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In-depth tripod review: Gitzo Systematic Series 3 (GT3543LS): Digital Photography Review


The Gitzo GT3543LS at the beach, with the Gitzo GFHG1 Fluid Gimbal Head on top, holding a 500mm lens and full-frame camera.

Gitzo Systematic Series 3 (GT3543LS)
Gitzo.com | $1000

Gitzo was founded in France as a tripod and camera company by Arsène Gitzhoven in 1917 and has been producing advanced tripods with interchangeable platforms, columns and leveling devices for more than 40 years. Their naming convention of designating sizes by numbered ‘series,’ and modular platforms as ‘systematic’ tripods, has been around so long that many other manufacturers use these as a reference point when describing their own wares.

Long ago, Gitzo merged with the Italian tripod maker Manfrotto, and both are now a part of the Vitec Imaging Group of companies. Today, the combined Manfrotto/Gitzo factory in Bassano del Grappa, Italy, produces more tripods than almost every other manufacturer in the world, using a combination of automation and streamlined assembly honed over many decades. The sheer scale of output makes their continued quality all the more impressive.



Key specs and what’s included

  • Max. height 146 cm (57.5″), or 148 cm (58.2″) with 50mm ‘big feet’
  • Minimum height of 9 cm (3.5″)
  • Folds to 55 cm (21.6″) with 14 cm (5.5″) diameter
  • Weighs 1.94 kg (4.27 lbs) with flat platform
  • 25kg (55.1 lbs) load limit
  • Three leg angles (23° / 53° / 86° )
  • Four leg sections (33mm top leg diameter / 29 / 25.3 / 21.8mm)
  • 70mm platform side-clamped with release button
  • Large weight hook under platform
  • Bubble level included on apex
  • Removable 33mm feet on standard 3/8″ thread
  • Includes dust bag, tools, instructions and 50mm big feet

Gitzo updated their ‘Systematic’ tripod line in 2016, with new materials and designs, and still offers many systematic options for their tripods; from video bowls and leveling balls, to sliding carbon-fiber center columns and geared columns. Beyond these, there are a bevy of various feet, ranging from snowshoes to various lengths of spike and mushroom-style rubber feet, all using a common 3/8”-16 threading, so even rock claws or feet from other manufacturers can be used. Given the prevalence and longevity of Gitzo Systematics in the marketplace, original Gitzo accessories are easy to find new at various retailers, as well as on the used market.


Compared to others

This tripod was tested and compared with its modular apex peers. Left to right; ProMediaGear TR344, Really Right Stuff TVC-34, Sirui SR-3204, FLM CP34-L4 II, Leofoto LM-364C, Gitzo GT3543LS.

The Gitzo GT3543LS was tested and compared alongside tripods in the same class of ‘Series 3’ (33-36mm top leg tube diameter) ‘Systematic’ (modular apex with removable platform) type, in terms of size and utility, including products from Sirui, Really Right Stuff, ProMediaGear, Leofoto and FLM. We’ll be publishing full reviews of those models in the coming days and weeks.

All of these tripods were used in four seasons of sand, snow, mud, rain and saltwater; set up in the bog-like Atlantic salt marshes and the wind-swept Appalachian mountains. They have been loaded with gimbal heads, ball heads, geared and pano-heads, and up to 4kg (8.8lb) lenses attached to cameras ranging from APS-C to medium-format, shooting anything from long-exposure landscapes to extreme telephoto birds-in-flight. The only test they did not go through was being rough-handled at the airport, thanks to pandemic travel restrictions.

Height comparison

Below is a relative height comparison between the Gitzo GT3543LS and a 6 foot (1.83m) photographer.

High Mid Low

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First impressions

The wide, but shallow apex with the Gitzo/Manfrotto 3/8″ threaded ‘Easy Link’ accessory port.

At the top of the GT3543LS is the large, cast magnesium systematic apex, finished in the durable ‘noir décor’ speckle finish common to all Gitzos. Each leg clevis is similarly built and finished, with a spring-loaded, ratcheting leg angle stop. The standard Gitzo ‘Safe-Lock’ platform is secured in the side-clamping apex with a re-positionable locking lever and a safety release tucked underneath. A generous weight hook is below the platform.

The four-section legs are labeled as using ‘Carbon eXact,’ which, according to Gitzo, ‘optimizes the fiber composition for each tube size, using HM (High Modulus) carbon fiber in the narrower tubes to make them stiffer.’ This is a good thing, as the GT3543LS has the thinnest relative leg tubes in this class of 3-series tripods. In addition to this, the leg locks are the ‘G-Lock Ultra’ type, which means they get tighter as more pressure is applied, and are well sealed against dirt and moisture. Many other manufacturers use similar leg locks, but may not have catchy names for them.

The 50mm ‘big feet’ that come pre-installed are robust and great for studio work, but require careful positioning for extreme angles and tend to collect debris when used in the field. The included standard 33mm bullet-shaped feet are small compared to the mushroom-head feet on other tripods in this group. Their narrow width means the leg locks can hit the ground before the feet do when the legs are fully splayed out.

The 3/8″ threaded ‘Easy Link’ attachment port for accessories is rather large and atypical, compared to the 1/4” threading seen on most accessories and other tripods. This just requires a reducer bushing (included with most heads these days) to attach that ‘magic arm’ or clamp to hold a phone, battery pack or other small device. Honestly, the number of ‘Easy Link’ accessories even offered by Gitzo or Manfrotto seems very slim, so the choice to use this is somewhat baffling.

