In a League of Its Own: We Review the Gitzo Systematic Kit Series 5

In a League of Its Own: We Review the Gitzo Systematic Kit Series 5

The Gitzo Systematic Carbon Fiber tripods are known for a few things: reliability, stability, and price. The build quality, weight capacity, and overall feel of the tripod are great. The price bites. So, is the price justified? Let’s dive in and see.

Tripods have three main qualities: weight, stability, and price. You can never get all three. If a tripod is stable and lightweight, it will cost a lot. If it’s cheap and lightweight, it won’t be stable. If it’s cheap and stable, it won’t be lightweight. The Gitzo is stable and moderately lightweight. It is big, though.

Introduction

I received the tripod between 2 trips. Arriving at 11 PM, I had to get ready for a flight at 6 AM the next day. Back home for a few hours, I had packing, backups, and quite some catching up to do. Still, the package was there. It was waiting, and unlike with some other packages, I was super excited to get this one. Fair to say, one of the first things I did upon opening the door. My first impressions were good, to say the least. The head felt solid, the legs did too. I took it out and did — pause — astrophotography. The results were horrible but the process was fun. Scheduled to fly out on a commercial the next day, I was trying to pack my new toy into the suitcase. I ended up taking the head only. If you want a travel tripod, this might not be your best bet. But if you need a tripod to support heavy lenses, medium format cameras, large format cameras, or anything where stability is critical, get this and don’t look back.

Build Quality

Being built from magnesium and carbon fiber, the tripod is solid in construction and feel. The level of build quality matters to people who want the ultimate from their tripod. Built for the high-end market, this tripod delivers. For me, carbon fiber usually meant not so strong, lightweight, and probably fragile. The Gitzo is lightweight but has a sturdy heavy-duty construction. Compared to a metal counterpart such as a Manfrotto Art-058, the Gitzo wins.

The leg locking mechanism (G-lock ultra) prevents unwanted slides down.

I can’t really say anything bad about the build quality. It’s made to last decades.  

Features

Tripod Base

The carbon fiber legs come in three sections, which allows the tripod to be extended to about 181 cm in height, so you can be shooting at eye level for the most part. The construction can support up to 30 kg of mass, but I have done a handstand on it, and it seemed to be coping. Of course, the legs weren’t extended fully. That said, there wasn’t much flex in the legs even at maximum extension. Of course, if you decide to buy the flagship 280 cm version of this tripod, expect flex at maximum extension.  

The range of 10-181cm is more than enough for a lot of applications.  At the lower end, you can be sure to get interesting angles for landscape and indoor images, while the higher end will work just as well for portraits and wildlife images. There is a lot of flexibility for shooters who need it. One additional item I would recommend for extra flexibility is the center column. It comes in handy when you need to fine-tune the height of your shot, which may be useful in architectural or portrait photography.

Ball Head

The ball head mounting plate is removable, which makes it easy to customize your setup. There is a spirit level on the tripod base which lets you set up the legs level at any height. I found it to be extremely helpful when working without a center column. Usually, I would extend a section of legs fully and fine-tune with the center column. Another feature you find on the base of the tripod is a screw mount. This helps add lights, monitors, or any extras to the setup. I would eventually use it to add an iPad to my setup and see the images on there since I never get to see what I shoot because of tethering. A hook below the plate allows you to add weight to the tripod to improve the stability further. Although I didn’t see it give way even in wind.

The ball head itself has three knobs that control the movement. One of them is a pan knob, the other controls the ball head movement, and the third one lets you adjust how smooth the motion is. Imagine having a heavy and fragile camera on the tripod: let go of the wrong know and you’re done. It is embarrassing how many times this happened to me. Luckily, even if you have the heaviest rigs on the tripod, you can just stiffen up the motion, and be sure to have a smooth adjustment. To ensure that you don’t confuse any of the knobs, they come in different shapes and sizes. Once you get to really know your tripod, you are no longer looking and checking whether you’re about to undo the right one. This helped me personally be more creative and not worry so much about the gear.

