It is amazing how some manufacturers can get one product so right, yet another product so wrong; until late 2016, Gitzo was one of those manufacturers. Their tripod legs are loved by countless photographers worldwide for long lasting quality, easy operation and excellent performance. Despite the success of their legs, they somehow failed to make a decent tripod head, because they refused to conform to the global design standard. If you look at their older range of tripod heads, you’ll see that most of it is just plain weird. While it did work, it was unnecessarily bulky. It is with very good reason that until now, we only sold Kirk and SIRUI tripod heads.
It was thus to much surprise when in September 2016, I saw that Gitzo released a new range of ball heads. I expected an odd head with their weird old plate system, but what they released was the same standard ball head design which everyone uses, with an Arca Swiss plate system. I knew that if they used the same level of manufacturing standards and materials as in their legs, these heads will be fantastic. Before I reveal my first impression of these amazing (oops) heads, I’ll share the specs and models.
There are three different sized models available and as with all tripod products, they all have long and confusing names.
The medium size is our favourite and the one we expect to sell best, so that’s the one we’ll use to explain the naming. It is the GH1382QD and will retail in SA at a price of R4 995.00, slightly less than the US price, depending on Zuma’s exchange rate. It is very seldom that photographic products are cheaper in SA than in the States, but we are lucky to be in that situation with Gitzo, thanks to an excellent distributor.
The GH in the name simply stands for Gitzo Head and is thus irrelevant. As with the legs, we know that the first number refers to the series/size of the head as the medium head is the GH1382QD and the large head is the GH3382QD. The smallest model is the GH1382TQD, the T standing for travel.
The rest of the name we are not quite sure about, but distinguishing the models is luckily very easy. The range currently available is as pictured below.
The first thing that really catches your attention when picking up one of these heads is that they feel super solid – more so than everything else on the market, including RRS and Kirk. It is also made from very different materials than everything else on the market. Almost all the manufacturers use aluminium for both the cup and the ball and the cup is usually a single piece of machined aliminium, but Gitzo have taken a different route here. Firstly, their cup consists of two pieces made from two different materials – a lower section consisting of the same cast magnesium alloy that the apex of their legs are made from and a top section made from a very intricately piece of machined aluminium.
The ball is coated with a material you’ve likely never heard of – Tungsten Disulfide. This is one of the ultimate low-friction alloys known to man and upon playing around with one of these heads, you realise why they chose this product and what makes these heads different to the rest of the market. What people like to do with a ball head is to set the tension so that if the main knob is loosened, the head still holds the camera in place, but can be adjusted with minor force. Most heads don’t do this well as the ball is either loose or tight. If it is loose it drops, if it is tight it can’t be moved. Whether this is thanks to a superior tensioning mechanism or the WS2 (Tungsten Disulfide) is anybody’s guess, but these new heads do this unbelievably well.
As with any ball head, there are three knobs – One for locking and loosening the head, one for setting the tension and one that allows panning rotation. There is a very critical difference between the smallest model (1382TQD) and the two larger ones (1382QD & 3382QD). The TQD head does not have a tension adjustment knob. It is however set to the perfect amount of tension in the factory – it doesn’t take any force to lock the head extremely tightly and loosening it halfway provides that sweetspot where it holds the camera, but can still be adjusted.
The ability to lock the ball with barely any force is by far my favourite feature of these new heads and something that is superior to both Kirk and RRS heads – you never actually have to apply any force in order to lock the head absolutely tightly. If you’ve ever shot every single day for two weeks in a row, you’ll know that the skin on the fingers you use to loosen and tighten the ball gets very sore. This won’t happen with the Gitzo head as locking it down completely requires almost no force.
Kirk vs Gitzo
Don’t get me wrong, I still love my Kirk BH3. It is approaching 6 years of age, has taken countless knocks and still works perfectly. Kirk heads are the Toyota Hilux of the tripod head world and we won’t know how these new Gitzo heads will handle the knocks until they’ve been around for several years. There is one major concern that echoes across all the reviews so far – the main knob is wobbly when loosened completely and this seems like cause for concern, but only time will tell if it is.
Kirk heads are unfortunately extremely expensive in South Africa compared to most of our products. The Kirk BH3 sells here for 170% of its equivalent US price, whereas these Gitzo heads are selling for a tad under their equivalent US price. There is a substantial price advantage to these new Gitzo heads.
The specs are not wholly in favour of either brand, but the model that goes in direct competition to the Kirk BH3 (1382QD) has double the load rating, is 10% lighter and costs R1 500.00 less. With the two larger models, the BH1 has a slightly higher load rating, but is about 15% heavier.
One major advantage for Gitzo is having something smaller than the BH3. The Kirk BH3 is total overkill for anything smaller than a pro-body if using normal lenses.
Until these heads have been in the hands of photographers for at least two years, we can’t say that they last as well as the Kirk heads do. If you’ve held one of these heads and seen the construction up close, there’s no reason to believe that they won’t. What I can say without a doubt is that they are a bit more convenient to operate, substantially cheaper and offer a wider range to choose from. Paired with one of the new Traveler or Systematic legs from Gitzo, it’s such a beautiful piece of engineering that one might feel tempted to put it in a display case rather than take it outdoors.
We’re very excited about this product as we feel that it is superior to SIRUI, on par with Kirk and priced between the two. It thus fills a nice void in our product offering.
If you have any questions about these new heads or any of our other products, feel free to get in touch using the contact page. We are lucky to have received all the stock to come into SA and have a few of each. Once these are sold out, new stock will likely only arrive a few months into next year. We are also expecting the new Gitzo Systematic models within the next week or two, hopefully in time for Christmas.
You can use the links below to navigate to the product pages of these new heads.
- This head is ideal for any cameras up to a pro body like a 1Dx, D5 or gripped D810 or 5D with lenses up to a light medium telephoto like a 70-200mm f/4, Canon 70-300mm or Nikon 28-300mm.
- If you plan to use anything heavier, such as a 70-200mm f/2.8, 100-400mm, 300mm f/4, 400mm f/5.6 or greater, the GH1382QD is a more suited choice.
- This head is ideal for any cameras up to a pro body like a 1Dx, D5 or gripped D810 or 5D with lenses up to medium telephoto like a 70-200mm f/2.8, 100-400mm, 300m f/4 or a 400mm f/5.6.
- If you plan to use anything heavier, such as a 200-400mm, 500mm, 600mm or greater, the GH3382QD is a more suited choice.
- This head is ideal for heavy setups that involve lenses like a 200-400mm, 500mm, 600mm and larger. It can handle such loads with ease thanks to a 18kg load rating.
- It is important to note that ball heads are not made for tracking fast-moving animals. If you want to photograph birds in flight then you should consider a carbon fiber gimbal head like the SIRUI PH20.