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Handling and Performance
Alun Davies reviews Gitzo’s ground breaking stainless steel and 6x carbon fibre tripod with Ocean Lock leg seals specifically designed to resist the corrosive effect of saltwater, sand and harsh environments. A high specification product but did it float Alun’s boat?
When the good people of ePHOTOzine offered me the chance to review this tripod it’s fair to say that I was overjoyed. As all dedicated seascapers know, coastal photography can be a multi-discipline event involving the ‘get to your location’ endurance event, the ‘boulder jump’, the ‘slippery rock balance’ with varying degrees of difficulty, the ‘escape the wave’ 10m sprint and the Freestyle Rock pool and Surf Paddle (incurring penalty points for full body immersion). All of this has, in my case, caused serious harm over many years to several tripods.
Occasional use and regular cleaning in freshwater causes little harm but regular use can lead to corroded leg joints, sand abraded legs – leaving black carbon on your hands, and in the days of magnesium alloy, brittle and broken castings. My search to combat such effects has been shared by others and I have heard tales about old seadogs using bicycle inner tubes to cover the legs, umbrella covers, and even stylishly flared bin liners. Never having seen such ocean going monsters I was eager to learn whether the Ocean Traveler, dedicated as it is to the task, had me singing sea shanties or consigning it forever to Davy Jones’ photo gear locker. For me the ideal seascaping tripod has to be, strong enough to support my camera and lenses, yet light, resistant to harmful elements and quick and easy to setup and clean.
The supplied ballhead and all the tripod’s metal castings are beautifully engineered in uncoated stainless steel - the result of a complex, high-end manufacturing process that produces moulded stainless steel of surgical quality. This has the particular benefit of ensuring that anchoring points for corroding nasties are absent.
|Looking good at the beach||The supplied stainless steel ballhead dismantles easily|
The ballhead itself has been designed so that it can be easily disassembled with the supplied allen key for cleaning and maintenance. The ball is locked with a single lever and has no panning or friction adjustment. Be aware, however that no quick release plate is supplied with the kit which at this cost was somewhat disappointing. The stainless steel housings for the top leg segments are equipped with a funnel-like hole designed to allow any water that may have entered to drain out when the Ocean Traveler is inverted. Sliding stops allow the legs to be set independently at different angles and there are two leg position locks at 25 and 70 degrees.
The 4 section tripod legs themselves are manufactured from Gitzo-specific "6x" ultra-strong and super-thin (0.007mm) carbon fibre strands. and employ an anti leg rotation design. The centre column can be reversed for low shooting and a low angle adapter for use without the centre column is also supplied utilising the hook attachment and the supplied head. The centre column cannot be rotated to act as a boom.
Above: Tripod at full extension – I’m 5’ 10”
Right: Centre column inverted
One of the key innovations of this tripod is the aptly named ‘Ocean lock’. The leg sections are easily secured in position with the familiar twist action G-lock but Gitzo have, significantly, added special inserts at both ends of each leg lock. While Gitzo do not claim that the Ocean-lock is 100% waterproof the Ocean-Lock dramatically reduces the amount of sand and water that can enter tubes and locking mechanisms. When these legs are collapsed there is an audible whoosh as air is expelled and the Ocean-locks have a squeegee effect that literally wipes the legs clean. Should anything get past this feature then the leg locks disassemble for quick and easy cleaning.
|The legs are as close to self cleaning as you can get and can be disassembled in seconds.|
The Ocean Traveler is designed to allow the leg segments to fold through 180° this allows the supplied tripod head to be enclosed within the collapsed legs resulting in a stored size of only 43.5cm. With a maximum height of 149cm a weight of only 1.4kg and the ability to support 4kg it is an extremely portable and versatile tripod.
The kit comes with spares and lubricant together with an anti-dust bag although, again, at this price point I would have expected a higher quality tripod bag.
At no time during my use of the Ocean Traveler did they slip or become difficult to retract. Initially the legs were a trifle stiff when spread but a fraction of a turn with the supplied allen key to the adjusters sorted this while allowing each leg to remain at any angle set. The erected tripod has excellent torsional rigidity although initially I was concerned about the thin diameter of the lower legs. So far, therefore, so good. The ‘rapid’ centre column was, however, less than rapid. The Ocean lock seal around the centre column did an excellent job of gripping the column but a bit of pressure was required to slide it out after releasing the lock. This was a minor point and the column was successfully inverted with little bother.
The first and only major disappointment I experienced was with the supplied ballhead. The manufacturer’s website states that the Ocean Traveler kit is: "An excellent choice for compact digital cameras and DSLRs, or even for lightweight camcorders. When used with an SLR or DSLR, the Traveler is ideal for 135mm lens, and can be used with lenses up to 200mm."
Indeed, unless my eyes deceive me the promotional video shows the Canon 100-400mm L IS USM lens attached to the head with the intrepid user waist deep in the beautiful briny. The load capacity rating is 4Kg and my Canon EOS 5D MkII coupled with a 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM weighs in at a mere 1.6Kg. I was therefore somewhat surprised when the single lever lock on the ballhead failed to hold my 24-70mm f/2.8 L II or the 16-35mm f/2.8 L II securely without extreme tightening. Both lenses inclined to agree – literally! This may have much to do with the very small contact area provided by the ballhead base attachment in the absence of a supplied QR plate. The supplied stainless steel ballhead dismantles beautifully and with lighter gear and a QR plate may well work well but I wasn’t ready to risk it and so opted for the small but mighty Benro B-1 ballhead as an alternative.
From then on, the tripod was transformed easily supporting my lenses and camera with no creep or camera shake. It was still just about possible to invert the legs through 180 degrees and nestle the alternative head between them for storage.
I took many shots at various exposure lengths over several weeks and all were as sharp as I could wish for and I am known for being rather fussy about such things. On a particularly windy cliff top with a 30 sec exposure I placed my backpack on the centre column hook with all legs fully extended and all was well. My fears about the narrow lower leg sections (approx 12mm) were not founded and the tripod remained rigid and stable.
Gitzo Ocean Traveler Series 1 Sample Photos
Fully extended tripod with bag on hook | 30 sec | f/19.0 | 16.0 mm | ISO 100
Traeth Mawr | 2 sec | f/19.0 | 16.0 mm | ISO 100
The Ocean-Lock system made collapsing the tripod effortless and left the legs almost try and free from sand. On the few occasions I dismantled all the legs to brush off any small grains of sand that had entered the locks I was amazed by the ease and speed by which this was achieved. Indeed, after such an extended trial the tripod looked as new and still held the capacity to make my heart miss a beat, explaining, perhaps, my reluctance to send it back to the staff at ePHOTOzine.
Setting the issue of the head aside, the tripod itself delivered everything I would look for in an innovative package. It should outlast all others in terms of resistance to sand and sea while remaining a thing of beauty and if it’s quality and style you’re after then this, to maintain the seaside metaphor, has both in bucket loads.
Gitzo Ocean Traveler GK 1581OT ProsInnovative design
Resistance to prolonged contact with saltwater and the elements
Lightweight and compact
Gitzo Ocean Traveler GK 1581OT ConsPoor head
Unimpressive carrying bag
|VALUE FOR MONEY|
Gitzo Ocean Traveler Series 1 Specifications
|Construction||Stainless steel head and castings with carbon fiber leg sections|
|Maximum Weight Capacity||4kg|
|Number of Leg Sections||4|
|Box Contents||No Data|