This is a nicely made, solid feeling item. It's well finished, the materials are good an there is the general feeling of "quality product" about it. All the movements and controls are positive & solid. A good start.
Due to the relatively large top plate, the carrying diameter feels quite large; there is quite a separation of the legs when folded. this means it won't fit quite as flush to a rucksack as other tripods. Being carbon-fibre legged it is quite light, however, and very stiff (more of which later).
Closed down the total set-up I'm using measures just 68cm (27") long ,very nice for transporting backpack. This was a key feature for me.
What's in the box?
Of course, the tripod. But it also came with a comprehensive warrantee, a carry bag, a spanner for the various nuts amd a pair of torx spanners for removing the legs. All the tools needed to disasseble, more of which later.
Being one of Gitzo's new series tripods, it has the ALR (Anti Leg rotation) design. This means that the legs don't turn inside one another when the clamp is loosened. This is a Good Thing. If you've ever use one of Gitzo's previous carbon fibre deveices (I've got a 1568 monopod) you'll know what a pain it is to have to undo and tighten all the clamps in correct order. Another feature is the new G-lock system, which uses a wedge shape in the clamp to cause top weighting to further tighten the joint. These two new features together mean that far less torque is required to tighten the legs and they are also easier to loosen. One downside is that the ALR device (see below) causes the legs to run a little tighter, so some more effort is required to extend the legs. It's not onerous, set up is easily done in a few seconds. What time is lost extending is easily gained with the clamps.
The full height of this tripod is good enough to put my EOS 20D at eye level (I'm 6' tall), the 4x5 is just a little high at full extension. I reckon that anyone up to about 6'4" should get on well with this height. Gitzo also make an extra long version the 3540XLS.
At full extension it is very rigid indeed. No leg flex or torsional movement to speak of, even when leaning on it pretty hard. All the joints are very secure, there is no slop anywhere in the set-up. The stiffness comes from the thick, high-wind, large diameter tubes. Gitzo are claiming the same stiffness from 1mm tubes as previously from 1.5mm. I can well believe that. The bottom section is fully 20mm in diamter, growing to 32mm for the top section. This is large stuff. There should be no reservations about using a 4 leg section tripod anymore with this one, even with large rigs.
Overall, though, my set-up weighs just 2.5kg (5.5lb), the tripod itself is only 1.7kg (3.7lb). Again, very nice for travelling.
With the legs open to their widest point, the tripod sits virtually flat on the floor.
With a full set of spanners and a mechanically simple design, disassembly should be easy. the legs, leg lock tabs, top plate and even each leg section can easily be taken apart. this should facilitate repairs, cleaning, greasing with ease. The removable top plate allows for adding all sorts of columns etc as previously mentioned.
Stripping down the legs is a snap. Just fully unscrew the locking ring and pull the legs apart. The picture shows the 2 collars that make up the ALR device. Inside the legs there is a raised ridge running along the leg, the pair of collars wrap around the top of the inner leg and form a matching groove. Simple and effective. Reassembly needs a little care to ensure the collars snap back into the retaining holes but it is easy with a little practice (yes, I had several goes at pulling it all apart).
The pointed feet that come with the tripod are also easily removed (and replaced with a host of options) which should facilitate cleaning for those who like to wade through swamp with their gear.
I'm very please with the Gitzo 3540LS. It's solid, easy to set-up, fully maintainable, packable. The new features have improved the design considerably over previous models. The mechanical simplicity should add to its reliabilty.
Whilst I've not really put it through its paces in the field, I'm sure it's going to be a great performer. I'll probably post a field report after I get back from my trip next week.
UPDATE: As quite a few people are now reading this review, you might also be interested in the follow up field report I wrote on the tripod.