12 Mar LOOSING THE HEAD
Cameras and lenses come and go but the one brand which has supported me consistently throughout my photographic career has been Gitzo. Over the years, I, like so many other photographers, have benefited from their tripods continual evolution, most significantly when Gitzo introduced the very first carbon-fibre tripod. For a mountain photographer, the reduction in weight was a big step forward, particularly when my rucksack and camera also has to be pushed up 1000m or more. Regrettably, this evolution in tripod design ended at the top of the tripod and somehow didn’t manage to make it to Gitzo’s range of ball heads. As most photographers appreciate, the design of a tripod head is as important as the tripod itself, if not more so and for years professionals throughout the world purchased a Gitzo carbon fibre tripod and a Really Right Stuff ball head. This was not herd behaviour – we all recognised independently that the Really Right Stuff ball head was simply the best there was. So, for nearly every tripod sold, Gitzo was losing the sale on the head to RRS with their extensive range of camera mounting plates.
As a life-long advocate of Gitzo tripods I have also been one of their greatest critics with regards to their tripod heads and have lobbied the company for over ten years to design a product which satisfied the needs of working professionals. Having trialled several prototype designs over the years I was not about to give up my RRS BH-55 ball head in a hurry. That, however, was until this week when I received one of the first production samples of Gitzo’s latest professional centre ball head (BH3382QD) and I am very pleased to report that natural selection has prevailed and finally evolution has finally taken place.
Designed primarily for Series 2 and 3 Mountaineer tripods it can support a camera/lens weight of up to 18kg/40lbs and is beautifully engineered. It has taken a long time coming but there is nothing I would change in the design and where I feel it supersedes the RRS head is in the precision of the engineering and, in particular, the control over the friction applied to the ball head. The titanium disulphide coated ball glides so smoothly and locks decisively, and is imbued with the most elegant design that importantly follows function and not the other way around. One other aspect of this design which embraces Gitzo’s philosophy of reducing the weight photographers carry is that the new ball head is lighter 0.77kg/1.7lbs as opposed to the RRS BH-55 head which weighs 0.88kg/1.15lbs and the icing on the cake is that all RRS and Arca-Swiss style mounting plates are compatible with the clamp on the new Gitzo head. What also will be music to photographers ears is that the head will we available through most of the major UK photographic retailers, unlike RRS products which have to be ordered directly from their US website and on which duty and VAT are due on their arrival in the UK. Two lighter models of Gitzo centre ball heads are also available, the GH1382TQD and the GH1382QD which embrace the same design principles.
There has been a great deal of attention paid to even the smallest detail and, for the past decade I have been critical of the way in which Gitzo/Manfrotto quick-release base plates are fixed onto cameras or to be more accurate, of the way in which their camera baseplates fail to be fixed onto cameras. On more than one occasion, I suggested to them that if they didn’t have the imagination to improve their own design, that perhaps they should consider copying the RRS solution which is to mount the base plates with a hexagonal Allen key. Once tightened the plate never moves until you decide to remove it – it’s not exactly rocket science! However, ten years on, and finally they have listened to what photographers have been demanding for all this time – not rocket science either, you might conclude but to give Gitzo credit, they’ve taken this design a stage further. Not only does the baseplate use the Allen key screw but a slot has also been thoughtfully machined from the screw, allowing it to be attached or removed with a coin should the Allen key be forgotten or is lost. This could result in photographers finding themselves ‘dead in the water’ and for my own work, this feature alone is worth a great deal, particularly if you’re spending extended periods in somewhere like the Karakoram Mountains.
It’s also worth mentioning that I recently purchased an RRS BH-55 ball head about two years ago to replace my original one which, although still very much functional, was a bit battered and bruised. I have never been happy with the replacement head and regardless of the friction setting it continually sticks and jumps when I am framing images critically and it was my intention to replace it with another brand. This wasn’t the result of neglect or intrusion by dirt into the head but by some aspect of its manufacture. All I will say is this: I unscrewed the RRS head to trial the new Gitzo ball head and the RRS head isn’t going back on – I never thought I would say this about a Gitzo ball head, but things have changed and so too have I.
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