Stability, tripods, and reviews: The Gitzo GT5562LTS 6x Systematic and GT1542 Traveller

_7065208 copy

I admit upfront that I’m not a big fan of tripods: they’re cumbersome, heavy, and slow to use (compared to shooting handheld). But it’s undeniable that the added support helps hugely when it comes to maximizing your image quality, especially when shooting very high pixel density cameras*.

*It’s not so much absolute resolution as pixel density that affects things – the higher the pixel density, the smaller an angular movement is needed to produce a perceived level of blur greater than one pixel.

It’s also entirely possible that up til this point, I’d never had a really good tripod system. I’ve been using a first-generation carbon fiber thing until now – the Manfrotto 444 Carbon One – and whilst it was much better than the aluminum PRO190B I had beforehand, it still left a bit to be desired in terms of vibration damping and rigidity. The thing with a tripod is that you want to it be rigid enough not to move, but compliant enough to damp any vibrations coming from your camera’s shutter/ mirror mechanism, or the ground – if you say happen to be working next to a piling site, or an active volcano (don’t laugh, I’ve done the former on architectural jobs and know of people who do the latter).

Usually, the former is taken care of by the head and spider (top portion holding the legs) and the latter, the leg tubes themselves. Aluminum or steel is not the ideal material for legs because it’s both heavy and directionally uniform; you can’t machine it so that it damps vibrations in one direction but allows some compliance in another. Wood, on the other hand, is an excellent material for this; it’s one of the reason those old-school Berlebach tripods are so popular (that, and the fact that they can be stained to match the particular hue of your view camera). The modern alternative is carbon fiber – the weave direction can be aligned and laid such that the tubes are stiff longitudinally and laterally, but can still absorb minor vibrations without transmitting them to the camera.

Let’s rule out the head from this review for the moment – I use the same head on the 444 and both Gitzos. I know it seems odd to assess an entire support system this way, but bear with me – I use a Manfrotto 468MG RC0 Hydrostat head, which uses a vacuum chamber and hydraulic lock to keep the teflon-coated ball in position. It’s the only ball head of any size I’ve used that doesn’t ‘droop’ after you lock it down (especially noticeable at high magnifications when I do macro work). It also has a tension/ friction adjustment, and a separate pan lock. Let’s just say it’s an outstanding ball head that I still think has no competitor.

_5001916 copy

The Gitzo GT1542T Carbon 6X Traveller

I’m going to refer to it as the 1542, instead of its mouthful of a name. The 1542 is a series 1 (second smallest tube diameter, first digit), four section (third digit), second version (fourth digit) tripod that has one neat party trick: the legs fold up instead of down, to surround the rapid column and head and make the overall collapsed length much shorter for transport and storage. That’s how a 42cm (closed) tripod can reach 149cm extended. Maximum load capacity is 8kg. The tripod itself is incredibly light – a skeletonized magnesium spider (with a beautiful gray hammertone finish) and carbon legs contribute to its 1kg weight. It’s the only tripod that I haven’t felt pained to carry, and that includes some pretty light horrible aluminum things with sections about the same thickness as a soda can.

_5001906 copy
Note skeletonized spider

Unlike earlier versions, the 1542 has G-Lock which is an anti-rotation system applied to the tube ends to allow you to unlock all of the leg collars, extend to the desired height, then lock them back individually. (You used to have to screw and unscrew them in order to prevent infinite rotation).

_5001910 copy

Interestingly, the little 1542 is much more rigid than my previous Manfrotto 444; this despite also being about half the weight, and with thinner leg sections. I suppose it’s down to the locking system and the weave of the carbon fiber. I’ve used this while traveling on assignment (actually, I specifically acquired it for this purpose) for watch photography – which demands the utmost stability due to the magnifications involved – and it performed flawlessly, even with a much lighter duty head – I replaced the very heavy Hydrostat with a Gitzo GH1780QR head for travel. In fact, I liked it enough to bother carrying it while doing landscapes, which says a lot as this has never happened before…

If there’s one disadvantage, is that the legs only lock at one angle.

