Wildlife Photography with Limited Mobility
Using Gitzo Systematic Tripod and Fluid Gimbal Head
Last year I found myself in a quandary. An auto-immune disease had crept into my body causing severe shoulder and hip pain. I could no longer carry my camera gear.
Even my small mirrorless kit that I use for landscape work was too much and wildlife photography seemed off the table altogether.
I needed solutions!
After much soul searching, and ditching the thought of giving up photography, I discovered a number of solutions for different types of photography – even wildlife!
In this video, I share with you my solution for wildlife photography that has allowed me to continue doing what I love.
Instead of looking for more lightweight gear, the solution was in the other direction. It was bigger heavier gear that solved my problem!
But before I get into my new equipment, let me explain how I ended up choosing it.
I started photography 25 years ago back in the film and darkroom days. I gave it up for a long time while I pursued a different career. So when I decided to get back into photography seriously, I had enough experience to know how important a tripod is.
I spent as much money on my tripod as I did the camera and two lenses I bought – and that is the advice I give new photographers today.
I can tell you that there is no point in purchasing a tripod that is anything heavier than super light. If it isn’t so light that taking it along is a no brainer, you are going to end up leaving it home more often than not.
There is also no point in buying one that is not incredibly stable or you will be disappointed with the result in even a slight wind. You need a strong carbon fibre tripod.
This is the tripod I purchased 10 years ago. It is a Gitzo Traveler GT1545T. It cost me around $800 Canadian at the time. After doing my research, I chose it because it is strong, solid, and small enough to fit in my luggage.
I have not been kind to this tripod. It has been plunged into the ocean many times, practically buried in sand on the beach, it has been covered in mud, algae and seaweed and endured sand storms. And here’s the kicker – it has been cleaned exactly once!!
When my tripod gets covered in whatever gunk I expose it to on a given day, all I do is not collapse it once it’s dirty. When I get home I rinse it off and dry it. Then I still don’t collapse it until it is absolutely totally dry.
That’s it. It gets no other care aside from the one time it was cleaned properly.
So when I found myself in need of a taller and stronger tripod – I won’t lie – I didn’t even shop around. My first Gitzo tripod was and still is so good that I have no reason to consider a different brand.
Enter the Gitzo Systematic Tripod which I chose because it was capable of supporting more weight and was tall enough that I could bring it to eye level. It was the easiest purchase decision ever. It is the GT3543xls which cost me $950 USD. It’s maximum height is 202 cm or 6.6 feet. It weighs 2.3 kg or 5 pounds.
Next I needed a gimbal head which would allow me to point the camera in any direction and the gimbal head would hold the camera in place. It takes virtually no effort from me at all.
Before this purchase, I had never used a gimbal head before. A lot of people go with the popular Wimberley Gimbal Head, which I have never tried. But I did a lot of research and what people say is that the Wimberley head is somewhat looser and faster, which certainly has its place. The Gitzo Fluid Head has a bit of resistance to it. The bird photographers say that it is better for photographing birds in flight because the movement of the gimbal head is smoother. People who use it for video like it because they can do very smooth panning.
Since my primary purpose with this setup is bird photography, I decided to go with the Gitzo Fluid Head. In my experience with it over the past year, I agree that I get very smooth movement following birds in flight and my photos are sharp. It cost me $500 USD. It weighs 1.35 kg or 3 pounds.
Together the tripod and gimbal head weigh 3.65 kg or 8 pounds.
My Canon 7D mark II and the 400mm f/5.6L lens together weigh about 2 kg or 4.5 pounds. With my new (to me) 500mm F/4L lens the total weight is 4.8 kg or 10.5 pounds.
With the Gitzo Systematic Tripod and Fluid Gimbal Head, an investment of $1,500 dollars all together, I have been able to continue doing what I love! I can’t even express how important that has been to me after thinking I might have to give up photography along with everything else I enjoy in life.
You may be asking: But don’t you have to carry that gear somewhere in the first place? Well luckily no. My wonderful husband sets it up for me outside the RV every morning, wherever we are, and I can easily photograph whatever wildlife is around. In our summer location on an estuary on Vancouver Island, I can sit and watch birds and photograph whenever something interesting happens. Sometimes we drive to a different location and he sets it up for me there.
Now, because I have this fantastic setup, I have actually invested in an even bigger lens – after getting assurances from my husband that he will still set it up for me even if the lens weighs 8.5 pounds!
Isn’t it ironic that a disease that meant I couldn’t carry anything at all resulting in my getting bigger heavier gear and being able to get closer images than ever before.
If you are considering purchasing a Gitzo Tripod or Gimbal Head, you can get all the information you need here.
Use the code “gitzo10” to get 10% off your purchase.
*This post contains affiliate links. If you decide to make a purchase, I will earn a commission at no cost to you. Read my disclosure.