I have a confession to make. Until recently, I was a tripod snob. For the past 10-years or so I’ve relied almost solely on my Gitzo Systematic GT3541LS legs – being a firm believer that a big, manly tripod is the only tool for the job. In the past, I would always look disparagingly at compact, lighter legs, dismissing their usefulness and capabilities based purely on looks and size. As they say, size matters… or does it? My rather unfounded, prejudiced opinions were recently flipped upside down after I began using Gitzo’s Mountaineer GT1542 tripod.
For travel, long walks and steeper climbs, a lighter tripod is a more practical, logical option. Using a lighter support made the walk up to this elevated view more enjoyable, yet the legs remained sturdy, despite the exposed location.
I’m a landscape and close-up specialist – two genres that traditionally rely heavily on the use of a tripod. When I’m shooting landscapes, or the coast, I’m often working in low light, using filters or trying to caption motion. Shutter length often grows lengthy and a tripod is essential in order for me to capture sharp, creative results. When I’m photographing miniature things, like wild flowers and insects, I’m working at high levels of magnification. Depth of field is often wafer thin, so a good tripod is necessary to enable me to place my point of focus with pinpoint accuracy. Further still, using a support encourages me to study my subject more closely, while aiding precise framing. I rarely go anywhere without my tripod.
However, my Systematic legs coupled with Manfrotto’s excellent 405-geared head, adds up to around of 3.5kg. This is a fair bit of extra weight to be lugging about on top of an already overflowing camera backpack. When it comes to stability and image quality, though, you just can’t compromise. The problem is, carrying too much weighty kit can stifle your enthusiasm to climb, walk far, or explore – things that can have a very negative impact on your photography. The length and weight of larger, heavier legs also makes them fairly impractical to travel with, and with trips to the Galapagos and Myanmar coming up later this year, I thought it time I identified a more suitable travel companion.
The Mountaineer might not look like a heavyweight, but it performs like one, holding a payload of up to 10kg and feeling rigid and stable even when all leg sections are fully extended.
I had not used one of Gitzo’s smaller Mountaineer or Traveler tripods previously and first impressions are important. So, what were my initial thoughts when I first removed the kit from its smart, iconic black Gitzo box? Well, if I’m being completely truthful, I thought it looked and felt too compact to meet my needs as a professional tog. With a closed length of just 65cm and weighing 1.78kg the tripod is remarkably small and lightweight – closed-up, it looks rather diddy. I wasn’t deceived long, though. Despite its size, it has the high quality look and feel you associate with Gitzo. And, once the legs are fully extended, you can immediately tell this is no ordinary lightweight tripod. The reassuring rigidity of the legs is remarkable given the tube size of the 4 leg sections (14.7mm, 18.7mm, 21.7mm & 25.3mm respectively). Each tube is narrow and light, yet incredibly stiff. The Carbon eXact design optimizes the fibre composition for each individual section – employing high modulus carbon fibre in the narrower tubes to enhance their stiffness. The legs extend to a maximum height of 171cm (with centre column extended) or 147cm (with the centre column down). As with any tripod, I’d avoid extending the centre column in windy conditions as doing so naturally compromises stability. However, in normal shooting conditions, you can shoot with the tripod at its full height without concern – I’ve now done so on a number of occasions without issue.
The new G-lock Ultra design is more ergonomic and comfortable to use.
I’ve always liked the simplicity and efficiency of Gitzo’s twist lock design. The latest Mountaineers benefit from the new G-lock Ultra design. The change is relatively subtle, but – ergonomically – the enhanced curved and indented lock is an improvement. Extending or reducing the height of each section is a smooth operation, requiring a short, quick twist of the lock. It is the best leg lock design I’ve used, while the redesign is also intended to reduce dirt, grit and sand entering the system. I also liked the Ground Level Set design. One of the reasons why I originally opted for a Gitzo Systematic is due to the fact I do a lot of low-level photography, and a centre column gets in the way, or can slow things down. However, the Mountaineer has an unlocking ring just below the column’s upper disc. By twisting this you can unlock and detach the column below, while keeping the upper disc and head securely in place. This really increases the tripod’s versatility, allowing you to quickly switch to a low, unconventional viewpoint. While I found reattaching the column a little fiddly to do, I found this extra functionality hugely beneficial in the field. While I purchased the tripod primarily with landscapes in mind, its low level capabilities have allowed me to use it for close-up work also.
