Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Gitzo GT3531S First Impressions

Today I received my new tripod, a Gitzo GT3531S, and I have to admit that it is a big step up from the Manfrotto 055XPROB that I have been using up to this point.

The GT3531S is a very well constructed tripod, it has a much nicer feel to it than the previously mentioned Manfrotto. It is not really fair to directly compare the Gitzo to the Manfrotto, because the price point of these tripods is $300-400 different. Not having anything else to compare the GT3531S against, I'm left with little choice though.

When it comes to size the two tripods are very similar, which from my point of view is ideal. The Gitzo GT3531S is slightly shorter, but it does not have a centre column. It is important to remember that the GT3531S is from the systematic lineup, not mountaineer lineup, so stability, rather than portability is what matters in the design philosophy. These tripods are aimed at users with heavy gear loads, such as studio photographers, and wildlife/nature photographers that work with full frame professional DSLRs (Nikon D3s / D4, Canon EOS 1D MKIV/ 1DX) and super telephoto lenses such as the AF-S 500mm F4 VR.

Gitzo GT3531S (Bottom) and Manfrotto 055XPROB (Top) 
The other size difference between the two tripods is the spread of the legs themselves. The Gitzo spreads out to offer greater stability. Since it does not have a centre column installed (it is optional with this model), the GT3531S can sit flat on the ground for macro or landscape photography. The 055XPROB can as well, but you have to rotate the centre column to do so, thus reducing stability.

Gitzo GT3531S (Left) and Manfrotto 055XBPROB (Right)
Beyond the contrast in build quality and size, I noticed the difference in how the leg sections extend. I knew that the Gitzo used twist locks vs flip locks, but the real difference comes in how the legs deploy once they are unlocked. On the 055XPROB the legs simply fall down due to the force of gravity, while the legs on the GT3531S only slide down when you pull on them. This makes adjusting the height of each leg section much easier, and in reality faster. At first that sounds like a slower process, having to pull each section out to the desired length, but once you start working on uneven ground the action of the 055XPROB can become frustrating.

Just a quick comment on the carbon fibre construction, it works as advertised. My tripod arrived this morning, when it was -7ยบ C, and it was warm to the touch despite being on the back of the truck all morning. I took my aluminum manfrotto tripod out of my car, where it had sat overnight, and I didn't want to handle it without gloves. I also mounted my D700 + AF-S 300mm F4D IF-ED and noticed far less vibration through the viewfinder. Stability is one of the main reasons I purchased the Gitzo, and I think I'm going to enjoy using the GT3531S far more than the Manfrotto 055XPRO.

I'll write a full review of the Gitzo GT3531S, after I've had the chance to use it in the field for a few months.