My name is Bruno D’Amicis and I am a professional nature photographer from Italy. I love to photograph in remote areas, often looking for my subjects in mountainous, humid or desertic environments. In such places I can enjoy the thrill of solitude and adventure, but also the privileged encounters with beautiful animals and the advantage of great light conditions. My wildlife subjects are usually rare and elusive species which requires a lot of time and patience to be found, but which seldom allow the photographer for more than a few instants to be photographed. On the other hand, the fleeting mountain light and ever-changing weather conditions make landscape photography in the mountains also a very dynamic activity.
Therefore, in order to achieve my photographic goals and do not miss unique opportunities, I want to rely on sturdy and trustworthy equipment, which is also lightweight to carry on long walks yet instantly ready for action. This is why I’ve been a happy user of Gitzo Systematic tripods for most of my photographic career. I have purchased my first Gitzo almost ten years ago and never regretted my choice. These tripods are thoroughly designed and perfect tools for the hard work. Although rather expensive, they can really represent an investment for a lifetime. So, if it wouldn’t have been for the kind support of Gitzo, which from time to time has provided me with newer models, I guess I would still be using the very first Gitzo tripod I bought!
Very often I reach my photo locations on foot and thus I carry all my equipment by myself, in a large, heavy backpack. Sometimes I want to photograph skittish wildife on a mountain top and thus I need to bring my 500 millimeters telelens along; other times I am up the whole night taking long exposures of snowy peaks under the stars with a fast wideangle. Therefore, depending on the length of the trips or the photographic goals, the weight of my pack might vary between 10 and 30 kg. Besides the photo equipment I also need to carry a lot of other things, such as clothes, food, water, safety items: every additional gram counts and, no matter what the subject will be, having a lightweight yet very reliable tripod with me is obviously a great bonus.
I am not a tech guy nor a great equipment geek; I like to keep things simple and do not want to be bothered by the equipment while I am in the field, preferring instead to concentrate on the experience itself and the photography. This is also why I love using ballheads to mount my cameras and lenses, rather than more complex gymbal or fluid heads. In the last decades ballhead models have made huge progress and although they might be less precise than other head types, I find they provide me with the reliability and ease to use I always look for in my photography. I like the simplicity of ballheads: I just need to slide in the camera/lens with its mounted plate on the quick-release, thighten it, control the head knob and I am ready to shoot!
As much as I am a really happy user of Gitzo tripods, so far I’ve never found myself completely comfortable nor 100% satisfied with their heads. Beyond their obvious quality and design, I’ve found them always too complicated or heavy for my taste. They also did not accomodate “Arca Swiss style” plates but Gitzo’s very own. And because of all this until now I always had to compromise and use other brands of ballheads, which I’ve felt were closer to my needs.
Therefore, it has been a great surprise a few months ago when I’ve received the news from my friends at Gitzo that a brand-new line of three center ballheads would come out in 2015. They had promised me these would be very carefully designed heads, lightweight yet with good payloads and extremely resistant. And they were confident that I would have loved them, abandoning the other brands. “Let’s see”, I thought, a bit skeptical…
Obviously with great expectation, months later I’ve opened the box of the larger model, the GH3382QD which Gitzo has kindly sent to me in order to review it in the field. My first impression was of a high-quality, sleek, and (apparently) very ergonomic product. Altough the aesthetics of equipment are surely never the most important aspect to look at while choosing an item, I must say that at a first glance this head really looked like a perfect match for my beloved tripod and it felt very good in the hands. My only concern was that the head looked a bit too small to hold my equipment (pro DSLRs and lenses from 15mm to 500mm), but people at Gitzo promised me it would work and so I really wanted to go out in the field and test it.
I was planning a trip to the island of Sardinia, both to photograph wildlife and landscapes, so I thought this time could be the perfect occasion to test this ballhead in very diverse and demanding conditions and see if it would eventually become my workhorse.
The first thing I wanted to do was to go beyond the surface and look at the head specifications in detail. As said, this head has a rather uncospicuous size and an acceptable weight of 0.77 kg, yet with a interesting (official) payload of 18 kg. The designers have opted for resistance and smooth movements, rather than light weight, thus the head has more steel and aluminium than magnesium or plastic. The ball and the column are quite large and this should help reducing vibrations. These are both featuring the “WS2 Coating”, a brand-new coating which should help preventing the irritating ‘stick-slip’ effect many ballheads show and thus allow a very smooth movement. Beside this, I am very happy that Gitzo has finally designed a quick release which accomodates “Arca Swiss style” plates that me and most of my colleagues nowadays use. Gitzo now makes excellent plates which are very easy to screw/unscrew. Together with the head, in fact, I’ve also received the long plate GS5370LD to try it with my longest lens and it seems very solid and well-built as well. You can also use the 3rd party plates, but then you might just need to remove the safety pin from the head to avoid interference (there is a key that comes with the head). The same quick-release features also a bubble-level which is designed to face the photographer and comes handy when aligning the horizon. You can close the release by screwing its knob, and once tightened it is very firm and solid.
After mounting the head on the Systematic legs I own, it took me just a couple of minutes to understand its functioning. What has drawn my attention is the large main control knob with the friction control mounted in it which is relatively big and easy to regulate thanks to its ergonomics. Once completely free, the head movement is very very smooth. On the other hand, when fully tightened, the head locks well and even with my 500 mm mounted via the Gitzo plate GS5370LD there is no visible play nor “drifting”. Between these two extremes, one of course can set the desired friction control and simply tighten or untighten the main knob with a short stroke to have the head free to move as desired. But what is really unique about the GH3382QD is that is the friction which has the control of the movement. So, once you’ve found the desired resistance for the equipment you’re using and set the friction accordingly, in some situations you won’t need to lock completely the head: this will simply “stop” in the desired position and once you push the camera, this will start moving, a bit like a gimbal head. This is very cool and I’ve found out that it works with most lenses (up to my 100-400 mm zoom) and with a heavier telelens it will also work but as long as you keep the camera-lens setup parallel to the ground. It is obvious that this feature comes very handy when one is waiting for the subject to appear or needs to follow randomly moving subjects (like birds or elusive animals as in my case) and be always ready for action.
Also the pan knob is easy to screw/unscrew, even with gloves, and the panoramic movement is smooth, although I don’t like the fact tat this knob can be completely unscrewed (albeit after a couple of dozen rounds) from its lodging: if one, like me, often forgets it untightened and walks long distances with the tripod across the shoulder, the knob could theorically come off because of the vibrations and get lost. I am sure the engineers at Gitzo can take care of this and find a solution.
After two weeks photographing birds and landscapes in Sardinia, either in swamps, mountains or hilly landscapes I came to really like this small, big ball head. Considering the amazing performances, I like its size and acceptable weight. I’ve used it a lot with my all my lenses and by holding my lens/camera under its foot/battery grip and wrapping my left hand around the head, I feel can control everything with the fingers while keeping my right hand on the shutter, ready to shoot. By setting the right friction resistance in advance, I’ve been able to move my camera and reframe without locking the head completely. This has been possible also with my 500 mm but I wouldn’t trust it completely. In this way I feel I can forget about the head, while concentrating on the image. While hiking to one location, I’ve accidentally dropped my tripod (on rocks) and for my relief I saw that the head materials are so hard it barely got scratched. As already said, I don’t like the fact that the pan knob would come out if completely unscrewed and one must be aware of this and check it often. But apart from this minor nit, I really think the folks at Gitzo have really nailed a great ball head this time and the perfect match for their unsurpassed tripods.