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Gitzo is a French company, founded in 1917. Its name was derived from the founder's name Arsène Gitzhoven. 'Gitzo' was a name given to an early shutter (see below) and later adopted for all products manufactured by the company. Initially Gitzo made camera equipment and precision accessories, especially shutters. After World War II it concentrated on the manufacture of tripods and tripod heads, for which it is renowned today.
Arsène Gitzhoven founded the company in 1917, during the height of World War I, at a time when photographic equipment could no longer be acquired from Germany. In the beginning, the company manufactured wooden as well as metal film backs adapted to the majority of the cameras manufactured in Europe. In the early or middle of the 1920s the company started to produce its own cameras, the Gilax series of 6.5 X 9, 6.5 X 11 and even 24 X 36 cm. In the 1930s Gitzo gave up the manufacture of cameras to concentrate its know-how on a range of precision accessories. Gitzhoven registered a range of patents for shutters both in France. and the United States of America . In addition to shutters the company produced a range of precision accessories such as delayed action mechanisms, flash connectors and cable releases. Gitzo shutters, produced at a rate of 750 a day in 1936, were used by a wide range of camera manufacturers (see list below). The firm ceased operations from 1942 to 1945. After World War II it continued to produce shutters and precision accessories, but also branched into the production of tripods from 1950. In 1953 Gitzo patented the first rapid column tripod, followed by the world's first carbon fibre tripod in 1994 and the World's first magnesium tripod head in 1996.
In 1960, Arsène Gitzhoven retired and his daughter, Yvonne Plieger, took over the company. Her husband, Roger Pflieger, had been an aviation mechanic during World War II and developed a number of patents associated with tripods and tripod heads. When Gitzo became part of the Vitec Group in 1992, the manufacture of accessories ceased and the company concentrated on tripods and tripod heads. Between 2001 and 2005 the company was gradually transferred from France to Italy. Currently (2008) Gitzo manufactures tripods, tripod heads and photographers' clothing.
The initial logo used by Arsène Gitzhoven were his initials, displayed as a capital 'A' set inside a capital 'G' (called 'AG marking' in the list below). The name 'GITZO' derived from one of the shutter types and became eponymous for all products produced by Gitzhoven. During the Art Déco era both the G and the O of 'GITZO' were stylised, with the 'O' shaped like a Greek ∆. Since the 2002 reorganisation, the company logo is a dark blue square with the word 'GITZO' in the centre.
Numerous descriptions of GITZO products in on-line auctions refer to the brand or product line "GITZO BREVETE" or "GITZO BREVETE SGDG." This is based on a misinterpretation. 'Breveté' simply means 'patent,' and "S.G.D.G." is an abbreviation for "Sans garantie du Gouvernement" which means that a patent had been applied for but not yet granted (akin to the 'Patent pending' in UK and USA parlance).
The history of Gitzo cameras is very sketchy at present. I seems that there was a Gilax series of 6.5 X 9, 6.5 X 11 and 24 X 36 cm; produced in the 1920s. In addition, solid aluminium bodies seem to have been projected for the 1950s, but the project was abandoned when cheap Japanese camera imports effectively killed the French camera industry.
The origins of Gitzhoven's shutter designs are not fully clear. It is worth noting, however, that the early shutters, such as 'Stella' , 'Plavicos' and the 'Gitzo' black disk shutters bear a striking resemblance to the Alfred Gauthier-designed 'Vario' shutter. The Vario shutter of the late 1910s and early 1920s has a nine-leaf Iris diaphragm similar to the one produced by Gitzhoven. Moreover, the early Gitzo shutters have the same dimensions (55mm diameter) and physical appearance as the Vario shutters. There is little research available on the early days of the Gitzo brand and it is not clear whether shutter production started during or after World War I. It is quite possible that production started during the war when German patents were in abeyance. Certainly after Germany's unconditional surrender in 1918 French manufacturers could use German designs without fear of litigation.
Between the 1920s and the 1960s Gitzo was a renowned supplier of shutters for various French manufacturers and for importers who bought foreign camera mechanisms and furnished them with French-made shutters and lenses. From the 1930s onwards, Arséne Gitzhoven held a wide range of patents on shutters and shutter improvements. By 1936 the company reputedly produced 750 shutter mechanisms a day. The production of shutters ceased in 1992.
Camera importers and manufacturers offered their camera models with a range of shutter and lens combinations. A good example for this are the Héard & Mallinjod Hemax models, which were offered with a range of lenses manufactured by Berthiot, Boyer, Darlot, Hermagis, Itier and Roussel, and for which GITZO, Vario and Compur shutters were available. When consulting price catalogues of French camera manufacturers and resellers, such as Photo-Plait, it becomes obvious that Gitzo shutters were cheaper than imported Vario or Compur shutters, presumably indicating a perceived lesser quality. This was certainly not the case. Photo-Plait also sold shutters and lenses individually , thus allowing enthusiastic photographers to create their own body-lens-shutter combinations. A separate listing of Gitzo shutters provides a compilation of known shutter and camera combinations.
