Comparison Chart of Gimbal Heads

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A Look at the Wider World of Gimbal Heads:

     After writing my "review" of the 393 gimbal, I decided to do some digging on gimbal heads in general. I wanted to see what else was really out their and how they compared with my "poor man's gimbal", as the 393 is often called. While there is a plethora of off-brand, made in who-knows-where gimbal heads available from E-Bay and other web sources, most have no manufacturer web site, no pedigree and no actual specifications you can track down. They are not carried by any "known" USA retailers which might have afforded them some modicum of credibility. Such items were not considered for this comparison, as there were generally no specs to compare other than price. European brands which have no USA distribution or retailer, or are not sold online to the US are also not included. That left the collection of gimbal heads in the table below, which is still a relatively comprehensive listing for comparison purposes.


      The properties of the various gimbal heads listed below (type, price, capacity, weight, clamp type and clamp position), are not the only considerations when selecting a gimbal head. There are less tangible qualities (perceived qualities), some of them perhaps being difficult or impossible to measure or quantify, which will come into play for many photographers. These may include style and appearance, available accessory options, stability and/or vibration dampening characteristics, finish quality and detail, safety concerns, compatibility needs, etc. Such additional properties are beyond the intended scope of this comparison chart.

Basic Gimbal Types
"U" two post gimbal
(clamp position horizontal)
"J" single post full gimbal
(clamp position horizontal)
"J" single post side mount gimbal
(clamp position vertical)
Ball head adapter gimbal
(clamp position vertical)

Gimbal
Type
Brand / Manufacturer Model Weight / lb.   Approx. Street
Price $US
  Manufacturer's
Capacity Rating
(with a body)
Clamp & Plate Type Clamp
Position
"U" two post Manfrotto 393 3.5 $175 all lenses (44 lb.) Manfrotto 357 horizontal
"U" two post Feisol (carbon fiber posts) UA-180 3.5 $460 300mm f/2.8 or larger Feisol QP-200 horizontal
"J" single post Wimberly (version II) WH-200 3.15 $595 300mm f/2.8 or larger Arca-Swiss vertical
"J" single post Wimberly (side mount) WH-200-S Sidemount 2.3 $495 300mm f/2.8 or larger Arca-Swiss vertical
"J" single post Kirk Enterprises (side mount) King Cobra KC-1 3.0 $455 not specified by manufacturer ("Fits all telephoto lenses with a rotating tripod collar") Arca-Swiss vertical
"J" single post Jobu Design BWG-Pro2B
Black Widow
3.35 $640 30+ lb. / 600mm Arca-Swiss horizontal
"J" single post Jobu Design BWG-HD3 mkIII
Black Widow
2.6 $540 25 lb. / 600mm Arca-Swiss horizontal
"J" single post Jobu Design (side mount) BWG-LW3 mkIII
Black Widow
1.8 $440 25 lb. / 600mm Arca-Swiss vertical
"J" single post Jobu Design BWG-J3K
Black Widow (Jr.3)
1.5 $329-$379
(clamp option)
12 lb. / 400mm f/5.6 Arca-Swiss horizontal
"J" single post LensMaster     (UK)
(USA sales web page with currency converter)
RH-2 2.7 (£148)
$239*
100 lb. ø Arca-Swiss horizontal
"J" single post LensMaster (side mount) (UK)
(USA sales web page with currency converter)
RH-1 1.75 (£118)
$190*
50 lb. ø Arca-Swiss vertical
"J" single post LensMaster (side mount) (UK)
(USA sales web page with currency converter)
T1 Traveller 1.3  (£145)
$233*
50 lb. ø Arca-Swiss vertical
"J" single post Induro GBH2 3.2 $490 "SLR with long telephoto lens" Arca-Swiss horizontal
"J" single post Induro (side mount) GBH1 1.7 $360 "SLR with long telephoto lens" Arca-Swiss vertical
"J" single post Sirui (carbon fiber post) (conversion to side mount included) (Chinese) PH-20 2.4 $530 44 lb. Arca-Swiss horiz. or vert.
"J" single post Custom Brackets CB Gimbal 3.4 $590 all lenses Arca-Swiss horizontal
"J" single post Photo Clam Korea Orion Tilt Head 3.1 $570 not specified by manufacturer Arca-Swiss horizontal
"J" single post RedGed (carbon fiber post)
(German)
RGC-4 2.9 $635 55 lb. Arca-Swiss adapter horizontal
"J" single post 4th Generation Designs
(side mount)
M-3.6 Mongoose 1.5 $598 up to 800mm f/5.6, 600mm f/4 Arca-Swiss vertical
"J" single post 4th Generation Designs
(full gimbal conversion)
M-3.6 Mongoose with ILM attachment 1.8 $688 up to 800mm f/5.6, 600mm f/4 Arca-Swiss horizontal
"J" single post Really Right Stuff PG-02 FG (full gimbal) 3.6 $800 50 lb. Arca-Swiss horizontal
"J" single post Opteka (Chinese - only available via Opteka web site, Ebay or Amazon) GH-1 2.7 $160 30 lb. Arca-Swiss horizontal
"J" single post Flashpoint (only via Adorama, Ebay, Amazon) FPDG1N 2.2 $209 14.4 lb. Arca-Swiss horizontal
ball head adapter Induro GBHA 1.1 $205 § "SLR with long telephoto lens" Arca-Swiss vertical
ball head adapter Wimberly SK-100 (Sidekick) 1.3 $250 § lists up to 800mm f/5.6 Arca-Swiss vertical
ball head adapter Jobu Design BWG-M1 Micro Gimbal/Ballhead Adapter 0.9 $140 § lists up to 400mm DO or f/5.6 Arca-Swiss vertical

