Lens Master RH-1 & M-1 Gimbals
A Review

     Having used my Lens Master RH-2 full gimbal for over two years, I decided it was time to end my relationship with my two ballheads, and replace them with gimbals. As I've said before, I was not a fan of the Arca-Swiss style clamps. That negative bias was based on the experience I had with a Wimberley plate and Acratech clamp on my first ballhead. But when I received my RH-2 gimbal, which came with an Arca-Swiss style clamp and plates, I realized they were made much better. I still will not use an Arca-Swiss style clamp on a lens as heavy as the 500mm f/4. However, my new gimbals would be for the considerably smaller and lighter Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS versions I and II.

     One of the new gimbals would go on my Gitzo 1348 CF tripod, and the other would be on a Feisol CM-1471 carbon monopod. For this I chose the Lens Master RH-1 and M-1 side mount gimbals. The RH-1 is almost the size of the RH-2, but without the swing arm, since it's a side mount model. For the monopod, the M-1 was ideal. The M-1 has no base swivel, but screws directly to the monopod stud. The monopod provides the horizonal rotation (panning) so it needs no base swivel. This saves on weight and cost. Both of these smaller gimbals have a rated capacity more than sufficient for a 500mm or 600mm f/4 lens, so I knew they could easily handle the 100-400mm zooms I would be using on them.

The Lens Master RH-1 gimbal
(Image courtesy of Lens Master)


The Lens Master M-1 kit
comes with two plates. It is
also available without
plates, saving a few dollars.

(Image courtesy of Lens Master)
 
The RH-1 on the 1348 Gitzo with the
Canon100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II
and a 1D4.
     Both gimbals arrived at the same time, in just 8 days from North East Lincolnshire, England. I ordered them from the Lens Master web site US sales page at http://www.lensmaster.co.uk/usa-sales.htm, which provides a currency conversion calculator from GBP £ to Canadian, Australian, and most importantly, US dollars, that made ordering easy.

The Lens Master RH-1 Gimbal:

     As I mentioned, the RH-1 is a side mount gimbal. It's made from "flat" stock the same thickness as the RH-2 full gimbal. This thing is sturdy and solid. The rubberized knobs are more than sufficiently large to get a really good grip for tightening, even with gloves on. They're well rounded and easy to use - no more sore hands from trying to tighten knobs that are too small for the job. Like the rest of Lens Master's gimbals, the workmanship is immaculate.

     It came with two Arca-Swiss style plates - a 50mm plate and a 140mm long plate to provide sufficient slide adjustment for balancing large telephotos. It also included a 3/8-16 to 1/4-20 stud adapter and hex wrenches. All I had to do was screw it onto the tripod stud and it was ready to go. For less than $175* plus shipping, you just won't beat this sturdy, well crafted gimbal.


The Lens Master M-1 Gimbal:
The M-1 gimbal on a Feisol CM-1471
monopod with a Canon 100-400mm
f/4.5-5.6 L IS II and 1D4 body.


     The M-1 gimbal is designed specifically for monopods, and has no panning bearing. It is a little shorter in height than the RH-1, yet still made from the same sturdy stock in the same thickness and width as the RH-2 and RH-1, and quite capable of handling the weight of a 500mm or 600mm f/4 lens. The large, easy to grip knob, and pride of craftsmanship on the M-1 is just the same as my other Lens Master gimbals. Since I already had enough Arca-Swiss style plates, I ordered my M-1 without the plates for just $108* plus shipping. Even with the 50mm and 140mm plates included it's a steal at $136* plus shipping.
     (*US dollars vary with exchange rate)

I don't know why I waited so long to replace my ball heads with gimbals. All of my shooting is with long lenses. I suppose I was avoiding the Arca-Swiss style clamps and plates. But the quality of the clamps and plates included with all the Lens Master gimbals won me over. Good riddance to those unpredictable, always top heavy ball heads. I simply cannot foresee ever using ball heads again.


The RH-1 has a rubberized
knob to act as a bumper.
The M-1 could use a
protective bumper.
A protective bumper pad for the M-1:

     The M-1 has no panning bearing, and thus no panning lock knob. Both the RH-1 and M-1 are shown at right with the lens tilted down sharply. As you can see, if you tilt the lens down too far without the rubberized knob to act as a safety bumper, as on the RH-1, there is the possibility of hitting your lens on the bottom bar of the gimbal, or on the monopod's head platform. This could possibly cause a chip on your lens. If you have a lens cover, it may negate this possibility. But I haven't yet made a cover for my new 100-400mm lens, and wanted to avoid any chance of this happening. As a stopgap measure, I made a little pad to cover the gimbal where it screws onto the monopod. It's just a piece of dense gray foam cut and carved to fit snuggly over the bar, and held on with a simple fabric cover with velcro to hold it in place.

     A simpler pad could be made from a short piece of vinyl tubing of sufficient diameter. I've included a diagram of how this would work. Notch out one end of the tubing as indicated in the diagram, then slip it over the gimbal before screwing the gimbal onto the monopod head. That alone will keep the tubing from coming off, not to mention the friction of the tubing squeezing the gimbal. This shouldn't cost more than a few cents to make.


My pad started with a piece of foam cut and carved to fit the gimbal bar, then I made a cordura cover with velcro closure,
which fits neatly over the gimbal to protect the lens from bumps and nicks.
Instructions for a very simple bump
guard made from a piece of vinyl tubing.


RH-1 RH-1 M-1 M-1

Conclusions:

     Obviously I like the Lens Master gimbals. After buying the RH-2 and using it for two years, I came back and bought two more Lens Master gimbals. And the total cost of all three was less than some other gimbals cost for one!! The quality of the clamps and plates on the first one convinced me I could trust the Arca-Swiss style clamps, even though I had been a total skeptic previously.

     Both the RH-1 and M-1 are very sturdy, steady, and well made. The action is silky smooth. Like their big brother, the RH-2, they are field serviceable. They simply unscrew for cleaning off any sand or grit you might get on them. A touch of light grease before reassembling will make them good as new. There is simply nothing to go wrong with these gimbals - no special order parts or hard to get replacements. You can pay a lot more for a gimbal, but I don't believe you will get more in the way of quality, reliability and craftsmanship.



     Did I make padded covers for my two new gimbals as I did for the original RH-2 gimbal? You bet I did. My equipment is an investment, and I do my best to protect it all. Below are some photos of the two different styles I made. The M-1 gimbal has no panning knob, so it was designed differently, requiring a different means to hold it in place.

RH-1 cover open RH-1 cover closed M-1 cover closed M-1 cover open M-1 velcro strap
     The RH-1 cover is essentially the same as the original cover I made for the RH-2. The only real difference is that I used a longer zipper on this cover so it zips all the way up to the top.

     For the M-1 gimbal, I used a velcro strap to wrap around the bottom of the gimbal arm to secure it. With no panning knob for leverage, I used a sort of "heel strap" to keep it from sliding up. The padded bumper on the arm meant it didn't need as much padding coverage as the others. Both are made from cordura - one in camo, and one in pale green.


Comparison Chart of 30 Gimbal Heads

A Guide to Choosing Your Gimbal

A Padded Camo
Gimbal Head Cover
for the RH-2