Gitzo Tripod Break

I have discovered that using a tripod in deep snow should be done with care. I broke my tripod in Hokkaido as a result.

I've learned that rather than spreading the legs as wide as they can go before lowering the tripod into the snow, I should leave some room for the legs to spread further apart once the tripod begins to sink downwards. This is because the legs slide down at an angle - and therefore move further apart as they go deeper into the snow. So they need some room to spread out.

If the legs are already spread as wide as they can go before lowering the tripod into the snow,  the snow will try to spread them even further apart and this will put a lot of stress on the joint at the top of the leg (in my case - it fractured as you can see in the photo below):


My guide had some duct tape, which I forgot to bring this time with me (I normally travel with it - worth bringing - you can use it for many things) and it did the job well for the remainder of my time in Hokkaido.


I wouldn't blame Gitzo for this: there's only so much stress a tripod can take, and I abused it by forcing the legs to try to spread out further than they could go.

My tripod is now back to 100% functionality. Thanks to the modularity of the Gitzo system, I was able to buy a replacement column from  (around £100), and replaced it in a matter of minutes. Much better than having to go out there and buy a new tripod at over £650. So I'm very pleased. 

I might invest in a complete leg as a spare, for the checked-in luggage ;-) I seem to need spares of everything. Perhaps the next replacement part I'll be needing is a replacement-me !  :-)

Snow shoes for tripods

You may have noticed that I have a predilection for snow landscapes. They bring a certain minimalism to my compositions. As someone who has photographed in snow for many years now, I've always found it hard to keep my tripod from sinking so deep into the snow that sometimes it's much lower than I intended.

Gitzo GT5342LS included accessories, no longer offered. Note the big ski-pole like snow shoes. They were 'ok', but not really perfect. And now we have nothing.

Gitzo GT5342LS included accessories, no longer offered. Note the big ski-pole like snow shoes. They were 'ok', but not really perfect. And now we have nothing.

When I extend the legs (one of the many reasons why I choose to use a very very tall tripod) I can sometimes get round this issue and have the tripod at the height I want, despite the legs having sunk so far into the deep snow that it is often difficult to position the tripod exactly where I want.

On all my Gitzo tripod purchases, they have always come with an accessory bag that contains the items you see above: alen key's for tripod maintenance, grease for re-greasing the tripod after a major shoot (you should disassemble and strip down your tripod after it being in salt water at the very least and strip it down regularly to keep it working like new).

The bag also comes with some snow shoes. They look a little like the shoes that are at the bottom of most ski poles. I've found them in general to be an improvement on not using them at all, but they are still not ideal. They do not allow me to really get some kind of floating for the tripod.

I've been looking around the web to see if someone makes some decent show shoes for tripods. It appears that this is either a major oversight by tripod makers, or that perhaps the market is so small that they haven't bothered. 

I guess I may have to go and design my own.

Gitzo Giant Tripod GT5563GS

Since 2013, I've been using a tripod much taller than I am. I am six feet tall, and my present tripod has been the Gitzo GT3542 XLS tripod, which is over six feet tall. I've written about why I think the height of a tripod is critical to my compositions in a previous post on this blog. You can find it here.


Having a tall tripod is one of the most important criteria for me when choosing one (also, no centre column is important too!). Landscape is seldom flat and there are often times when a standard tripod is fully extended, yet does not reach my eye.

But the problem of tripod height is more critical than simply being able to have the camera at eye level while being perched up high on some slope, or whilst standing on some rock. Tripod height is a critical yet often forgot about component of composition.

Although tripods do not help us find compositions (really, you should go hunting with your camera in your hand before setting up your tripod, otherwise you will become locked-in if you attach your camera straight away), tripods excel at helping us fine-fine compositions. Their purpose is not simply to keep the camera steady. I often find that a composition can be greatly improved by some slight adjustment of the tripod placement. Hand-holding does not work because we tend to wobble the camera around while thinking about what we're photographing. Having the camera attached to a tripod allows us to take our eye away for a rest, and then reconvene. It also allows us to study the composition with 100% of our effort, because the tripod is keeping the composition steady for us.

However, when it comes to trying out slight variations of a found composition, tripods are rarely adjusted in height above our eye-level. Sure, there are times when we will compress our tripods down the way - below our eye-level so we can get closer to foreground subjects, or to compress the mid ground in our compositions. But rarely do we extend the tripod so the camera is above us. And we're missing out on so much by not utilising the space above our heads.

