Thieves in Fort Cobb Oklahoma stole my tripod and gimbal this winter as I was chasing the waterfowl migration south along the central flyway. While I was certainly disappointed at the unexpected loss, it provided a reason to review the best carbon legs on the market designed for long reach, fast glass. My own conclusion is that RRS (Really Right Stuff) raised the bar to a new level and surpassed the competition, including Gitzo, in design, performance, and finish. Without a doubt the RRS design is feature rich compared to the Gitzo so if you love genius gear, you’ll have no regrets adding the RRS TVC-3x series to your quiver.
For those that haven’t had the opportunity to actually field test both Gitzo and RRS tripods, there is a common misperception due to naming nomenclature, which is little more than marketing speak, regarding the Gitzo 3 & 5 series vs the RRS 3 series. Basically due to superior strength to weight engineering, the RRS TVC-3x series is in the same support class as the Gitzo 5x series and in the same weight class as the Gitzo 3x series. Here is some insight that may shed some light on the subject.
For many years now if you shot with pro quality, super telephoto fast glass when it came time to select a support system you likely either choose a Gitzo 3x series or the Gitzo 5x series. From a design standpoint, the Gitzo 3x series was made to support up to 300mm day in, day out and provides marginal support up to 500mm. While the Gitzo 5x series was designed to support 400mm and over.
Before RRS was an option, photographers that wanted the best carbon fiber support for big guns ordered the Gitzo 5x series. Often when this decision was limited to online reviews or marketing material without first-hand knowledge, the sheer size and weight of the Gitzo 5 series often burdened the aspiring wildlife photographer when it came time to lug the Gitzo legs, gimbal head, and camera body with 500mm or more of pro glass afield. Over the years many Gitzo 5x series sets of legs have been returned in favor of the more portable Gitzo 3x series. In this scenario the word compromise comes to mind which isn’t a favorite word used to describe gear by the tribe that shoots expensive, long reach, fast glass.
Keep in mind that RRS is a 5 star Gitzo dealer and a world renowned manufacture of support gear with customers in 130 countries. For years they observed the buy decision unfold on a daily basis. They also dealt with Gitzo returns. More importantly they saw first-hand and analyzed the failures that occasionally occurred with Gitzo tripods. Unfortunately these failures usually resulted in dead gear when camera bodies and expensive glass fell off Gitzo tripods that were being carried over the shoulder. Overall, RRS had industry insight that few outsiders had access to, plus as a manufacture of world class support systems they were positioned to offer a solution.
The owner of RRS claims they set out to design the TVC series of tripods to provide “soul satisfying fit and finish with best-in-class strength and resilience.” They designed the TVC-33 to be the perfect portable support platform for big, fast glass. They don’t believe in compromise and that resonates with my spirit.
After shooting with both, when it comes to long, fast glass support, my personal take is that the RRS TVC-3x series spanks the Gitzo 3x series, and edges out the Gitzo 5x series. The RRS TVC-3x series and the Gitzo 5x series were both designed to support the big guns but RRS does so with a better design, more features, and is built with better components. The Gitzo 5 series has slightly larger 41mm upper tubes but the RRS TVC-3x series 37mm upper tubes incorporate better engineering that utilize an advanced carbon fiber weave compared to the basic bi-directional carbon weave that Gitzo uses. Besides superior strength to weight tubes for RRS, this also provides the RRS legs with sexy good looks, think Stealth Fighter good looks, while the Gitzo legs sport the basic 20th century bi-directional fiber weave.
The lighter weight makes the RRS more portable than the Gitzo 5x series and for those shooters that want even more mass for stability after they set up, RRS includes a built in hook that allows rock solid support by either hanging your gear bag, water, or similar make shift counter weight. Not necessary in most conditions but having the option sure is a nice touch, one that Gitzo overlooks in their design.
Regarding which model to order, one thing to consider is that your eye level is likely 5 or 6 inches lower than your total height and tripods get taller when ball head, gimbals, and cameras are added to the platform. Before you order the 4 section per leg taller model, make sure you really need to, especially if you’re purchasing this for use with long fast glass. Take a look at the photo that shows employees at RRS to see how they fit the standard 3 section per leg, TVC-33 before you opt for the 4 section, 34L model. See: http://reallyrightstuff.com/mmrrs/Images/gallery/TripodCollage/index.html
Both Brian & Casey are over 6 feet tall so you can see how the standard 3 section TVC-33 fits them before you opt for an additional section per leg. Regardless of brand, 3 section legs are always more stable than 4 section legs and have less failure points.
Important note, if you opt for the 5x series Gitzo and think that you’ll ever need to carry it over your shoulder, order the aftermarket NatureScapes Safety Plate that will run you about $85 for the Gitzo 5541LS. Lots of information is on this subject so Google it. The safety plate will give you some peace of mind, although you’ll wonder why RRS solved this issue with a better design while Gitzo has yet to acknowledge it.
If you opt to order a RRS TVC-3x series, you’ll notice the shipping status is usually on backorder due to high demand. The good news is that they tend to ship within 7 days of receiving your order. They ship on a first come, first serve basis so call them and check on current expected ship dates. Once you get in line they ship pretty quickly but don’t wait for the online status to change to available before you place your order unless you have a very long time to wait for demand to fall off.
Review by Geryl Mortensen ©2011 - All Rights Reserved, Product images courtesy of RRS