1. Model naming
Understanding the model naming is key to choosing the right product.
2. Understanding the Models
3. Number of Leg Sections
Many tripods are available in both 3-section and 4-section models, which are suited to different needs
They are designed to reach more or less the same extended height, but as the one does so with 4 sections, the folded size is shorter than the one with the 3 sections. In theory, more sections means less rigidity, but Gitzo's carbon tubing and joints are so well made that 4-section models perform the same as 3-section models in vibration absorption testing. 4-Section models are more popular with people who travel, whereas 3-section models are more popular with those who never have to get on a plane with their tripod.
4. Reversible Legs
Only the Traveler models have reversible legs. If folded size is one of your top priorities, then a Traveler is ideal.
Normal tripod legs only have a working angle of 90 degrees, whereas reversible legs can be flipped up 180 degrees. This allows the brace/neck of the column to be stowed between the legs, which shaves about 20% off the folded length of the tripod. If you have to get your tripod into a suitcase or strap it onto a camera bag, this feature goes a long way to saving space.
5. Minimum Height
The worst possible trait in a tripod is if it is too short for you. Having to bend over leads to back pain and before long the tripod will be gathering dust and every cent spent on it will have been money down the drain.
Ideally, your tripod should be as tall as you are, so that you have spare length when shooting on slopes or uneven terrain.
At the very least, your tripod should reach up to 80% of your height. Remember that the camera and tripod head add about 20cm and your eyes aren't on top of your head, so generally your tripod needs to be your full length minus 30cm.
Center columns shouldn't be used at their full height as the leverage on the neck joint (when fully extended) makes it unstable and prone to vibration. So when calculating the maximum usable height of a tripod with a column, use the halfway point between the height with and without the column. Example Below
Tip - All traveler tripods are too short for people taller than 185cm. You have to decide between bending over a bit, using the full height of the column or carrying around a larger tripod.
6. Weight Limitations
Gitzo tripods have very conservative weight ratings, so if you stay within the limits you'll be fine. With the Systematics there is no issue as the load rating is 25kg and a gimbal head and D5 with an 800mm isn't even 10kg.
The 1- and 2-series Travelers have load ratings of 8kg and 10kg respectively, so a pro body with a super telephoto lens starts pushing the limits. We can gladly say that we have plenty of clients who use these kind of setups on their Travelers without any trouble, but please note that this should only be done out of essence. The people who do it either hike in search of birds and thus need to save weight, or they do fly-in safaris where luggage is an issue. If you don't have to save weight or space, super telephoto/gimbal setups should be used on a systematic tripod.
7. Column or No Column?
Gitzo offer tripods with and without a center column and each design has its pros and cons -
Systematic - A flat apex lowers the tripod's center of gravity by reducing the height of the camera by about 10cm in most models.
Systematic - For ground-level shooting, just flip the legs open and you can get that magical super low shot.
Systematic tripods have a wider foot radius as the legs are mounted further apart at the top.
Systematic - The apex plate can be replaced with a modular leveling base, which is indispensable for video and panorama shooting.
Systematic – The absence of a center column makes it easy to carry in hand as there is space between the legs. This is a highly underrated feature.
Mountaineer + Traveler - A center column offers more extended length without adding to the folded length of the tripod* (*see reversible legs).
Mountaineer + Traveler - A center column allows you to adjust the shooting height with only one joint. Without a center column, you have to adjust three leg joints to change the height.
Conclusion - If you want the very best stability for your camera or you're using heavy setups like a 400mm+ and a gimbal head, you should be looking at the Systematic range. If you want a light and compact tripod for hiking or travelling, you should look at the Traveler range. If you want a center-column in optimal stability and maximum length, look at the Mountaineer options.
8. Gitzo vs. SIRUI
Is Gitzo worth the price difference?
We believe that it is - Gitzo tripods have a higher standard of what we call manufacturing finesse. It is something that is difficult to communicate online, but if you see and feel the two next to each other, the difference is unmistakable.
That being said, if Gitzo is out of financial reach, then we believe SIRUI to be the next best option on the South African market. Their products are made from excellent materials, the designs are simplistic, the specs are great and very importantly - it is distributed in SA by a fantastic company. That means that if something goes wrong or missing, the problems gets sorted in the blink of an eye.
How did we arrive at these two brands? From years of day-to-day shooting with most of the tripod brands available in SA, by SA's most notable landscape photographers. We know from experience which tripods can endure years of seascape shooting and which are easy to clean and maintain. We also know which brands have overcomplicated designs, are difficult to maintain and are first to break.
9. Gitzo vs. RRS
Really Right Stuff is an American tripod manufacturer that makes absolutely zero-compromise tripods.
RRS is an American tripod manufacturer that makes absolutely zero-compromise tripods. Where Gitzo uses a cast magnesium alloy for the apex, RRS use machined aluminium, which is stronger and more expensive. Have we ever seen a broken Gitzo apex? No - so it is difficult to justify the extra expense.
The Gitzo GT3543LS currently sells for R13499, which is already a stretch in South Africa's economic climate and money that very few people are willing to spend on a tripod. RRS's equivalent TVC34L sells for $1160 in the states x R14.5 + 15% VAT = R18000 - R20000 (add about R2000 for shipping) depending on what the rand is doing. Apart from the hefty pricetag, they have declined our offers to sell their product in SA.
We import and sell their leveling bases via another channel as we feel that theirs is far superior to Gitzo's offering and the price is thus justified, whereas it is difficult to justify the price difference between Gitzo and RRS legs.
If you are willing to pay the pricetag for RRS gear, we can import it for you from the USA. Get in touch via the contact page or chat app to find out more.