In the age of digital capture, shooting from above head height should be a cinch. We now have cameras with adjustable preview screens so we can compose from above our heads and still see what we're doing. This vantage point should offer up something quite new from the usual 'shoot at eye level'.

My current tripod is a Gitzo 3542XLS. It extends above six foot, so it's taller than me, and I've used it fully extended many times, either because I am on a slope, or standing on a rock and require the tripod to stay at my full height. I've even shot my camera from above me without seeing what the composition is, because I've known I needed more separation between objects in the frame that my normal height won't give me.

This week I've bought a new tripod. The Gitzo GT5563GS. It is a series 5 tripod, and is the tallest tripod that Gitzo offer. It has a height of just over 9 feet tall ! Even with my existing tripod - the GT3542XLS, which is taller than I am, I still find myself at times wishing for more height than it can offer. So this is why I've chosen to go for such an extremely high tripod.

The downside of going for such a taller system is the weight. It is 50% heavier than my existing 3542XLS model. So I'm a little uncertain as to whether the new Giant Tripod will work for me in the long term, and like any review of a new item that I've just bought, it's simply too soon to know for sure if the tripod is going to work out for me. So I will be sure to let you know how I get on with such a large tripod over the coming months, as I feel that at least a year or so is the only way to truly get to know a product well. Anything less is not sufficient.

If you are looking for a new tripod,  do think about buying one that is taller than you are. You won't regret it as I am always finding compositions that wouldn't have been possible with a tripod that only comes up to my eye level.

Really Right Stuff, in Europe?

If, like me, you like Really Right Stuff camera plates, ball heads, and tripods, and live in Europe, then I have some good news for you. 13

Although Really Right Stuff do not have any official distributors here in Europe, there are two camera shops that buy RRS components in bulk. I know this, because I asked RRS about this. Here is what Carla at RRS said:

"There are a couple of web shops in Europe who purchase from us in bulk (we give them a very small discount to do so), and then sell our goods on their own sites. It’s not a formal distributorship relationship – we don’t offer them any payment terms (they pay in advance, just like regular customers). But we will honor the warranty if you’re able to provide proof that you purchased from them. The two that I work with regularly are:

Augenblicke-Eingefangen (Germany)

CameraNU (Netherlands)

So if you love RRS products, wish to avoid being hit for import duty, and live in Europe, these two shops may have what you're looking for.


Tripod Height?

I'm on my fourth tripod in 12 years. Mostly due to the fact that it took me a while to realise that salt water is highly corrosive, and leaving the tripod lying around for a week or two, rendered it ready for the dust bin (even a graphite vice wouldn't release the welded together legs). But recently, I've changed tripod for one reason alone: height. Looking at many tripod websites, such as Really Right Stuff's dedicated page to recommending what sort of height you should choose for your tripod, I've come to one conclusion over a couple of decades of making images: get the tallest tripod that you think you can handle carrying around.

Tripods are only useful if you can handle carrying them around with you. So make sure the tripod has a weight that you can handle carrying for more than a few minutes. Otherwise it's temping that it might become a rather expensive door stop or piece of furniture in your home.

The tripod I currently own is the Gitzo GT3542XLS. This is my personal preference, for a few reasons:

  • I'm 6ft tall and it's vitally important to me that my tripod can extend well above my own height
  • I hate center columns, as they make good tripods into poor ones, as the centre of gravity is compromised
  • I hate center columns, as they get in the way when I put the tripod down really low (see my next point)
  • I hate using center columns turning them upside down to get my camera down so low (it's a personal preference - this is actually a great feature for some photographers and I often suggest it on my workshops)

I wasn't too keen on it having four columns. I prefer to have a tripod with three, as it makes for setting up - much quicker and a breeze. Four columns is often an added complexity, but not so with this tripod, because of its height, I often only extend it to 3 columns at most.

The reason for the height though, is that there are times when I find that I'm standing on a high rock, or the side of a steep slope. Those times require a longer leg to extend below where I'm standing. If it's a beach, then it means I'm standing on a rock, and one or more of the tripod legs needs to extend below the height of the rock I'm standing on. If it's a slope I'm on, then some of the tripod legs have to extend down the slope, if I wish to keep the tripod at the height I want. And that's the main crux of the matter: height is a vital ingredient to a composition.

If the height is not right, then the composition may suffer. I've had times when objects in the scenery touch other objects, or overlap, causing a feeling of conflict within the composition. All because the height of the tripod was not correct.

