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Optimizing a Gitzo GT3542LS Tripod

Summary: Finding a sturdy tripod that will fit within a hard case carry-on is a challenge. With the help of third-party parts we were able to upgrade a Gitzo GT3542LS 4-section tripod to fit within a padded carry-on case.

In our continuing series on travel photography, this time we tackle a lightweight travel tripod. In this article we optimize a Gitzo GT3542LS "eye-level" systematic tripod to fit within hard-sided carry-on luggage (see Figure 1).

The Gitzo GT3542LS Tripod Folded

Figure 1: The Gitzo GT3542LS Tripod Folded

Flying with a Tripod

Many photographers store their tripod in their checked luggage, and carry their delicate optics and cameras onboard. For photographers with 3-section tripods that are 26" or 27" long when folded, this is a necessity, other than a specialized long tripod bag. However, if you try taking your long tripod on an airplane you are at the mercy of the Flight Attendants. Even though there are supposed to be exceptions for camera gear, most airlines say that your tripod must fit within a standard-sized carry on bag.

3 versus 4-section Tripods

The newer 4-section tripods from Gitzo are more stable than they used to be. The difference between 3 and 4 section pod stability is now so close as to be moot (although the 3 section pods offer the ultimate in stability, and larger final leg diameters). To avoid damage, theft and the threat of lost luggage some photographers elect to carry on their precious tripod. A well-selected 4 or more section tripod less than 21" or 22" folded should fit within a full-sized 24x14x9 carryon diagonally. Choose your carry on bag wisely however, the ones with wheels may not fit a 4-section tripod (do the math).

Spiked Feet and Airplane Travel

We recommend removing any spiked feet from your carry on tripod to avoid any entanglements with the TSA. Substitute rubber feet (which are shorter) and put your spiked feet in another bag or ship them to your destimation. If your tripod won't quite fit with rubber feet, remove the feet to buy 3/4" of length. Removing the spiked feet saves about 1.25" off your tripod's stock folded length.

Optimizing the Gitzo GT3542LS Tripod

For longer hikes and more restrictive airline weight limits, we wanted a lighter tripod than the 4-series GT4552TS travel tripod to take on trips for medium format photography. The Gitzo 3-series systematics looked like a good match (see Table 1). After testing the new GT3533LS and GT3543LS tripods, the author found the legs to be wobbly even after tightening the new G-Lock Ultra leg locks. The previous model GT3542LS (4-section, version 2) eye-level tripod had virtually no leg wobble when the leg locks were tightened.

Table 1: Gitzo Systematic 3-Series Tripods Compared
Gitzo ModelSectionsHeightFoldedWeightMax Load
GT3532LS358.9"26.9"4.4 lbs55 lbs
GT3533LS359.8"26.4"4.5 lbs55 lbs
GT3541LS457.5"21.7"3.8 lbs39.6 lbs
GT3542LS457.7"22.6"4.3 lbs55 lbs
GT3543LS457.5"22.4"4.5 lbs55 lbs

While the stock GT3542LS tripod just fit within both a Pelican Air 1525 and Pelican Air 1535 hard case, there wasn't room for any padding. Even with the spikes removed it was a tight fit due to the large top spider which is more than 5" wide (see Figure 2).

Tripod Hub Comparison, Gitzo GT3542LS vs. Markins TH-300

Figure 2: Tripod Hub Comparison: Gitzo GT3542LS vs. Markins TH-300

Replacing the spider with the Markins TH-300 tripod hub reduced the top width to 4" (see Figure 3) and the weight by 0.5 lb (see Table 2). Removing the rubber feet dropped the folded tripod's length down to 21".

