The Gitzo GT3543LS Systematic Carbon Fiber Tripod replaces the Gitzo GT3542LS Systematic Carbon Fiber Tripod. These two tripods are very similar and I'll be using the original review as the basis for this review.
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. I have long considered the Gitzo Systematic Carbon Fiber Tripods as the best-available with perhaps no tripod getting as close to the definition of a rock than these models. While not inexpensive, these ultra-reliable and ultra-stable tripods have been my primary choice for over a decade.
While the GT3543LS is my choice for the ultimate tripod out of the latest lineup, its dimension and specs may not make it yours. Fortunately, with the Gitzo Systematic Series, you have a wide range of choices. Even though this is a review of the Gitzo GT3543LS Systematic Carbon Fiber Tripod, most of what I'm talking about applies to 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|
|GT2542S||2||4||51.2"||(130.0 cm)||3.6"||(9.2 cm)||21.9"||(55.7 cm)||3.8 lbs||(1.71 kg)||55 lbs||(25 kg)|
|GT2532S||2||3||53.5"||(135.9 cm)||3.9"||(9.9 cm)||25.0"||(63.4 cm)||3.8 lbs||(1.71 kg)||55 lbs||(25 kg)|
|GT2542LS||2||4||59.1"||(150.1 cm)||3.7"||(9.5 cm)||23.7"||(60.1 cm)||3.9 lbs||(1.78 kg)||55 lbs||(25 kg)|
|GT3533S||3||3||51.2"||(130.0 cm)||3.5"||(8.9 cm)||24.0"||(60.9 cm)||4.3 lbs||(2.0 kg)||55 lbs||(25 kg)|
|GT3543LS||3||4||57.5"||(146.1 cm)||3.5"||(8.9 cm)||22.4"||(57.9 cm)||4.5 lbs||(2.26 kg)||55 lbs||(25 kg)|
|GT3533LS||3||3||59.8"||(151.9 cm)||4.3"||(10.9 cm)||26.4"||(67.0 cm)||4.5 lbs||(2.26 kg)||55 lbs||(25 kg)|
|GT3543XLS||3||4||79.5"||(201.9 cm)||3.9"||(9.9 cm)||28.0"||(71.1 cm)||5.0 lbs||(2.27 kg)||55 lbs||(25 kg)|
|GT4553S||4||5||53.5"||(135.9 cm)||3.5"||(8.9 cm)||19.9"||(48.0 cm)||4.9 lbs||(2.22 kg)||55 lbs||(25 kg)|
|GT4543LS||4||4||62.2"||(158.0 cm)||3.9"||(9.9 cm)||24.0"||(60.9 cm)||5.2 lbs||(2.36 kg)||55 lbs||(25 kg)|
|GT5533S||5||3||52.2"||(132.5 cm)||3.9"||(9.9 cm)||24.4"||(62.0 cm)||5.8 lbs||(2.63 kg)||88 lbs||(40 kg)|
|GT5533LS||5||3||57.1"||(145.0 cm)||3.9"||(9.9 cm)||26.8"||(68.1 cm)||6.0 lbs||(2.72 kg)||88 lbs||(40 kg)|
|GT5543LS||5||4||61.4"||(156.0 cm)||3.9"||(9.9 cm)||23.6"||(59.9 cm)||6.2 lbs||(2.81 kg)||88 lbs||(40 kg)|
|GT5563GS||5||6||109.4"||(277.9 cm)||3.9"||(9.9 cm)||28.7"||(72.9 cm)||7.8 lbs||(3.54 kg)||88 lbs||(40 kg)|
Breaking down the model names shown in the first column above ... you probably already figured 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 obviously, 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 1, 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 fiber, 7 = Magnesium, 8 = Basalt. Obviously, the models being discussed here are all carbon fiber, 6X cross-weaved carbon fiber referred to as "6X Carbon eXact Tubes" 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 photographing 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."
