As a nature photographer specialising in macro photography, a tripod is an essential piece of equipment, but something I only started using a couple of years ago and have noticed a huge difference on the quality of my images. I can spend anywhere from 30 minutes to over 2 hours with the same individual plant or invertebrate in the same position and working in such close proximity means having a free hand to be able to add additional light can be the difference between achieving the shot I’m looking for and not. The conditions can be challenging and vary greatly over just a couple of hours, from 4˚C and thick with dew to 20˚C and sunny so a robust tripod and head that can allow me to work in these conditions and close to the ground is essential.
I have been using the Gitzo Centre Ball Head (GH1780QR) paired with the Gitzo Traveller Tripod (GT1544T) which has been a great sturdy kit but the legs don’t lock low to the ground and although you can get the tripod flat to the ground it is not locked and can move slightly. The central column was not the easiest to remove in the field as it requires an additional tool to remove a screw, so I was intrigued to try the new Centre Ball Head on the Mountaineer legs.
The Centre Ball Head (GH1382QD)
The technical part – The head has an independent pan-knob that is an improvement on the previous design which could be caught and undone easily, the pan knob allows for horizontal adjustment and is separate from the ball locking knob. The ball head has not only a ball-locking knob but also a separate friction control dial located within the ball locking knob but functions independently allowing for fine adjustments. The ball itself is coated with Tungsten disulphide (WS2) which is one of the most lubricious substance in world allowing from incredibly smooth movement and in conjunction with the fiction control knob you can achieve incredible smooth minute adjustments. The socket the ball sits in is a great improvement permitting even movement in all directions as the sides are slightly lower than in previous models. The plate is attached to the camera by using a coin, the supplied allen key or by hand which is ideal when you need to change over cameras and have forgotten the allen key or don’t have coin to hand, many plates require a coin or tool. The plate is locked into place with a single knob rather than a combination of two mechanisms meaning mounting and un-mounting the camera is much quicker.
My thoughts – A fantastic, robust head that is simple to use with smooth movements all around. The positioning of the adjustments knobs is convenient and they don’t get in the way and they are not as easy to knock undone as with some other models. The head is compact so there is nothing to get in the way of working with the camera and the friction control dial is inspired, a great addition making small adjustments much easier and smoother without having to worry about safety or huge movements. A great improvement on the ball head design and I’m looking forward to fully putting it through its paces next spring with the return of the invertebrates and wild flowers.
Mountaineer Tripod (GT1542)
The technical part – The mountaineer tripod is made from Carbon eXact tubes making then stiffer and more robust with the fourth leg section being 22.5% thicker than its predecessor and it certainly feels much stronger and capable of taking a fair amount of work load. The G-lock system has been redesigned inside and out and is now smoother and has been designed to reduce the amount of dust and grit that can get into the system, very important when working outdoors. The clip and built in spring makes adjusting the leg angle quick and easy. The central column is exceptionally easy to remove with no need for a specialist tool. Simply unscrew the bag/stabilising weight hook from the base of the central column, unscrew the unlocking ring that is located under the column’s upper disc and pull the column straight out, then reattached the head into the hole and tighten the unlocking ring. The tripod is capable of taking a 10kg load, although using macro lenses this is not something I have tested!
My thoughts – My personal opinion is that this is a vast improvement on other models. The legs feel strong and capable of taking pretty much whatever I throw at it while remaining light overall, I feel confident that my camera equipment is safe and secure when on the tripod even in wet and windy conditions. When I’m out in the field I occasionally need to swap from ground level to working at a higher level and the quicker and easier it is to remove and replace the central column the better and especially without the need for any additional tools which may get dropped or lost. The ability to easily remove the central column on this model is brilliant and can be completed in just a couple of minutes. Very occasionally I need to work closer to the ground that the open legs will allow, but don’t want to put my camera directly on the ground, particularly on heave dew mornings, that’s where being able to up turn the central column comes in very handy although it does take some getting used to using the camera upside down! Overall the mountaineer tripod is much sturdier than my previous tripod and importantly for me the legs lock low to the ground proving vital stability when working with small plants and roosting invertebrates.
My overall view is that the Gitzo Centre Ball Head (GH1382QD) and Mountaineer Tripod (GT1542) are a perfect pairing for macro photography. Working in tricky locations with vary weather conditions, knowing that your tripod can take it give real peace of mind and for anyone looking for a robust yet lightweight combination I would not hesitate to recommend this pairing.