What is the best travel tripod? The answer is the Gitzo GT1555T Traveler Carbon Fiber Tripod. At least this model is right at the top of the short list of contenders – along with all of Gitzo's other carbon fiber traveler models – when ultra-compact size and very light weight are among the requirements.
Just because you are traveling doesn't mean that you are willing to tolerate a weak tripod that yields a vibration-filled experience. The Gitzo GT1555T is a bit of an engineering marvel. It retracts into a very compact size and weighs very little, yet it is rock solid when extended. I'll go into more details below, but with the legs retracted, this little tripod is easily adequate for use even with a 600mm f/4 lens.
I always warn against buying a cheap, poor quality tripod and will not take much of your time repeating the warning here, but be aware that a huge number of people buy cheap tripods the first time, have to deal with poor performance (perhaps missing some important images) and end up buying again to get the quality they needed in the first place. Be smart – buy quality.
Tripods come in all sizes, ranging from tiny tabletop models to super-high models that can require a tall step ladder to use. Along with a vast size differential, a large weight differential also exists. You can carry the lightest tripod all day and barely know it is there while the heaviest will become burdensome in a short period of time. Strength and rigidity are often the balancing factor between size and weight. A heavy little tripod is likely much stronger and more-rigid than a super-light tall tripod. So, tripod select starts with selecting a model that offers the right balance between dimensions and weight, along with the features it offers, for the need.
Here we are looking at a "Traveler" model and that name suggests compact and light being the niche filled. While that is the case, as already suggested, this tripod is also high on the strength/rigidity chart.
Let's take a look at the Gitzo GT1555T Traveler Carbon Fiber Tripod's measurements and specs.
|Specifications||Gitzo GT1555T Traveler Carbon Fiber Tripod|
|Load Capacity||22 lb||(10kg)|
|Max Height w/o Column Ext||47.6"||(121cm)|
|Max Height w/ Column Ext||54.3"||(138cm)|
|Top Plate Diameter||1.37"||(34.8mm)|
|Measured Weight||2.25 lb||(1.02kg)|
|Chassis Max Width||3.31"||(84.1cm)|
|Top Leg Section Diameter||1.00"||(25.4mm)|
Let's unpack the specs and measurements.
I am not familiar with any tripod weight capacity rating laws in existence and how highly you regard the load capacity rating depends on your trust of the source specifying it. Gitzo has proven trustworthy over the years. While this tripod can support far greater loads than the listed spec indicates and far greater weight than any photo gear most of us own, there are other factors involved and vibration is a key factor.
The taller a tripod is, the more likely it will accommodate your eye-level height or even your eye-level height with one or more tripod legs positioned downhill below you. The latter is a frequent occurrence for outdoor photographer as well as those shooting from stairways, etc. When looking at the specs, remember that your tripod ball head and camera/lens tripod-mount-to-viewfinder heights add significantly to the tripod's height during use. Fully extended with a small ball head and a non-gripped camera mounted, the Gitzo GT1555T tripod has an adequate height for me (6'/1.8m) when shooting from a standing position on level ground, though another 3 or 4" would increase comfort.
While high is good, so is low. Getting the camera right down on the ground can be ideal for some compositions and also for table-top work. With only two non-folded leg angle lock sets, this tripod's legs do not splay completely straight outward, resulting in its good, but not remarkable 7.9" (20cm) minimum usable height. Note that the center column must be replaced by the included short column (see below) for the Gitzo GT1555T to reach its minimum working height and also that your ball head and camera height must be added to the minimum figure. That a separate part is required for this low position is a bit of a nuisance.
A tripod's folded length is of primary concern for packing. A smaller retracted tripod, regardless of its maximum height capability, consumes less space. This means it is easier to fit into luggage and it does not protrude as far above a backpack. Few tripods, at least few tripods with capabilities close to this one, are smaller. With the legs folded 180° over a fully-compatible head, this tripod is extremely compact, ready to fit inside a wide variety of cases.
All other aspects being equal, lighter is better. All other aspects are not always equal and a compromise is always being made to achieve lighter weight. The farther/longer you have to carry a tripod, the more important light weight becomes. Weight does not matter much for studio-use tripods that are seldom carried for more than minute while multi-day backpackers live at the other end of the spectrum. Those flying need to comply with luggage weight restrictions and in this case, tripod weight becomes a strong consideration. This tripod is the perfect choice for those weight-conscious photography needs.