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Use in the field

The Gitzo GT3543LS is a large item to pack into the field, both in apex diameter and the various parts that stick out, and we noticed this a bit more than with the other tripods in this class, despite the Gitzo having the smallest leg thickness. In the studio, the top-heavy size is not a problem, and those ‘big feet’ can stay installed for impressive stability, but the carbon fiber and robust build ask to be taken out to the wider world. The very wide apex creates a thick-on-one-end package that is not easy to pack away, so it begs for the (optional) strap or padded bag to carry it. For short walks, extending one leg and using the whole thing as a big hiking pole worked pretty well, but again, it was a noticeable difference to the competition.

The leg angle locks are easy to pull out from the front, but hard to push from behind due to their slim internals. The ratcheting action is positive when pulling the leg down, and it is easy to set the angles of each leg. Unfortunately, the legs can be pushed under the apex and just keep going since there is no center column to stop them, resulting in a strange angle that sometimes makes packing up all three legs of the tripod a bit harder than it needs to be. Many other columnless tripods in this class have a hard stop at the stowed position.

The well-tested Gitzo G-locks, which lock and unlock with a reassuring tactile feel, make extending and securing each leg of the tripod a pleasure. Grasping all three locks at once is easy with the rubber grips, even with gloves on, but they do require more rotation than the other leg locks in this group.

The tubes themselves are very precisely mated and need a bit of a pull to fully extend, which means the Gitzo legs will not ‘cascade out’ on their own when unlocked. However, adjusting each leg length once extended is still fairly easy and controlled, despite this precise fit.

The well-proven Gitzo Safe-Lock platform is the best in its class, with a durable, textured plastic disk over a machined aluminum platform. This provides a better grip and some vibration isolation when compared to an all-metal platform, and the inclusion of a tiny set-screw can insure that any head will stay attached. Removing and replacing it with a video bowl or center column accessory with a 70mm diameter is both easy and secure, thanks to the Safe-Lock recessed safety catch under the apex.

With a gimbal and large lens on top, or a panoramic head and leveling gear, the Gitzo GT3543LS never feels overburdened or unstable. The slightly steeper leg angles, at 23°, provide the required height to be competitive with similar tripods of this size, but theoretically could reduce stability. However, that theory is never validated, and in the field and studio, this tripod handles weight and movement with aplomb. Truly, Gitzo’s refinement across generations of this type and size of tripod seems evident in how it all just quietly gets out of the way and lets the camera and scene be the focus.

Maintenance

Cleaning the GT3543LS is fairly straightforward, and leg disassembly is briefly described in the included instructions booklet. The leg locks have obvious gaskets sealing them from the elements, and the one-piece shim makes the whole process easy. However, as with all Gitzo products, spare parts are easy to find if needed (even long into the future).

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Test results

Vibrations can make even the sharpest lens turn out mushy, blurred photos, and can ruin long exposures. In the typical use cases for this class of tripod, reducing the effects of vibration becomes extremely important, since longer focal lengths and higher resolutions magnify the effects of any movement, and environmental vibrations like wind and water will have an increasing effect on larger legs and gear. Camera vibration can be mechanically minimized with mirror lockup, electronic shutters, and a remote shutter release, while adding weight to the bottom of the tripod (with the weight hook or a tripod stone bag) can help stabilize the whole setup. However, not all sources of vibration can be eliminated, so we tested whether the tripod will dampen them or transmit and reflect them to the camera.

The tripod legs were fully extended, and our vibration analyzer for heavy-duty tripods (an iPad on a 3.2 kg (7 lb) cantilevered weight) was mounted directly to the flat platform’s 3/8″ threaded bolt with a long lens plate. An industrial solenoid valve with a plastic hammer was used as a source of vibration (a knock to the bottom of one leg). The resulting graph of all three accelerometers shows both the resistance of the tripod to the initial shock, as well as the rate of decay for residual vibration within the tripod.

Gitzo GT3543LS vibration resistance test results – click for a larger graph

*Note that this graph is relative only to this class of tripods. The weight and test equipment was adjusted to provide a conclusive result for this size of tripod.

The Gitzo GT3543LS performed extremely well in the vibration test. The initial shock was somewhat transmitted to the camera position, but the carbon fiber legs and magnesium components dampened the vibration quickly and admirably. This performance is among the best of this class of tripods, particularly when factoring in the relatively thinner legs of this Series 3 tripod.

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Conclusion

Gitzo has been the first (and sometimes last) word in high-end and heavy-duty tripods for many decades, and their innovations and influence are clearly seen in every other tripod of this type on the market. The folks in Italy have refined their offerings to such a degree that the whole system this ‘systematic’ tripod falls under has become a standard in terms of big tripod expectations, and even nomenclature.

It may not be the tallest, lightest, or most compact, but it has very few flaws and
performs admirably

The GT3543LS, or ‘Gitzo tripod Systematic, series 3 long, 4 sections’, remains competitive within this type of tripod thanks to its performance over many tests and rugged locations. Among similar tripods from ProMediaGear, RRS, FLM, and others, it may not be the tallest, lightest, or most compact, but it has very few flaws and performs admirably in every situation and test. Plus, any Gitzo is usually the most accessible and widely supported tripod of this type worldwide, which makes it a safe bet as a stalwart companion for many years.

What we like

  • Dependable build quality
  • Exceptional vibration resistance
  • Sets the standard for apex insert and foot sizes
  • Worldwide sales and support network
  • Spare parts and repairs easy to obtain

What we don’t like

  • Not compact or easily packable
  • Systematic accessories are expensive
  • Fiddly leg angle locks
  • Premium list price

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