After the camera and lens, the tripod is the most important piece of camera gear you’ll own. In some of my favorite words from Scott Kelby, you should “become married to your tripod.”
Nothing will keep your camera more still than a tripod. If you want the sharpest photos possible, then you gotta use one whenever possible. Tripods have another benefit too though: they force you to slow down and think more about your composition.
But, carrying around a tripod can also be pretty annoying. They’re big, they’re heavy, and it usually takes a while to get it in the exact position you need it. So, it’s helpful to get a tripod that’s easy to setup and carry around.
Well, about a year ago, I finally found what I think is the perfect tripod for a hiking photographer: the Gitzo 1542T. Here are a few reasons why I like it so much:
- It’s extremely lightweight. At just 2.2 lbs, it’s one of the lightest tripods out there, especially considering how high it can go (58 inches).
- You can make quick height adjustments with the center post (which is about 12 inches long). The center post can also be removed to make the tripod get low to the ground.
- You can make it more stable by hanging something (like a camera bag) from a hook on the center post. This really helps when you find yourself in some pretty windy conditions.
- It packs easily in a suitcase. When folded completely down, it’s only 16 inches long (compared to an average of around 20 inches for other tripods).
- It can get low to the ground. If you remove the center post, the tripod can stand just 8 inches from the ground, which is very helpful for photographing tiny flowers.
- It’s quick to setup. The four sections of the tripod have twist locks instead of latches, which makes the tripod very quick to set up (you can unlock all the sections with just one twist).
- You can individually adjust the angles of the legs, allowing you to completely stabilize your camera when the ground isn’t flat.
- It can easily support medium telephoto lenses. The heaviest combination I’ve used with this tripod is a Canon 5D Mark II with a battery grip and a 300mm f/4 IS lens. And, the tripod supports it just fine (as long as I use the tripod collar for the lens). I probably wouldn’t put anything heavier on the tripod though. But, then again, I wouldn’t hike with anything heavier, so it works out well :)
- It’s not insanely expensive. Surprisingly, this is actually one of Gitzo’s least expensive tripods. Sure, it’s more expensive than something like a Bogen, but it’s a lot more stable than most other tripods. When you try out a Gitzo for the first time, side-by-side with another brand like Bogen, you’ll know what I mean 🙂
There is one tiny thing missing from the tripod though, so I guess it’s not totally perfect.
It doesn’t come with a built-in bubble level, which tremendously helps you ensure the tripod is balanced. You can buy one for just $15 though that attaches to the bottom of the center post.
Other than that though, I think the Gitzo 1542T is perfect for what it’s built for. Despite it having four sections, it’s still remarkably stable (I would stay away from their 5-section version though–that fifth section is almost pencil thin).
Recommended Ballhead: Really Right Stuff BH-30
So, Gitzo does have a version of the 1542T that comes with a ballhead, but their ballheads just look a little too weak to me, so personally, I just bought the tripod legs and then bought a Really Right Stuff ballhead separately.
I originally bought their BH-40, but that was before they came out with the BH-30 which is what I’d now recommend for the Gitzo 1542T. The BH-40 just seems a little too big for that tripod, and Really Right Stuff says the BH-30 can handle a 300mm f/4 lens, so I think it goes really well with the 1542T.
Really Right Stuff’s ballheads are definitely not cheap, but the difference between them and a less expensive Bogen head is night and day. Everything just operates so much smoother, and you’ll have less frustrating moments with an RRS ballhead. I promise!
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About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, computer scientist, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of Southern California.