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 not-completely-spread leg angles. Adding leg sections means the lower section tubes have a smaller diameter which can result in less stability. 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 current and most-recent tripods. Gitzo's G-Lock Ultra Twist 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) and at the high price point of these tripods, $10 is a non-consideration. I frequently 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 used a 3-series tripod model from each line refresh ("0', "1", "2" and now "3") and appreciate the advancement that each update has brought with it. I'll talk more about what the "3" 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 omission 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 (the difference in vibration is noticeable). Gitzo's quick release leg locks make it easy enough to get precise height without the center column and especially valuable to me is that 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 foot level. Most of us will need a step ladder to reach a viewfinder mounted on the GT5563GS at its max height of 109.4" (278cm). The XL and G models weigh and cost more than their counterparts and their folded length is at least modestly longer.
If a model is available with a 75mm video half-bowl, a trailing "V" will be present on the model name.
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 3-Series Systematic tripods.
And, here is another Gitzo-provided graphic showing the previous model versions:
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 current favorite), the 57.5" (146cm) 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 GT3543LS tripod and be at precise eye-level height. Found in the GT3542LS, but missing in the GT3543LS is a laser mark in the first/largest leg extension, permiting 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 2-series model I've used could hold my own weight and, fully extended on an epoxy-coated concrete floor, the GT3543LS very easily holds my 170 lb (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 often I 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.
New with the GT3542LS and once again adopted by the GT3543LS (shown above) 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 and the new design came with a significantly increased load rating. It 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 spider design looks heavier and it is. Here is a specifications chart comparing the GT3543LS and the two predecessors.
|Load Capacity||55 lbs||(25kg)||55 lbs||(25kg)||39.6 lbs||(18kg)|
|Spec Weight||4.5 lbs||(2.05kg)||4.3 lbs||(1.95kg)||3.8 lbs||(1.72kg)|
|Actual Weight||4.3 lbs||(1.95kg)||4.3 lbs||(1.95kg)||4.0 lbs||(1.81kg)|
The difference in specified weight between each model revision is insubstantial, but the .7 lbs (.33kg) between the version 1 and version 3 is starting to add up modestly. My precise digital scale tells a different story as seen in the bottom row of the chart. The version 2 tripod gained a very small amount of weight and the version 3 gained no weight over the 2.
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 we are looking at the top castings and plates, now is a good time to discuss a couple of other carry-over updates from the previously released 3-Series tripod models. The first is the ratchet locking lever as shown below in the version 2 model.
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 version 2 feature update was 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. Those carrying tripods over their shoulder with a large camera and lens mounted will know the importance of the top plate remaining attached. The new button and its release can be seen in the machined area at the top-center of this version 2 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) GT5563GS 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.
Beefed up on the release "2" tripods are the angle lock supports on the legs and the version 3 models are similar in this regard. As opposed to the quick diameter reduction just below the angle lock set on the version 1 tripods, the version 2 angle lock supports have a stronger smooth taper down to near-leg diameter and the version 3 design remains unchanged.
The version 2 angle lock sets were enlarged, with a small flare provided for easier finger access to pull the lock sets outward. The version 3 angle locks are larger still and easier to use with gloves on. An additional improvement is a spring-loaded angle lock design. Though it requires a bit more conscious effort to use these locks as quietly as the older design (the only downside I can see), they hold open while leg angles are adjusted and the big benefit is that they provide a ratchet function when the legs are moved toward their folded position. When you are done using the legs spread wide, simply pull the legs inward and the locks will grab onto each next angle stop. This is a nice feature and the angle locks seem higher grade overall.
Each leg can be independently set to 24°, 55° and 90° angles. Pull the lock sets completely out to go right down to the 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 added to the minimum height in this position.
All of the Gitzo Systematic tripods feature fast, laterally rigid and very strong "G-Lock" leg locks. The quality of these locks is one of the features that make these tripods so great. With a short, roughly 1/8 rotation, these twist locks quietly go from locked tight to fully released and vice versa.
With one short turn, one hand can twist all three locks on each leg 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 version 3 tripod gets upgraded leg locks. Gitzo's G-Lock Ultra twist-locks, shown below the version 2 locks in the above image. An O-ring is included to keep dirt, dust, and moisture from causing joint damage. The downside is that the locks are slightly harder to turn as they are in constant contact with the O-ring. While this difference was obvious when I first started using the GT3543LS, I quickly grew used to it.