The chassis is a substantial part of the tripod and impacts the overall weight and width of the tripod. All other aspects being equal, a larger chassis will provide less flex, which leads to greater stability and reduced vibrations. The GT1555T's chassis is quite narrow, but its rigidity is increased by a design that tapers to a relatively tall height. A downside to the relatively tall height of the Gitzo Traveler tripod chassis (plural, CHASS-eez) is that the camera weight is higher over the apex, having a small impact on balance/stability.
The diameter of the top plate suggests the base size of the head being attached, though often a differing-size head base will fit fine. The smaller diameter of the two could be a limiting factor for stability. This measurement is taken from the perimeter of the top-most portion of the top plate and not unexpected is that a "Traveler" tripod expects a compact ball head to be mounted.
All other aspects being equal, thicker leg sections will provide greater stability and lower vibrations. Leg wall thickness and construction details of course come heavily into play here. Not unexpected is that this tripod gets a relatively narrow 1.00" (25.4mm) diameter top leg section and the 5th leg sections measure only .44" (11.2mm) in diameter. While these are relatively thin tubes, one of the upgrades this tripod received from its predecessor is larger tube diameters with the lowest legs section tube having "... a diameter of 40% larger than the predecessor." [Gitzo] As I will soon share, these are thin-but-mighty tubes.
Tripod manufacturers typically offer many different models (and model lines) and the model name often illustrates where the model fits within the family.
|Model||Ser||Sec||Max Height||Min Height||Folded Length||Tripod Weight||Supports|
|GT0545T||0||4||48.23"||(122.5cm)||7.87"||(20.0cm)||14.37"||(36.5cm)||1.98 lb||(0.90kg)||22.05 lb||(10.0kg)|
|GT1545T||1||4||60.24"||(153.0cm)||8.66"||(22.0cm)||16.73"||(42.5cm)||2.34 lb||(1.06kg)||22.05 lb||(10.0kg)|
|GT1555T||1||5||54.33"||(138.0cm)||7.87"||(20.0cm)||13.98"||(35.5cm)||2.27 lb||(1.03kg)||22.05 lb||(10.0kg)|
|GT2545T||2||4||60.83"||(154.5cm)||8.66"||(22.0cm)||17.52"||(44.5cm)||2.95 lb||(1.34kg)||26.46 lb||(12.0kg)|
|RRS TFC-14||1||4||47.6"||(120.9cm)||2.8"||(7.1cm)||17.2"||(43.7cm)||2.3 lb||(1.04kg)||25 lb||(11.3kg)|
|RRS TQC-14||1||4||58.5"||(148.6cm)||3.3"||(8.4cm)||17.7"||(45.0cm)||2.6 lb||(1.18kg)||25 lb||(11.3kg)|
The GT1555T model name is worth exploring. The first letter, "G", refers to "Gitzo". The second character describes the product type and "T" is for Tripod. Other letters used in this position include A for Apparel, "B" for Boom, "C" for Carry Solution, "H" for Head, "K" for Kit and "M" for Monopod.
The first numeric character in the name represents the series number. The higher the series number, the stronger/more-rigid the model is. Higher numbers generally come with a higher price tag and a heavier weight. Current models are available in 0, 1 and 2 series.
The second number in the model name refers to the material used to construct the legs with "5" indicating carbon fiber. Other representations include "3" for Aluminum, "7" for Magnesium and "8" for Basalt.
The third number in the model name indicates the number of leg sections the model has with this one having 5.
The fourth number is the release number, incrementing with each model line refresh. The traveler series has been around for a while, being on their 6th revision.
The trailing "T" indicates that this is a "Traveler" model. The Traveler models feature legs that rotate 180° for an ultra-compact, ideal-for-travel size.
Starting near the top of the tripod, we have the part that holds everything together. In addition to "chassis", this part is referred to as the "apex", "main casting", "spreader", "spider", "collar" and likely more terms I am not remembering. The chassis' size and strength are keys for the overall strength and rigidity of the tripod. Skimp here and nothing else matters.
Gitzo uses magnesium castings for the chassis and leg cups. As indicated earlier, the chassis is somewhat tall and very thin. While that design shifts the weight of the camera higher over the apex, the shape used is a very strong one and the chassis height adds to the rigidity of the design. The strength-to-weight ratio is very good.
Especially when using a ball-style head (usually my primary choice), the level of the tripod is often not important. That's good, because the Gitzo GT1555T Traveler Carbon Fiber Tripod does not have a spirit/bubble level. Gitzo does provide this feature on their current Center Ball Heads.
