Gitzo Tripod Experience.
By Jonathan Bourla (www.jonathanbourla.com)
For those photographers who use a tripod with their camera, that tripod is an essential part of their photographic kit. For my fine art photography and large format view camera, keeping the camera absolutely still on a tripod is vital. I do recognise that not all photographic persuits suit the use of a tripod. I recently came upon some fantasic photography online of farm and other animals by New Zealand photographer Cally Whitham. Cally later commented to me that she would lose “the moment” taking the time setting up a tripod for her photography. For my own photography, my main camera is a tripod-only piece of equipment, so there’s no option of hand-holding the thing. But in general, with the long exposures I tend to use and the contemplative style of photography, this necessitates the use of a tripod, and I think a tripod is essential to achieving the best results the camera and lenses are capable of.
When I started with my big camera, I bought a large and heavy Manfrotto model tripod. It was certainly stable but was really so big and heavy that I didn’t want to carry it very far. My wife and I were planning a trip to Australia, and so I investigated getting a lighter, smaller tripod. One thing I was keen on was a tripod without a centre column. I had read opinion saying these tripods were the most stable. Apart from some wooden tripods made by the American firm of Ries, the French company of Gitzo seemed to offer what I wanted in their Systematic line-up. Gitzo had the reputation as one of the best, if not the very best, of tripods available. I soon became the proud owner of a series three G345 aluminium Gitzo tripod (the move towards carbon fibre as a tripod material hadn’t really taken hold at that stage).
For the first few years, the tripod behaved itself and I was pleased. This was, after all, an expensive, high quality piece of mechanical equipment that I expected to last indefinitely. But then it started misbehaving. It may have been around this time that I took a photograph of a water fountain in Devonport by removing my shoes, and climbing into the water and setting up my tripod with the lower leg sections in the water. Well, when I was home I washed, cleaned and dried the tripod. I had seen photographs in magazines of photographers with Gitzo tripod set up deep in water, so I didn’t expect any issues. But I found some time later that, with the camera set up on the tripod, one of the tripod’s lowest leg sections would collapse. Fortunately this collapse was a relatively slow process that I was able to grab camera and tripod, stopping the whole lot tumbling to the ground. As I found on subsequent photographic trips, I would have to be vigilant and not turn my back from the camera and tripod for more that a moment so I could catch the camera and tripod in those moments of collapse.
I wrote to Gitzo, and received a reply recommending I replace the “leg bushes”, and put me in touch with the dealer stocking Gitzo products in my home city. I bought a bag of different size bushes, and installed the appropriate ones in my tripod. Feeling confident, I went on a photographic shoot, only to find the tripod misbehaved as before. Over time I sought out the advice of others via the internet, finding that others had had the same experience I had with my Gitzo tripod. Over time I tried different things I read about on the ineternet, such as sticking pieces of thin sticking tape to the bushes, but the results weren’t long lasting or effective.
Then, when visiting a different city, I asked the advice of a Gitzo dealer there. The helpful young man swapped the plastic collars on the lowest leg sections, and then proceeded to demonstrate how strong the legs now were. What I didn’t realise until a minute or two later was that he had tightened the leg collars with almost superhuman force. It took a huge effort on my part to loosen these collars. I couldn’t believe it was necessary to apply so much force in tightening the tripod’s leg collars.
Using the tripod revealed, with the collars tightened as much as I could, that the problem remained.
I was really disillusioned. I was contemplating buying a new tripod, as I clearly couldn’t trust my Gitzo. Investigating the different tripods available, I found only two makes that filled the bill. One, not surprisingly, was Gitzo itself with their carbon fibre Systematic tripods. What became clear was that Gitzo had changed the design on their tripods. Did they change their tripod design due to deficiencies in the earlier models?
The alternative was a tripod from American firm Really Right Stuff, which seem to be based on Gitzo’s designs with improvements. The model I would want was listed as not in stock.
In terms of getting another Gitzo, I felt quite resentful, thinking my original Gitzo tripod shouldn’t have gone wrong. Despite not trusting my tripod, I kept putting off buying a replacement.
Then I had a brainwave. I had always been under the impression that since the lowest leg sections, with their smaller diameter tubes, were only to be used once the larger diameter tube sections had been fully extended. So I would usually have the lowest sections only partially extended. But what if I did things the other way around? Fully extending the lowest leg sections, I found the tripod was finally stable and secure. After all these years.
For the moment, I will stick with my old Gitzo tripod. Largely out of mistrust of the brand, I baulk at spending a lot of money on a new Gitzo replacement.