My Tripods & Tripod Heads
Often times with landscape photography, the tripod must be placed in difficult places. Whether it is perched atop a steep sand dune, or partially submerged in a flowing river, it is important to have full confidence in your tripod and head combo. I often photograph intimate landscape scenes on the ground, so that adds another level of complexity to the precise tripod placement. I use a variety of tripods and heads depending on the camera and location I am shooting. This page shows the exact setup I use, and my thoughts on the equipment.
I purchased this tripod in 2013 as a lighter weight alternative to my 5 series gitzo which weighs substantially more. The Gitzo GT3532LS is a full size 3 series carbon fiber systematic tripod. Rather than having a center column like the mountaineer and traveler series, the systematic series has a flat top plate. This helps with both stability, and the ability to use the tripod low to the ground, or at awkward angles.
Though I initially purchased this tripod as a lightweight alternative to my much larger 5 series Gitzo, I use this tripod most of the time to help reduce the overall weight of my kit. If I am setting up the camera in soft sand or flowing water, I will typically reach for my 5 series Gitzo instead.
The GT3532LS has since been discontinued, but the current version (GT3533LS) is largely the same design.
The first tripod I bought for my 8x10 camera was a Gitzo GT5541LS. It is a heavy duty 5 series tripod, which is the thickest tube offered by Gitzo. Unlike my other Gitzo that has 3 sections, this 5 Series Systematic tripod has 4 sections for each leg. That allows for a shorter size when retracted, combined with a very impressive height when fully extended. On a smaller tripod, the addition of a 4th leg section might raise concerns about stability, but not on this beast of a tripod. The smallest leg section is larger than what many tripods have as their primary tube size.
I have learned that my smaller 3 series Gitzo is more than sufficient for most subjects, but if I am shooting in deep sand, snow, or flowing water, the thicker leg sections on the Gitzo GT5541LS provide added stability. This is also the tripod I grab if height is a concern. Often times when photographing on a slope, at least one leg must be down slope, so the overall height of the tripod is much lower than one might like.
I am very satisfied with this tripod, and if something ever happens to it, I wouldn't hesitate ordering the modern version of it as a replacement. The GT5541LS has been replaced by the GT5543LS.
Arca-Swiss C1 Cube
This has been my primary tripod head since the spring of 2017. Before switching to the Arca-Swiss Cube, I used a Gitzo G-1570M pan tilt head. I was fully satisfied with the rigidity of the Gitzo pan tilt head, but the weight and bulk of that head, combined with the lack of a quick release mechanism made me consider the alternatives.
Two very talented photographer friends of mine both suggested the Arca-Swiss C1 Cube tripod head, but I was hesitant at first because of the price tag. This head costs almost double what I paid for the tripods I mount it on, but there is a reason why.
The Arca-Swiss C1 Cube is a relatively compact head that is geared for precise control over the composition. Tilting the camera up or down, or leveling it left or right is as easy as turning the compact knobs. Though the adjustments can be done with one hand, it is best to grab both knobs on either side of the tripod head. There is no need to lock the head in position once you turn the knob. It will stay where you left it. This is accomplished by the combined effort of the geared mechanism, combined with a friction control knob. I find that with the size and weight of an 8x10 camera atop the Arca-Swiss C1 Cube, it is best to turn the friction knobs all the way to the positive side.
When using the camera at an awkward angle as illustrated in the photo at the top of this page, the geared controls are especially important. They allow you to fine tune a composition with very little effort. In addition to the two geared movements, this head features dual pan controls. The head will rotate on its base, and can be locked with a simple to operate lever. The upper portion of the head can also rotate, which also makes this head suitable for panoramic work on a 35mm based system. You can level the top planform, then pan while the camera is level.
One of my concerns when switching to this system was stability since the two geared movements can never be fully locked in place. This is an area where the Gitzo G-1570M does outperform the Cube. If I mount a camera to the Gitzo pan tilt head and lock everything down, there is no play whatsoever. A camera mounted to the C1 Cube will technically have a very small amount of play. I am not referring to the ability to force the camera to be moved, but rather very gently bumping the camera to see if it holds steady or you can induce any sort of rhythmic vibration. The force that it takes to move the camera in this matter is more than what would would do. In short, any wind that is strong enough to move the camera this way is also going to make it impossible to take a photo because the camera itself will shake a lot in the wind.
I have found that the Arca-Swiss C1 Cube is a very ideal tripod head for my type of photography. It makes intimate landscape photos far easier, and I really appreciate the precise control combined with the compact size. It should be noted that I never hike around with this head mounted to a tripod on the side of my pack. It is removed from my tripod via the Arca-Swiss Quick-Link system, placed in a protective wrap, and transported in my backpack.
If you are interested in purchasing the Arca-Swiss C1 Cube and you live in the USA, do me a favor and please reach out to the Arca-Swiss USA rep directly. His name is Rod Klukas, and he is an expert on Arca-Swiss equipment, as well as large format photography. Purchasing directly from Rod is very simple, and he can answer any questions you might have about the equipment. His contact information is listed below.