You have probably heard the wise advice suggesting that you "build your house upon the rock". This same advice applies to the support for your camera as well. And perhaps no tripod gets as close to the definition of a rock than the Gitzo Systematic Carbon Fiber Tripods. While not inexpensive, these ultra-reliable and ultra-stable tripods have been my choice for a very long time.
While the GT3542LS is my choice for the ultimate tripod model, its dimension and specs may not make it yours. Fortunately, with the Gitzo Systematic Series, you can have it your way. While this review is of the Gitzo GT3542LS Systematic Carbon Fiber Tripod, I will be talking about the entire Gitzo Systematic line as the similarities among these models are strong.
|Model||Ser||Sec||Max Height||Min Height||Folded Length||Tripod Weight||Supports||To mm||Marked|
|GT2542S||2||4||51.2" (130cm)||3.6" (9.2cm)||21.9" (55.7cm)||3.8 lbs (1.71kg)||55 lbs (25kg)||200||N|
|GT2532S||2||3||53.5" (136cm)||3.9" (10cm)||25.0" (63.4cm)||3.8 lbs (1.71kg)||55 lbs (25kg)||200||N|
|GT2542LS||2||4||59.1" (150cm)||3.7" (9.5cm)||23.7" (60.1cm)||3.9 lbs (1.78kg)||55 lbs (25kg)||200||Y|
|GT3532S||3||3||51.0" (129.5cm)||3.9" (9.8cm)||24.4" (62.1cm)||4.1 lbs (1.88kg)||55 lbs (25kg)||400||N|
|GT3542LS||3||4||57.7" (146.5cm)||3.7" (9.4cm)||22.6" (57.5cm)||4.3 lbs (1.96kg)||55 lbs (25kg)||400||Y|
|GT3532LS||3||3||58.9" (149.5cm)||4.1" (10.3cm)||26.9" (68.3cm)||4.4 lbs (2.00kg)||55 lbs (25kg)||400||Y|
|GT3532LSV||3||3||58.9" (149.5cm)||4.1" (10.3cm)||26.9" (68.3cm)||4.4 lbs (2.00kg)||55 lbs (25kg)||400||N|
|GT3542XLS||3||4||78.9" (200.5cm)||4.2" (10.6cm)||28.4" (72.1cm)||4.9 lbs (2.22kg)||55 lbs (25kg)||400||N|
|GT4552TS||4||5||52.8" (134cm)||3.3" (8.5cm)||19.1" (48.5cm)||4.7 lbs (2.15kg)||55 lbs (25kg)||600||N|
|GT4542LS||4||4||61.6" (156.5cm)||3.8" (9.7cm)||24.5" (62.3cm)||5.1 lbs (2.31kg)||55 lbs (25kg)||600||Y|
|GT4552GTS||4||5||94.5" (240cm)||4.2" (10.7cm)||28.8" (73.1cm)||6.0 lbs (2.72kg)||55 lbs (25kg)||600||N|
|GT5532S||5||3||52.2" (132.5cm)||4.1" (10.3cm)||24.7" (62.8cm)||6.2 lbs (2.80kg)||88 lbs (40kg)||800||N|
|GT5562LTS||5||6||58.3" (148cm)||3.4" (8.7cm)||19.6" (49.8cm)||6.5 lbs (2.94kg)||88 lbs (40kg)||800||N|
|GT5532LS||5||3||59.1" (150cm)||4.3" (10.8cm)||27.1" (68.8cm)||6.5 lbs (2.95kg)||88 lbs (40kg)||800||N|
|GT5542LS||5||4||60.4" (153.5cm)||3.9" (10cm)||24.0" (61.0cm)||6.2 lbs (2.80kg)||88 lbs (40kg)||800||Y|
|GT5562GTS||5||6||109.1" (277cm)||4.3" (11cm)||29.5" (74.9cm)||7.9 lbs (3.60kg)||88 lbs (40kg)||800||N|
Breaking down the model names shown in the first column above ... you probably do not need a diploma to figure out that the ever-present first letter of "G" refers to "Gitzo". The second character describes the product type: A = Apparel, B = Boom, C = Carry Solution, H = Head, K = Kit, M = Monopod and of course, T = Tripod.
