I sometimes listen to you (why else would I want to replace my progrey with a Haida m10). Maybe I will be more impressed when everyone says the tripod made their art exponentially better. As a kid I always had the heaviest bicycle. As a result I became strong and focused riding. Young people with limited budgets please become strong and focused first.

JetCity Ninja's picture

i'm always curious when a company claims to do something better than everyone else, but there's a reason tripod design generally hasn't changed in 300 years.

after reading the details on the Peak Design tripod, i went out and bought a Gitzo (currently on sale) to cover my smaller jobs. even without handling one, looking closely at the videos, since everyone they lent it to likes to make b-roll clipshows, i'm concerned about its stability and durability over time.

the biggest issues i see with it are the clevis bolts at the spider and the use of lever locks on out-of-round (specifically, the use of acute angles and not compound obtuse angles or wider diameter curves) carbon legs. carbon fiber is extremely brittle when formed at acute angles and the repeated compression of the legs using a clamp design that does not evenly distribute the clamping force around the circumference may expose this weakness in the carbon construction over time. twist locks are an example of equally distributed force applied using a ramped shim to provide friction. clamps, on the other hand, require the carbon fiber to be split at the clamping area, further weakening the material, to provide the necessary friction to stop leg movement.

carbon fiber can be engineered to overcome this repeated bending force to enable clamping, but that requires added thickness. or you can use another material that's more resilient at the end of each section, beneath the clamp, but this also doubles the number of potential failure points. neither overcomes the fact that the legs are out of round, compromising the strength by forcing the carbon fiber strands into their weakest form.

there's a reason why carbon leg sections on tripods have keyways molded in internally, finished with a grooved bushing or multi-part, keyed shims to prevent rotation, rather than formed into the body of the leg. you can get away with this in the center column since it's one part that can be reinforced internally and not 4 nested sections repeated thrice. take a close examination of your carbon tripod to see what i'm talking about if my description confuses.

while i like their straps, their backpack fell apart on me within 6 months due to poor design choices. while every product contains compromises (except tanks), i've found peak design products tend to make really odd ones... or they're just poorly thought out. their marketing is top notch, tho.

for me as a photographer the tripods it's expensive end the leges I don't now but I?am whiting for my lomopode tripod it's match better I ting so peak design can to the?price lower thanks Paulo dias

Michael Dougherty's picture

I don't understand crowd funding. If successful, doesn't the company have to pay a dividend on it's profits ... as long as the product is making a profit. It seems like this is just a way for a company to get out paying for it's debt or capital. A lot of people seem to want to do it for free.

Michael Dougherty's picture

Thanks. Very good article. I can understand crowd funding to solicit donations for non-profits but I don't understand crowd funding for a commercial product. Why not wait till the product is introduced? For that matter, why not wait till they start showing up used on eBay by disappointed buyers (crowd funders). It's a tripod.

Justin Coe's picture

I think there's enough tripods on the market, I did get there email about a release and I was hoping it was a new backpack with a large section partitioned off but it didn't happen. Bummer and peak hasn't reinvented the tripod I think they would have been better of producing a monopod with feet as the market narrower.

Chad D's picture

why not take advantage of people pre paying for things they have never touched never used for a product that does not exist except for a few test pieces pushed to them with paid ads !!!!

that is why

sadly todays shallow narcissistic idiots will listen to and buy so much that someone else tells them to try to be like them or cool or post look what I am getting just like my youtube crush uses !

its quite sad and scary

Joe Black's picture

Most expensive tripod in the world ? 🧐

Both Gitzo and RRS have far more expensive travel versions than peak design's retail price on this tripod. Actually Gitzo's cheapest travel tripod is 20% more expensive and it doesn't come with a head.

Andre Goulet's picture

I’d bet that at this point for them it’s not even 1% about the funding (that’s a bonus though) but wow, what a free way to get amazing, direct to target customer marketing! Not just for free, but your R&D just got thrown into the deal too.

But from a customer savings perspective, if you invest in Kickstarter projects even just a few times, odds are that you’ll get burned on one or two of them and lose any savings you did get on the product(s) you received. So, I’d only back projects from companies that I already know and trust, and even then only if getting the product first has any advantage to me, bragging rights aside. Otherwise, I just wait a year to two for the initial hype to die down and get it for much the same price as on the Kickstarter page, on sale somewhere after all the reviews have been out and the product time-tested. Not like most of us need a new tripod or whatever TODAY. My Manfrotto’s are from the 80’s and still work just fine.

