Gitzo GS5121LVL Levelling Base
Before I dive into to my mini-review I must state that I always use a levelling base. I think everyone is aware they are more or less essential for panorama stitching, but they also make things so considerably easier for landscape photography too. Once set up, it’s a breeze to flip orientation just using the slot in your ballhead, and despite adding one additional adjustment to your workflow they can actually speed things up since you don’t have to get tripod perfectly level. If you’ve not used one then I suggest you try. It will make a great addition to your photography.
The Gitzo GS5121LVL levelling base ONLY works with Gitzo Systematic tripods. It replaces the top plate in your tripod and allows you to easily level without having to fiddle around adjusting individual tripod legs. It’s a heavy and solid piece of kit and once fitted is seems pretty much an integral part of your tripod, unlike other levelling bases which sit on top. The levelling base has an in-built bubble level, and is topped by a rubber matting to grip whatever head you chose to mount. Some older models featured cork matting.It has a rather clunky lever sticking out the side but this is simply to lock your ballhead in place once screwed down, and prevent it from unscrewing. It features a large half-ball that can tilt 15° in any direction, which is locked in place by turning the vertical shaft that protrudes below. The shaft is rubber coated to assist grip, but in practice I’ve found it a little too short to get a really good grip in cold weather. Some older models feature a slightly longer grip so were much easier to use. I’m not sure why Gitzo chose to use a shorter shaft on the more recent versions, but I suspect it was to enable your tripod to sit lower to the ground if necessary. The ball and locking cup are both metal and mine soon developed an annoying squeak when you repositioned with your camera on top. A touch of WD-40 temporarily cured this for a while but I found no matter what the squeak would eventually return. Perhaps a Teflon coating would be a possible improvement?
I used this levelling base for a couple of years and it has worked reasonably well. If the shaft was slightly longer perhaps I may still be using it still. However, a trip to Antarctica and a need to reduce weight, resulted in the acquisition of an Acratech levelling base, which has gained favour with me and thus sits upon my GS3541LS tripod now. I did try contacting Gitzo to see if they could provide a longer shaft, but they were unable to help.
Confusing Model Numbers
If you search online you’ll soon find many different model numbers turn up, which can be very confusing. My model is the GS5121LVL levelling base which according to the Gitzo website, fits Series 3, 4 and 5 systematic tripods, and replaced the older GS5120LVL. However most retailers may only list these as GS512LVL dropping the last numeric digit. There is also another model available, the Gitzo GS3121LVL Low Profile levelling base. This looks almost identical to the GS5121LVL, but has a different set of upsets on the cup rim, this is because this model fits ONLY the Series 2, 3, and 4 systematic tripods. However If you have a series 5 you can still use the GV3121LVL but will need to buy the additional GS5300S spacer; probably a very expensive option. There is still further confusion however, since I managed to find pictures online of both current model numbers (GS5121LVS & GS3121LVS) depicting cork tops, and some with the longer shaft, so you better check thoroughly with your retailer before committing to a purchase.
The following video, courtesy of Robert White, gives an excellent explanation of how to fit and use the GS3121LVL levelling base.
John R. Birch (04.07.2013)
The levelling base fits Systematic tripods and offers high performance and 15° tilt around a large half ball. The ultra wide platform gives solid support. Ideal for levelling flat base fluid heads, it can also be used as heavy duty, low profile head substitute for medium or large format cameras. Now also features safety catch compatibility.
Gitzo GS5121LVL Specifications
|Load Capacity||10 kg (22.05 lbs)|
|Series||3 – 4 – 5|
|Tilt Range||+/- 15°|
|Weight||0.6 kg (1.32 lbs)|