Sunday, 6 July 2008

Review of the Giottos MH 1302-655 ballhead used with a Gitzo GT1541T Traveler tripod

For some time I have known that the best way of improving my on-the-move photography was to use a tripod, but I have always balked at carrying my normal tripods and at the cost of the specialist lightweight travel tripods such as Gitzo’s Traveler range. This year I finally decided to take the plunge, but was not sure about the ballhead.

Gitzo offer three traveler tripods (full details here) – the GT1541T and the GT1550T are the ones that interested me. They are about the same weight (1kg), with the GT1541T having a four section leg configuration; the GT1550T has five section legs, folds slightly smaller (35.5cm long vs 41cm) and comes with its own miniature ballhead (G1077M), while the GT1541T does not come with one. With the G1077M head the maximum load capacity of the GT1550T is only 2kg, although the legs on their own seem to be rated at 4.5kg. The rating for the GT1541T is a much greater 8kg.

With my normal tripods I use either Kirk BH-1 or BH-3 ballheads with Arca type quick release platforms and plates – I equip my DSLRs with L-brackets from either Really Right Stuff or Kirk (RRS by preference, but they don’t have an importer in the UK, whereas Kirk does, and customs duty and “fees” add about a 30% price premium to buying direct from RRS) and have a selection of camera and lens plates, and quick release platforms from Wimberley, Kirk & RRS – so one key criterion is that the travel tripod must be Arca compatible. Below is a list of my key criteria for choosing the tripod/ballhead combination:
  • Arca quick release system compatible
  • Maximum load capacity of at least 4kg
  • Lockable panoramic rotation capability
  • Adjustable friction control for the ballhead
  • Side notch to allow the head to flop over if necessary
  • Tripod socket of 3/8”
  • + as light and compact as possible
The G1077M fails on several of these criteria: it is not Arca compatible; it’s maximum load capacity is only 2kg; it has a rotating base but it is not lockable; there is no friction control on the ballhead – it is small and light, but it does not do what I wanted.

Also I am happier with a four section leg tripod than a five (quicker to set up and less spindly) so I chose the GT1541T Traveler tripod (accepting that it is slightly less compact than the GT1550T). I was, however, not aware of any suitable ballhead to partner it with. The smaller Kirk ballhead I use, the BH-3, weighs in at 560g so is hardly the ideal partner for the lightweight GT1541T.

My search was pretty fruitless until I received a “Birds as Art” bulletin from Art Morris extolling the virtues of the Giottos’ MH 1302-655 ballhead – if you go here and scroll down the page to the section titled “The Perfect Tiny Ballhead for Wimberley and Mongoose Users” you can see Art’s review. Essentially it met all the criteria and was as compact and light as I could imagine. Failing to find one for sale anywhere in the UK (there were some with non-Arca platforms) I bought one direct from Birds as Art in the US, which arrived in about 10 days – pretty good and great communication from them as well.

Details can be found on Giottos’ web site here.

The ballhead designation is MH 1302 with the 655 part being the Arca compatible quick release platform. It is rated at 8kg, weighs 320g, is 92’ish mm tall and has all the functions I wanted. It also has a bubble level in the platform and the tightening knob

The first thing I did was remove the safety stop (with a 2.5mm Allen key) as I wanted to use all the Arca plates I have and they will not work with the stop in place – this was easy
and then play around with it on the GT1541T. Below is a photo of the set up.

Installed on the Traveler the whole lot weighs 1.3kg.

One of the unique features of Gitzo’s Traveler tripods is that their legs fold through 180° making it just a bit shorter. Gitzo’s diminutive G1077M ballhead is designed to fit inside the legs when folded – does the Giottos?

Well, not really. There are three control knobs on the MH 1302 (ballhead tension, friction control and pan lock) which are set at 90° to one another (you can clearly see this in the photo above).

Since the ballhead sits inside the folded legs of the tripod at least one of the knobs rests against one of the legs (see photo below) – they would have to be 120° apart to be able to sit between the legs of the tripod. This is OK, but it of course means that there is a chance of damage either to the ball head of the tripod leg if they are crushed. I have decided to either travel with the ballhead dismounted, attaching it (which takes no time at all) when I want to use it or to not fold the legs back in transit.

Does it produce a stable photographic platform with the Traveler?
In a word – yes. I recently took the rig on holiday to Tuscany where its light weight and portability meant that I had it around when I needed it in low light dusk situations, as well as using up as little as possible of my luggage allowance. I also took with me my new Canon 40D, which I equipped with a generic Wimberley plate until I get around to buying an L-bracket.

The photos below show it in use in both horizontal and vertical mode, with the tripod centre post at full extension. In all the cases I used it in it performed perfectly. I have not experienced any slippage, so when I tighten the head the lens stays pointing where I intended it to.

The Giottos MH 1302-655 ballhead partnered with a Gitzo GT1541T Traveler tripod makes an excellent travel set up. The load capacity is fine and the kit produced excellent results with the lenses I have used (up to 200mm on a Canon 40D).

To make it just that bit better Giottos could space the knobs out at 120°, or some other mix of angles so that allows them to fit between the tripod's legs, and make them a bit smaller perhaps to fit in between the tripods legs with they are folded back – that really would make a magnificent combination.


Anonymous said...

Great review!!! I am contemplating this tripod as well, but the head I wanted (Markins Q3T) is just too expensive, so I will take a look at Giottos!

I have a question, I am 180cm tall, do you think the tripod is too small? Could you please post a pic of you next to the tripod?


Tracy B said...

Used camera tripods can be of great use. If you find the right one you shall get the professional results.