_7065199 copy

The Gitzo GT5562LTS 6x Systematic

Playing Obelix to the 1542’s Asterix, the 5562 is a Series 5 (maximum tube diameter and thickness), 6-section, second generation studio tripod with carbon legs, and a massive 40kg load rating. I have no idea what camera system would weigh that much – a telescope, perhaps – but it’s reassuring to know that I have the support should the fancy ever take me. I’ve even removed the head and used its enormous ~15cm diameter platform as the world’s most expensive stool at particularly tedious shoots.

_7065228 copy

The supplied platform has a 3/8″ screw for standard ball heads, and a locking screw in the base to keep them in position; it’s also removable to allow attachment of a Systematic ballhead directly into the leg frame itself, or a rapid column, or a geared column. There’s also a rather neat bubble level inset directly into the platform. Ostensibly, it’s serious overkill for my requirements – I put perhaps 4kg on it at most, and that includes the head, positioning rail, camera, lens, and a flash.

_7065190 copy
This should give you an idea of just how massive the leg sections are.

All the same, I’ve developed an irrational affection for it; it’s nicknamed ‘the Stubby’ because it also happens to fold down to just 50cm in length, but can shoot at ground height thanks to three locking angles for the legs. It reaches 148cm without a column, though; I’ve got a geared column on order for added precision, but it seems that in summer, the whole of Italy goes on holiday and nothing comes out of the factory.

You’ll notice that I haven’t talked at all about the Stubby’s stability: that’s because there’s no question it is the most rigid, solid tripod I’ve ever used. In fact, it’s more rigid than some tables; a rock would probably be of comparable stability. Needless to say, this is easily my favorite tripod; if I had more weight allowance on my international trips, you can bet this is what’d I’d be carrying.

_7065215 copy

Negative points? Well, the feel of the extension/ retraction of the legs could be better. I had a Benro (pretty much a Chinese Gitzo knockoff) monopod that had a washer inside the leg tubes that gave them a damped feel when extending and retracting; not to mention an extremely cool swooshing sound. But then I noticed that despite having about the same maximum tube diameter as the Series 5 Gitzos, it was far less rigid than even the 1542 – let alone Mr. Stubby. And worse still, the damn thing is no longer straight after using it for birding with large lenses for a couple of years…

_7065212 copy

Still, I can’t think of a better tripod for people whose studio has to be mobile, or who require absolute solidity for use with long lenses – birders come to mind.

Every photographer needs to have at least one good tripod and head. You’ll be surprised just how much of a difference it makes to both a bad one and not using one at all; the only downside of Gitzo tripods is that they’re not cheap, but I have a strong suspicion that this is the kind of equipment one buys once and owns for life – I certainly can’t see why I’d need to replace the Stubby. MT

The Gitzo Traveller is available here from B&H, as is the 5562.

____________

Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the reader Flickr group!

appstorebadge

Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. I think Manfrotto bought out Gitzo. I do hope the Italians will not try to cut corners!

  2. Fred Pinkerton says:

    Typo in GT1542T section “I’ve used this on while traveling on assignment (actually, I specifically acquired “

  3. I use a Manfrotto 468MG RC0 Hydrostat head

    It looks like the head itself doesn’t have a level—do you use your camera’s internal level?

    In addition, which tripod would you use if you only had an OM-D? This one looks like overkill for M43 users.

    • The head has a level in the QR plate mount. I’m using an Arca-Swis P0 now though. The OM-D almost never gets used on a tripod, but if it does, then it’s the GT1514 (smaller of the two).

  4. plevyadophy says:

    A Tripod May, If One Is Not Careful, Hamper Creativity
    ===========================================

    Take a look at the wise words on tripod use posted by a forum member over at DPReview

    http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/51335244

  5. plevyadophy says:

    You say “I had a Benro (pretty much a Chinese Gitzo knockoff)”

    Actually, Benro is headquartered in the United States (and yes, the tripods are Made in China). Now what’s interesting is that the company that is responsible for the Benro brand of tripods are also responsible for the Induro brand (head office for both bands are at the same address). Why does this matter?