So there you have it. I have a massively high tripod these days, and I'm not going back to any recommendations to buy a tripod that reaches my own height (Really Right Stuff make great products, but their recommendations for height are not worth listening to).

If you're in the market for a tripod that can cater for all the compositions you see with your eye, you should be thinking of one that extends well above your own height. But you should do this with the consideration that it has to be portable to. A tripod can never be too high, but it can be too heavy, and if it's that way, you'll often find it left at home in preference for one where you can carry, even though you can't get it to work with all of the visualisations you see on location.

Cleaning your Gitzo

Every workshop I do, means my tripod often gets dumped into salty water. Salt water is highly corrosive, and if you're doing a lot of beach shooting, you should be stripping down and cleaning that tripod of yours after each outing. One of my clients from the USA, Mihir, sent me this link today -

Really Right Stuff have a short tutorial on how to dismantle, clean and re assemble a modern gitzo tripod. I've just run through it and it's pretty good advice. You may find sometimes, that you do need to use some grease on the threaded collars though - if you do - a word of advice - get the Gitzo grease. I've found others are not suitable and once mixed with salty water, can lend your tripod frozen up for good.

Arca Swiss B1 - Useless

So yesterday I had a client for the day and we went out to a location I really like to cover the basics of exposure. I'd brought my tripod and Arca Swiss B1 ball head - which I might stress, has been sitting on a shelf for the past 6 years because I found it too heavy for traveling with.

Arca Swiss B1 Ballhead - Useless

It worked in the house; I was able to demonstrate how it worked, got in the car, got to the location and found that the tensioning dial on it was completely locked, while the ball is completely free.

I've tried everything in my power to unlock the dial, but I'm still left with a ball that flops around and is now completely useless.

Why I'm writing this post, is because I don't rate reviewers or review sites. If you look through the web, all you'll find is site after site saying how terrific this ball head is, and then go on to say that it has a problem with locking up, as if it's a tiny, inconsequential issue. Stinking reviews, where clearly the author hasn't done his homework, has copied stuff from other reviews and has probably only lived with the item in question for a few days (if that).

I met someone once who wrote for gardening journals. He told me he wrote reviews to which I asked him "Do you ever write a bad review?". His answer was "no", because I'd never get anything else to review ever again.

It's like critics of plays, books, music..... why listen to some complete stranger about their view point, when you don't even know if they've written any books, music or plays. Same with reviewers of camera gear.... if they don't show you some stellar images to back up their reputation, I wouldn't listen to them.

This Arca Swiss Ball Head has a major flaw, and it's not something I would be prepared to live with if I were away from home. A locked up ball head in the middle of Bolivia, or even after a 4 hour car journey into the Highlands of Scotland is unacceptable.

Really Right Stuff

I love small independent companies that spring up to fill the gap where the large corporations just seem to mis the obvious. One such company that I really like is Really Right Stuff. They make excellent tripod heads as well as custom plates to fit your camera. I use an Arca Swiss style tripod head/clamp. It's the most effective way to secure the camera to a tripod. It's quick, and it's robust. I have no time to spend screwing plates onto the bottom of cameras and I am unwilling to have a plate fixed to the bottom of the camera if it has the potential to swivel off. The basic plates you get from Arca Swiss are enormous, clunky and they swivel off the bottom of the camera. Really Right Stuff's plates are specially molded to fit the particular make of camera that you are using. So they become a slightly added feature of your camera, whilst at the same time, don't get in the way. Oh, and they're light too. But most importantly, they don't swivel of the camera. So they're very, very secure.

I have the L type plates attached to my cameras. So it means I can quickly rotate the camera from Landscape to Portrait mode in a matter of seconds.

One thing that I have found issue with though is the quick release clamps that Really Right Stuff are making. The levers on them are simply too long, and they get in the way if you have a filter holder attached to the front of the lens. It becomes a real hassle to take the camera off the plate, because the lever is obstructed by any ND filters I've got on the camera. So I've had the lever on each clamp I own machined down to a smaller size. It now means I can mount and dismount the camera from the tripod head in a matter of seconds, whilst not having to take the filter holder off the end of the lens.

Gear should just 'work'. It should be transparent to use. If you're having to mess around with it too much, then it's getting in between you and the photograph. Get familiar as much as you can with your gear and try to remove any obstacles that you can. Photography is an emotional response to your surroundings, and there's nothing like having to fidget with some gear that isn't simple to really kill any inspiration that you are feeling.