New Gear – Gitzo Series 3 Systematic GT3542LS Tripod


Gitzo Series 3 Systematic Tripod.  Model GT3542LS.Gitzo Series 3 Systematic Tripod. Model GT3542LS

Introduction

This is a little bit of a departure from my other posts and is about gear and not about the photographs I have made, but I encourage you to please read on. Usually, I am one of the first to tell anyone that will listen that gear alone will not make you a good photographer. The creative force behind the lens is what makes the photos, not the gear. Having said that, the right equipment can take your photography to the next level and will increase your enjoyment of the photographic experience. After all, the last thing you want to be doing is fighting your gear when you are out in the field.

This is not meant to be a review of this tripod, but it gave me an excuse to drag out my Speedlites and softboxes which have been gathering dust as of late and to also talk about my views on tripods in general. A great article on the pitfalls of tripod purchases can be found on Thom Hogan’s blog. Thom’s post is definitely worth a read as many photographers, myself included, have fallen into the trap that he describes in his post. Across the web there are also numerous articles and forum posts reviewing the various tripod models and their pros and cons so I encourage you to seek those sources out if you want to learn more about a particular model.

Specification Comparison

Attribute GT3542LS GT1542T 055CXPRO3
Maximum Height 57.7” (146.5cm) 45.9” (116.5cm) 55.1” (140.0cm)
Maximum Height + column n/a 58.7” (149.0cm) 68.9” (175.0cm)
Minimum Height 3.7” (9.4cm) 8.66” (22.0cm) 4.5” (11.5cm)
Folded Length 22.6” (57.5cm) 16.7” (42.5cm) 25.6” (65.0cm)
Load Capacity 55 lbs (25kg) 15.4 lb (7kg) 17.6 lbs (8kg)
Leg Sections 4 4 3
Diameter of Leg Section 1 32.0mm 24.0mm 29.2mm
Diameter of Leg Section 2 28.0mm 19.9mm 25.0mm
Diameter of Leg Section 3 24.0mm 16.0mm 20.4mm
Diameter of Leg Section 4 20.0mm 12.0mm n/a
Weight 4.3 lbs (2.0kg) 2.2 lbs (1kg) 3.6 lbs (1.6kg)

A few words on the tripod

Now a little bit about the tripod. Until I purchased the GT3542LS, my primary tripod was a Manfrotto 055CXPRO3. The Manfrotto tripod is made of carbon fiber and is very light (3.6 lbs), tall enough for a 6′ person without needing to crouch much when fully extended with the centerpoint down (55.1″), is reasonably priced (~$350) and most important, is stable (it can hold lenses up to a 70-200mm f/2.8 without much problem). So why did I go and get another tripod? Absolute stability. When shooting landscapes, one of the most critical piece of gear in your kit is a tripod. The necessity of a good tripod become critical during long exposures (greater than 1 second) and when conditions are less than ideal (wind). I had heard all sorts of great things about the Gitzo Systematic line of tripods and they are also the choice of professionals around the globe. I had to see for myself what the hype was about and if they were worth the premium over lower cost options.

Gitzo Series 3 Systematic Model GT3542LS. Traveller Tripod GT1542T. Manfrotto 055CXPro3 Tripod.Gitzo GT3542LS (left) with little brother Gitzo Traveller GT1542T (center) and cousin Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 (right)

Again, this is not meant to be product review, but from my non-scientific testing, the Gitzo GT3542LS vastly out performs my old Manfrotto 055CXPRO3. Using the whack test (hitting the tripod at the legs or lens hood to create vibrations) and waiting to see the time it took for the vibrations to settle down, the Manfrotto took over 3 seconds from a hard whack, the Gitzo took under 2 seconds. I did these tests for around an hour, side-by-side, to make sure they were reproducible and accurate since I was looking for any excuse to save myself around $700. I also had a chance to field test my new tripod this weekend (photos will be posted later this week) and I must say, the results from my long exposure (greater than 30 seconds) photos was truly impressive. My photos have always been sharp at 100% pixel view using the Manfrotto, but now I feel that they are at another level and are tack sharp.

A few words on my testing method

So how exactly did I go about testing? Well for the controlled indoor tests, I mounted my Acratech GV2 ball head to each of the tripods on a level floor. I then mounted my biggest lens, the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II USM on my 5D Mark III. I used the lens collar mount to attach the lens to the ballhead then turned OFF Image Stabilization on the lens. Next I set the camera to 10x magnification on Liveview and focused on a distant object. I then whacked either one of the leg sections on each tripod or whacked the lens hood. I counted the time it took from the whack to where the image was stable at 10X Liveview magnification.

Conclusion

I wanted to believe the Manfrotto I had been using for the last couple of years was close enough to the Gitzo where I could simply return the Gitzo and save a lot of money. This, however, did not happen and the Gitzo by far out performs the Manfrotto. So now I have a tripod that is still made of carbon fiber but is slightly heavier (4.3 lbs), tall enough for a 6′ person to use it without crouching at all (57.6″), is much more expensive than my previous tripod ($700), but is also much more stable at the same time. Given my non-scientific testing and field testing of the Gitzo Series 3 Systematic tripod, I am definitely going to keep it and it will be my primary tripod when I am not out on vacation or hiking.

If you are a serious landscape photographer, I highly urge you to get a good quality tripod. This piece of equipment, maybe more than any other, will help you get better images. Of course a good quality tripod is not cheap. There is a saying that you can have any two of three characteristics from a tripod but not all three: 1) Lightweight, 2) Stable and 3) Inexpensive. So I leave you with the old saying; You get what you pay for.

