For a long time, I fought the need to get a tripod. Actually, I fought the need to carry a tripod. I got myself a tripod early on. One of those relatively inexpensive, heavy (> 10lbs), and hard to operate tripods. A feature set that will surely endear it to you. Well, I finally listened to the age old adage…”What good is a tripod if you don’t have it with you?”. After months of research and some soul searching, I came to the conclusion I need a super light, compact, and easy to operate support system. I considered straddling the fence and getting a tripod that was small enough to travel with yet big enough for long primes. After much research I decided such a tripod didn’t exist (and I didn’t have any $3000 prime lenses). I needed to commit to a support system that I was going to look forward to carrying and would compliment my travel/urban kit. Knowing this, I set out to find a support system that would meet the following requirements.
I purchased mine here: Gitzo Traveler
- Fits into modest carry on luggage. (Yeah, I make images in airports so it goes on the plane with me.)
- If at all possible, I would like it to fit in to my Camelback so I can take it mountain biking.
- Under a couple of lbs.
- Ground set capability (means it can get really close to the ground for making images of flowers and interesting foreground elements).
- Rotating leg locks (I have had way too many painful pinches from latching leg locks).
- Rated for a 200mm lens so I could possibly push it to 300mm on occasion.
- I wanted to compose images both in portrait and landscape orientation.
This is what I settled on:
- Tripod: Gitzo Traveler
- Bracket: Really Right Stuff L Bracket
- Ballhead: and Markins Q3T
For images made with the system, click here.
The Really Right Stuff ‘L’ bracket allows me to quickly switch from portrait to landscape orientation. The Markins Q3T ballhead has some really nice features. The panning break is great for controlling the amount of torque required to pivot the head on its base. The control knob is smooth and easy to control which allows you to make very minor adjustments to your composition. Lastly, the head is strong. It seems like it could support quite a bit of glass.
Ground Set (removing the center column) can be accomplished in the field without tools. It is very easy to do and only takes a minute or so. This feature is great of making images of wild flowers or putting an interesting foreground element into the frame. I don’t think I would ever buy a tripod without this capability. It is very useful!
The Gitzo Traveler is unique in its design because it allows its legs to fold 180 degrees backwards over itself. Doing this subtracts the height of the ballhead from the overall height. The Markins Q3T ballhead is specially designed to be used with the Traveler. Its base is narrow enough to allow two of the legs to completely collapse against it. The other leg comes close, but is obstructed a bit by the knobs. It isn’t that big of deal, but worth noting.
At 16.5″ish with ballhead (below I have completey collapsed the ballhead clamp), the Gitzo Traveler w/ Markins Q3T fits inside my Camelback. I can pretty much take this thing anywhere. Whether I am hiking, biking, or going to the grocery store, I have a support system with me and the images I bring home are sharp!
- It is a question only you can answer, for me, I have found I am far more likely to carry this than a larger tripod. Not only is it light and compact, I can operate the legs and clamp with one hand while the other hand safely holds my camera strap and tripod neck.
- Ground set is useful for more than just macro work. It really offers a completely new perspective to your shooting. Because it is easy to convert to ground set mode, you will use it more ofter than you think.
- Gitzo only rates it to 200mm lenses, but I have successfully shot my 70-300 (non vr) lenses on it. I wouldn’t classify myself as a pixel peeper. If you are, your results may differ. Either way, it is has a steadier hand than I do.
- L Brackets are awesome! Being able to quickly change the layout of your composition is a beautiful thing. The Really Right Stuff L bracket is nothing short of a finely tuned instrument. It is light, sturdy, and precision engineered. Because of it, my camera and tripod are one!
- The one thing that is worth noting is the fact that it has a fairly low operating height. Although my doctor claims I am 5’8.5″ I pride myself on being 5’9″, and I have to bend over a bit if the center column isn’t raised. If you are taller than me, you might have to hunch over a bit.
- This is more of a side note, but tripod bags are worthless. If you are going to carry a tripod, make sure you can access it quickly. I am just as likely to take a tripod out of a bag as I am to use the 5 lenses I carry around with me. I use gaffers tape to fasten some plastic d-rings to the legs, then I just clip and old camera strap to them. That way I can just swing it over my shoulder. Works great!
- I have had a lot of success with this support system. It is the perfect team member of my “wide angle to moderate telephoto on the go” kit. Here is a list of lenses that I have had good results with: Nikkor 70-300 ED AF, Nikkor 85mm 1.8 D, Nikkor 17-35 2.8 AFS, Nikkor 16-85 VR II, Nikkor 70-300 VR, Nikkor 35mm 1.8 Asf DX, Nikkor 105mm 2.5 Micro AFS. (Hopefully no one over at Nikon gets angry for botching the accuracy of their model names).
- It’s true. The sharpest lens you will ever buy is a tripod.
- For the last year, this system has accompanied me on backpack trips, evening photo-walks, errands, and international travel. It has performed flawlessly in the face of daunting mosquito attacks, thunderstorms, and life changing sunsets.
- I haven’t attempted any super long exposures yet. The longest I have shot is 8 sec or so. I should go out and try an exposure in the neighborhood of a couple of minutes. When I do, I will update this page with my findings.
If you are interested in one, I purchased mine here: Gitzo Traveler
What good is a review without some action shots? Here we are in the wild!
Here are some images I have made using this support system.