The first numeric character in the name represents the series number, which is also the primary sort column for the above table. For tripods, the higher the series number, the stronger/more-rigid the model is. I have owned 2, 3 and 5 series Gitzo tripods over the years and can without hesitation say that all are exceptionally well designed and constructed. I appreciate the additional rigidity that the 3 series models offer over the 2 series models, especially when using heavier/longer lenses. Though the 5 series tripods are amazing supports, they are heavier and more expensive than the 3-series tripods. I found that I did not need more rigidity than what the 3-series provided and eventually sold my 5-series tripods due to lack of use.
The second number in the model name refers to the material used to construct the legs: 3 = Aluminum, 5 = Carbon, 7 = Magnesium, 8 = Basalt. Obviously, the models being discussed here are all carbon fiber, 6X cross-weaved carbon fiber to be more specific.
Carbon fiber tripods are typically lighter than equally-weight-rated aluminum models and at least as important is that carbon fiber better dampens vibrations. Carbon fiber does not transfer heat as easily as aluminum, making carbon fiber much more skin-friendly while shooting in temperature extremes. Aluminum dents and bends, but carbon fiber breaks. Neither is good and the latter is less likely, but dented and/or bent may remain usable. Also for consideration is that aluminum is susceptible to corrosion – especially if used in/around salt water.
According to Gitzo: "Gitzo 6x guarantees structural strength, flexion rigidity, and great vibration absorption properties. The performance of this multilayer design is unique and inimitable thanks to the advanced aerospace production technology and the exclusive inner structure. It is the highest-density tube that's 100% made of top-quality ultra-thin (7µm) carbon fibers – a 28mm tube contains 1.5 million carbon fibers"
The third number in the model name indicates the number of leg sections the model has. Additional leg sections allow more height and/or a more compact retracted size – either folded or in use at non-completely-spread leg angles. Adding leg sections means the lower section tubes have a smaller diameter which can be less stable. The additional leg locks can increase the cost slightly and can slightly increase extend/retract times.
I have not found the stability of the additional leg section to be an issue on Gitzo's tripods. Gitzo's G-Lock leg locks are very quick to use and having to adjust the extra lock matters little to me during use. The additional cost is $10 for the 3-series model (as of review time). At the price point of these tripods, $10 is a non-consideration. I travel with my tripod and the compact travel size far exceeds any negative aspects of the 4th leg section.
The fourth number in the model name is the release number that increments with model line refreshes. Starting with "0", there has not been a bad series of these tripods. I currently have a 3-series tripod model from each line refresh ("0', "1" and "2") and appreciate the advancement that each update has brought with it. I'll talk more about what the "2" update brought us later.
The "S" at or near the end of the model name stands for "Systematic". Gitzo Systematic tripods are primarily separated from the Gitzo Mountaineer tripods by the inclusion of a center column. If you are interested in a center column tripod model, you want to check out the similar and similarly-excellent Gitzo Mountaineer Series. The center column allows fast and precise height adjustment and allows taller heights to be easily reached. With a center column raised, few tripods are as stable as Gitzo's, but I've grown to love the absolute solidness of the flat top plate models. Gitzo's quick release leg locks make it easy enough to get precise height without the center column and the center column does not need to be removed to go down to ground level.
Model names including an "L" (for "Long") will give most photographers ideal eye-level height. If an "XL" ("Extra Long") or "G" ("Giant") is included, most non-NBA stars will likely be ready for overhead shooting or for shooting at eye level with the tripod positioned below your standing level. Most of us will need a ladder to reach a viewfinder mounted on the GT5562GTS at its max height of 109.1" (277cm). The XL and G models weigh and cost more than their counterparts and their folded length is at least modestly longer.
A trailing "V" on the model name (just one of these currently available) indicates that the tripod includes a 75mm video half-bowl.
As I already mentioned, models in the above table are sorted first by series.
Within the series, tripod models in the above table are sorted by height. Some max height variation can often be accommodated, but ... it is nice to have the right amount of height for your need. Following is a Gitzo-provided graphic showing the height of the Systematic tripods.
