Gitzo (Series 1) G1098 Basalt Macro Mod
I thoroughly enjoy building and modifying things and my camera equipment is no exception. In fact, planning, ordering and then constructing pieces of photographic equipment, for me, is nearly as much fun as shooting with them! With one caveat: I like my equipment to look “stock” and be well looked after. I know many photographers who simply see their cameras and equipment as tools and they throw it about as if it were yesterday’s junk. I’ve never 100% understood that, as a photographer, by his or her very nature, sees beauty in things others don’t and I certainly find my Fuji X cameras aesthetically very pleasing; even my RRS pieces and Gitzo tripods, are, to a certain extent, little pieces of art as well as functionally capable equipment.
With my current move towards extreme macro, I needed a suitable tripod. My little Gitzo G1098 Basalt seemed fine until I tried to get low to the ground, at which point the centre post, together with the QR and ball head, kept me 46cms above ground. Take a look at the image below..
On a forum I sometimes frequent, a friendly member reminded me that you could actually remove the centre posts on most Gitzo tripods.. Hmm.. On my little Series 1 Basalt that was, indeed, possible but once done there was no way to attach the ball head again, so the tripod was effectively rendered useless without modification. I’m sure, for the newer Gitzos, they probably sell some $599 dollar carbon fibre solution to this but the Basalt was the interim material used between aluminium and CF. I’ve nothing against CF, it’s a great material but it’s the latest and greatest and with that comes a stupendous (for the average hobbyist) price. My little basalt tripod weighs a few grams more (literally) than the CF version and I think I bought it for $40 off the ‘Bay. There’s no compromise in it’s performance, either. When you remove the centre post you’re left with a collar and an empty tube, about 2 inches in depth and therein lies the problem. How to get the top plate to bind with the tripod legs without the centre post?
The answer was actually fairly simple and sublimely cheap, for once. Most ball heads and tripod heads accommodate a 3/8″ UMC female thread. Cameras use a 1/4″ as they don’t need the same support. So all you need is a 3″-4″ (75mm is perfect) length of 3/8″ UMC studding/rod, a 3/8 nut and two sturdy 1.5-2mm thick washers of the correct diameter for you tripod collar, in this case 30mm. The plastic top plate of the G1098 has a small collar underneath that’s about 12mm in diameter so I had to drill the uppermost washer to accommodate that but otherwise it was pretty much click and go.
Because I’d ordered a 4″ length of studding (total cost £3.10 shipped or $4.50), 1 inch protruded down from the nut. I’d original planned to remove this with an angle grinder but I decided against it as it simply doesn’t get in the way and actually provides some advantages. The G1098 allows the legs to sit in 4 different positions: folded, upright, macro splayed and right angles. On hard surfaces the 1 inch protrusion was hardly going to cause a problem and on soft surfaces it would sink into the earth, possibly giving an extra element of sturdiness. Secondly, when you lose the centre pole you also lose the weight hook at the bottom. My wife, as part of my Christmas stocking (please don’t ask..) had included a pack of very strong, velcro cable ties which were about 30mm wide. Using a 6″ nail, I heated the tip over the flame of our gas cooker and then carefully melted a hole mid-way. Doing it this way ensures the material won’t fray easily as the edges are melted and sealed. I threaded that on to the extra studding and then popped on the bolt to fasten and tighten everything. The result is it now looks very tidy but more importantly, I can still hang a sufficiently heavy weight beneath it should I use the tripod in it’s normal standing position during Hurricane Katrina. All looks as stock as the day I bought it, I can put it back to stock in seconds, it now functions as a brilliant little macro tripod and the total cost of the mods? Cost to me was £3.10 ($4.50). $7-8 bucks if I’d not had the other bits required.
EDIT: See also my follow-up post here.