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Gitzo GT3541XLS Tripod – by Mark Degner

April 17, 2009

Gitzo GT3541XLS Tripod

After 25 years I think I may have finally found the ideal tripod for the type of landscape, wildlife and nature photography that I do.   It is not from lack of trying, as over the years I have used and abused more than my fair share of tripods, from a number of manufacturers.  However, none have met all of my requirements to make them the ideal one, till now – the Gitzo Ser.3 6X Systematic 4 GT3541XLS tripod.  It is part of Gitzo’s Systematic tripod series that are their strongest and most stable.  The legs are carbon fiber, Gitzo’s 6X multilayer technology, so that they are light, yet strong.  The legs have 4 sections and extend and retract using twist locking collars that operate easily and smoothly due to the new Anti Leg Rotation and G-Lock locking systems.  An interesting difference between the GT3541XLS and most other tripods is that it doesn’t have a centre column.

gt3541xls1

So what are the requirements that I feel a tripod must meet for me to consider it ideal and how does the Gitzo GT3541XLS stack up?  First, the tripod must be able to extend to at least eye level, or better yet to well above my head, without extending the centre column.  So you might ask, why is this important?  To save your back, it doesn’t take very much bending down to look through your viewfinder to start having your back hurt.  If you extend the centre column to get your camera to eye height then you have lost the stability of the tripod and have a short monopod on three legs.  Now, I am about 6 feet (183 cm) tall so the minimum height (without extending the centre column) that I would consider in a tripod is 64” (162 cm).   There are lots of tripods that extend to that height, but there are few that go significantly taller.  The GT3541XLS does, it extends to 78” (198 cm), I can stand underneath it without it touching my head.  All that I need to do is extend two sections so that I have a 3-section eye level tripod.  Why do I need the extra height?  If I am shooting on a hill I can extend the legs so that it still comes up to eye level.  It also allows me to take advantage of different perspectives that I can’t get with shorter tripods.

If being tall is the first requirement, getting low to the ground is the second one.  Since it doesn’t have a centre column the GT3541XLS really gets down; its minimum height (without a head) is only 3.9” (10 cm).  I can go from shooting with the camera at eye level to ground level in a matter of seconds without having to do any adjustments or modifications to the centre column.  A big time and frustration saver.  Next I want a tripod that is light while at the same time being strong and stable.  The GT3541XLS is not a featherweight at 4.3 lbs (2.0 Kg) but it a lot lighter than many of my previous tripods thanks to its carbon fiber construction.  I can carry it around all day without too much effort.  There is a tradeoff between tripod weight and stability, the heavier the tripod the more stable it is.  That isn’t an issue with the GT3541XLS.  Even with the legs fully extended it is very stable.  For really windy conditions, there is a hook on the underside of the top plate that you can hang a weight from it to increase the stability.  I carry an empty small nylon stuff sac that I can put rocks in and hang from the hook when needed.  Gitzo tripods have long had a reputation of being durable and long lasting, and I see no reason the GT3541XLS won’t hold up, although time will tell. 

So are there any downsides to the GT3541XLS?  Well, so far I have only found two.  First, if you have short arms then you may have problems reaching the legs lock, especially when shooting near the ground.  The second downside is its price.  It is not inexpensive, the suggested retail price is $1015, but I have seen it being sold for around $900.  That’s lots of money to spend on a tripod, but it is definitely worth it.  Next to your camera and lenses, a tripod is the most important piece of equipment that you can own.

This article appeared in the Winter 2009 issue of Outdoor Photography Canada

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