    Well, because I can assure you, that the Benro is no way a Gitzo knockoff because it has no pretensions of competing at that level; Benro is their consumer/entry brand. It’s the Induro brand that is the REALLY SERIOUS gear and could be considered as competing with Gitzo. The build quality of the Induro range is wonderful. However, i wouldn’t recommend Induro for one simple reason ……… they don’t seem to think it worth their while to answer customer enquiries (I have emailed them directly as well as their holding company and neither have replied nearly two months later).

    Warmest regards,
    plevyadophy

  6. plevyadophy says:

    Hi Ming Thein,

    You said:
    “I use a Manfrotto 468MG RC0 Hydrostat head, which uses a vacuum chamber and hydraulic lock to keep the teflon-coated ball in position. It’s the only ball head of any size I’ve used that doesn’t ‘droop’ after you lock it down (especially noticeable at high magnifications when I do macro work). It also has a tension/ friction adjustment, and a separate pan lock. Let’s just say it’s an outstanding ball head that I still think has no competitor.”

    Well,I think you should look at the Acratech GP Ballheads (http://acratech.net/pages.php?pageid=26), I would hazard a guess that you would find them far superior in function to the Manfrotto head.

    Warmest regards,
    plevyadophy

    • I’ve since moved on to a geared head because I need the positioning precision. I also have an Arca-Swiss P0 for going light.

      • plevyadophy says:

        You say you have moved on to a geared head, would that by chance be the ridiculously wonderful and super expensive Arca Swiss Cube?

        That thing is awesome. It’s beyond my price range at present and I doubt my style of shooting would be suited to such a head as the Cube. However, I want one!! :-) It is a wonderful piece of engineering and I would buy it just to have it on display at home so I could marvel at it.

        If you are not referring to the Arca Swiss Cube (or it’s clone the Multiflex), then may I take this opportunity to introduce you and your readers to something special, the Arca Swiss Cube:

        ( 1 ) A Review by Paul L. Richman,
        This review compares the original Arca Swiss and the clone.

        http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/accessories/magic-box.shtml

        ( 2 ) A Review by Jack Flesher (which usefully points out one or two flaws)

        http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/accessories/arca-cube.shtml

        ( 3 ) And a video demo by a respected U.K. retailer (and of course details of the “wonderful” price :-) )

        http://www.robertwhite.co.uk/shop-by-brand/arca-swiss/arca-swiss-c1-cube-head.html

        Regards,
        plevyadophy

        • Sadly not, it’s only geared in two axes and costs a small fortune. I’m using a Manfrotto 410 – much cheaper, nowhere near as elegant, but also lacks sharp edges and exposed gears to get dirt stuck in/ jammed, and geared in three axes :)

          The clones were available here for a time, but 75% the price of the original! I might as well buy the original at that price.

          • plevyadophy says:

            Thanks for that heads up; I hadn’t a clue that such a thing existed from Manfrotto.

            They may well be the world’s largest camera support brand but I never peruse their website to see what they have that may be to my liking. The only Manfrotto products I own are as a result of stumbling across reviews of the products, or in the case of a recent purchase asking for help on a forum to solve a problem and getting feedback that a Manfrotto item might do the trick.

            I find Manfrotto’s website almost as good as useless; it’s full of measurement data (height, weight and what not), which is fine, but there’s zero imagery of the products in use, explanatory text or video of the products in action. It’s well nigh on impossible to ascertain what a particular Manfrotto product can do for you by reference to their website. A pity really.

            Now, as is always the case :-( I am gonna go off on a journey around the internet to learn what a Manfrotto product is like in use (the Manfrotto 410 you mentioned)

            Regards,
            plevyadophy

            • Well, it works for me – it does have a tiny bit of play, but you have to exert some force to get it to wobble. Other than that, it’s pretty much replaced my ballhead for studio work. However, at the price…it’s a no-brainer.

          • plevyadophy says:

            Sorry, it’s me again! :-)

            Just got back from my journey around the internet and found a very informative independent video review on YouTube (rant notice: why in God’s name Manfrotto don’t have this sort of thing on their own site is beyond me!!! GGGRRRrrrrrr! :-( )

            I don’t much care for the quick release plate, and if I bought the head the first thing I would do is convert the plate to an Arca Swiss style clamp and plate system or even their own popular and near universal Manfrotto MN-200PL system which would also allow me to use the anti-twist plates for this system that I already own.

