The perfect travel tripod?

| August 14, 2010
gitzo travel tripod with markins Q3T

The light and sturdy Gitzo GT1541T

You can see the rest of my camera gear here.

I have learned my lesson and I am passing it on. When it comes to buying support for your camera, don’t be cheap. If you are, you will probably end up relegating it to the pile of other things in the closet you wish you hadn’t bought. I make this mistake from time to time and always ask myself, “why did I do that.” It probably has something to do with the fact that this hobby is not for the faint of heart when it comes to budget. When I add up the money I have spent on camera gear, it makes me shutter. So much, in fact, that I have a valuable goods policy to insure it from others that may want to help themselves to it.

First off, let’s just say it and get it out of the way. Great photographs start with great photography skills. This post is about gear, however, so let’s focus on that at the moment. We will focus on artistry in another series of posts.

It’s not that you can’t take nice photographs with less expensive and perfectly capable cameras and accessories. It’s just that there is always something out there that promises to move you closer to visual magic in your images. If you are perfectionist like me, you will constantly question whether you should have bought the better piece of gear. Besides that, good gear is easier to use and allows you to concentrate on your art and not the stuff you use to create it.

A quality camera support system is one of those things that can either be your best photography friend or worst enemy. Your choice in support should be as stable as possible within your specific size and weight constraints. I am not trying to be elitist here, but buy a cheap setup and you will constantly be fussing with your gear and compromising the quality of your images.

gitzo travel tripod folded

Reverse folding the GT1541T saves precious inches

If you want tack sharp images, especially if you plan to shoot HDR, you need tripod legs and a head. Camera support is so important that you may end up spending as much on it as you do on the body of your camera. Sound nuts, I know, but it’s true. When I bought my tripod, I looked for the strongest but lightest pair of legs that would support the weight of my typical camera/lens combination. I then matched the ballhead to the tripod not only in design but also in strength and weight. If you are in the studio, you don’t have to worry much about weight. When you travel as much as I do with your gear, weight becomes critically important. The problem is, strength and light weight don’t really go together. This is why carbon fiber was invented. Carbon fiber won’t get you completely there though. It has to be combined with a quality design and lightweight fittings.

For my purposes, the Gitzo GT1541T fits the bill. The GT1541T reverse folds to a remarkable 16.14 inches and weighs a mere 2.14 pounds. I love this tripod. The three segment legs rapidly extend with a quick flick of the wrist and tighten down easily with amazing stability. The 6x carbon fiber tubes are incredibly strong, and when combined with precisely built fittings and connections, the entire unit becomes one.

marking Q3T mounted on gitzo travel tripod

The Markins Q3T mounted on the Gitzo GT1541T

Tripod legs are not much good if you don’t but an equally impressive ballhead. The ballhead, when combined with a quick release and compatible camera plate, allow you to mount your camera on the tripod legs. There are scores of these to pick from. I initially tried an inexpensive ball head in the $115 dollar range and it lasted about four months before I replaced it with a higher quality brand and model. I really struggled to pick between the Really Right Stuff BH40 and the Markins Q3T they both are highly recommended but in the end, I went with the Markins. Compared to my first ball head, the Q3T is a dream to use. First, the Markins Q3T is made to fit the GT1541T. Made to fit in that when you reverse fold the tripod legs as designed for maximum compactness, the legs won’t hit the adjustment knobs on the ball head. Other heads are not made this way, which will cause one of the three legs to stick out a bit when folded. Not good when you are trying to maximize your packing efficiency for trips.

markins Q3T on gitzo travel tripod

The Markins Q3T knobs ideally positioned for the GT1541T

When mounting the head on the tripod, I recommend using a dose of Loctite Blue thread adhesive to keep the head from coming loose while in the field. You can always unlock the adhesive and it will make using the head fuss free. Nothing much worse than having the head try to spin on the tripod when you don’t want it to.

The knobs on the Markins control the pan rotation and ball position. The large ball knob is butter smooth and controls the friction on the ball brilliantly. Once you get used to it, you can dial in he right amount of friction to make the most subtle of adjustments to achieve your desired framing. The quick release lever is also just as smooth and can be adjusted to a variety of plates including those not made by Markins.

Because I like to shoot both in landscape and portrait orientation, I bought a Really Right Stuff L plate that precisely fits my Canon 5D body. It is made of CNC machined aluminum, is lightweight, looks good, and works beautifully on the camera. All side ports on the camera remain available as well. Although the L plate adds a little bulk to the camera, it allows you to quickly switch shooting orientations in the field. Just unlatch the plate, flip the camera on it’s side, and relock!

really righ stuff plate on marking Q3T

Really Right Stuff L Body Plate

At about $1,100, this is not a cheap setup. But trust me, there is nothing more gratifying that getting amazingly sharp images and this combination of tripod legs, ballhead and plate go a long way toward helping me reach my photography goals.

gitzo travel tripod in carry on bag

The GT1541T and Markins Q3T ready for travel

See the rest of my camera gear here

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Category: Photo Gear Reviews, Photography

Comments (2)

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  1. Nice man. I must say this makes me feel better about spending $500 on the Soltek!

  2. Lee says:

    I may have the Mercedes of travel tripods but you have the Mercedes of outdoor easels!