Wednesday, 22 December 2010

How to choose a Gitzo tripod

UPDATE 26 Feb, 2012: Gitzo has dramatically updated the Systematic Tripod range, replacing all the models with a new improved body casting, and by adding a safety mechanism to the removeable top-plate. Please see here for details. This article is still relevant but please be aware that model numbers have changed slightly (the last number has changed from '1' to '2').

Gitzo tripods are owned by the same company that owns Manfrotto (formerly Bogen in the USA) and are now no longer made in France but in the Italian Manfrotto factory, just a short trip from Venice. That same company also owns Lastolite, Avenger, OConner, Vinten, Kata and Sachtler, the preeminent tripod of choice for video and movie cameras. But this isn't about the company (a British company as it happens), this feature is all about how to choose from the bewildering array of Gitzo tripods.

These tripods are amongst the best that money can buy* for stills cameras, but like any "tool" you can't really just buy one and expect it to "do everything", just like you can't buy one screwdriver and expect it to fit every screw. Buying your first Gitzo, therefore, is the most difficult decision, as you'll want to get the most use for your hard-earned cash - that's only natural, but you've got to think long-term too.

There are all ready excellent features on the net that explain why you should chose Gitzo over other makes, and I'm not going to reiterate any of that here, there's really nothing more to add. However, I'm going to suggest specific models for certain applications, along with genuine Gitzo accessories and make recommendations for third-party products.

Why am I doing this? Well, I find Gitzo's website a little perplexing and I often refer to it. I know what they're trying to achieve, but they're trying to sell all the models, obviously, and that only adds to the confusion.

Small - Gitzo Series 2 Explorer 4-section GT2541EX 


Unless you have a specific task outlined, for which you'll need to refer to the rest of the article, your first Gitzo will need, for practicality's sake, to be a good 'all-rounder'. That's to say this tripod will be the most used, for traveling, backpacking and every other time that you're not using one of the other more specialized tripods (listed later) for a specific purpose. This then will be your main tripod. The four-section Explorer GT2541EX costs a little more than the three section (GT2531EX), but it packs down another 10cm (to 54cm) and can easily accommodate a pro-DSLR with a lens up to 200mm (or up to 12kg, say Gitzo but that's not realistic). Read our review of the earlier (essentially the same) model, the Explorer GT2540EX here.

Don't choose the aluminum version, after all what you want here is the smallest and lightest. The Explorer is more versatile than the others in the range thanks to the pivoting central column. This makes it ideal for macro photography as well as landscape, architectural and the rest. The weight for the legs is 1.84kg, we'll talk heads later, pretty light considering the overall flexibility. If you simply must have the lightest, go for one of the Travellers, such as the GT-1542T, but the Explorer still offers more all-round flexibility.


Adorama | B&H Photo | WEX (UK)

Medium - Gitzo Series 3 Systematic 4x section GT3542LS 


Our next Gitzo on the list is aimed users wanting something with greater load carrying capacity, while maintaining versatility. That means only one range, the Systematics. They all have a removable top-plate for a choice of columns, should you decide you need one. However, unless you intend to use it occasionally in the studio then it's not really needed. Gitzo make both geared and what they call 'rapid' (lockable sliding) columns for the Systematics, but you must buy the right size for your tripod, either series 3, 4 or 5.

Gitzo no longer make the superb (but seriously heavy) Series 5 Systematics in aluminum, unfortunately (get them now before they sell out: G1500 and G1505). They were the staple for studios, but unless you need that in particular, the material to go for is carbon-fibre - it's pricey but light, rigid and pretty durable. As you'll most likely want to use this on location, that means choosing the four-section over the equally impressive (but slightly more stable) three-section version.

Carbon Fibre absorbs vibration pretty well, but some lightweight designs are susceptible to lateral movement and flexing - that doesn't happen with the 5-series though it does with some of the 3-series - particularly the 4-section models which have thin tubing for the last (fourth) section. I've noticed a few professional photographers use the tripods partly extended from the bottom. This is not the way it should be used. To reduce vibration, always extend the legs from the top down (using the fourth, and thinnest stage, as a last resort).

The four section carbon-fibre GT3542LS (above) doesn't come with a column, that's extra, however the platform is used to mount a head directly to it. If you need to level a head, for video capture or panoramas, then the you can replace the platform with either a video bowl adaptor (designed specifically for 75mm or 100mm fluid video-heads, which feature their own built-in leveling bowl) or the leveling base for panoramas.

This is the industry standard** tripod for sports and wildlife photographers using long-lenses up to 500mm, with something like the outstanding Wimberley WH-200 Head - Version II (pictured below). The GT3542LS is the long version (stands 146cm tall at its maximum, packs down to 55cm (nearly the same as the Explorer above) and can carry a load up to 18kg. It weighs just 1.72kg. The GT3542XLS is an alternative if you want a little extra height but there's quite a price premium, and it's susceptible to some flexing at the tallest setting, when it must be used with care. This tripod stands 198cm at its maximum and closes down to 70cm, quite a jump over the LS version (and may cause issues with Airline carry-on restrictions) but still weighs just 1.97kg.


Adorama | B&H Photo | WEX (UK)

Neither model is quite stable enough for the 600mm f/4 lenses though. For that you'll have to read on.

Large - Gitzo Series 5 Systematic 4x section GT5542LS


The GT5542LS (shown above) is quite a brute with much larger leg-tubes, but it's more than capable of supporting the longest lenses with pro DSLR bodies. Four leg sections make it more compact (60cm) when folded, over the GT5532S three-section version (63cm) and it's reasonably tall at 153cm as opposed to 133cm, which is rather low for most users. As well as sports and wildlife, this tripod is ideal for medium and large format cameras in the studio as well as on location.


Adorama | B&H Photo | WEX (UK)

I'll be looking at different heads next.


Balancing the Wimberley Head

It goes without saying that your tripod must be leveled before you attempt this and that I would suggest removing the lens when adjusting the height of the head to achieve the correct balance - the slightest adjustment can mean the difference between the correct balance or not.


For more information on Gitzo tripods, please visit

For more information on the Wimberley head, please visit

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Gitzo softly launches new Systematic tripod range

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