bh40.jpg

Here’s another field report from my trip out West: I’ll start with the Gitzo Traveler tripod. This is a kind of a weird review for me, because I’ve really become attached to this tripod to the extent that I wouldn’t want to be without it. But on the other hand, it’s got one thing that really bugs me, and it’s so expensive that I’m not sure I can justify its cost. So, here’s my report:

The Traveler is just amazingly light (even lighter than I had imagined). It’s fun to hand it to other photographers and watch them laugh and shake their heads at its light weight (even with a BH-40 ballhead attached). When collapsed, it’s as small as it is light, and I can’t imagine what Gitzo could do to make it smaller or lighter. It easily supports a heavy Nikon D2X and large 70-200mm VR Nikon lens (together that’s quite a load), although on this trip it made easy work of the Canon 5D and 70mm-200 f/4 I was shooting. It didn’t even break a sweat.

So, here’s my problem: Gitzo’s G-lock one-twist leg lock technology is just amazing making set up and tear down about a 20 second deal (I have a Gitzo Mountaineer tripod as my main tripod, which has the same G-lock one-twist leg lock system and it just rocks), but with the Traveler; one or more of the bottom legs always seems to slip on me. It’s like I didn’t tighten them enough–but I did.

I keep thinking it’s got to be my fault—maybe I’m rushing to set it up too quickly, so I started double-checking to make sure I’ve tighted all the legs, but just about every time I’m shooting, one or two of the tiny legs at the bottom always seems to start slowly collapsing as though I hadn’t tightened them fully.

This has never happened with my Mountaineer—only the Traveler. Now, it is entirely possible that there’s a defect in either my particular unit, or in the way I tighten these smaller sized G-locks, so I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt there, but then there’s the price issue. I had to have my wife buy it for me as a gift, because it sells for around $600 for just the legs, and I personally would have a hard time buying that for myself (I’m just that way—but if someone else buys it for me, then I don’t feel so bad. I know, it’s still my money, but it’s how I fool myself into not feeling bad about spending $600 on camera accessories).

So, while overall I really like it (it’s actually probably the best ultra light-weight tripod out there), and it will probably see more use from me than my much larger Gitzo Mountaineer, I’d love to see those G-lock legs work better, and I’d be more comfortable with it in the $349 to $399 price range.

Now, onto to the  BH-40 Midsized ballhead from Really Right Stuff. I’ve been a huge fan of the BH-55 ballhead (the one that generally lives on my Gitzo Mountaineer tripod), I think, if it’s possible, I like the BH-40 even more. The size is just perfect. In fact, after using it for the week, my BH-55 actually feels a little big (though if I was shooting 400mm or longer glass, you would need the BH-55 for sure).

My shooting buddy Jeff Revell had just bought a BH-40, and this was his first shoot with it as well and we were just having a BH-40 love fest from our first shoot on. We both couldn’t say enough about it. It’s so well designed and so “right-sized.” It’s not too heavy, yet very sturdy, and it’s just a joy to use with incredibly smooth movement, it locks into place effortlessly, and it even supported a heavyweight Sigma 300mm zoom without flinching, even though I doubt it’s rated to carry glass that heavy.

I can’t recommend the BH-40 enough—it is, truly, the ballhead of the gods (if there is such a thing), and one that I would buy again without hesitation even though “it ain’t cheap” at around $399. (here’s the link to RRS’s site).

Just a reminder: these field tests are just that—there’s no fancy lab testing, where I disassemble the units into individual pieces or weigh the individual carbon fibers —it’s just my personal experience using the equipment in the field–good or bad, just like it happened. I hope it helps you find some great equipment, because great stuff is a blast!