GaG – Get a Gitzo!


Well, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a Gitzo; I’m not being paid to advertise for them after all!  I have just forked out a reasonable sum for my second Gitzo tripod and ballhead combination though, so as you can see, I AM a little biased.  Here are some reasons why you should have a tripod for your SLR, Gitzo or not.

Firstly, you just need one – a good one.  Any serious landscape photographer does.  The difference in the quality of images taken with a tripod setup is unsurpassable – blurred images can forever be eliminated.  Don’t go out now to your local camera store and buy a “consumer” tripod.  These ones are usually around a hundred dollars (or maybe less), come with the ballhead already attached, and the legs of the tripod are made stable by pushing down on the attachment linking the legs to the middle section of the tripod.  Not only are these extremely inflexible, but they are usually also quite flimsy and will not support a heavy camera kit.  More on the inflexibilities later – we are talking about reasons right now. 

A 30 second exposure at Willunga Jetty, South Australia.30 second exposure, Willunga Jetty, South Australia.

Secondly, a tripod will allow you to be more creative.  Usually those spectacular dawn or sunset shots are not taken hand held, simply because you cannot hold the camera still for long enough.  As an example, our image exposures at dawn average about 25 seconds.  If you shoot sunsets, you can get some very nice long exposures over several minutes and you can even capture those star trails over longer periods of time.  Having a tripod means you also have your hands free, which means you can use those graduated neutral density filters you went out and bought but never really used (speaking from experience here!).  Of course, you CAN get filter holders, but sometimes (actually, most times) I hand hold them ( Shh! Don’t tell anyone that!).

13 minutes in a hay field lit only by the moonlight

13 minutes in a hay field lit only by the moonlight

Thirdly, a tripod improves your composition.  Since it takes some time to set up the tripod, it allows you to assess the scene in front of you a little more carefully.  A landscape isn’t going to change much, so you can take your time and make sure that you capture the best image possible.

Let’s talk now about those inflexible consumer tripods, starting with the ballhead.  As already mentioned, in most cases, these are attached to the tripod legs and you don’t have much of a choice.   If you buy that tripod, you’re stuck with the ballhead that comes with it.  They’re not always all that bad, but I’ve found that they are usually quite limited in movement, and the handles and levers tend to get in the way more often than not.  I prefer the centre ballheads that don’t come with pan-locking ability (i.e. a single handle allows movement in any direction) but they do take a little getting used to, and sometimes making minor adjustments can mean recomposing if you’re not ready to support the camera before you untighten the handle!

The second issue I found concerns the tripod legs.  Have you ever visited a tourist spot and you’re trying to wedge yourself between other tourists whilst battling with the barricade of the platform and your tripod won’t allow you to get close enough to eliminate the ugly man-made barrier from your composition?  That’s because to make your tripod stable, you had to fully extend the legs of your tripod with that centre attachment and of course there’s not enough room to do it!  A good tripod should have three totally separate manoeuverable legs; easy enough to manipulate, but not so much that they move by themselves.  They should also feel solid and not wobble!  With three independent legs, it’s possible to position them separately such that you won’t only remove the barricade from your view, but also save other tourists from tripping over your tripod at full extension.  You can also get very low to the ground with these tripods, giving a whole new perspective to a scene.

3.2 seconds at f16

3.2 seconds at f16

So now you know the reasons, how do you choose the best tripod for you?  Here are some questions you need to ask yourself:

What am I using this tripod for?  Landscapes, portraits, sports, low light environments, bird photography?  In what environment will I be using it?  Indoors, outdoors, trekking, climbing, in rivers, in ice, my backyard?  How easy will it be to use?  How much weight will it need to support?  How high/low can it go? How much am I willing to spend on it?

We bought our tripods for the purpose of trekking with them.  So for us, they needed to be light, stable, easy to set up and of a short length (to fit inside our hiking packs).  I prefer the twist leg locks on a tripod as opposed to the flip locks.  I find they are a bit easier to handle when your fingers are cold.  Other factors: easy to dissemble and clean, excellent stability vs. weight ratio, G-locking mechanism (where the weight pressing down on the tripod makes it even more stable), removable centre column (allowing super low angles) and a good height range for more creative purposes.

The current tripod kit we lug around with us consists of the GT2531 and GT2541 Mountaineer tripod legs, and the G1178M and G1278M classic centre ballheads.  These are not overly heavy and are not suited to long telephoto lenses, but are ideal for landscape photography.