  There seems to be no consistency in how capacity is rated, sometimes even among different models from the same manufacturer.
     Also, some models may require a special replacement lens foot with certain lenses to center properly over the tripod.

  Information and prices as of October 2013
§  Rating is contingent upon sufficient capacity of the ball head used in conjunction with the gimbal attachment. Cost of ball head not included in pricing column.
ø  Can be special ordered without Arca-Swiss style clamp so customer can possibly mount other style/brand clamps.
* US price dependent on current conversion rates


Affordability - Bang for your buck:
     After carefully inspecting the above table, you might have some conclusions of your own as to what gimbal might best serve your needs. It's pretty obvious there are only a couple of gimbals with a capacity comparable to the Manfrotto 393 that even come close to the affordability and bang for the buck provided by the 393. Only the Opteka and Lens Master gimbals come close. However, too many reviews of the Opteka complain of problems with panning smoothness, questioning the quality issue. One the other hand, the Lens Master's simplicity, like the 393, means there is little chance any sort of mechanical failures or problems could even happen with either of them. There simply is nothing complex with these gimbals to give trouble, and the Lens Master gimbals are field serviceable.

Safety:
Example of Arca-Swiss plate
clamp grip, or lack thereof.
     Not one of these gimbals offers a quick release clamp and plate with the safety features of the 393's 357 clamp. Overwhelmingly they use Arca-Swiss style clamps. While these are widely used and accepted by surely tens of thousands of photographers, it still doesn't make them safe. I expect most consider that choice as mainly an interchangeability issue, and it is certainly a decision for the individual to make based on their preferences and judgement. What scares me is that the "ball head adapter" style of gimbal incorporates not one but TWO Arca-Swiss clamps to get the job done. That scenario frankly scares the crap out of me when there are thousands of dollars of equipment hanging on it. At least with an Arca-Swiss clamp sitting flat, gravity works in its favor, but tilt an Arca-Swiss clamp vertically, as on the "side mount" and "ball head adapter" style gimbals, and you have a disaster primed and ready.

Hidden Costs:
     It's important to note that some of the gimbals (notably some Wimberly and Jobu applications) may require a special replacement lens foot or plate for particular lenses in order to properly center the lens' weight on the tilt axis. These can add $80 to $100 each to the cost of the gimbal. If you have two lenses requiring these, you could have bought the Manfrotto 393 gimbal instead with the same money you spent for special plates!

An Issue of Weight?
     Do not be fooled by the seemingly light weight listed by the "ball head adapter" type gimbals. This does not include the weight of the ball head you're using. You have to add them together to get the true weight you're dealing with. I suppose you could try to avoid this extra weight by taping the adapter to the tripod leg, but I think it wouldn't work so well that way. You're simply going to have to carry that ball head around too. No free lunch there. Weight is weight!

     I cannot argue the 393 is lightweight. At 3.5 pounds, it's right up there with the heaviest of the collection, but the other four heavyweights (RRS full gimbal at 3.6 lb., Feisol carbon fiber at 3.5 lbs., Custom Brackets CB Gimbal at 3.4 lbs., and Jobu Designs Pro2B at 3.35 lbs.) all cost from 3 to over 5 times as much. So what are the advantages at those prices? ....certainly not a weight advantage. You're not buying these things by the pound, so why pay extra for it?. .......Wait a minute.. . did you say the Feisol "carbon fiber" gimbal weighed the same as the Manfrotto 393? Yep, you got it! The great thing is, it'll only cost you 3 times the price to carry that Feisol around.

     The weight versus capacity versus cost championship has to go to the Lens Master T1 Traveller. It provides a 50 lb. capacity like the big boys, but weighs only 1.3 lb. and costs just $233. That's impressive. And don't be fooled by the lighter ball head adapter gimbal arms. You have to carry around the weight of your ball head too, so the gimbal arm's weight is a false value.