One of the Gitzo Systematic tripods' best features has been the overall rigidity facilitated in part by the leg locks and I totally expected this one to at least meet and more likely exceed that of its predecessor. To compare the two tripods, I fully extended them side-by-side on an indoor flagstone-over-concrete floor (rock solid with grip for the feet). With identical Arca-Swiss Z1 Ball Heads installed on each, I locked a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens first onto the GT3543LS. I was immediately surprised at the amount of vibration showing and switched the lens to the older tripod's head. The vibrations dissipated noticeably quicker as I expected to see on the new one. After re-tightening all leg locks, insuring that the legs were properly spread, checked foot tightness and checked head tightness (all adjustments), I continued back and forth testing between the tripods and then swapped tripod heads to insure they were not influencing the difference. It was obvious that vibrations such as a tap mid-tripod-leg or on the camera body lasted at least twice as long on the GT3543LS as they did on the GT3542LS (4 seconds vs 2 seconds for example).
Surprised? Yes. Disappointed? Definitely. But, we must keep in mind that I was exceeding Gitzo's focal length recommendation of the previous version (400mm) by 50% and that the difference between the two is very small. Still, it is hard to see a product that I love and rely on take a step backwards and I use that lens on this tripod with frequency. In the field, vibration sources such as wind are common and any help in dampening them is welcomed.
The tripod feet shown above are delivered installed. I use my tripod outdoors a lot and these are not the feet I am interested in using. By inserting the included hex wrench into the center of the feet when aligned as the center foot above is, the foot can be unscrewed and the non-pivoting foot shown in the first image in this review can be installed. Of course, any dirt packed into this hole will make the removal more challenging. The above two foot options are included in the box and there is supposed to be a spiked foot option available, though these were not in the box.
Notice the hole in side of the top casting/spider in the GT3542LS product image below?
This attachment point is no longer provided, but it has been replaced by a much more useful 3/8"-16 Easy Link threaded attachment insert.
If the accessory has 3/8"-16 male threads, it can probably be used here. The range of options is huge.
Add a Magic Arm, flex arm, flash adapter shoe, LED light(s), monitors, reflector/diffuser holder. Attach a threaded stud to a Super Clamp and there is practically an unlimited number of functions made possible.
I've wanted to be able to attach a second camera to a tripod without using a long adapter bar on top. The Easy Link adapter and a double male 3/8"-16 adapter made this easily possible.
The Canon EOS 5Ds R and Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens combo represents about the maximum amount of weight that I would want to cantilever out over the tripod as shown, without any other balancing weight provided. The Easy Link adapter is a great new feature.
Gitzo tripods come in a very lightly-constructed dust bag that will keep the tripod clean and protect it from minor abrasion. I recommend purchasing a tripod case that affords better protection, including those by Gitzo (perhaps the Gitzo GC3101).
Gitzo's motto is "Focus on Forever". They have been around since 1917, and from my experience, they are designing and constructing to their motto. The Gitzo GT3542LS Systematic Carbon Fiber Tripod is the latest iteration of the no-compromise rock solid support that I've become addicted to over the last decade. The reviewed GT3543LS was acquired retail.
It took a while for me to decide to upgrade to the GT3542LS from the GT3541LS once the version 2 became available, but I came into the GT3543LS review fully expecting to make the immediate jump. 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 ensure that the support system is not a minimum factor in the performance of cameras and lenses being tested. For me, the Gitzo GT3542LS slightly edges out the GT3543LS due to the modestly lower vibration dampening and remains my ultimate tripod choice for that purpose, though the GT3543LS is superior on some other accounts – including its $80.00 lower price tag. The Easy Link adapter is a very useful new feature, the spring-loaded angle locks are nicer and the sealed leg locks promise to reduce maintenance and increase reliability.
I have not yet used a tripod support system that closely compares to the form and function of the Gitzo Systematic Tripod line. These tripods are among the best of the best. For a long time, the best photographers in the world have relied on Gitzo carbon fiber tripods for their careers. These models are not a small investment, but the GT3543LS or one of the other Systematic models could be the last tripod you ever need.
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