Many users are looking for the ideal high quality, light and affordable tripod package for their mirrorless camera, like this Fujifilm XT-3.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been searching for a certain tripod package for a long time. Since the beginning of the DSLR revolution, I’ve been on the lookout for a smaller, lighter-weight but still smooth, fluid tripod head to go with my DSLRs or my mirrorless camera package.
Even when paired with some larger Canon lenses, the standard package still only tips the scales at around 3 to 5 pounds when shooting with the Fujifilm XT-3, one of the smallest and lightest-weight on the market.Mounting it on our huge, heavy Sachtler/Miller in-house tripod combo isn’t always a good match, as the Sachtler/Miller package negates the benefits of our small-sized, lightweight XT-3.
The tripod we’ve been looking for would need most of the following:
- Must be lightweight, easily transportable and fit into the bottom compartment of our rolling duffle bag suitcase.
- Must have a true, fluid video head, with counterbalance.
- Must be capable of smooth pans and tilts, with a minimum amount of effort.
- Must be well made and able to hold up under years of professional usage.
- Must be available for less than $1,200.
Gitzo’s Two-Way Fluid Head
In reviewing some new products that were shown at NAB 2019, I came across a press release for a new two-way fluid head that Italian manufacturer Gitzo was introducing to the market.
The Gitzo brand has always been well regarded by still photographers but not very well-known by video or digital-cinema shooters because they primarily make still ballheads that just aren’t well suited to video shooting.
I looked up some of the specifications of the GHF2W head, and they intrigued me:
- Quick-release plate and clamp: Swiss Arca Type.
- Load capacity: 8.8 pounds.
- Lateral tilt: -60 degrees to +90 degrees.
- Weight: 1.3 pounds.
If you aren’t familiar with what a Swiss Arca plate is, I recommend you acquaint yourself with this type of plate. Here’s why: Unlike still shooters, many video users mount our cameras on a variety of different devices each shoot.
For instance, with our Fujifilm XT-3, we use the camera on tripod, gimbal, slider and in a cage for a handheld rig. Each of these devices commonly comes with its own proprietary tripod plate. When switching the camera back and forth between devices, you may find yourself trying to hurry, laboriously switching out tripod plates to switch between devices to mount your camera on.
A few years ago, we switched all of our small gear, like DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, over to Swiss Arca tripod plates, simply to ensure universal fit on all of our devices. The good news is that the Gitzo GHFW2 head comes standard with its own rather wide Arca plate, but the tripod head will accept any Swiss Arca plate.
For all of our proprietary tripod heads and devices, it’s a simple matter to affix a Swiss Arca receiver to each, making it quick and easy to mount our Fujifilm XT-3 onto almost anything.
What’s The Real Weight Capacity?
As far as the load capacity, 8.8 pounds sounded like plenty of capacity for our XT-3 with most of our lenses, other than perhaps our Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II, which itself weighs 3.3 pounds. More on this later, but in my experience with gimbals and tripods, always take weight ratings with a v grain of salt. Few devices function at their best when they’re even remotely near their maximum weight capacity.
The Gitzo GHFW2 heads weigh 1.3 pounds, which sounded promising. I decided to ask Gitzo if it could set me up with a review copy of the new head and an appropriate set of CF legs for a long-term review, where I wouldn’t just review the package but actually put it to work on some client projects and real-world testing.
Gitzo sent me a GHFW2 head, along with a set of its GT2543L carbon-fiber tripod legs. I unpacked the head and legs, and immediately began playing with the controls and was struck by several first impressions: First, the build quality on both head and legs is excellent. Interestingly, the included Swiss Arca plate is larger and wider than the ones that I already had my camera set up with. The specs on the actual mounting part of the plate were standard, but overall, the Gitzo Swiss Arca plate had some overhang that could prove handy on some larger camera bodies.
Also, the Gitzo plate has a small, curved lever on the tie-down knob, allowing you to tighten and loosen the knob without tools, which can be handy in certain situations. The tripod handle affixes to the head using a standard, conically shaped, threaded tie-down knob, allowing you to determine the angle the handle connects to the head quickly.
Nicely Designed Features
One feature I really liked was that the Gitzo GHFW2 has both the pan-rotation and tilt-resistance knobs clustered together, the larger inner ring allowing you to set tilt resistance, the smaller outer ring allowing you to adjust panning resistance.
On our other tripod heads, these two knobs are typically placed in two different locations on the head, making adjusting one or the other less convenient since your hand needs to dart from one tie-down knob to the other.
The Gitzo arrangement shows that the designers were thinking of ways to streamline the operating process for camera ops—a nice touch.
Leg Leveling Isn’t Fun
One feature the Gitzo head lacked was a flat-base head, meaning that the only way to adjust leveling the head and camera is to individually adjust the height of each tripod leg until the head and camera are level.