            Neither do I care much for the way that the camera sits to one side of the centre of the tripod; I would much prefer it if the camera sat dead centre above the centre of the tripod.

            However, I just love that clever mechanism that Manfrotto have employed that enables you to move the head real slow with the geared knobs in similar fashion to the slow and precise movement of the Arca Swiss Cube but then if you wish you can instantly employ a clutch mechanism whilst holding on to a knob which allows you to bypass the gearing and move the head in any of its three axes very very quickly as if working with a conventional head. That to me is quite awesome. And in fact, now that I have seen this Manfrotto head I would say it’s up there with the Arca Swiss Cube in terms of awesomeness; the Manfrotto winning by miles on price and ergonomics and the Arca Swiss winning on the range of movements available.

            I also like the quick release lever mechanism on the Manrotto 410.

            I think if I wanted the swiveling option on the camera plate/clamp I would just buy one of the numerous add-ons available from numerous manufacturers and you would have pretty much all the movements available to a user of the Arca Swiss Cube for a fraction of the cost and with superior ergonomics; that clutch mechanism Manfrotto have employed is just awesome.

            So thanks for pointing out this Manfrotto product to me. I now lust after the Arca Swiss Cube a lot less and my bank balance will certainly be happy about it :-) and the Manfrotto product addresses one of my pet peeves (whether it be in relation to camera gear or other products) …… ergonomics. :-)

            Warmest regards,
            plevyadophy

            • Sadly, the QR system is part of the head, so if you wanted to change it, you’d have to put the new QR system on top of the old plate…which would rather defeat the point.

              • plevyadophy says:

                Yeah, that’s how the converters work; you screw a new clamp to the existing quick release (QR) plate and the new converter clamp works with the alternative camera plate that is attached to your camera. You then ignore the QR lever of the original equipment manufacturer’s tripod head.

                It sounds cumbersome but it adds very little to the head. My Induro head is an Arca Swiss type and I have converted it in the fashion I describe above so as to enable it to have dual and simultaneous compatibility with Manfrotto and Arca Swiss QR plates. I just measured it, and the converter has added just 16mm to the height of the head.

                I have also similarly converted a lightweight Sony tripod; in this instance I converted the head to be Manfrotto compatible. I use the Sony for lightweight cams only or a heavy cam without tilting the head.

                The benefit of doing this is that if you have standardised on one type of QR plate you can ensure that any head that you buy is compatible and you don’t have to keep screwing and unscrewing QR plates. I have two anti-twist QR plate systems in use at present; some of my cams have the Manfrotto plate and two of my cams use a dual Manfrotto/Arca Swiss plate. The latter plate allows me to plonk my camera down on an Arca Swiss or Manfrotto head whilst my dual clamp on the Induro head means my Manfrotto plated cams will work.

                If it was at all possible I would post a few images of the setup so you can see how it all works “in the flesh”.

                Regards,
                plevyadophy

              • plevyadophy says:

                Hi,

                Further to my post above, I thought I would draw your attention to a product I have just discovered that might be of interest to you for your Manfrotto geared head: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Manfrotto-410-conversion-plate-4-Kirk-Markins-Arca-Swiss-Wimberley-Acratech-/330743588799?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item4d01daa7bf

                Regards,
                plevyadophy

                • Thanks for the heads up – not much use to me as I’d have to buy new plates for all of my cameras…

                  • A good review, Ming, per usual. The only surprise is your fondness for the Manfrotto 468MG RC0 Hydrostat ball head. I have never used it, but it doesn’t get much press. Have you tried the Arca Swiss Z1 or the RRS BH-55? I own the former and it is nothing short of fantastic. It features an aspherical ball head—the tension automatically increases as you move the load off-center—and a 130 lb (59 kg) load capacity.

                    I see you’ve moved to a geared head, so my comment is moot anyway.