Perhaps not immediately seeming important to you is the comfort of the tripod in your hand. I carry a tripod a lot and any sharp design features where the chassis meets the top of the legs, the natural carry location, meets not-well-padded parts of the hand. Thus, a smoothly-design leg to chassis transition can make a big difference in the pleasure of using a tripod. In small models with center columns, pinched finger can also be an issue.
The GT1555T provides just enough room between the leg cup and the center column for my index finger to fit into and I feel no sharp parts for very good comfort. The camera being positioned a bit high relative to the apex gives it a propensity to tip over when the tripod is being held this way, so ... this point may not be so valuable in use.
A hole is provided on one side of the chassis, facilitating attachment of a shoulder strap or a tie-down strap to aid in stability.
Most tripods offer a solid top plate, a height-adjustable vertical/center column or the option of either with that last option being especially nice.
With a center column, camera height can be quickly fine-tuned and high camera positions are enabled without impacting the tripod's fully-retracted length. The huge disadvantage of a center column is significantly increased vibration when the column is in a raised position, especially at full height where the difference in vibration dampening is dramatic. Another disadvantage is that the tripod's minimum height is limited by the length of the center column, unless it is removeable.
The Gitzo GT1555T Traveler Carbon Fiber Tripod features a modestly-size center column that can easily be removed and replaced with a short column, facilitating a low camera position. Or, the center column can be reversed to place the camera under the chassis and in this case, the camera can be position upside down, right down at hot-shoe-on-the-ground level.
The center column is constructed of carbon fiber. That sometimes means the column is not smooth to use, but ... not in this case. The GT1555T's center column is quite smooth and has an anti-twist feature to keep your camera in the set direction during adjustment.
The substantial-but-narrow CNC-machined aluminum top plate features two set screws, preventing the top plate from turning loose with the head or ... with the head and camera. The narrow top plate means that a camera can generate a lot of torque relative to the plate diameter, making it easier to have a head or top plate turn loose. For that reason, I suggest carrying the camera independent of the tripod as even gravity will often turn a camera-mounted head or top plate loose if it is not installed really tightly.
The tripod head mount screw is reversible with 1/4"-20 & 3/8"-16 thread sizes available to fit nearly all available head models and a wide variety of other accessories.
Unless you are only going to use the tripod on a completely flat surface, typically a floor, you want a tripod model with independent leg spread. You want your DSLR tripod legs to open at various angles to accommodate whatever terrain you may encounter.
Models having independent leg spread feature angle stops around the leg pivot axles and this seemingly basic design feature plays an important role in the tripod's functionality. One of the primary tripod design observations to make is how strongly the leg angle stops meet the stops provided on the chassis. Is the stop a weak little tab that protrudes from the chassis? The latter invites failure and consider that failure may mean your camera and lens hitting the ground. Or, is there solid material between the chassis and the leg lock?
While I wouldn't classify the leg angle stops on this tripod as huge, they are adequately substantial and force is properly directed from the legs up into the apex of the tripod for a solid hook-up.
Most tripod models offer multiple stop angles and the specific angles offered are seldom a strong differentiator between models. But, the Gitzo Traveler series tripods offer only two angles, 25° and 70°, with near-90° being a notable omission.
The leg locks are spring-loaded and snap into the next lock position when not held open. Unlike most not-traveling tripod designs, these locks slide to the side instead of outward. I don't always prefer this movement direction, but it is mostly because I most often use the larger tripods and am most-familiar with their functionality. The GT1555T's locks work perfectly fine.
Don't like the force required to spread the legs? Loosen or tighten the axle bolts. Brass bushings keep leg angle movements very smooth.
Like the chassis, the legs are a critical part of a tripod. Perhaps the primary consideration for tripod legs is what they are constructed of with aluminum and carbon fiber being the two most-common options.
What are the advantages of a carbon fiber tripod? Carbon fiber models are typically lighter than equally-weight-rated aluminum models and that is often a primary consideration for photographers, especially those this model is targeted to. But, another big carbon fiber advantage is its ability to better dampen vibrations.
Carbon fiber does not transfer heat as easily as aluminum and if using the tripod in cold temperatures, you will much-appreciate holding the carbon fiber model. Also for consideration is that carbon fiber is less susceptible to corrosion than aluminum – especially if used in/around salt water.
