Using a Gimbal Head for Wildlife Photography

I am not a fan of tripods. For most of my photography, I believe that they slow me down too much, hamper my impulsiveness and creativity and they have to be carried along with the rest of my heavy kit. However, thinking back to photographing birds in flight last year, I remembered how my arms and back ached after standing and holding the camera with a heavy long lens for hours on end. I had tried a monopod for support and also a tripod with ball head but found I just didn’t have enough control to follow the birds in flight, so had resorted to hand holding. I do own a good sturdy tripod, so it seemed that buying a gimbal head could be the way forward.

Gimbal heads are expensive and it was hard to justify buying the Wimberley head for just a few occasions when I need one, so I did plenty of research, looked at lots of reviews and eventually bought a Benro, a mid-priced gimbal with a good reputation (there are lots of other good gimbals, so decide what is best for you). Two days ago, I used it seriously for the first time on a trip to Bempton Cliffs to photograph the sea birds.

Benro GH2 Gimbal Tripod Head

This is the Benro GH2: it uses standard international-style quick release (QR) mounting plates such as the Arca Swiss and the Benro PL Series.

Benro Gimbal Tripod Head
In this view, the camera would be mounted with the lens facing the viewer.

Although it looks rather complicated, the gimbal head is a actually quite a simple device which has two pivoting joints, one of which allows rotation in the horizontal plane and one in the vertical plane.

The QR mounting plate is attached to the collar of the telephoto lens and in turn is attached to the gimbal, in such a position that the lens balances and rotates around its centre of gravity, allowing the camera to stay in whatever position you set it (setting the mounting plate too far forward, the camera gradually tilts forwards etc).

Now loosen both of the large screw controls and the camera will move smoothly in both vertical and horizontal planes. Loosen the tripod collar to switch from horizontal to vertical shooting. Simples!!!!

I found the head very easy to use, though it is very heavy, adding over 3 pounds in weight to my already weighty tripod, fine so long as you don’t have too far to walk.

It did occur to me that over longer distances and depending on terrain, my lightweight porter’s trolley might be the way to go!

      

Gallery

Here are some pictures taken with the camera on the gimbal:


© Christine Widdall