                    • I have no idea why, because I still think it’s the best head Manfrotto makes, and one of the best ball heads if you don’t mind the weight. It simply does not droop on locking. I have an Arca P0 for a lightweight solution, which shares the same elliptical ball. It’s the Cube all the way for heavy duty applications.

  7. Great blog. Like most NEX, Fuji X, OM-D, etc. owners, I want my gear to be as small and light as possible. However, I also want a tripod to keep my camera stationary. Is the GT1542T sturdy and stable enough to serve as a photographer’s only tripod if all he/she uses is a mirrorless camera with relatively small lenses? Or, is it advisable to have a second, more substantial set of legs? Furthermore, does the usual warning against raising the center column still apply to these small cameras and lenses? Any advice for people who only use a mirrorless system would be greatly appreciated.

    • Absolutely. I’ve used that tripod with my D800E with no issue. If you raise the center column, stability diminishes a bit, but this can be countered by leaving OIS on.

  8. Thanks for the review, Ming. I have been looking for a better and lighter tripod to replace my 190B, and the GT1542T with a RRS head could be just what I need.

    • No problem. The only portion of this combination I’m not 100% happy with is the head; unfortunately using the Hydrostat makes it much too heavy – the head alone weighs more than the legs.

  9. What are your thoughts on the Benro for someone who is on a budget and won’t be using heavy gear (at most a D800 with a 70-200)? I would love to pick up a quality tripod but it will be used very little and I have a hard time justifying buying top of the line.

    • The legs bend quite easily. I have one of their monopods – the thickest section one – and it’s still not particularly rigid. The Gitzo Traveller will hold the D800/ 70-200 just fine, though.

  10. Wow, that is a pretty expensive Ball Head, but I might pick one up, there is nothing worse that the Dreaded Droop!

  11. Ming, I have only recently started reading your blog, after seeing Robin Wong had highly praised your work.
    I also have two Gitzo tripods. My “big” one is the G1327, which I purchased in lat 2006. The ball head that I use, and highly recommend is made by a company named “Really Right Stuff”. It is model BH-55 with the Lever Release. It will not droop!
    For my light “travel tripod”, I recently purchased the Gitzo GT1542T that you review here. It is much sturdier than I thought it would be! I bought it to use with my new Olympus OM-D camera, but it also does a fine job with my Canon 5D Mk II (with 24-105mm lens). For this travel tripod, I put the Really Right Stuff BH-30 ball head with Lever Release.

    Of course, when you put these Lever Release clamps on top of the ball head, you also need to attaching a mating bracket to the bottom of the camera. With an L-bracket, you can change the orientation of the camera from landscape to portrait orientation without changing any of the other tripod adjustments. This also has the advantage of keeping the weight of the camera and lens right over the center column of the tripod!

    I have no affiliation with any manufacturer, I’m just a semi-pro photographer that has had years and years of trouble-free service from the two manufacturers mentioned above.

    • Thanks for the suggestions – I do wish Gitzo did L brackets. Looking into an Arca-Swiss D4 for more precision with my watch work, but ouch, the price!

  12. John F. Opie says:

    On tripod ratings: simply divide by half and that is what you can seriously use. If I set up my Gigapan Pro panorama head, add an E30 with battery pack, then add a Leica 100 f4 on bellows, I am up to around 14 kilos. Great for extremely large macro work, but I found that I ran into serious parallax problems unless I added a Leica 2x extender to the combo, which then works nicely. Given that I am not photographing for a living – been there for weddings, no thank you any more – I use a Manfrotto 028b as my travel tripod (!), since it extends out past 6 feet and lets me get above crowds when taking panoramas. It does weigh in at around 12 lbs with the big Manfrotto ball head, though, and with cameras and lenses, I am carrying around 35lbs. I took up swimming to build up stamina to manage that all day, and it works. :-) I had a smaller Gitzo Studex Reporter – smaller only in comparison to the monster 028b – but that was simply too short. The 028b costs around 1/4 of the Gitzo! :-)

    • The Gitzo also weighs about 1/4 of the Manfrotto, so there must be some relationship there :)

      How on earth do you manage to get all of that onto a plane?