While there are times when I would like to have the over-the-head height available, eye level is what I need most frequently and a larger tripod is not worth carrying (or paying for) for the amount of use I would give to overhead shooting. With a standard DSLR camera (no vertical grip) mounted to a 4" (10cm) tall Arca-Swiss Z1 Ball Head (my favorite), the 57.7" (146.5cm) GT3542LS gives me ideal eye-level viewfinder height (I'm 6'/1.8m).
I especially like that I can quickly fully extend all legs on the GT3542LS tripod and be at precise eye-level height. Models with a "Y" in the "Marked" table column have a laser mark in the first/largest leg extension to allow for faster setup to a standard height of 53" (135cm).
The primary and secondary sort columns in the above table practically arrange the models in order of their own weights. So, the higher the series number you select and the higher you want the tripod to extend within that series, the more weight you are going to carry.
Interesting is that the 2-Series and 3-Series tripods are rated to support the same weight. The prior release 2-series can hold my own weight and, fully extended on an epoxy-coated concrete floor, the GT3542LS will easily hold my 170 lbs (77kg) frame while bouncing under it. The legs flex slightly while doing this, but the leg locks don't budge and the legs do not slide outward. It is very impressive.
I not only need to trust the strength of my tripod legs to hold valuable/important gear and keep it motionless, but I sometimes rely on my tripod legs to support me as I'm navigating off trail terrain. A big benefit to a tripod rated for far more weight than you intend to mount on it is that you will notice less vibration with what you do mount on it.
The focal length column in the above table shows Gitzo's guidelines for max focal lengths to be used on the various models. I regard these ratings as conservative and have regularly used large 600 and 800mm lenses on 3-Series tripods.
New with the GT3542LS is a spider/chassis composed of a triangular structure surrounding a circle. The difference in both strength and appearance is substantial and made especially obvious in the comparison picture below. The GT3542LS is on the left and the previous model GT3541LS is on the right.
The spider/chassis dimensions increased slightly to 5.3" (134mm) at the max leg-to-leg width compared to the GT3541LS' 5.1" (130mm) measurement. The new design, with a significantly increased load rating, looks more rigid and it is. In side-by-side comparison of these two tripods at full extension with a Canon EF 600 f/4 L IS II USM Lens mounted, I see vibrations brought under control modestly more quickly by the "2" version. At 300mm, differences in vibration become difficult to see.
The new design also looks heavier. And it is. Here is a specifications chart comparing the two models.
|Load Capacity||55 lbs||(25kg)||39.6 lbs||(18kg)|
|Weight||4.3 lbs||(2.0kg)||3.8 lbs||(1.7kg)|
I had not noticed that the new tripod was heavier than the old until looking at these specs. And having been using both tripod side-by-side, I was surprised to see the .5 lbs (.3 kg) spec weight difference. To attempt to prove that I was not losing my mind, I put the two tripods on my very accurate Avery-Berkel scale. What I learned was that the GT3542LS is accurately rated, but my GT3541LS actually weighs exactly 4.00 lbs (1.81kg), making the difference less obvious than the specs in the chart indicate. There remains a difference, but it seems very mild to me.
The diameter of the head mounting section of the top plate is 2.75" (70mm). A wider-diameter head base can be used, but no contact will be made with the plate beyond this dimension.
While the top castings and plates are staring us in the face, now is a good time to discuss a couple of other updates the release "2" tripods have received. The first is the ratchet locking lever as shown below.
The lever is basically a built-in wrench for loosening removing the top plate. A spring-loaded design allows the wrench to freely spin unless pushed into the head of the nut.
The next release "2" feature update is that the top plate will not come out of the spider unless a release button under the spider is pressed. Even if the top plate is loosened by a significant amount, a hook in the side of the spider will hold onto the ring until the release button is pressed. I tested this inadvertently. I was removing the top plate for the product pictures and couldn't get it off even with a very loose bolt. Then I remembered the new switch.
