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PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2008 1:19 am 
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Hi folks,

Those of you who followed my thread Tripod/Ballhead for Hiking will know that I finally settled on a Gitzo GT1541T tripod and an Arca-Swiss Monoball Z1 DP "Flip-lock" ballhead. The brief was for a lightweight and compact tripod and ballhead which was still stiff enough to be useful. The manufacturer's specifications are listed at the end of this review so, without further ado, here are some product shots.

    The Gitzo GT1541T Tripod
    Image Image
The first image shows the tripod with the legs fully compressed and the ballhead attached and this gives a combined height of 60cm and weight of 1.75kg (24" and 3lb 14oz). It is possible to fold the legs right over and, with the centre column fully raised, the length with the ballhead attached is then just 47cm (< 19") but the size of the ballhead prevents the legs from paralleling the centre column resulting in a width of about 12cm (4.75"), which is 3cm (1.2") wider than the folded configuration shown in the photo. The image on the right shows my recommended configuration in use - more on that later. As shown the bottom of the camera is 125cm (about 50") above the ground and clearance from the hook holding the backpack to the ground is 77cm (30.5").

Here is the tripod with the centre column fully extended. This adds another 25cm (10") to the height of the camera but, as will be seen, this is at the cost of some stability.
    Image Image
On the right we have the test setup with the centre column down. A 40D is attached to the ballhead via a Kirk Photo PZ-120 Arca-Swiss compatible plate designed to fit the camera. The lens is an EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM. The ballhead is more than capable of holding the weight of this lens, though I think just for one's peace of mind a tripod ring and lens plate would be a good idea for heavier lenses.
    The Arca-Swiss Monoball Z1 DP "Flip-lock" ballhead
As that last photograph shows, the Z1 DP ballhead is a clean and uncluttered design. Here's the head in a bit more detail.
    Image Image
At the bottom of the ballhead is the panning base and, immediately facing the camera, is the small lever used to lock the base and prevent undesired rotation. The large friction control knob for the ball is to the right of this lever and there is a small tension adjuster at 2 o'clock on the face of this knob. The tension adjuster isn't used in normal operation. As this is the "DP" version of the Z1 we can see a second panning unit above the ball. This is seen more clearly in the right hand photograph and the lever to lock and unlock it is on the left. The "Flip-lock" release mechanism for Arca-Swiss compatible plates is on the right and its operation is shown in more detail in the next section.

Provision of the top panning unit is optional with the Z1 ballhead but it costs little in terms of overall size and weight and can be really useful. Here's a close up which also shows the snug fit of the Kirk plate around the base of the camera.
    Image Image
The right hand photograph above shows the tripod with the centre column reversed and, as one would expect, the ballhead continues to do a fine job holding the camera securely. The tripod legs can be locked in a much more splayed position which may be useful depending on what you have attached to the tripod's centre column.

    Tripod plus Ballhead
The ballhead attaches to the tripod's standard 1/4" bolt. If you plan on using the tripod with anything that needs a 3/8" bolt then that is no problem as the tripod's bolt can be reversed to expose a 3/8" thread. There is no provision, other than friction, to prevent the head from coming loose again once it has been screwed onto the tripod. There are a number of home-brew solutions suggested on the Web, of varying degrees of permanence, but it's a shame that there isn't an industry wide standard to prevent a head from unscrewing from a tripod once it's been attached.

The second panning mechanism is, as already mentioned, an option on the Z1 head and that is also true of the "Flip-lock" release for the camera plate. Releasing a camera is a two stage affair. At the end of the lever is a small chrome knob and this is pulled away from the lever's axis to allow the lever to be opened to the 90° position. This releases some tension from the camera plate but if the adjustment is correct the camera is still held in place. The lever is released to the 180° position by pulling on the ribbed chrome rod revealed when the lever is at the 90° position. This sounds awkward but in practice it is quickly mastered and, unlike my previous experience with levers which fully open in one continuous motion, gives great confidence that the camera can be released safely with little danger of an expensive loss of control. A picture is worth a thousand words so here's the "Flip-lock" in action.
    Image Image ............Image
Also visible in that animated sequence is the notch which allows a camera to be used in a vertical orientation without use of an L-plate. The Z1 ballhead has an aspherical ball which means that as the camera's centre of gravity gets further out to the side the ball motion automatically stiffens providing an extra margin of safety against accidents.