  13. Nice review, Ming – funnily enough I had just ordered a wooden Berlebach tripod about a week ago. They are a lot less expensive than a carbon fiber, as well as having great vibration dampening and load carrying capacity. They also look fantastic (“Old Skool to the Max, Yo !”). The main disadvantage is the weight. Without head the model I ordered is over 3kg, and it only extends to about 130cm in height. Still, I hate tripods so rarely carry them and figured when I DO carry one, this will be enough of a physical work out to help cut down on Gym membership fees … ;)

Trackbacks

  1. […] final bit of the puzzle is one of support. On a full blown job I’d use the Gitzo 5562 LTS and Arca-Swiss Cube; however given weight restrictions I’m travelling with a Gitzo GT1452T […]

  2. […] optimal apertures, so why not? Needless to say, a tripod is part of the equation – my usual Gitzo 5562 LTS and Arca-Swiss […]

  3. […] other than the ISO test series was shot at base ISO (100 for all cameras) on a heavy Gitzo 5-series tripod and Arca-Swiss Cube […]

  4. […] During my last trip to Tokyo, I carried one with me all the time – a very lightweight Gitzo GT1542 Traveller with an Arca-Swiss P0 mono ball head, made slightly lighter and more rigid by the removal of the […]

  5. […] blocked by the diffusion material. Also, let’s just say that fitting the tripod (my usual Gitzo 5562 and Arca-Swiss Cube) in there was a bit of a […]

  6. […] optimal sharpness, depth of field and diffraction. The cameras will be locked down on on a heavy Gitzo 5-series tripod and Arca-Swiss Cube geared head. You can click on any of the relevant links following the images below […]

  7. […] D800E body, at base ISO with self timer used at all times, on a locked down solid tripod – a Gitzo 5-series carbon systematic and Arca-Swiss Cube head. Whole-shot sample images were shot using the Nikon; in the A-B […]

  8. […] aforementioned Gitzo GT5562 6x carbon systematic tripod and my usual Manfrotto 410 geared […]

  9. […] to believe this. It makes the perfect companion to a lightweight tripod for travel, like the Gitzo GT1542 Traveller. In fact, this happens to be the exact same combination I’m using now. So far, it’s […]

  10. […] weighing nearly 1kg; this head is best deployed on a very sturdy set of studio legs, like the Gitzo GT5562 I use. There is no play or flex anywhere, and that includes in the geared knobs; which move […]

  11. […] brief. This is the position I found myself in a couple of months ago, camera bag in one hand, Mother Of All (somewhat portable) Tripods in the other, and sheaf of permission letters and permits from Hijjas Kasturi Associates tucked […]

  12. […] aperture priority); mirror lockup/ timer where applicable and finally lockdown on my usual massive Gitzo 5-series studio tripod White balance was matched by using the eyedropper tool on the same grey […]

  13. [...] I can’t get consistently sharp results with the D800E at all shutter speeds on the 1-series Gitzo Traveller (it also only weighs 900g), but I haven’t had anything but tack-sharpness with the Gitzo [...]

  14. [...] In alphabetical and numerical order below. What I use is of course also what I’d recommend. Gitzo GT5562 GTS Systematic with Manfrotto 410 geared head, or 468MGRC0 Hydrostatic ball head Gitzo GT1542 Traveller with Gitzo [...]

  15. [...] to run and gun handheld with speed and (mostly) precision, I was now bolting everything down to a 5-series Gitzo Systematic and hydrostatic ball head, shooting at base ISO at optimum apertures and compositing my shots. Oh, [...]

  16. [...] in ACR with identical settings and zero sharpening. I used a Manfrotto 468MGRCO Hydrostat head and Gitzo GT 5562 GTS legs with no center column; this combination is rock-solid and rated to far higher loads than I can even [...]

  17. [...] going to get straight out of the camera. Light was available ambient, and I used the excellent Gitzo GT5562LTS 6x Systematic carbon tripod for [...]

  18. [...] You might also enjoy my review of the Gitzo 1542 Traveller and 5562 Systematic tripods here. [...]

Thoughts? Leave a comment here and I'll get back to you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 28,152 other followers

%d bloggers like this: