Sunday, 2 January 2011

Tripods (You can't live without them)


After many requests for more technical articles on the blog, here we go with what is the first of many, I hope!!

I pondered for some considerable time, as to what the first technical article should be. I considered all the sexy equipment I use and decided we should start with the most basic equipment first.

It never ceases to amaze me the number of delegates that turn up on my courses and the number of photographers I see out in the field who don't use or indeed own a good tripod. I have even had delegates who own 500mm and 600mm lenses who tell me they don't need one or they just can't be bothered to carry a tripod. These same people will constantly worry about dust spots on sensors and photograph news papers in their garden to test the sharpness of lenses.... A strange breed!!

I can honestly say the tripod is the single most used item of equipment I own, and I use a tripod for 90% of my images. Its the first Item packed and the very first item unpacked on location.

Firstly the tripod you choose needs to be sturdy and reliable. It needs to be quick and easy to operate in particular it needs to be light enough that you can carry it. Also its a great help if the tripod reaches high enough, so you don't need to bend. Low level ability is also a great feature, which I use very often.

Over the years I have used most makes of tripod some have been good others have been a waste of money and about 10 years ago I decided I needed to take a really long hard look at what was available and buy a tripod that would do everything I needed and last more than the 12 months or so my previous tripods had managed to survive.

For me there was only one choice, and that was Gitzo carbon Fibre tripods and I decided on the 1645 model which at the time set me back over £500. It seemed a crazy price to pay for a simple tripod, but its still going strong after 10 hard years. Its been used in jungles and deserts, its stood in 3 feet of snow and its often seen standing in sea water or mud. It has possibly been the best investment I have made in photo equipment.

The only complaint with the Gitzo was the design of the leg locks, which could be a bit tricky to operate. Also as digital equipment developed I sold my large and medium format camera systems. This gave me the chance to look for a smaller and lighter tripod, and a few months ago when I was upgrading my long lenses, I decided to look at the smaller tripods in the Gitzo range.

After some internet research I decided on the Gitzo GT3530LS and this is now the tripod I use every day. I use it for all my landscape and macro work and I also use it to support all my long lenses, including the 600mm Nikkor. The 3530 weighs just over 4 pounds and uses the new 6x carbon tubing. The leg locks are a new design which are so easy to operate even when wearing gloves. Were possible I add to the mass of the tripod by using a bungee cord between the tripod and my photo pack. This enables the use of a lighter tripod in all but the most windy conditions.

The tripod is very sturdy indeed, so much so I have not used my Gitzo 1645 since getting the new legs. So without doubt for most general photography and long lens telephoto work the Gitzo GT3530 is the tripod I would advise you to purchase.

But lets be real for me a tripod is a vital item of equipment I need it to make my living, so the price tag of £500 or so is justified. For most people this is a lot to pay for a tripod, for others the cost excludes it from their short list. So for a few seconds lets look at more affordable options. In fact when you consider a tripod like this is also going to need a head, this will possibly set you back a further £400. So a good pro grade tripod can easily be a £1,000 investment. A serious commitment by anybody's standards.

As I mentioned over the years I have used most tripods and in the more popular price range there is only one make that has impressed me and that is Gittos. They make a superb range of very reasonably priced tripods including a selection of Carbon Fibre legs. These do seem to offer a great compromise between cost and affordability.

Gittos Tripod

So if you are looking for a lower cost good all round tripod I would advise you take a look at the Gittos range. In fact I own a couple of their MTL8261B tripods. These are used by the training delegates who don't yet own their own tripod, or who have purchased a less reliable brand which seems to fall apart at regular intervals. The Gittos tripods will not hold the long lenses like the 600mm, but for most general work they are a really great product.

If you do decide to take my advice and look at the Gitzo range of tripods. I would advise you pay a visit to one of the best suppliers I have ever come across Bob Rigby they keep a great range in stock and will offer you good honest advise.

Another great supplier I would advise you consider is Warehouse Express they stock both the Gitzo and Gittos range and have been one of my regular suppliers for over 12 years now, suberb service and good prices. As always if your in the North West my local supplier Wilkinson Cameras will be able to help as they stock both the Gitzo and Gittos range

So the end of my first technical article, Not a review but just some good advice which I hope will help you enjoy your photography and produce better images.

Finally, Here I have covered tripods, but to use a tripod you need a tripod head and these I will cover in the next posting.


  1. Nice review, and by coincidence, I called Robert White (of Poole) earlier to place an order for a 3530.

  2. Nice review Steve....thanks for that!