Aluminum is a great material and its primary advantage in tripod form is low cost. Aluminum dents and bends while carbon fiber breaks. Neither is good and the latter is less likely, but dented and/or bent may remain usable. Carbon fiber is my nearly-exclusive choice and the GT1555T's leg section tubes are Gitzo's great-looking and great-performing Carbon eXact 6x carbon fiber.
Another important aspect to tripod selection is leg section length and the number of sections per leg. Roughly, the number of leg sections times the length of the sections (minus some overlap and plus the chassis height) determines the maximum height of the tripod. Also, the length of sections is a strong factor in the minimum height and retracted length.
Because there is one leg lock on each leg section joint, tripods with more leg sections have more locks and for that reason, they generally cost modestly more. Increasing the number of leg sections also increases the set up and take-down time. With each leg section having a smaller diameter than the one above it, tripods with more leg sections generally have a narrower lower leg section than the equivalent tripod with fewer leg sections.
I generally don't find the stability of the thinner lower leg section to be an issue in quality models, and the thicker legs sections in this model revision are to its advantage.
Most tripods have multiple legs sections, allowing them to be set up at various heights or retracted compactly. This means that leg section locks are needed and a photographer's first choice is usually between lever/flip-locks and twist locks. I've used both and much-prefer the twist locks.
What are the downsides to flip-locks? Some can pinch your fingers (its painful). They are loud if not being very carefully closed (and closing slowing may lead to the first downside). The levers can catch on camera straps, backpack straps, branches, etc. And, I find the levers to be considerably slower to use.
Twist locks, especially the short-rotation designs featured in all Gitzo carbon fiber tripods, are fast to use and fast can be very important. Some may argue that you only extend your tripod legs once when shooting and that speed is therefore not important. For some that may be the case, but hopefully you do not walk up to a scene and automatically select full standing height, instead analyzing the scene and selecting the right camera height from a composition perspective. Hopefully you also vary that height.
When retracted, all four of the GT1555T's legs extension locks on each leg can be simultaneously grasped and twisted 1/4 turn. Follow the three quick turns with a grasp of all three feet and pull away from the chassis to simultaneously extend all the legs (these legs slide very smoothly even when new). Separate the legs slightly and give each leg lock the short turn that is needed to tighten it, working from bottom to top. Splay the legs and the tripod is ready to go (at full height). Reverse the process to retract the tripod. Moving quickly, you can set the GT1555T up and take it down twice in under a minute.
While lever locks can be adjusted to hold solidly against leg section retraction, that often means a very tight lever and a very loud snap upon tightening. Wildlife may not appreciate that sound and those in a quiet venue surely will not. Quality twist locks hold very tightly with only a moderately-strong, silent twist.
Want to know how strong a tripod's leg locks are? Fully extend one leg, tighten the leg locks and, while keeping the leg vertical (not spread), pull straight down, gradually increasing pressure until significant weight is applied. Note that exceeding the weight limit of a tripod could break it (I do so at my own risk), but quality leg locks will not retract under the pressure of my weight (170 lbs / 77 kg). That is asking a lot from this compact model, but the scale read over 100 lbs (45 kg) before an only-moderately-tight leg lock began to slip. That's impressive.
To further test the strength of a tripod, also testing the chassis' strength, I fully extend the tripod legs, spread them to the first stop on a non-slippery surface and then hang from them. Again, exceeding the weight limit risks breaking the tripod (and there is a chance that I will hit the ground fast if that happens). The GT1555T's legs show some flex beginning, but amazingly, this little tripod holds my entire weight. With that data point, I know that the Gitzo GT1555T Traveler Carbon Fiber Tripod is up to holding even my most valuable gear.
Important to me is that the leg sections do not rotate when unlocked, allowing any individual leg lock to be tightened before others. Most quality tripods made today support this feature and the Gitzo GT1555T Traveler Carbon Fiber Tripod also checks that feature box.
Lateral rigidity is a primary responsibility for the leg section locks. Applying lateral pressure (but not too much as this is a breakage risk) to fully locked legs will quickly illuminate any play and/or flex that exists. Also, with modest pressure on the top plate, a tap to the middle of the extended leg will cause visible vibration. How quickly that vibration dissipates is the observation to make during this test. With the relatively narrow leg section tubes and small locks, I expected to see noticeable vibration and play, but ... I'm really impressed by the performance of these legs and locks. There is only a very small amount of flex and vibrations quickly dissipate.
The snappy haptic feedback of Gitzo's small metal "Traveler G-locks" is great. These locks turns firmly until loosened with a noticeable difference in rotational resistance felt. These locks have a grippy rubber surface, yet they are quite comfortable to use.