The middle photograph shows how the G-locks on the legs are released. Like the GT1540T tripod before it the GT1541T legs each have four sections but this time they have the G-lock system. This allows all three locks to be grasped as one and, with the fingers more firmly tightened around the locks than I have illustrated, they can all be released simultaneously with roughly a quarter turn and as a result setting up the tripod is a relatively quick affair.

The light weight and compact dimensions of the GT1541T tripod when folded mean that, even though it uses the latest carbon fibre technology, it can certainly benefit from any extra stability on offer when in use. As the last photograph above shows, the centre column has the usual hook which can be pulled down and from which a backpack can be hung.

Whether stability is overly compromised we will see shortly but the next two photographs clearly show the benefit of it's compact size. The backpack is a LowePro DryZone Rover. Please note that the bag over the ballhead is not supplied by Arca-Swiss and is just a cheap lens pouch to provide some minimal protection from the elements when hiking.
    Image Image

    The Test Results
I'm not aware of a standard testing methodology for tripods or ballheads. In order to test stability I mounted the longest lens at hand, an EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM zoomed to 200mm, onto a Canon 40D to give an equivalent full-frame focal length of 320mm after the 1.6x crop factor is applied. Image stabilisation was turned off. I chose one of nature's test patterns and waited until after sunset so that I could use an exposure time of one half of a second at ISO 100 and f/8. Both the focal length and exposure time were chosen to give the tripod a tough test.

Preliminary examination had shown that with the centre column extended the oscillation induced by tapping the camera took about a second to die down so a half second exposure stood the best chance of showing the tripod in it's worst light. The tripod is much stiffer with the centre column down, with a higher frequency of oscillation which is much reduced in amplitude and which dies away in well under half a second following the "tap test".

Each test was repeated three times and although it was a fairly windless evening it needed some patience to get the shots while the branches were still. Here is the whole frame with an indication of where the 100% crops reproduced below came from.

    Image
I have split the tests into two groups, the first with the centre column down and the second with it fully extended. All three shots taken for each test are shown.

      Centre Column Down
    Image Image Image
    Mirror lockup and cable release

    Image Image Image
    Mirror lockup and cable release but about half a second after a tap on camera body

    Image Image Image
    No mirror lockup but with cable release

    Image Image Image
    Mirror lockup but with normal manual shutter button release


      Centre Column Up
    Image Image Image
    Mirror lockup and cable release

    Image Image Image
    Mirror lockup and cable release but about half a second after a tap on camera body

    Image Image Image
    No mirror lockup but with cable release

    Image Image Image
    Mirror lockup but with normal manual shutter button release

    Conclusions
With the centre column down the tripod provided enough stability to produce decent results on all tests except the "tap test" shots. The tap was to the side of the camera body and with about the force one might apply if one tapped one's nose in a "knowing manner". This is probably not a likely real-world scenario (tapping the camera, I mean!) but it shows that even a high end lightweight tripod has limitations. I think it's encouraging that there is enough stability there to allow the shutter to be released without the use of a cable but clearly, if you examine the shots very closely, using both mirror lockup and a cable release produces the crispest result.

The results are not nearly so nice with the centre column up with only the combination of mirror lockup and a cable release producing good results. Cable release but with no mirror lockup was poor showing that shooting with the centre column up is really only going to be useful in ideal circumstances or if there is no other option.

Operation of the ballhead is exceptionally smooth with a beautifully progressive feel to the main friction control. Using this unit after a pan and tilt head is certainly a revelation and it is the work of moments to get the shot framed the way you want it and then lock the ball. And, of course, using the freedom of motion provided by the ball to level the camera allows that top panning unit to come into its own, should you want to stitch a sequence of shots together.

While the ballhead would grace any tripod I imagine that the GT1541T would not find favour in situations where long telephotos are the order of the day and the photographer has to be hands on with the camera. For the landscape photographer who wants a tripod which won't break the back when hiking the GT1541T is a real contender, if budget permits. Most landscape shots are likely to be taken with wide-angle lenses and so any blurring observed in the test shots above will be much reduced. With a 20mm lens it may even be an acceptable risk to shoot with that centre column raised!

