The Photo That Broke My Gitzo Tripod (Again)

Sunset at Davenport Beach

Sunset illuminated the clouds over a sea stack at Davenport Beach in Davenport California.

 

Here it is, again, the latest photo that broke my Gitzo Tripod.  Time to test the Gitzo warranty again.

While out photographing at a beach north of Santa Cruz, I setup my tripod in the sand near the water’s edge and while adjusting angles between compositions my Gitzo Tripod leg hinge shattered in half.  This exact same thing happened to me 3 years ago, at least this time I’ve had 3 more years of usage from the tripod.

The ironic part of the entire situation is that I was out photographing with a large group of photographers, including two employees of Really Right Stuff (RRS). I have been a huge fan of RRS since before I bought my Gitzo tripod.  All my tripod ball heads and camera L brackets are RRS and I have had zero issues with any of them (even after some really bad accidents of dropping my tripod ball head first into the sand, it cleaned up easily and continued to work perfectly). Unfortunately for me, RRS didn’t start making their own Tripods until after I purchased this particular Gitzo. I showed my new bi-pod to one of the RRS guys and his comment was “oh yeah, we’ve seen this happen a lot”.

According to the RRS guys, what I’ve witnessed is the difference between Cast metal (Gitzo tripod crown) and machined metal (RRS tripod crown).  Cast metal gets brittle when cold (the evening I took the above photo it was about 40 degrees F).  Just a bit of pressure on the tripod crown, like readjusting the tripod in a situation where there is tension on the legs, and you can stress the metal to the point of shattering.  While machined metal is essentially a solid block of metal that has been cut into it’s shape and should have greater strength.  This is one important thing to keep in mind when you shop for a tripod that you hope will last you a lifetime of heavy use in the field.  Unfortunately, most of the tripod manufacturers focus on the material used in the legs (carbon fiber for mine) and not enough on the metal used in the leg hinges and crown.

Broken Leg Joint of Gitzo Tripod Crown

Broken Leg Joint of Gitzo Tripod Crown

Broken Leg Joint of Gitzo Tripod with Ball Point Pen for Comparison

Broken Leg Joint of Gitzo Tripod with Ball Point Pen for Comparison

The sad thing is the thickness of the metal that Gitzo uses in their leg joints.  Notice in the above photo that the metal that shattered is about the thickness of a ball point pen tip.  This is loop that the leg rotates around as you open or close the legs.  With such thin construction it’s no wonder that this exact same part broke on the tripod two times in a row.

I hope that my bad experiences will be of value to other photographers; keep in mind these lessons:

  1. If you own a Gitzo tripod with a cast metal crown, please use extra caution when adjusting the tripod.  Don’t extra pressure on the tripod when the legs are sitting in snow or sand as this is what triggered my tripod failures.
  2. If you’re shopping for a new tripod, focus as much on the materials used in the tripod crown and leg joints as in the legs.  The joins are the areas that will most likely fail first.

Now, time to start saving for a Really Right Stuff tripod. While they might cost a bit more than the Gitzo, at least I won’t have two failures in three years.

See more California Coast photos in the Archive.

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