The GT1555T's removeable compact rubber feet are nicely designed and they work ideally. They simply do their job well.
Included with the GT1555T is a shoulder strap as shown below.
I started the GT1555T's gear capacity testing by putting a Canon EOS 5Ds R and Canon EF 600mm f/4 L IS II USM Lens on top of the fully-extended GT1555T. Indoors, vibrations took roughly 7-8 seconds to dissipate. This duration says to me that the tripod is being used beyond its realistic load capacity and even a light wind outdoors would set up unending vibrations. That said, if a fast-enough shutter speed was used (and image stabilization was helping out), it is possible to make 600mm f/4 work on top of the GT1555T. Of course, this is a very top-heavy setup and caution would be required in this regard.
As the center column is retracted, vibrations slowly diminished, but even with the center column fully retracted, vibrations still lasted around 6 seconds, a rather long time. Retract the leg sections and the center column and vibrations from the 600mm f/4 lasted only about 1-2 seconds, similar to some of the best full-size tripods fully extended. That is impressive performance from this little tripod.
I next mounted a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens to the 5Ds R. With 400mm vibrations lasting 1-2 seconds with the legs full extended and center column retracted, I'd give this use the green light. Vibration duration increased (as they always do) when the center column was extended and at 4 seconds fully extended, I'd hesitate to use this combination for slower shutter speeds without image stabilization. Retract the lens to 100mm and the fully-extended GT1555T settled out vibrations in about 2 seconds, indicating to me that it handles this load nicely.
Overall, relatively-speaking, this little tripod turns in exceptional load capacity.
You likely have figured out by now that this is a quality-built tripod model. I don't see any part or design that was sacrificed for economic reasons. Gitzo backs up their quality statement by providing a "Limited 2-Year Warranty Extendable to 7 Years with Registration".
The right tripod head can make a huge difference in your experience with a tripod and in your results. Do not let your head to be the limiting factor.
Gitzo manufactures my first choice for the GT155T and that is the model-matched Gitzo GH1382TQD Series 1 Traveler Center Ball Head. This is the head shown attached in many of the product images in this review. Especially helpful is that this compact but great-performing head is narrow enough to permit the GT1555T's legs to fold completely into place. This combination works (and looks) great together and is available at a savings in a kit aptly called Gitzo GT1555T Series 1 Traveler Carbon Fiber Tripod with Center Ball Head.
Cheap, low-quality tripods are usually a waste of money. They will leave you disillusioned to what a tripod can do for you and will dissuade you from using one at all. Your time is valuable and researching the purchase of a tripod costs you in that regard. The cost of a tripod failing, either mechanical failure or failure to function at a satisfactory level, can be far higher and this results in having to invest the research time over again. Of course, paying for a replacement tripod is similarly inefficient.
Buy right the first time and spend your time photographing. Using a high quality model will potentially greatly increase your image quality and be a pleasure to use and carry with you. I do not remember talking to a single photographer that wished they would have purchased a lower-grade model.
The Gitzo GT1555T Traveler Carbon Fiber Tripod is a premier model and priced as such. I purchased the reviewed tripod, specifically the "GT1555TUS" version, retail/online.
My most-frequent use of a travel tripod is as a second tripod for using two cameras simultaneously and as a backup to a larger, heavier, more-rigid primary tripod. When flying, I most often pack both in the middle of a quality checked bag, surrounded by clothes and other cases, and often in a case of their own. I can pack a small tripod inside the legs of the larger one and thanks to the travel tripod's ultra-light weight, I generally do not have a problem making checked bag weight limits even with two tripods in the bag. Another good idea is to pack primary and secondary tripods in separate checked bags to increase the odds of one showing up at the destination.
Of course, taking the tripod as carry-on provides the highest probability of it reaching the destination with you and this one is among the easiest to take in the plane. For many, the GT1555T will easily be utilized for primary tripod purposes when needs/wants dictate light weight and small size. While traveling is an obvious use for a small and light tripod, there are many other times when these can be useful including hiking/backpacking.
Having a high grade little tripod will also encourage you to take a tripod with you when you might otherwise forgo that wise choice.
Regardless of your need for a tripod, the Gitzo GT1555T Traveler Carbon Fiber Tripod's quality construction means high reliability and its high performance means that your images will be optimal. Those factors also mean that you can enjoy your traveling, hiking, etc. without dealing with tripod frustration.
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