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17 thoughts on “New Gear – Gitzo Series 3 Systematic GT3542LS Tripod

  1. Great post on the selection of a good tripod (very nice product shots of the Gitzo too!). Too many people are willing to spend thousands of dollars on camera gear but less than a hundred on a good tripod. Even if one does not need tack sharp photos, I wouldn’t risk putting my gear on a cheap tripod. That thing might just fall apart or something.

  2. Thanks for stopping by and your comments Vincent. I went through my purchase of cheap tripods myself (as do most photographers I think). But you are right, we have so much invested in bodies and glass to put on a substandard support that may blow over from the smallest breeze. Also, I really enjoyed your Bali photos, hope more are to come!

  3. I’d love to have this tripod ! I have a Manfrotto 190XPROB. When I do landscapes I often bike to places with my tripod attached to a backpack, so I love it for its lightweight. The Gitzo is very tempting, I’d love to see the difference it makes compare to the Manfrotto.

    • The Manfrottos IMO are the best bang for your buck tripods out there. The GT3542LS is probably not something you want to bike or hike with. Your 190CXProB is perfect for that. I have the Gitzo Traveller GT1542T for travels as it only weighs 2.2 lbs. I really believe having at least 2 tripods, one for general use and the other for travel. Thanks for stopping by and I encourage you to try the Gitzo in the stores if you can.

  4. informative post, there is so much I’d like to have in the way of gear, including a good tri pod as I’ve heard a number of times they are an important tool…right now I’m serious about improving my capabilities but purchases like this will have to wait for a bit…I’ll keep this in mind for later.

    • I always tell people to learn on the equipment they have. Only when you find that on a consistent basis you are running into limitations of your gear, is it time to get new equipment. The truth is, for 99% of all photographers (myself included), the gear is not what is limiting their photography. That being said, having nice gear does improve the enjoyment of photography, at least for me.

  5. Wow, so there’s an observable difference in the photos shot with each tripod in your opinion? I’m yet to try my 190CX3 and compare it to my Dolica yet, but I’m curious to see comparison shots taken on each tripod of yours!

    • Thanks for stopping by. I was not anal enough (my wife thanks me) to do a side-by-side shoot out, but my whack tests and comparing dozens of long exposure shots I have taken with the Manfrotto versus those I took last weekend with the Gitzo were enough to convince me that the Gitzo was a much better tripod. This along with dozens of threads around the web of others reviewing and discussing tripods was pretty convincing.

  6. The Gitzo should be a very good tripod for you! Thanks for the post and nice lighting on the photos.
    The tripod is often the one piece of kit that is overlooked. I know I started out with a cheap p.o.s. tripod like most people. I upgraded several years ago to a Manfrotto 190CLB after my p.o.s. tripod was blown over by the wind (thankfully my camera wasn’t attached at the time).

    • Thanks for stopping by Colin and for your continued interests in my photos and posts.

      Years back I almost fell off my chair laughing when people told me they spent $500+ on a thing with three legs. Now I am a firm believer that support equipment is a critical part of one’s kit.

  7. Great tripod – costs over $1000 in the UK!! – be careful of sea water and sand – which ruined my previous Gitzo – I now regularly strip it down and clean it when it has been in the sea.

    • Thanks for the warning about the Gitzo and salt water. I have heard similar stories and plan to use my Manfrotto for those occasions. I have used and abused the 055CXPRO3 in sand and salt water and put it away wet even. It has not show the slightest sign of damage or rust.

      • No rust, but the leg locking system seized up on a few of the extensions due to salt and sand – that is why i now take the locking systems apart to thoroughly clean – good idea using your old tripod for sea work – keep up the good posts!

  8. I found that by just hanging my gear bag from the center column, I can stabilize even a cheap tripod very effectively. It’s all about weight, so rather than adding weight to the tripod, I just use the weight I already lug around with me anyway. What are your thoughts?

    • First of all, thanks for visiting my blog. To answer your question, yes you can definitely stabilize any tripod by adding weight to it. However, the cheaper tripods are not build as well as the more expensive ones (in general). Adding too much weight to a cheaply made tripod can exceed it’s load rating and actually destabilize it.

      Also cheap generally means that it is not made of carbon fiber. Carbon fiber has superior vibration dampening compared to aluminium and in windy conditions (when hanging weight off the tripod is most effective) the vibrations will become a problem with non-carbon tripods and the ability to suppress those vibrations become important.

      • Thanks Mark for the clarification. Guess I’ll take advantage of the $150 rebate currently available on Gitzo tripods at B&H… (Before 6/15)

      • No problem. Regarding getting the best price on Gitzo tripods. The rebate period may or may not be the best time to pick up a Gitzo. During these periods, retailers typically raise prices to MSRP to be able to offer the promotions. Depending on the tripod (higher priced ones usually are better to buy off rebate times and lower priced models better to purchase during rebates) you may want to hold off on the purchase.

        You can track Amazon historic pricing of the model you are looking at here: http://www.camelcamelcamel.com/

        For example my GT3542LS was as low as ~$720 prior to rebate, but jumped all the way up to ~$950 during the rebate period. Even with the $150 rebate it would still have cost me ~$80 more during the rebate.

        This will give you an idea of if you should purchase now, or after the rebate period when retailers are not bound by the strict MSRP policy.

        In any case the Gitzo tripods are definitely worth the money and will last you many, many years.

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