Whether you’re a medium/large format photographer, a big lens shooter using lenses like a 600mm f4, 800 f5.6, Sigma 300-800 zoom or just after a solid base for landscapes and macro, one thing is certain – you need very sturdy support. Enter the Gitzo 5 series range of tripods and the mighty GT5541LS, or as they like to call it ‘The strongest and most accurate tripod in the world‘…
Update 2017: The GT5541LS has been replaced with newer models. However being part of the 5 series range and, as tripod legs don’t date the same way electronics do, the 5541 is an exceptionally good set of tripod legs to buy on the second hand market. Aside from design changes, the below is as relevant to more modern versions as it was to the old. Where there are changes I’ve note, I’ve made updates to reflect changes since first writing this review.
Weight: 2.8kg (6.3lbs)
Max load support: 25kg (55.1lbs)
Min height: 5 inches (12.7cm)
Max height: 59 inches (149.9 cm)
Storage height: 23.5 inches (59.7cm)
Width at widest end: 6 inches (15.2cm)
Leg sections: 4 (3 of which are retractable)
Official GITZO website
The importance of strong, solid, tripod legs.
I had been shooting with an aging (and borrowed) Manfrotto tripod for years. It had always served its purpose well and, despite its quirks, I had no real reason to complain. That was, until I started shooting with a 600mm – then, the stability of the Manfrotto stopped being up to the task and I began to appreciate the need for something more substantial. Like most photographers, I already knew about the quality and attention to detail associated with Gitzo. So, after seeing many long lens shooters out in the field use them I decided one of their tripods was the obvious choice, and given the weight I was looking to support the carbon fibre GT5541 LS from the Systematic range made the most sense.
A quick warning about this generation of Gitzo tripod.
Update 2017: The below issue was addressed by Gitzo with updated models. There is now a locking mechanism for the base plate built in to modern versions of the Gitzo range.
Before we get underway with the review I just want to bring something to your attention. When I first got my Gitzo, I noticed after the first day or two of use that the base plate was slightly loose. Easily fixed by tightening it up with the supplied allen key and after that I didn’t think anymore of it. However I have read on a few forums recently that some owners of other tripods from the Gitzo ‘Systematic’ range have had this same issue. So it seems they may, at times, ship with a screw that isn’t fully tightened. So please make sure when yours arrives that the base plate screw is tight before you start using it…!
The GT5541 comes in the usual matte black box with silver Gitzo lettering. You also get a supplied ‘bag’ which is more like a pillow case than a bag, so of no real use other than to keep dust off the unit when in storage! Also supplied are 3 allen keys allowing you to tighten and loosen everything from the leg hinges and base plate to the safety lock to keep your chosen head securely attached to the tripod.
Gitzo G-Lock leg locking
When out in the field shooting unpredictable wildlife (or chasing the ever changing light of landscapes) there is one thing that is essential…the ability to get yourself in position or change position fast. One of the great things about the Gitzo is the quick operation of the leg adjustment because if you need to lengthen, shorten or alter the angle of them you can – very quickly. And as I said, that speed is important when you’re out in the field as sometimes you don’t have long to react to the changes that are happening in front of you. If you need to reposition your camera in a hurry you don’t want to be fiddling about with awkward or slow release mechanisms. What is even better is all the locks and joints are designed to be chunky and easy enough to use even when wearing gloves, very handy for the colder climates!The Gitzo 5541LS whilst old, is a stunning tripod if you can find one on the second hand market.Click To Tweet
The legs are lengthened and shorted using the ‘G-Lock’ twist locks which are very quick to operate. A simple short twist will loosen the lock allowing you to pull the leg down, another small twist the other way locks it very tightly in place. When the legs are fully retracted, it is possible to lock and unlock all the sections with one hand…also, thanks to the way they are designed, the locks actually get stronger the more weight is applied to them.
The leg angle is also just as simple to operate. At the top of each leg there is a small Gitzo badge which doubles as the lock for the legs hinge. Simple push it out, move the leg to the angle required and push the lock back in. Below is a small animation to show the adjuster in action and the 3 positions you can have the leg in. Simple!
The lack of a centre column makes the tripod even more adjustable in terms of how you can position the legs. Rather than having all 3 legs spread out and away from the unit, one can be bent underneath so that the base plate sits at a pretty steep angle. This makes the unit very flexible in terms of being able to set it up in awkward or cramped spaces when combined with the other leg adjustments available – plus, the footprint with the leg bent under is much smaller than tilting the base plate with the legs in the traditional way, which may or may not be useful in some situations. Please be aware that care must be taken that the leg crossed over is not pushing against the hook on the underside of the base plate, if it does either twist the hook slightly to adjust it’s angle or remove it completely to avoid contact – it has been said the leg pushing against the hook can make the hook can, in rare situations, make the base plate pop out. But by simply adjusting the hook or removing it you will eliminate this problem.
Another possible use for this feature is, if for any reason you ever needed to get your big glass facing straight up in the air, you can – although a right angle viewfinder might be needed!
Weight, size and portability
Whilst the GT5541 is made from carbon fibre, it’s not as light as it might sound coming in at 2.8kg. But then you don’t really want something too light as the lighter your support the less effective it will be at its job. I find the Gitzo’s weight is reassuringly heavy without being too heavy to manage – but most importantly, and what really impresses me, is just how sturdy the Gitzo feels even when all the legs are fully extended. It never feels anything less than rock solid with not a single bit of movement in the joints. And the flexibility of the legs mean you should easily be able to get a solid platform to shoot from in the most uneven and awkward of situations.
When fully extended the unit should be tall enough for most with the base plate max height coming in at 59 inches – pictured here next to my friend who is 5 feet 11 inches tall. For those that need extra height, Gitzo produce a GT5561SGT that is even taller.
At the other extreme the 5541 can get as low as 5 inches from the ground…
At the time of writing I haven’t taken the GT 5541 on a plane, although I already know it will take up slightly more room in my case due to the width at the base plate end (6 inches from leg hinge to hinge). As far as travelling around the country go in a car, it’s obviously a none issue as it will fit in pretty much any car out there.
Other design features
A few extra additions to the 5541’s arsenal include removable rubber spiked feet:
A hook on the underside of the base plate to allow you to hang your camera bag or a beanbag from to help dampen even more vibration:
A spirit level to let you see at a glance when you have the tripod level and, finally, an extra lock (tightened via the supplied allen key) to make sure your head is really tight to the base and can’t be accidentally loosened or unscrewed.
Update 2017: I eventually sold my GT5541LS, as I replaced my 600 VR with the light weight Nikon 400 E. But even then the newer lightweight 600 VR comes in at under 4kg, compared to over 5kg for the old. With that in mind, I felt the newer GT3542LS would satisfy my needs. It’s lighter and packs down smaller, although doesn’t extend quite so high.
So does the Gitzo deserve the title of The strongest and most accurate tripod in the world? Well I haven’t used every other tripod in the world but what I can say is this…out in the field the Gitzo is a joy to use! It’s quick operation and solidity when you set it down really are very impressive. I’ve used mine in driving wind and rain on slippery seaweed covered rocks and never once felt anything other than total confidence in it’s ability to help keep my gear stable enough to get the shot – especially when paired up with a head like the Wimberley MKII. It’s not the cheapest tripod out there but when you need to support big, heavy and expensive equipment you don’t want to cut corners! As the saying goes…you get what you pay for!
Thinking of buying?
If you live in the UK the entire Gitzo range can be purchased from Warehouse Express.
And if you live in America the entire latest Gitzo range can be purchased from B&H Photo.