Another feature found on the ball head is an extra spirit level, as well as a quick-locking mechanism. The quick lock has two stages, which is a nice touch given that most people will be using this tripod with something heavier than their point and shoot. Something a few dozen kilograms heavier. First, you open the lever halfway, which sort of lets you know that you’ve unlocked the camera, you can also fine-tune the position and balance of the whole rig in this stage. Then, to take the rig off, you need to press a button, and then only will it be released. Frankly, I love this. It saved me a few accidents already. This also shows that people investing in such ball-heads are not joking around. This is a serious piece of gear for serious cameras. I would not have a problem with putting any image-capturing camera on it, but hey it’s not a head for video work.

That said, I tried using it for video, and it was mostly ok. It pans and tilts as you’d expect a head of this caliber to: smooth, quiet, and just plain nice. There is no jitter or sudden movement. If you’re looking for a ball-head upgrade this would also be a solid choice on its own.

Lastly, an important consideration for a lot of professionals worldwide is the availability and brand presence. I have full confidence that Gitzo has global customer support, as well as availability in rentals and shops. If a photographer leaves an accessory at home, they can probably buy it in most places. That said, they don’t come cheap at all.  

Summary

What I Liked:

  • Build quality and weight
  • Ball head motion and features
  • Great customer support and global brand presence

 What Could Be Improved: 

  • Expensive price tag
  • Center column included in the kit
  • Not compact

Closing Thoughts

Being part of a range of tripods, this one seems to have a sweet spot between being tall and stable. Go higher, and you might lose stability, go lower and you’re sacrificing range and flexibility. As for the ball head, it copes well with pretty much anything you throw on it. Of course, don’t expect to be able to fine-tune it to the same precision as a 3-axis head. Nonetheless, you can expect to be able to nail down a subject even at the longest focal lengths.

The tripod is totally worth it if you are working with heavy cameras and need stability. Moreover, the $1,539.99 price tag is justified by the build quality, as you would need to work had to break the Gitzo. It’s a buy-it-for-life product. There’s a lifetime warranty on it for that reason.  

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7 Comments
Tim Foster's picture

I went through about eight tripods before I finally bought a Series 5 Giant about twelve years ago. It's all you'll ever need for stills, video or film up to maybe an IMAX camera.

Juan Isaias Perez's picture

My photographic journey has taken me to other end of the scale. I hike a lot so gear weight is critical to me. When I need a tripod the heaviest gear is about 4.5 lbs and when I need a monopod the heaviest setup is about 6 lbs. I have recently purchased a series 1 tripod (traveler) and a series 2 monopod. I am extremely pleased with both.

Tim Foster's picture

I have a cheesy little aluminum Slik tripod I travel with, but it's not ideal. I agree that the Series 5 is not something you can throw in your carry-on.

Jorge Andrés Miraglia's picture

Yeah. Agree 100% on this, having an ocean series version of this one for quite a bunch of years already. Nevertheless, let´s reckon that nowadays there are brands with VERY good products at much lower price tags, as Explore, Kingjoy, Fotopro and others. Can make you save enough money as to get also a travel tripod for this amount of money. And its always good to have a second one...

Tim Foster's picture

Yeah, the nice thing about Gitzo though, is you can buy a used one today and sell it in ten years for close to the same price. That said, I'll probably go with one of those other brands for my next travel tripod.

Shane Castle's picture

For those who know Gitzo and are wondering: this seems to be a GT5543LS with a GH4383LR ball head. Also, there's a good reason it has no center column in the basic kit: A center column reduces stability, even if it's all the way down. Gitzo does offer them as extra-cost items for the Systematic tripods, including a nifty gear-driven one. It made me sad to see the Gitzo head on the Manfrotto, with no explanation why.

Tim Foster's picture

I bought an old center column for my newer Series 5. It's more trouble than it's worth.