The Gitzo GT3542LS Tripod Width with Markins TH-300

Figure 3: The Gitzo GT3542LS Tripod Width with Markins TH-300

Table 2: Gitzo GT3542LS Before & After Markins TH-300 Hub & Various Feet
Gitzo ModelSectionsHeightFoldedWeight
GT3542LS + Gitzo Spikes456.75"22.25"4.3 lbs
GT3542LS + TH-300 + Gitzo Spikes456.94"22.5"3.8 lbs
GT3542LS + TH-300 + Rubber Feet456.437"21.75"3.787 lbs
GT3542LS + TH-300 - No Feet4-21"-

Optimized Tripod Fits Carry Ons

The newly optimized Gitzo GT3542LS fits within both the Pelican Air 1535 carry-on case (see Figure 4) and the Pelican Air 1525 with padding (see Figure 5). The 1535 has slighly less interior length and width than the 1525, so the updated tripod fit but with little room for padding (although without the rubber feet, thin padded dividers may work). In the 1525, after removing the rubber feet from the modified Gitzo GT3542LS there is just enough room to fit within the padded dividers. The new tripod fits diagonally with one leg within the padding and the other two resting on top of the padding. Note the older GT3541LS is 0.9" shorter when folded (see Table 1), and would probably fit all three legs within the padding.

The Gitzo GT3542LS Tripod + Markins TH-300 fits Pelican Air 1535

Figure 4: The Gitzo GT3542LS Tripod + Markins TH-300 fits Pelican Air 1535

The Gitzo GT3542LS Tripod + Markins TH-300 fits Pelican Air 1525 with Padding

Figure 5: The Gitzo GT3542LS Tripod + Markins TH-300 fits Pelican Air 1525 with Padding

What About the Weight?

With the tripod placed diagonally within the case there is still room left for 2 lenses, some filters, and some clothing. The 1525 case plus padding with the updated tripod, ball head, filters and rubber feet weighs in at 14.2 lbs, well within airline guidelines. The nice thing about using a hard case is if you are forced to check your bag, you can remove any delicate lenses and check it with confidence. Tripods are pretty tough, and the padding will protect it from knocks and dings. The Pelican Airs have stainless steel hasps that you can lock with a TSA or standard lock.

Conclusion

Finding a sturdy tripod that will fit within a hard case carry-on is a challenge. With the help of third-party parts we were able to upgrade a Gitzo GT3542LS 4-section tripod to fit within a padded carry-on case.

Further Reading

Gitzo GT3543LS Systematic Carbon Fiber Tripod Review (Carnathan 2016)
Bryan Carnathan reviews the updated Gitzo GT3543LS carbon fiber tripod. While the new version 3 model of the popular Gitzo pod includes a number of improvements, Bryan found that, with a 600mm f/4 lens on the fully-extended tripods, vibrations caused by a firm tap lasted twice as long with the GT3543LS than the GT3542LS, 4 seconds vs. 2. Mentioned in private emails is one of Bryan suspicions - that the O-rings included in the newer model G-lock Ultra leg clamps perhaps contribute to the increased vibration.
Gitzo
Gitzo's home page on Manfrotto.com. Gitzo makes the GT3542LS tripod, the subject of this article.
Markins
Makers of quality ball heads known for their light weight and stiffness. Markins also makes Gitzo spider replacement tripod hubs (TH-200, TH-230, TH-300, and the discontinued TH-500). They also make an elegant tripod "hook" that works with these hubs, and titanium replacment spikes.
Nikonians
Users group devoted to Nikon camera equipment. Worked with Markins to create the MAGICA tripod series of more compact, lightweight, and reportedly stiffer tripods.
Optimizing the Arca Swiss B1 Ball Head
Extend the life of your ball head and save weight by rebuilding with lightweight components. By rebuilding our Arca Swiss B1 we saved 17.5% off its weight.
The Best Photo Carry-on: Pelican Air 1525 Case
Finding a photo carry-on that fits in most airplane overheads while protecting your gear is a challenge. The Pelican Air 1525 handily meets these criteria and is relatively light weight for a hard case.
The Best Travel Tripod: Optimizing a Gitzo GT4552TS
You can tailor your tripod to your own needs with third party parts. We modified a sturdy Gitzo GT4552TS Systematic traveler tripod from a 4.7 lb model to a lighter 4.24 lb packable that easily fits into a carry-on bag.
Use a Stable Tripod
A stable tripod creates sharper pictures and videos by damping out vibration. Sharper shots mean smaller multimedia destined for the Web.

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