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Gitzo GM2561T Traveler 6x Carbon Fiber Monopod with Velbon QHD-51Q Magnesium Medium Ballhead
Ballhead on Gitzo GM2561T
Traveler 6x Carbon Fiber
Close-up on Velbon
on Gitzo GM2561T
When you have a lightweight monopod like Gitzo GM2561T Traveler (see side bar for specs), you want to complete the system with a similar ball head - compact and light as well as capable of supporting the same load. Unfortunately, to find a ballhead matching Gitzo GM2561T turned out to be a difficult thing to do.
Despite of hundreds of various models and types from many manufactures, lightweight compact ball heads are a relatively rare animal. End even if you find one, most likely it will not have features you may want to have. And when you start looking for those features, you will find that their weight and size are such that they defeat the whole idea of using monopods like Gitzo GM2561T with its folded size of 14.3" and weight of 0.7 lb (330g). Indeed, the idea of using a ball head with a size approaching to 5 inches and heavier than the monopod itself seems simply unfair.
The only solution I found to this dilemma is a compromise. What helps is that by nature of monopods you will not need things like spirit levels, independent panning locks, tension controls. Also, if you are using certain techniques while handling your monopod system (see below some tips on this), you can significantly reduce requirements for the maximum weight supported by the ball head.
Equipped with this new vision of my lightweight monopod system, I opted for Velbon QHD-51Q Magnesium Medium Ballhead (see side bar for technical specifications) which I have been using for almost two years. My experience showed that although not perfect, the QHD-51Q turned out to be as I hoped a good compromise which I can recommend to anybody who find him/herself in the same predicament. So, let me tell you what I think are pros and cons of this combination.
One of many techniques for using
monopods - despite all problems
with Velbon QHD-51Q, when it is
mounted on Gitzo GM2561T, it can
be very handy.
First, what is good. Despite its diminutive folded size of 14.3 inches (and 17.6" with attached Velbon QHD-51Q), when fully extended it becomes as tall as other mainstream monopods. Six sections in the leg is a lot; however, it takes seconds to extend the monopod thanks to precise engineering and Anti-Rotation Leg (ALR) System. I like very much the top plate which helps to control the locking torque. But most of all, I like the monopod and ball head weight: total 17 oz (just slightly above one pound or 510 g). This allows me to put it a small bag (and sometimes my wife helps me with putting it into her handbag). This weight and size are huge advantage and never an issue in places like museums and churches where tripods are not allowed no matter what. The monopod is robust and sturdy despite its small size, and it feels good under the load.
The issue of load capacity is two-fold. On one hand, the upper limited is dictated by limitations of Velbon QHD-51Q - 6.6 lb (3 kg). Not much someone may say. On the other hand, the combine weight of my usual equipment which I often use with this monopod system is 1.8 kg or 4.6 lb (Canon 1Ds Mark III and Canon EF16-35mm f/2.8L USM). I am quite happy with this, and I can tell you more. Once I used this monopod and ball head even with Canon EF300mm f/2.8L (total weight 3.7 kg or 8.2 lb - obviously, much beyond the stated load capacity for QHD-51Q). I did experience problems with this, but using my usual technique for shooting with monopod, I managed to handle the whole thing. I am not inviting you to repeat this (unless you are really desperate, and do it at your own risk), but point remains that when you travel light, this simple arrangement can be very handy. = Also, I always have an option of using more serious ball head with the same monopod since Gitzo GM2561T max load capacity is almost 10 pounds. Bottom line is - Velbon QHD-51Q is adequate for many applications and its simplified ball head mechanism fits nicely pattens of handling camera on monopods.
Talking about upgraded ball head: I would like to remind what I wrote above about compromises in choosing one. For example, next in line ball head from Velbon is QHD-61Q Magnesium Heavy-Duty Ballhead with Quick Release. It supports 8.8 lb or 4 kg (current street price is about $100). The problem though is that its weight jumps to 11.2 oz (about 320 g) - which is essentially the same as Gitzo's GM2561T.
Quick release plate for
Velbon QHD-51Q: small
That is how you attach
release plate for Velbon
QHD-51Q to the camera
Problems with quick
release plate for Velbon
QHD-51Q - when it is hot
and plate is tightened up
glue comes out from
beneath the plastic.
Let me tell you now what I really do not like about Velbon QHD-51Q - its quick release plate. It's small and has the most primitive design for attaching it to the camera. Clearly, it was created with only point and shoot cameras in mind. Unfortunately, there is more - the square plastic washer to distribute pressure when the plate is attached to the camera and tightened up is glued to the plate with a substance that does not support well temperatures on hot days. As a results, this washer has tendency to move/rotate under torque forces (which are inevitable in cases like this). What's worth, this glue comes out from beneath the washer - it's sticky and dirty and makes the whole problem worth.
I have to admit that partially this problem can be amplified by my tendency to use Velbon QHD-51Q with max loads it was designed for. Well, I cannot complain - compromises, compromises... Still, there is clearly a mismatch between the quality of Velbon QHD-51Q and Gitzo GM2561T.