Finally, as a little gratuitous light relief after all those contrasty test shots, here is a 100% crop of the test area shot a few days earlier with the same setup but with much much kinder camera settings.
    Image

      Specifications

    Gitzo GT1541T ................... (U.S.A. Price check)
    Maximum height .................. 134cm/52.8"
    Leg sections ........................ 4
    Weight ................................ 1.0kg/2.1lbs
    Minimum height ................... 17.5cm/6.9"
    Closed length ....................... 41cm/16.1"
    Max height (column down) .... 113cm/44.5"
    Load capacity ....................... 8kg/17.6lbs
    Website ............................... http://www.gitzo.com/

    Arca-Swiss Z1 DP Ballhead . (U.S.A. Price check)
    Weight .................................. 750g/1.65lb
    Off axis load .......................... 55kg/120lbs
    Website ................................ None

_________________
Olympus OM-D E-M1 + M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8, Lumix 7-14mm f/4, Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 ASPH, M.Zuiko Digital 45mm 1:1.8, M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm 1:1.8.
Leica D Vario-Elmar 14mm-150mm f/3.5 - f/5.6 ASPH.
OM-D E-M5, H-PS14042E, Gitzo GT1541T, Arca-Swiss Z1 DP ball-head.
Astrophotography: TEC 140 'scope, FLI ML16803 camera, ASA DDM60 Pro mount.


Last edited by Bob Andersson on Tue May 13, 2008 9:55 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2008 9:17 am 
Excellent review Bob!!!! :)


Last edited by grahamnp on Fri Jan 02, 2009 7:24 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Tripod
PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2008 12:13 pm 
Hello Bob,

Firstly what a great review on the tripod, it was very useful.

After reading the review one thing that popped into my head is how well the tripod would perform when following a moving target or a target that constantly settles in different areas. I am a fanatical animal photographist and enjoy pet and wildlife photgraphy.

I would require a tripod that could be quickly re-jigged with ease. would it be possible to view a picture of a nesting/perching bird or somthing of that situation just for my personal benefit of use for myself?
A simple and common pigeon will be fine.


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PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2008 12:27 pm 
The only feeling that i had when reading the review was (Hey my name is Bob and i have the worlds best tripod for me) which is great. I can feel it in the text that your loving this combinations of equipment!

I though the tripod was going to be much heavier then it actually is!


I was just wondering (side not really) what the best way to check the stability of a tripod in a photo store, apart form folding it out and tapping on the legs and try to see if you feel any vibration or not?


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PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2008 12:59 pm 
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Hi Wendy,

Thanks for the nice comments and that's a good question! I think it's probably fair to say that any tripod is going to offer better stability than simple hand-holding except when the light is good. I really doubt that a lightweight tripod would be the best solution though. I'm way outside my comfort zone here but my guess is that a tripod built like a tank together with a really smooth pan and tilt head (unlike my old Bogen one) might be the way to go but I'm sure there are much more knowledgeable forum members out there with better advice than I can offer. :oops:

Bob.

_________________
Olympus OM-D E-M1 + M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8, Lumix 7-14mm f/4, Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 ASPH, M.Zuiko Digital 45mm 1:1.8, M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm 1:1.8.
Leica D Vario-Elmar 14mm-150mm f/3.5 - f/5.6 ASPH.
OM-D E-M5, H-PS14042E, Gitzo GT1541T, Arca-Swiss Z1 DP ball-head.
Astrophotography: TEC 140 'scope, FLI ML16803 camera, ASA DDM60 Pro mount.


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PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2008 1:04 pm 
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Hi Alex,

Well, it would indeed be disappointing if I had spent all that money and didn't like what I'd bought. I hope I tried to present a little balance, though, when I suggested that the GT1541T might not be the best piece of kit when photographing birds etc.

As for testing tripods in a store, why not take your camera along together with the longest lens you have and get the store to lend you the lens plates for the tripods you want to look at? That "tap test" while looking through the viewfinder is quite revealing.

Bob.

_________________
Olympus OM-D E-M1 + M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8, Lumix 7-14mm f/4, Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 ASPH, M.Zuiko Digital 45mm 1:1.8, M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm 1:1.8.
Leica D Vario-Elmar 14mm-150mm f/3.5 - f/5.6 ASPH.
OM-D E-M5, H-PS14042E, Gitzo GT1541T, Arca-Swiss Z1 DP ball-head.
Astrophotography: TEC 140 'scope, FLI ML16803 camera, ASA DDM60 Pro mount.


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PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2008 1:21 pm 
Hi Bob,

Was your previous tripod a carbon fibre model as well? I am curious to know how carbon fibre compares with steel and aluminium when it comes to stability. Is it more affected by disturbances such as wind? I would assume that even good design cannot compensate for the lightness of carbon fibre.