The following shutters are known, or are attributed to have been manufactured by Gitzo.
- "PLATOS".—black and white disc, settings: 25-50-100-B-T, presumably made by Gitzhoven for the 'Photo-Plait' badged cameras.
- "PLAVICOS".—black and white disc, settings: 25-50-100-B-T, presumably made by Gitzhoven
- "STELLA".—black and white, settings: 25-50-100-B-T, ornate AG marking, presumably made by Gitzhoven
- VISTAR.—black and white disc, settings: 25-50-100-B-T, AG marking
- "GITZO" 
- Type A.—black and white disc, settings 1-B-T, AG marking
- Type B.—black and white disc, settings 25-50-100-B-T)
- Type C.—settings 25-50-100-B-T with aperture lock, red centre with black ring, AG marking
- Variant C1.—external diameter 55mm
- Variant C2.—external diameter 67mm
- GITZ∆.— art deco face plate, settings: T-B-25-50-100, AG marking
- GITZ∆ 1.—settings: T-B-25-50-100-125, AG marking
- GITZ∆ 1R.—settings: T-B-25-50-100-125, AG marking
- GITZ∆ 2R.—settings: T-B-25-50-100-150, AG marking
- ZOTIC I .—settings: 200-150-100-50-25-B
- TYPE '0': 150-25
- TYPE A (with pretensioning)
- Variant A1: 200-25
- TYPE B (without pretensioning)
- Variant B1—Settings: 200-150-100-50-25-B
- Variant B2.—Settings: 250-200-150-100-50-25-B
- Variant B3.—Settings: 300-200-150-100-50-25-B
- Variant B4.—Settings: 400-250-200-150-100-50-25-B
- AZUR - PARIS - FRANCE.—Shutter settings: T-B-25-50-100-150.
Between 1950 and 1992 GITZO produced a wide range of small products for the photographic market, ranging from cable releases to self timers and flash synchronisators. For the 8mm film market Gitzo produced film titlers.
A number of cable releases were produced ranging from 50mm to an astounding 1500mm!. In addition, GITZO produced pneumatic cable releases. The production of cable releases ceased in 1992.
to be expanded
"Auto-retardateurs" were based on a (patented) pneumatic principle and resembled in their shape metal syringes. It allowed for a shutter delay of up to 30 seconds. The production of self timers ceased in the 1980s. Two main tpes of auto retardateurs were produced, the standard model and the 'junior', which lacked the option to control the amount of time elapsed (only allowed for 30secs). The standard model was produced in a number of variants to allow for use with standard (pin) releases, Leica releases and Polaroid releases.
to be expanded
Gitzo produced a wide range of tripods. From the 1960s onwards the pattern of tripods was uniform, based on a structure of 'series' with increasing tube diameter with a set type of names (see the detailed listing of Gitzo tripods. The coding of the tripod heads was similar, so that users could readily match the right sized heads with the legs. The codes were:
- 00 Table 5/8")
- 0 Weekend 3/4")
- 1 Sport (7/8")
- 2 Reporter/Mountaineer (1-1/8")
- 3 Studex & Inter Pro Studex (1-1/4")
- 4 Pro Studex (1-1/2")
- 5 Tele Studex (1-5/8")
From 1970 onwards the tripods were painted in the distinctive “Noir Decor” hammered finish.
The company produced a wide range of tripod heads for still and video cameras. The most innvoative was the Off-centre_ball_head, which came in a range of sizes corresponding with the tripod. It was patented in 1956
Notes and References
- History page of the GITZO official website 
- History page of the GITZO official website 
- eg. Perfectionnement aux obturateurs pour appareils photographiques-- French Patent nº 707,860 granted on 15 December 1930
- Shutter for photographic apparatus - United States Patent 1953556 
- GITZO official website 
- Article 306 of the Treaty of Versailles of June 28, 1919 gives all 'contracting parties' of the Treaty the right to use German patents without compensation if the country had passed war-time legislation that nullified the German economic interests for the duration of the war. []
- e.g. Catalogue Photo Plait 1937, p. 76.
- Note that the classification of GITZO Type A-C does not correspond with the official Gitzo nomenclature. There are no data in hand that can shed light on this. Once that has been ascertained, the terminology used in the article will be adjusted.
- The Photo Plait 1937 catalogue (p. 76) lists shutters Gitzo 2 and 2R (57mm external diameter). Actual measurements with a micrometer show that the external shutter diameter ranges from 55.2 to 55.6 mm
- The Photo Plait 1937 catalogue (p. 76) lists shutters Gitzo 1 and 1R with 44mm external diameter.
- Tête à rotule pour pied d'appareil photographique ou autre. French Patent nº FR1124252, 9 October 1956.