To be fair, I’m not singling out the Gitzo on this; almost all sub-$1,000 tripod heads are flat base, too, but coming from decades of shooting with both 75mm and 100mm video ball heads where adjusting level takes just a couple of seconds, to go back to having to adjust the legs to level just feels backward.
A $320 Fluid Head?
Gitzo has also included a fluid counterbalance control on the GHFW2 head. This allows you to balance your camera and lens on the head even when the center of gravity is off-center, as it often will be depending on the size and length of the lens you have mounted to your camera. Basically, the counterbalance control allows you to perform smoother tilts.
Gitzo specifies that the counterbalance will balance on off-center loads of up to 5.5 pounds. There’s a catch to weight ratings, though: The head is rated to hold up to an 8.8-pound load but will only counterbalance to 5.5 pounds.
I found that in real-world shooting, my XT-3 with smaller and lighter lenses like my FUJINON XF 18-55mmF2.8-4.0 OIS, the counterbalance helped smooth out shots and made it so that if I left the tilt lock loose, the camera wouldn’t tip forward or backward on its own just from the weight.
However, conversely, if I mounted larger, heavier lenses, like my Canon EF 24-105mm f/4.0 IS II or my EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II, they’d fall forward or backward if I neglected to tighten down the tilt tension.
Once again, my expectations here have been possibly clouded by decades of using heads like our Sachtler that allow up to 10 manually selected levels of spring counterbalance. Of course, our Sachtler head cost many times more than the Gitzo, but it would be nice if Gitzo had engineered in two or three counterbalance levels.
The counterbalance on the Gitzo head is fixed; you cannot lighten it or make it heavier than the preset. Depending on the total weight load you intend to use, the counterbalance could be effective and helpful, as I found it with the XT-3 body and the kit lens, but I wouldn’t encourage using long, large and heavy lenses on this head. Regardless of the total package weight, the head performs much better with a mirrorless camera with smaller and shorter-length lenses.
Are You A Weight Watcher?
Overall, I found the motion characteristics of the head to be fairly smooth as long as I was well under its weight limits. I liked that the head features a counterbalance scale as well as a rotational scale for when you’re panning. These allow you to observe starting and stopping points when panning and tilting and trying to create repeatable moves.
Another feature I liked was that the entire Gitzo head and all of the metal fittings on the tripod are covered in Gitzo’s speckled “leopard-like” finish, which is covered with a nice, clear coat that makes handling the head and center column height adjustment easy, even when wet or when your hands are cold.
All edges have been cast and machined to be smooth. There are no sharp edges to cut you when adjusting the head.
Putting It All To Work On Shoots
I had a chance to use the Gitzo head and tripod in several client shoots, all in varying conditions, including covering a runner competing in a 100-mile ultramarathon through the Florida Keys, and the tripod and head performed admirably in the rain, the searing heat and wind the same day (it was Florida, after all!).
I also used the combo on a shoot gathering b-roll all day around a couple of southern California cities using various size and focal-length lenses.
Lastly, we used the combo on three different shoots at beaches, covering boat racing, where I often had the tripod legs buried in the sand and around saltwater all day each shoot. The Gitzo head and legs performed well in all of these situations, and the sand and salt washed off both the legs and head easily.
Besides being made of high-quality carbon fiber for weight savings and rigidity, the Gitzo GT2543L tripod also had nicely designed three-way leg locks, allowing you to position your camera lower to the ground quickly, but the center column of the tripod precluded being able to position the camera lower than about 18 inches off the ground.
The center column post has a metal hook at the bottom, allowing you to place your backpack or a sandbag as a stabilizing weight on the tripod.
Also worth mentioning are the Gitzo G-Lock legs, allowing you to rotate the lockdown collar just a fraction of an inch to extend or lock the legs, which saves time.
The Gitzo GHF2W head and GT2543L carbon legs met the criteria we set for our ideal mirrorless tripod in specs. The head is easily detachable and light, the legs have a 24-inch folded length, extending all of the way to 70.3 inches so it will easily fit in our luggage for traveling. The combo does have a true fluid head with counterbalance, although I wish it had some variable counterbalance settings.
The combo is capable of smooth pans and tilts, but only if your camera package is under the 5.5 pounds counterbalance rating. If you are over it but under the total head-weight limit of 8.8 pounds, it’s more difficult to obtain smooth pans and tilts.
The combo came in at just under our $1,200 budget, with a street price of $1,190. If you are looking for a solid tripod package and you have similar criteria, I would definitely consider the Gitzo GHF2W head and GT2543L legs as long as your total rig weight is under 5.5 pounds and your rig is well balanced.