Gitzo GT4543LS & GHFG1 Fluid Gimbal

As most photographers can probably relate to, I have owned my fair share of tripods over the years.
Started with the affordable and gradually did the right thing and invested properly in a solid support platform.
When buying the Manfrotto 055 with an X-Pro ball head earlier in the year, I thought I had maxed out my needs and I was satisfied.
The ball head is fine for general photography such as landscapes, but you need to make sure it is locked down when you take your hand off the camera.
For wildlife this presents a problem.
You need to be agile - be able to move freely around.
Constantly locking and un-locking a ball head becomes a hindrance. Good shot opportunities are quickly lost this way.
Enter the gimbal.
The gimbal is designed to balance the camera and lens on a pivot point so you can move horizontal and vertical in all directions.
The camera rig remains balanced at all times.
Remove your hands and it just sits there - ready for you to carry on.
Most gimbals are designed to be very loose and free. You can lock them down, but once un-locked they move like a fidget spinner.
The Gitzo Fluid Gimbal is a bit different.
Inside the ball joints are fluid chambers that act as dampeners.
You can freely move the head in all directions, but once you stop applying any pressure it stops dead.
It behaves like a video fluid head.
Apply a little force and the gimbal moves very smoothly - like a video head.
Make a bigger move and the head moves freely without much fluid resistance.
It is truly wonderful for wildlife shooting.
Smooth and agile at the same time.
And the camera rig is always balanced and safe.
The details:
The camera is mounted on an arca-swiss type plate (included).
You can move the plate in the horizontal plane to balance the camera/lens combination.
Once you find the balance you lock the plate in place.
There are two locking knobs - one for horizontal panning and one for vertical tilt.
They do not vary the amount of fluid resistance to a large degree.
Once unlocked the fluid motion is fully available.
Once locked it behaves like a ball head.
You can adjust the hight of the lens in the vertical plane.
This allows you to better match the centre of gravity to the pivot point of the tilt joint.
If you point the camera down and find that the lens wants to drift back up, you simply raise the mounting plate till it stops drifting.
If you point the camera up and find that the lens wants to drift back down, you simply lower the mounting plate till it stops drifting.
This takes a few seconds to to set.
Once balanced the camera/lens just sits where you point it.
You can fit a handle bar to the head.
This makes it much easier to make smooth moves and adjustments.
I have this on all the time and I love it.
The arm can be attached to protrude to either side.
I use mine opposite to the images bellow so the locking wheels are on the left side.
The arm is a really great addition to the gimbal and quite unique to this design, as far as I know.
The arm is optional and can be removed when not needed.
There is one problem with this arm, however.
On some smaller camera/lens combinations you may find that it cannot be freely adjusted as the camera gets in the way.
I use the Fujifilm X-T3 with the grip and this almost doesn’t work with some lenses.
It depends on the tripod collar and the hight of the lens above the mounting plate.
The Tripod:
I could have added the Gitzo Fluid Gimbal to my Manfrotto 055 Series, but I decided against it.
The gimbal is a substantial piece of kit and the balance on the 055 would be a bit odd.
There where a couple of things about the Manfrotto that I had grown to be less fond of.
The clamps that lock the leg sections work well, but I tended to get the tripod stuck in the ferns and rough of the forest bed.
It could be difficult to carry the tripod through this rough.
Secondly it comes with an extender as standard. This means you cannot easiely lower the tripod to the ground without removing parts.
I could have purchased the shorter extension column but it still won’t get completely flat to the ground.
So I added the Gitzo 4543LS.
This thing is chunky!
It is the second largest series of tripods in the Gitzo Systematic range.
Here is a spec list from the Gitzo website:

With the Fluid Gimbal head this combination weights in at 3.70kg
That is a lot more than the Manfrotto 055 + XPro ballhead at 2.60kg
For longer hikes this may become an issue, but so far I haven’t reached for the Manfrotto even once since getting the Gitzo.
Handy Little Tip

The gimbal handle can be positioned in a variety of ways and for most photographers (not doing video) it may seem less useful. However, if you turn the handle bar up and inwards so the tip of the handle rests on the cameras bottom plate, it will act as an extra support for the camera. This will assist in reducing vibrations, especially when using a longer lens.
Make sure the handle makes good contact with the camera, but take care not to apply too much force as that will add stresses to the lens mount.
Side notes:
One thing to watch out for is how easy it is to accidentally unscrew the rubber feet.
When you turn the locking collars for the leg extensions you can easily also unscrew the rubber feet just enough that they could fall off when you don’t pay attention.
This happened almost immediately.
So the solution is to add a little threadlock to the threads.
I used Bond-It A43 (Amazon) and they haven’t come loose since.
Make sure you use the blue threadlock - not green or red.
They have a much higher strength and could be hard to remove later.
The tripod comes with two sets of feet:
- A hinged type that is designed for flat surfaces.
- A non-hinged traditional rubber foot for general outdoor use. I use these.
- You can also add spiked feet for ice and rough terrain use.
There are options to add a centre column and a leveling base.
The leveling base may be added at some point. When you pan the camera around it becomes important to have a level base plate.
I have now added the leveling base and it really helps in many conditions.
I use the tripod mostly outdoors on uneven terrain and that means I will almost always have to adust the tripod colar on the lens to level the camera.
Adjusting the tripod colar is fine for a static shot, but if you pan the camera side to side it will almost never remain level through that movement.
With the leveling head I will first level the base and then set the level on the tripod colar using the cameras inbuilt digital level.
It works almost perfect; there is usually a little bit of a discrepancy during a wide pan, but it is much better than without the leveling base.
There are two negatives with this base; price and weigth.
To fit the base you must first remove the original flat top plate.
This part weights 194g
Then you must add the Gitzo 75mm Half Bowl Video Adapter Systematic Series 2-4.
This cost £80.00 and weights 81g
Then you must add the Gitzo Systematic Leveling Base.
This cost £155.00 and weights 370g
So for the convenience of the leveling base you will pay £235.00 and add 257g of weight.
Is it worth it?
It depends or your usecase.
For me I would say yes as I pan and move the camera around a lot.
If you shoot landscapes or other static subjects, perhaps not, but then you probably wouldn't be using a gimbal in the first place.

This is a great tripod/head combination and should be the last tripod I need for a long time - where have i heard that before ;-)
The extra weight and size is a price worth paying for what it offers in stability and flexibility.
It has literally transformed my wildlife photography.
I get shots that I would previously have missed due to messing around with the ball head.
Tracking moving wildlife is so much easier.
It also has the added bonus of being a very good video head. Fluid and precise.
A worthwhile investment.

All images are courteous of Manfrotto.

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