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PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2008 1:41 pm 
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Hi Graham,

My old tripod is a Bogen/Manfrotto 144B with a 3160 head which weighs in at 3kg. :shock: It's quite extraordinary how much heavier it feels despite being less than twice the weight. It's also sufficiently long when folded that it would make a rather unwelcome headrest if I carried it on the backpack in the way I illustrated above. It's good and solid though. I'd provide some Wibbly Wobbly Web links but memory tells me that when I bought it we thought that bulletin boards and modems capable of just a few "k" were pretty neat so neither seems to be shown on either the Bogen or Manfrotto sites. I don't think that carbon fibre tripods had been thought of then either.

Bob.

_________________
Olympus OM-D E-M1 + M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8, Lumix 7-14mm f/4, Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 ASPH, M.Zuiko Digital 45mm 1:1.8, M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm 1:1.8.
Leica D Vario-Elmar 14mm-150mm f/3.5 - f/5.6 ASPH.
OM-D E-M5, H-PS14042E, Gitzo GT1541T, Arca-Swiss Z1 DP ball-head.
Astrophotography: TEC 140 'scope, FLI ML16803 camera, ASA DDM60 Pro mount.


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PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2008 1:56 pm 
Thanks Bob but my question was about the stability of carbon fibre rather than the weight. Do you feel that CF is better?


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PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2008 2:44 pm 
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grahamnp wrote:
Thanks Bob but my question was about the stability of carbon fibre rather than the weight. Do you feel that CF is better?

I'm not sure how one would separate out the weight and stability factors. One of my frustrations in trying to decide what to buy is that tripods and heads just don't seem to be sexy enough to garner many reviews. I'll be the first to admit that while I've attempted to produce something useful in my "User Review" of the tripod it's not much use if you are trying to compare the tripod with another model. However, I find it hard to imagine there's a better ballhead at that size and weight.

Bob.

_________________
Olympus OM-D E-M1 + M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8, Lumix 7-14mm f/4, Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 ASPH, M.Zuiko Digital 45mm 1:1.8, M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm 1:1.8.
Leica D Vario-Elmar 14mm-150mm f/3.5 - f/5.6 ASPH.
OM-D E-M5, H-PS14042E, Gitzo GT1541T, Arca-Swiss Z1 DP ball-head.
Astrophotography: TEC 140 'scope, FLI ML16803 camera, ASA DDM60 Pro mount.


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PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2008 3:00 pm 
Oh ok then, thanks Bob. I was just curious about the differences between a CF tripod and a metal one having never handled the former before. Never see them in shops around here.


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PostPosted: Sat May 10, 2008 1:52 pm 
Bob,

Am I pushing this setup (although using a Markins Q-3 ballhead instead) and GT1541T for a canon 40D w/bat grip & 70-200 F2.8 IS


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PostPosted: Sat May 10, 2008 2:39 pm 
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Hi Theodore,

May I wish you a warm welcome to the CameraLabs forums.

I looked long and hard at the Q3 and the only reason I didn't buy it was the fact that the Z1 came with the option of a built in panning head as well as base. It seems to be a top class head for it's size and weight but, from memory, it can't begin compete with the Z1 for it's off-axis load rating.

I've never handled the f/2.8 but I know it's quite a bit heavier. I seem to remember that it comes with a lens ring so I think that has to be the way to mount it on the Q3 rather than putting excessive strain on the battery grip and an extra off-centre load on the ballhead.

Please believe me when I say I'm no expert on tripods but my test result above seem to show that you could get acceptable results with the 200mm f/2.8 with the centre column down provided you could frame the shot at leisure and, ideally, use a cable release. If you need to be more hands on with the camera during shutter release then I think something sturdier and heavier might be more useful, maybe with three leg segments rather than four. Just my neophyte's opinion, though. :?

Bob.

_________________
Olympus OM-D E-M1 + M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8, Lumix 7-14mm f/4, Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 ASPH, M.Zuiko Digital 45mm 1:1.8, M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm 1:1.8.
Leica D Vario-Elmar 14mm-150mm f/3.5 - f/5.6 ASPH.
OM-D E-M5, H-PS14042E, Gitzo GT1541T, Arca-Swiss Z1 DP ball-head.
Astrophotography: TEC 140 'scope, FLI ML16803 camera, ASA DDM60 Pro mount.


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PostPosted: Sat May 10, 2008 3:10 pm 
Thanks!


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PostPosted: Sat May 10, 2008 10:34 pm 
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Excellent review Bob!


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