Velbon Ultra Luxi F vs Gitzo Classic Weekend G1026
I am excited about my findings in this review.
However, two words of warning.
First, I haven't actually taken any pictures yet using the Velbon Ultra Luxi F.
Secondly, I hate tripods.
Tripods are things which are incredibly heavy all day whilst you're carting them around but instantly become lightweight and flimsy when they are erected to take a photo. They are nasty, restrictive things which cripple creativity whilst doing their best to have the same effect on your back.
One of the best things about the digital revolution (as far as I'm concerned) is being able to change sensor sensitivity (ISO) "on the fly", which (combined with the other recent innovation of image stabiliser technology) gives us a good excuse to leave tripods where they belong - behind.
Against that background, I'm testing a shiny new Velbon Ultra Luxi F against my tried-and-tested Gitzo Classic Weekend. The Gitzo is a few years old now but still currently available (model number G1026). It has been tried and tested and, sad to say, was found wanting.
The observant amongst you will notice two things from the photo above. First and (objectively) most importantly, the Velbon is a couple of centimetres shorter when fully retracted. Those centimetres can make a big difference when trying to carry it in a bag horizontally. Secondly, the Velbon is gold. I feel this is like testing a trendy "gunmetal" grey BMW against a gold Hyundai. The sort of person who would buy the BMW wouldn't even look twice at a Hyundai. But I'm glad I looked at the Hyundai because, gold as it may be, it has hidden talents (perhaps this is where the motoring analogy breaks down...)
Replacing the Gitzo
I've wanted to replace the Gitzo since pretty much as soon as I started using it. In preparation for a major trip, I started looking for a replacement and the best I could come up with was the latest "Basalt fibre" Gitzo. The Manfrottos were all too big and heavy (although I liked the Neotec design, 2.4kg is way too much for me) and I didn't think anything other than Manfrotto and Gitzo was worth bothering with. The basalt fibre G1197 looked good, weighing only 1.2kg and having a maximum height without using the centre column of 119.5cm. However its minimum length when completely retracted is 56cm, which is longer than all normal day-packs.
Having used the Gitzo Classic Weekend G1026 (affectionately referred to from now on as the "Weekend") for years and hated every minute of it, I was able to narrow down it's defects to three major areas. It wasn't sturdy enough, it was an absolute pain to erect and retract and it wasn't tall enough. Its other defect is that at over a kilogram it's still too heavy for my liking, but it's one of the lightest tripods available so that's just me being difficult.
It was my girlfriend who spotted the Velbon. At first I brushed it aside, thinking it was probably only a flimsy toy tripod for people with point-and-shoot cameras. But then I decided perhaps it was worth a try.
On paper, the two tripods on test measure up as follows:
*my measurement, excluding tripod head. Gitzo offical data puts the Weekend at 1000g excluding head, and Velbon data puts the Luxi F at 1320g, including head.
You will see from the table that on paper the Velbon slaughters the Gitzo in every category. In particular, not only does it weigh 15% less than the Gitzo, it is taller without it's centre column extended than the Gitzo is with its "double" centre column fully extended. This may be a difficult difference to evaluate on paper but, with years' of experience of using the Gitzo, I can explain how important this is in practice.
The Gitzo, even at maximum height, doesn't reach my eye level. However the worst thing is that the double centre-column is unbelievably flimsy. At its maximum height of 124cm, which is still below my eye level (and I'm only 5 foot 7), it is completely unusable. Its maximum realistic height is about a metre.
By contrast, the Velbon can reach eye level, using a little bit of the centre column length. It feels sturdy at that height. I mounted my Canon EOS20D with 200mm f2.8L lens on it and although not ideal (ie a monster tripod would be better), unless it was windy I would expect sharp results.
The photo above shows the Velbon at my eye level next to the Gitzo at maximum height, which is less than my eye level. By this height, the Gitzo is using both sections of its telescoping centre column and I'd be surprised if it could hold a micro-sized digicam steady. By comparison the Velbon is only using a short section of its centre column to achieve this height, and still feels reasonably sturdy.
One thing the table and photos above can't show you is how the tripods compare in operation. This is one of the main problems I had with the Gitzo in several years of using it. It is a 4 section tripod, with twist-locks on each section of each leg. That's nine twisty things to untighten and tighten every time the tripod is extended, or 18 "loosen-tighten" operations in total. It's tedious. Many of the photographs you can find on this website were taken with this tripod, and I suffered. Often, however, I only used the first two sections of the tripod and crouched down low to take the photo for better stability.
The Velbon works differently. Twist each leg one way to untighten, the other way to tighten, giving 6 "loosen-tighten" operations in total. It's much faster to use. Using only three of the sections (for extra stability), it is still taller than the Gitzo is with all four sections extended.
The Gitzo does not come with a head, whereas the Velbon comes with a substantial pan/tilt head. I don't much like the Velbon head, it seems out of place on a compact tripod, being quite heavy and bulky, and personally I prefer to use a ball-head. Fortunately the supplied Velbon head can be removed. Unfortunately, the screw thread on the Velbon centre column is the smaller 1/4 inch size, whereas all my tripod heads use the larger 3/8 inch thread, so I will have to get an adapter. This was the only bad thing about theVelbon tripod I found out today.
I used to think all tripods were evil. Now I know there is at least one tripod which is on your side. It is the Velbon Ultra Luxi F. A number of other Velbon Ultra tripods exist, although the others seem (on paper) significantly inferior to the Luxi F. See here for details. I bought by tripod from Morris Photographic and would recommend their service. They give free postage via ebay, and both times I've bought from them the item has arrived the next day.