Those carrying tripods over your shoulder with a large camera and lens mounted will know the importance of the top plate not breaking loose. The new button and its release can be seen in the machined area at the top-center of this image:
You may ask, why would I want to remove the top plate in the first place? Good question and the answer lies in the options available for the Gitzo Systematic. Replacing the top plate can be a very low profile Gitzo Systematic Head, a Leveling Base, a Video Bowl Adapter and a range of geared and rapid columns. For example, if the giant 109.1" (277cm) GT5562GTS is not tall enough for you, add an Extra Long Rapid Center Column to gain an additional 67.91" (172.5 cm) of height for an amazing 177"/14.75' (450cm) tripod. That example is of course radical, but it shows the great flexibility of this system.
Pictured above is the machined flat center disk with an also-removable weight hook on its underside. Pictured below is the entire tripod with the machined opening showing.
Beefed up on the release "2" tripods are the angle lock supports on the legs. As opposed to having a quick diameter reduction just below the angle lock set, the new angle lock supports have a stronger smooth taper down to near-leg diameter.
Here is another look at the top of the legs from below.
The angle lock sets are now larger with a small flare for easier finger access to pull the lock sets outward. Each leg can be independently set to 24°, 55° and 90° angles. Pull the lock sets completely out to go right down to ground level 90° setting. Even the largest of the Systematic tripods will go down to about 4" (10cm). The height of the head must of course be accounted for in this position.
Moving back lets you better see the spider and top plate with the legs going nearly straight outward.
All of the Gitzo Systematic tripods feature fast, laterally rigid and very strong "G-Locks". With a short, roughly 1/8 rotation, these twist locks quietly go from locked tight to fully released and vice versa.
As you can visualize from the above image, one hand can twist all three locks on each legs at once to release or tighten the legs in the retracted position. When extended, a short twist of each leg lock will tighten or release the locks. G-Locks can be tightened and released in any order. If moving quickly, it takes me 15 seconds to take the tripod from folded and retracted to fully extended and ready shoot. Tear-down time is the same.
The standard tripod feet are show above as delivered. Hidden under the rubber cover are spikes as shown below.
Removing the rubber spike cover is accomplished by twisting/pulling firmly on each foot. Use the spiked feet in unstable conditions, or ... for self defense ... or, for survival if things get really bad.
The spiked feet can be removed (using an included tool) and included rubber feet or snow shoes can be optionally installed. Below shows the contents of a dust bag of accessories included with the GT3542LS.
Notice the hole in side of the top casting/spider in the product image below?
This attachment point can be used to attach a carry strap, to add stabilizing weight or to secure/lash/winch the tripod to something. I'm picturing this tripod winched to a piton hammered into the side of Half Dome.
Gitzo tripods come in a lightly-constructed dust bag that will keep the tripod clean and protect it from minor abbrasion. I have not purchased the permanent case for my GT3542LS yet, but plan to give the Gitzo GC3101 Padded Tripod Bag a try. It looks like the ideal solution.
It took me a while to upgrade to the GT3542LS from my GT3541LS. I just didn't see much reason to leave a product that was working extremely well for one that had what appeared to be only minor improvements. But I have to admit that I am happy with the improvements now that I have the GT3542LS. I don't need the three full-size Gitzo tripods in my kit at the moment and the resale value of these tripods in used condition is quite good. So, with the total upgrade cost, I can say that the new model is worth the cost to me.
Gitzo's motto is "Focus on Forever". They have been around since 1917, and from my experience, they are indeed following their motto. The Gitzo GT3542LS Systematic Carbon Fiber Tripod is the latest and greatest iteration of the no-compromise rock solid support that I've become addicted to over the last decade.
I am blessed to be able to use any tripod that I want to use, but I also feel that I owe it to you and the gear I evaluate to insure that the support system is not a minimum factor in the performance of cameras and lenses being tested. For me, the Gitzo GT3542LS is the ultimate tripod and my easy choice. The reviewed GT3542LS was purchased retail and remains a permanent part of my kit. I haven't used a tripod support system that closely compares to what the Gitzo Systematic Tripod line has to offer. For a long time, the best photographers in the world have relied on Gitzo carbon fiber tripods for their careers. This truly could be the last tripod you ever need.
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