If you photograph wildlife, sport or simply use heavy telephoto lenses a lot in your work, you’ll know what a strain they can put on your tripod and how hard it is to keep them stable. A gimbal head for your tripod is designed specifically for this type of work. It provides support to your heavy kit, while enabling easier pan and tilt motions. There are a number of specifications to consider when deciding which gimbal head is best. But first, lets answer a few of the common questions people have about these niche products.
What is a gimbal head for tripods?
A gimbal head is a tripod head that balances your camera and lens along the side of tripod head, rather than on top. And the best gimbal heads allow for fluid movements whether shooting in landscape or portrait format.
A tripod gimbal head is great for using with heavy camera and lens combinations, and thus is popular with sports and wildlife photographers. The gimbal’s fluid movements allow users to follow the action quickly and easily. They’re the ideal tool for panning with your subject when using a very long lens.
If you don’t want the gimbal head to move too easily, you can also get them with a fluid cartridge, which adds a bit of resistance to the head’s movements. This makes panning a lot easier.
Is a gimbal head the same as a gimbal stabilizer?
No! A gimbal head for your tripod is generally used for stills photography – typically by photographers shooting action. A gimbal stabilizer, such as the DJI Ronin-S, Gudsen Moza Air or Zhiyun Crane 2S, is used for video – and even then it is typically used for those shots when the videographer wants to move around with the camera.
The gimbal element – effectively the cradle on which the camera sits – is largely the same in both, but a gimbal stabilizer has electric motors and is designed primarily for shooting handheld video. If that’s what you’re after, you’ll find our list of the best gimbal stabilizers here!
If you shoot stills photography and want a tripod head that allows you to pan and follow the action easily, read on to find our picks for the best gimbal head for your tripod.
Gimbal head vs ball head
Should you use a gimbal head or ball head for your photography? It’s a question many photographers ask themselves. The answer really comes down to whether you shoot wildlife photography or sport.
A gimbal head can pan and tilt while keeping your camera level. This makes it incredibly easy to follow movement through the frame. But a gimbal head is large and heavy. It’s not great for landscapes, macro or most other types of photography. But if birds in flight are your thing, it’s an absolute dream!
A ball head is incredibly versatile. You can use it to make quick adjustments to landscapes, portraits, travel shots on the go. But if you try to pan with it as a race car speeds across your frame, it will be a challenge, if not impossible, to keep your camera level as you pan.
A ball head tripod mount is also going to struggle to support lenses above a certain weight, whereas a gimbal head can shoulder a hefty payload. Your 300mm or 400mm lens will move effortlessly on a gimbal head.
A ball head also doesn’t switch between landscape and portrait formats quite as easily as a gimbal head does.
The best gimbal head for tripods you can buy today
Benro GH2 gimbal head
The Benro GH2 gimbal head is one of the premium options on our list of best gimbal heads, and for good reason. The GH2 can accommodate lenses up to 600mm and effortlessly rotates them around its centre of gravity. If you shoot sport or wildlife, its maneuverability is a real asset.
The GH2 is compatible with the international-style QR plates such as the Arca Swiss and the Benro PL Series special lens plates, and it comes with its own QR plate and safety lock feature.
Its pricey, but the Benro GH2 gimbal head is built to last, and Benro offers a three-year warranty to back this up. This is the aluminium version. For about £100 / $100 more you can get a carbon fibre version that’s lighter.
Benro GH5C Carbon Fibre Gimbal Head
The Benro GH5C Carbon Fibre Gimbal Head can support a payload of up to 30kg worth of kit and yet weighs only 1.1kg itself. With that level of support, it’s perfect for sports and wildlife photographers using ultra-long telephotos.
An Arca-compatible quick release plate lets you quickly swap cameras, and the gimbal head boasts a vertical scale and a 360-degree panoramic scale for panning. There’s also a large pivot tension knob for tilt motion.
Gitzo GHFG1 Fluid Gimbal Head
Ideal for wildlife photographers, Gitzo employs a fluid cartridge technology in its GHFG1 gimbal head which is designed to absorb vibrations and ensure smooth movements, even with larger lenses.
Gitzo’s gimbal head also uses what it calls the Whip-Pan, or a fluidity control system for high-speed movements. Typically found in video heads, the Whip-Pan excludes fluidity, allowing free movement. It then restores fluid rotation when your speed slows down.
Other features include a built-in Arca-Swiss compatible quick release base and plate with rubber grips, as well as a detachable pan bar. It’s also made of lightweight, yet robust magnesium alloy.
Wimberley WH-200 Version II gimbal head
Why would you want to pay nearly $600 for the Wimberley WH-200 when there are other options on this list that are far, far cheaper?
Well, ask yourself this: if you’ve invested nearly $10,000 in a lens and camera why wouldn’t you mount it on the best gimbal head money can buy? Why scrimp and save now?
Wimberley, frankly, makes premium quality gimbal heads that are a joy to use. The WH-200 uses an Arca-Swiss style clamp that can support just about any telephoto lens and camera combination. Its easy to manipulate thanks to its compact, lightweight, less-is-more design, which offers stiffness, capacity and fluid pan and tilt movement.
Made of aluminium and stainless steel, the WH-200 is built to last, installs easily
and allows for effortlessly smooth panning up, down and sideways all while keeping your camera level.
Manfrotto gimbal head
The Manfrotto 393 gimbal head is designed for use with heavy telephoto lenses on monopods or tripods. Being a Manfrotto gimbal head, it’s solidly built with premium materials that don’t weigh too much.
Tracking wildlife, athletes, even the moon is very easy with the Manfrotto 393, thanks to its friction base that enables the bracket to pan.
There are nice design touches as well, such as two rubber hand grips that prevent your lens from getting damaged when it’s tilted to the maximum. There’s also a variable centre height adjustment in three steps.
Neewer gimbal head – carbon fibre version
The panning base and vertical arm of the Neewer gimbal head are capable of 360-degree movements thanks to its rotatable ball head. Made of carbon fibre, the Neewer gimbal head can support a payload of 13/6kg, or 30lbs, meaning you can use it with heavy telephoto lenses.
The Neewer gimbal head’s quick-shoe base is compatible with any Arca-Swiss type base plate, and it also features a built-in spirit level. If you want to shoot with different lenses, the Neewer gimbal head’s lens platform can be adjusted up and down to accommodate different setups.
Best budget gimbal head
Neewer gimbal head – aluminium version
You’ll find a few gimbal heads a little cheaper than the aluminium Neewer gimbal head, but they won’t come close to its quality at this price point. For a sub-$100/£100 price point, you will be surprised by its high level of manufacturing and sturdiness.
Like the carbon version, this Neewer gimbal head can support a 13.6kg/30lbs payload on its 360-degree panning base. Its specs, in fact, are exactly the same as the carbon fibre version higher up on our best gimbal heads list, only it’s made out of aluminium. But it’s still fairly lightweight.
There’s no wobbling here. And it’s easy to set up. This is by far the best budget gimbal head you can buy today.