It's a pretty clever Pre-sale campaign. Creates buzz as buyers watch the influencers shill another product and pony up the dough. No risk for PD.
Doesn't Tesla do the same thing with the pre-ordering of their cars?

I feel like "Photography" is not enough, spending years getting better at photography should be the goal and not some foolish tripod that can be replaced with one for a quater of the price. I recently bought a lightstand for $45.00 on amazon and spend the better part of a week in denial of how good it was. I think "everyone wants to be a billionaire so freaking bad".

Jacques Cornell's picture

I don't understand the hubbub about PD and other "boutique" straps. Many of them have metal buckles, clips and other hardware, and in my book this is a major no-no. Memories of scratches on my precious Contax bodies 25 years ago are still fresh in my mind. The horror. I've been using OptechUSA straps for 25 years and still have my first one - no metal, no scratches, total reliability. Also, they're all very reasonably priced, the various parts are interchangeable, and the neoprene absorbs shock, reducing shoulder & neck fatigue - handy when you're walking all day with a heavy Pentax 67. I've got a drawerful of parts I can configure as narrow neck straps, wide shoulder straps, single and double slings, and backpack attachments for chest carry while hiking. It only takes a couple of clicks to swap a camera from one configuration to another. The Dual Sling has saved me from bursitis (no fun!) when working events with three cameras.

"You are selling a product. You are not making a cat video. For the sake of humanity, please stop."

God damn, writing this good hasn't been seen here in a while.

Rob Mitchell's picture

I like the idea of this, however I'm put off PD. I bought their Messenger 13 in a moment of weakness, looks great, promised lots. However, it always falls over when put on the floor. It simply is a bad design for a camera bag. I use it now for just a compact and laptop. Had enough of my kit spilling out every time I put it down.
As said I like the idea of the tripod, no way I'm coughing up and money until I've seen it in the flesh and tried it. Stability is always the biggest question when tripod shopping.

HaHa I thought I was just putting it down the wrong way...

Matthew Saville's picture

Peak Design is just one of those brands that has their brand marketing "on fleek", whatever that means. Every generation has their brands that they obsess over, and will pay any price for. From the "good old days" when those brands were for non-tech/electronics, but for things like Rolex watches or Rolls Royce cars, to the modern times with "overpriced" electronics like Apple products and, I dunno, those crazy-expensive Beats headphones? (bought by Apple, ironically.)

I used the PD travel tripod too, prior to its press release, and it's a really finely engineered and built product. You can tell that Peak Design is not just another cheap junk brand. Under the same level of abuse, I'd expect this tripod to last 2-3X longer than most all cheaper no-name/new brands. (To me, "new" is anything not as old as RRS, Manfrotto, Slik, and Gitzo.)

Just do the math on how quickly you might break a $100-200 Aluminum or a $200-300 CF tripod, and make your buying decision. If you don't use/abuse tripods enough to justify $350-600, no harm done.

In the spirit of full disclosure, my only (but significant) issue with the PD TT was that the head design, although ingenious and incredible at space-saving, is a compromise of practicality. I strongly disagree with those reviewers who say this was the easiest tripod ever for them to set up and break down. It's actually quite cumbersome and a little time-consuming to get this tripod going, compared to a traditional ball head design with separate, distinct knobs for clamping the camera plate, locking and panning the head itself. Any photographer who needs to set up a tripod in a hurry will likely want to get a more "everyday" type of tripod, and only use this one for when its compactness is truly essential. Because, even a Slik Lite CF/AL tripod (my current favorite) can easily fit in an airplane overhead bin, and that's enough for me. (Though probably not inside a Pelican case that is the size that fits into an overhead bin.)

TLDR, don't hate the player, I guess?

Chris Rogers's picture

I paid $180 for my three legged thing travel tripod and it seems to do just fine. It's super light and packs up real small. It holds my D800 with 70-200 just fine. I don't understand why any one would throw $500 bucks at this when there are cheaper options that do the job just as good. The built in phone mount is pretty clever though.

Love 3LT products, I’ve been using the Airhed 360 for a few months, blown away with it. When my tripod legs have given up I’ll be upgrading to the Winston.

"Most expensive travel tripod in the world"? Hardly. The Gitzo Traveller series is proof.

Jon The Baptist's picture

This can't be the most expensive travel tripod in the world. What does Gitzo or Really Right Stuff have in this size? Those are probably the most expensive, and I am 90% sure they're also the strongest.

More comments