The Tripod Family

When it comes to gear for photographing landscapes, nothing is more important than a tripod. There isn’t a single image of mine created without a tripod with the exception of my “Impressions” and “Water Colors”. The tripod is the true ticket to a tack sharp image. I currently use 3 different tripods depending on the photography location, the elements, and how much hiking is involved. In this blog post I will discuss each tripod.

First up is my newest member of the family, the Gitzo GT3541XLS. I was able to purchase it with winnings from images of the year awards. It is the Ferrari of tripods ($879.90). Nothing can reach as tall (6.6 ft.) or stoop so low (3.9″). With the lack of a center column you get incredible stability, and the ability to get extremely low to the ground. It’s also a beast, holding up to 39.7 lbs. If I rent a 600mm or 800mm lens for a wildlife shoot, this tripod can handle the weight without blinking an eye. It does all this while only weighing 4.3 lbs due to its carbon fiber construction. The ballhead I use to accompany the tripod is the Acratech GV2 Ballhead.

The next member of the family is the Manfrotto 055XPROB. At only $145.36 this tripod is an absolute steal! Why it so cheap? Simple, it’s the aluminum. A tripod constructed of aluminum and not carbon fiber will save you a boat load of money. The trade-off is weight, lots of it. It weights 5.3 lbs and it’s not nearly as beefy as the Gitzo GT3541XLS. This is what I call my all-purpose beater tripod. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend, or the materials used in the construction of the tripod, all tripods hate salt water and sand. Do I really want to take my Ferrari into the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean? How about the wind-swept dunes of Death Valley? That’s when I let my Manfrotto step in and take one for the team. Not to mention it’s a fantastic tripod in its own right, featuring a center column that can be moved into a horizontal position for increased flexibility. I also use the Acratech GV2 ballhead to accompany this tripod.

The last member of the family is my backcountry tripod. When weight matters, I go with the Gitzo GT0531. $374.99 is a lot to pay for such a small tripod, but it’s really all about the weight. The carbon fiber allows this puppy to come in at an amazing 1.6 lbs! It can only hold 11 lbs, but in the backcountry you’re limited on the weight of your lenses as well. The most popular backcountry lens, the wide-angle lens, has no problems pairing with this tripod. With weight being the major factor in this scenario, the Acratech ballhead is too heavy. I go with the Manfrotto 486CR2 ballhead, a simple, cheap, lightweight alternative. It has been redesigned and is now called the 496RC2 ballhead.

There you have it! 3 tripods, each with a very distinct set of properties for a particular situation. What does your tripod family look like?


8 responses to “The Tripod Family

  • John

    I briefly looked at Gitzo but way outta my price league so I recently purchased the Manfrotto 055XPROB w/804RC2 Head. Guess I made a good choice. My first real tripod & so far very happy with it but as you said it is heavy. My next investment is some type of decent, durable, waterproof pack to hold camera & lenses for hiking trips. I’d be interested in any recommendations you might have in the sub $200 range?


  • Justin Reznick

    Great choice on the tripod John! I love my Manfrotto. Just took it up to the top of Mt. Seymour in Vancouver today. As for hiking packs, I’m a big fan of the Clik Elite bags, specifically their Nature pack.

    It is getting a redesign that should be out shortly so I would wait for that.

    I will be testing the Mountainsmith Borealis AT shortly and will write a blog post on it.

    F-Stop makes quality photography bags for hiking, I’ve yet to test them out but some of my peers speak highly of them.

    And finally… for simple day hikes I live for my Lowepro Flipside 400AW. My favorite bag of all time. It’s not going to hold as much extra gear as the other bags, but it’s pure genius in design!

  • John

    Thanks very much for the info & links! Much appreciated Justin.

  • Ron Bernstein

    I am an owner and huge fan of the GT3541XLS, which I pair with either the Wimberley head for action or the fabulous RRS BH-55 for everything else, which can include action. With either head it’s too heavy to carry in on backpacking trips or long hikes. I’ll bet you know that from personal experience, Justin!

  • Mark


    I agree about the tripods. Each has different purposes. I seem to be addicted to them; I’ve got a Gitzo 3451xls for use near the car (and I’m 6’5″) and a carbon-fiber Feisol for hiking and backpacking.

    I’m confused about the heads, though. I own an Acratech head and really like it. But the Manfrotto head you link to is only an ounce lighter — and doesn’t let you use L-plates. For me, I’m still using the Acratech when backpacking. But I’m looking for something even lighter…


    • Justin Reznick


      Thanks for the comment! You bring up a great point, the Manfrotto is only marginally lighter. Every ounce counts in the backcountry, but the added ounce that the Acratech supplies in functionality makes a lot of sense. Do you use your L-plates in the backcountry? That seems like a definite piece of gear to leave behind if weight is crucial to the experience.


  • Sophie

    Hey Justin!
    I just finished watching your Lynda vid on TS lenses (great job btw) and I’m really curious about the ball head you’re using in that video…. I really like how it was a simple twist of the whole column to tighten it. I currently have a Manfrotto 190XPro with an 488RCO head, and I find it a bit bulky. I see you’ve moved onto an Acratech, so I’m interested in finding out what you liked/disliked about the head used in the video?

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