So hopefully now that you realise how important a tripod is, you’ll make more of an effort to use it – especially if it means a higher percentage of keepers from every outing you now embark upon.  And if you don’t have one… well maybe it’s about time it made it to the top of your equipment list, because you can have the best camera kit in the world, but without a good tripod, it won’t mean a thing.  At least that’s what I think.

-M.

20 second dawn exposure at Carrickalinga beach, South Australia

20 second dawn exposure at Carrickalinga beach, South Australia

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Posted on March 10, 2009, in How we..., Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. mad tripod shots, esp the stars and hayroll. i must get myself a good one – i have on of those less then $50 Al ones with missing knobs but it’s served me well

  2. You know, at least you have a tripod; I think having one is better than none! It means that you have the intent of setting up your compositions and taking the time to do so, so that’s great!

  3. wow what a great article about tripods. Yes I have one and I do use it more and more, but when this one goes I’ll look up the kind you recommend. I like the legs being independent and the ball head has to be better than the one thats on this beast, but for now it works.
    Peace n Abundance
    CheyAnne

  4. ps. I see you are also on Flickr and Smugmug. Cool
    and the photo of the haystack in the moon is really incredible.
    C.❧

  5. CheyAnne, the separate legs are absolutely fantastic, I don’t know how we ever managed without them – the freedom you have with your tripod is just amazing.

    I normally update Smugmug for both of us and Dylan updates Flickr for his account, so yes, drop by often as we find we are uploading new photos a lot more often now!

    -M.

  6. wow, really shutter speed at 13 minutes?!?!?! LOL, that’s awesome! The outcome is spectacular i love the picture. :O damnnnnnn

  7. oh btw how did you get your sun to shine so small with 30 sec exposure?

  8. its not the sun nick , its the moon!

  9. Great post, Beautiful shoots, I may need some advice on taking landscape.

    Not to hijack your post, I was looking at tripod legs a few week back and found myself buying “benro” a Chinese clone brand which have designs the same as Gitzo at 1/4th the price avg.

    I brought a C-269M8 Travel Angel which is a modded clone of the super over priced gitzo limited traveler titanium for only around 295AUD.

    They are also very well built like the gitzo. super light only at 1.2kg, when folded only 38cm long and extends to around 1.55ish meters can carry up to 12KG which over all is very similar to the GT2541 Mountaineer.

    for those who are interested have a look 😛

    http://www.benro.com/content/tripods/travel/features.aspx

  10. Oh, I think I have heard of Benro before… they are not marketed here in Australia? Or at least I haven’t seen them – might’ve saved me a few hundred if I could have checked one out!

    Oh well, for the price tag of the Gitzo I’m hoping I won’t have to change tripods EVER, so if that’s the next 50 years that I’ll be taking photos, should be worth it.

    -M.

  11. M You are right, they are not marketed within Australia I brought mine from B&H.

    I agree with you the tripod should last forever. I’m thinking about buying a rain/weather cover for my 5d mkII, currently looking at a Kata E-702 around $95AUD,

    Have you guys used something like that ? any advice ?

  12. Hmm, nope haven’t used a raincover at all, so sorry, but can’t help you there. Normally when we go out shooting and it’s a rainy day we just shield the camera with whatever we’ve got on hand (usually a beanie), and when the camera is not being used it’s hiding under our waterproofs.

    We never use our bodies when it’s pouring. Light drizzle I would say.

    -M.

  13. I’m having a hard time deciding btw the GT2531 and GT2541. In your experience, does the GT2541 give up much in terms of stability and convenience (4 sections to adjust vs 3)?

    Thanks.

    • Hi David,
      I haven’t noticed much difference between the two to be honest – and actually, I’ve read that the 4 section tripods are supposed to be more stable.

      Convenience depends on what you mean exactly; it’s convenient in terms of length for us, because it fits into a rucksack for hiking purposes due to its shorter length (attributed to the extra section). It takes a fraction of a second longer to pull out the extra section, so if you’re in a hurry I guess it could possibly cost you a shot. But, this is how I see it – I’m pulling out my tripod so I can get a sharper shot of a landscape. In the extra two seconds it takes me to set up, the landscape isn’t really going to go anywhere, right? I also have short arms so it’s nice for me to not have to reach so far for extending and collapsing each section, hehe.

      Hope that helps!

      -M.

      • Marianne, thank you for the reply. It was very helpful and helped me decide on the GT2541.

        Magnificent pics!

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