In this instance, I wanted to select a low shooting angle to highlight the colour in the wet, reflective sand. It is quick and easy to release, adjust and tighten the legs thanks to their simple, but effective twist leg-lock design. The legs can be positioned independently and set to three different angles – 24°, 55° or 82°. I pushed the feet of the tripod firmly into the sand for extra stability, knowing the new G-lock Ultra design would help reduce the risk of sand entering the system.]
In kit form (GK1542-82QD), the tripod is supplied with Gitzo’s GH1382QD ball and socket head. I’ve long been a fan of geared heads and have always struggled a bit with ball and socket designs, finding them a bit fiddly and less precise. The GH1382QD is only 11.2cm in height, impressively slender, and weighs just 500g. However, it has a maximum load capacity of 10kg. My main body is a Nikon D810, which I typically couple with either a Nikkor 17-35mm, 24-70mm or 70-200mm for landscapes, or the Nikkor 200mm micro for close-ups. Regardless of the weight of my set-up, the head never struggled. Like all things Gitzo, it looks classy and feels quality. The movement of the head is beautifully smooth. It boasts a 360° panoramic rotation, with independent pan lock knob. It also has a friction control knob, which is neatly positioned inside the main ball locking control. The short, Arca-Swiss style quick release plate is also compatible with all of Gitzo’s D profile plates. The plate can be easily attached and tightened by hand using a small tab underneath the head and with a coin/screwdriver – thankfully, there is no need to mess about with allen-keys. Despite not being fond of ball and socket heads, I actually found the GH1382QD head very easy to use, maneuver and fix firmly in position. Initially I struggled to adjust, but after a few weeks of using the head, I was adjusting it intuitively. For the subjects I shoot, I still favour a geared head. However, geared heads are weighty and often bulky things. The GH1382QD is the perfect partner for the Mountaineer GT1542. Together, they provide a lovely balanced set-up – you will struggle to find a better match the legs.
Having now used the GT1542 in blowy conditions, fully extended, and stood in moving water, I can’t say I’ve ever been unduly concerned about stability. Despite its compact size, it is remarkably sturdy and reliable.
As mentioned previously, initially I wanted a lighter, more compact set of legs for travelling. However, having now used the Mountaineer for an extended period, I’m discovering other uses too. Like many professionals, I’m run workshops throughout the year. I keep my own photography to a minimum when I’m with clients, but I still always carry all my kit and tripod. However, I no longer lug about my heavier Systematic – instead I carry the Mountaineer, as it is lighter, less hassle and easy to attach to my camera backpack. With the legs being so light, they also lend themselves to being used as a second set of legs when I’m shooting close-ups and require a support to attach a bracket or arm to in order to hold LED lights, a reflector or a background in place.
Perched on the Cornish cliff tops, photographing the rugged coastline, using the Gitzo Mountaineer to capture the flowering pink thrift.
So, am I impressed? The short answer is a yes. Using the Mountaineer has helped dispel my snobbery toward smaller, compact, more mobile legs. While I won’t be discarding my faithful Gitzo Systematic, I have found a lightweight alternative that I can use confidently whenever I fly, travel or quite simply want to carry less weight. Does size matter – in this instance, most certainly not!
When I’m leading workshops and out with 1-2-1 clients, I now often carry the Mountaineer with me, rather than lug about my Systematic. I hardly know I’m carrying the tripod once it is attached to my backpack. I’ve had a number of clients look a little surprised that I’m using such a lightweight and compact support. However, without exception, they’ve been impressed with the GT1542’s stability – one client was so impressed, they went out and bought one!