My usual equipment for wildlife photography includes the use of a superzoom bridge camera like the excellent Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXR with a teleconverter lens like the Raynox DCR-2025PRO Super Telephoto Conversion Lens attached to it. One of the big advantages of this set-up is that it is small and light enough to get away with using it with most standard tripod heads (my personal favorite being a pistol grip like the Vanguard GH-100 or the newer Vanguard GH-200.
Using Heavy Photographic Equipment and Long Telephoto Lenses
However I recently got the chance to test and review the new Kowa Prominar Telephoto Lens/Scope, a unique lens that can be used as both a spotting scope and a proper telephoto lens but will only attach to an SLR camera. A fantastic piece of kit, which is cheaper and lighter than many other 500mm lenses designed for SLR cameras (it weighs less than 2kg), but this combined with the SLR camera body meant that whilst my pistol grip could hold it, the set-up was far from ideal. This is because it is difficult to get well balanced and you have to fight the natural tendency of the equipment to want to tip over due to gravity. The only way to stop it tipping over is to use tension control, making moving your camera to aim in a different direction difficult.
Gimbal Tripod Heads
This is where a Gimbal Head really help as they balance your camera and lens at their natural centre of gravity to make them feel almost weightless. This means that tension control is not necessary because your camera and lens cannot flop over and what is more you can move it about and aim it with just one finger.
Benro Professional GH2 Gimbal Head
So I now knew that I needed a Gimbal head, but which one to get? The Rolls Royce of Gimbal heads is probably the Wimberley MKII (WH-200) which is a fantastic piece of kit, but costs around £550/$600, I also looked at the Induro GHB-2 (£420/$490) as well as the Benro GH-2 which is available for around £300/$350.
Designed specifically for for heavy telephoto lenses, The Benro GH-2 gimbal head very similar to the Wimberley WH-200, in fact I think it is based on it, yet costs only half the price.
Max Load: 23kg
Base Diameter 56mm
Build Quality & Setting Up
Inside the rather plain black and gold box, the GH2 comes in two main pieces, the main arm and base mount and the height adjustable mounting plate. As far as build quality and engineering go I thought it looked really well made and once assembled the whole mount feels as solid as a single piece. This is very important as this head has to securely hold some pretty valuable photographic kit.
Size and Weight
Weighting 1.44kg’s the Benro GH2 Professional Gimbal Head weighs the same as the same as the Wimberley MKII (WH-200) and their dimensions are also very similar. Designed to accept a range of telephoto lenses, right up to the very large 800mm ones, it is about as compact as you can get.
Getting the GH2 ready to use is fairly simple. As mentioned earlier, it comes in two parts and these just slide and lock together with the mounting plate lever. You will also need an “international style” lens plate to attach to your lens foot. If you decide on a Benro one, look for the PL Series like the Benro PL100 Lens Plate.
The next step is to attach the GH2 Gimbal Head to your tripod. I was using my trusty Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT Tripod that I highly recommend, but you can use most sturdy standard tripods. Went attaching it, just make sure that the Panning Lock Know is tightened and that you keep the head upright to prevent any chance of cross-threading. Once it is tight you can now attach your lens.
First attach the lens plate securely to your lens foot, then make sure that all knobs on the head are tight as you do not want your lens to fall off at this point! Then undo the quick release knob on the mounting platform of the Gimbal head and slide the lens in – make sure it is correctly seated and tighten the knob securely. A mistake her could be a very expensive one!
If you look at the photos, you will see that I mounted the camera on the plate so that the quick release knob was facing away from me – I guess you could call this backwards, but as I knew I was not going to be using it very often (I don’t often change lenses), I just liked to have it out of the way. Whatever the case, it does not make a difference to how everything works.
At this point it is not important if your camera body is attached to the lens or not – I find it a little easier without as there is less weight and find it easier to later attach the camera to the lens when it is supported and securely held in the Gimbal head.
Once the camera is attached it is time to get the system all balanced, so make sure you are set up as you will be using it in the field – So the camera has it’s batteries and your lens hood is extended etc.
To set the horizontal balance – First carefully loosen the Tilt knob and then the QR knob and slide the camera and lens forward or backwards along the QR clamp until you can feel that your set-up will stay level by itself. You can now tighten the QR knob.
To set the vertical balance – Now tilt the lens and adjust the vertical level by loosening the Mounting plate lock lever and moving the plate up and down until you find that the lens will stay at exactly the angle you pointed it at.
That is is – you now have a perfectly counter balanced set-up, making your camera and lens feel almost weightless!
One point to mention here is if you often use different lenses on your camera, you may wish to make some markings on the scale so that it will be easier and quicker to get it all counter balanced correctly when changing lenses.
Ease of Use
Once your equipment is correctly balanced, you can now fully appreciate just how well and just how much easier it is to use heavy equipment and long lenses with a Gimbal Head like the Benro GH2.
Unless you are carrying it, the weight of that long lens and SLR camera just vanishes and makes you instantly wonder how you ever managed to use a ball head! Instead of struggling with the tension controls, you can now just move your camera into almost nay position with just one finger and it will stay in that position without having adjust any knobs or levers – excellent!
I don’t use the Tilt and Panning lock knobs very much out in the field as the wildlife and especially the birds that I mostly shoot always tend to be on the move. Although if you are lucky and what you are shooting stays till, it is great to tighten these up and get the setup as still as possible, or even better a timed shot of the subject.
With this Benro Gimbal head, you get a huge amount of flexibility of movement and the best bit is it is very quick, this is because apart from changing from landscape to portrait, there are no knobs to adjust. The possible movements include:
Pan 306° – With the Panning Lock knob loose, you can rotate the camera a full 360° around the tripod. This movement is also very smooth, which really is important if you shoot video with your.
Vertical Movement – This Gimbal head allows for almost 180° of vertical movement – so from horizontal, you can tilt the lens upwards until it is almost pointing to something directly above you and downwards you could take photos of the feet on your tripod!
To go from landscape to portrait, I just loosened the collar around my lens and rotated the camera and lens..
For my money the Benro GH2 Gimbal Head is a fantastic piece of kit, it is well made and very sturdy, but at the same time you get all the ease of movement that you need to ensure that you can react quickly enough to get the shots you need.
The fact that it is much cheaper than it’s main competitors, without sacrificing any functionality or performance is a real bonus and is why I would say that it offers really good value for money.
Cost & Where to Buy
Good places to check the price of the Benro GH2 Gimbal Head are below:
Or take a look on Amazon in both the UK and USA: