A gimbal is a type of tripod head that allows you to perfectly balance the weight of your camera so that it can be moved effortlessly both vertically and horizontally. With a perfectly balanced gimbal you can move even the heaviest setups, such as a 600mm lens and pro-sized camera body, with just the tip of your pinky finger and almost no effort at all.
A camera on a gimbal is always ready to go because you can just take your hands off it without needing to lock any pan or tilt knobs as you do with a ballhead. Then, when the action starts, all you need to do is grab the camera and spin it quickly towards your subject.
A good gimbal will have incredibly smooth bearing cartridges in it, or even a fluid cartridge to add resistance and make smooth panning shots much easier.
Gimbals come in a variety of shapes and sizes. In this gear guide we’ll examine the top options on the market today, at a variety of different price points, and I’ll make recommendations for the one that will best suit your photography.
Photography Gimbal Vs. Video Gimbal – NOT the same!
Googling the word ‘gimbal’ can be quite confusing these days because you’re going to get a mix of results talking about both photo gimbals and video gimbals. If this is your first gimbal purchase, you definitely don’t want to get the two confused. Even if you search ‘gimbal’ on B&H Photo you will see a huge number of video gimbals int he search results. To help you, the better search term is ‘tripod gimbal‘, because video gimbals are not designed to go on a tripod, whereas photography gimbals are exclusively designed to go on tripods.
A photography gimbal – what we are discussing in this guide – doesn’t have any electronic parts inside it. It’s designed to be put onto a tripod, and at that point you balance your camera on it. If you were to make a significant movement of your tripod’s orientation, you might find you need to re-balance your gimbal because they are designed to be used statically from the tripod.
A video gimbal is a stabilizer to hold your camera level while you move it around. It contains motors, rotating gyros and a ton of electronic wizardry that are designed to resist the inertia of your camera while you move it, and keep things straight and level. They work hand-held, or sometimes attached to a moving vehicle, but there would be no need to have one on a tripod. The also require power in order for them to keep the camera level, and generally they have much less weight capacity than a photo tripod gimbal.
TLDR; if you are shooting photos, do not buy a video gimbal from DJI or any other similar product. If you are shooting video, only buy a video gimbal if you actually want to move around with the camera. If you want to shoot video of wildlife, with a long lens from a static tripod position, use a photo gimbal with a fluid cartridge (discussed later in this guide).
Gimbal Heads: Side Mount Vs. Cradle Mount
Gimbal heads come in two different mount styles and it’s important to understand the pros and cons of both of them when making your decision. Some manufacturers offer both mount styles for same gimbal so that you can get exactly what you want, for example the RRS PG-02 and the RRS PG-02 FG with the former being a side mount style and the FG “full gimbal” being the cradle mount. Induro do the same thing with the GBH1 side mount gimbal and the GBH2 cradle mount gimbal, and these two companies aren’t alone.
The more traditional style is definitely the cradle mount, where the foot of the lens is mounted on an L-shape arm that comes down down from the vertical pivot point and cradles the lens foot underneath the lens. The side mount style of gimbal does away with the L-shaped cradle and puts a clamp directly on the vertical pivot. This means the lens foot is 90 degrees off from where it is with the cradle mount.
Not that long ago there weren’t many gimbal options on the market and the vast majority of people used a Wimberley head. Wimberley’s sidekick head was probably the first gimbal I saw that used a side mount, and this was followed by the RRS PG-02. In the last couple of years I have seen more and more companies producing side mount style gimbals so their popularity seems to be on the up, for good reason.
Gimbals with a cradle mount are heavier, bulkier and usually at the very least $100 more expensive then a side mount version of the same head. At this point I would usually want to counter the negative points with some positive ones, but I honestly can’t think of any! Cradle mounts are not any more stable, and in fact the L-shaped arm could add instability if it isn’t made solidly enough. Often they just add more joints, bends and clamps, each of which can add to the overall flex of a head.
So why do most people use cradle mount gimbals? And why are some manufacturers like Gitzo only producing gimbals with a cradle mount?
Well, the later has to do with the former I’m sure. Most people use a cradle therefore Gitzo (or other) simply cater to that need. Unfortunately the main reason people choose a cradle mount is out of some misguided belief that it’s safer to use than a side mount. A someone who has used both, and chosen to go with a side mount gimbal for my own head, I can tell you that it is definitely just as safe as a cradle mount. You are every bit as likely to miss-clamp a lens foot on a cradle mount as a side mount, and both would end in equally disastrous moments for your gear if that happened. Just as it would do with a regular ballhead.
A second factor is likely that Wimberley heads are still so common to see, because a gimbal head will last a lifetime if you take care of it. When people decide they want a gimbal, they naturally look around to see what their friends and acquaintances are using.
Thirdly, people seem to have concerns about the forces that are put on the lens foot and mounting points when a side mount is used. Super telephoto lenses from any of the major camera manufacturers are more than capable of withstanding the torques and other forces on the lens foot connection, which is created from the lens weight hanging sideways off a side mount gimbal. For some people I can appreciate that this might look like a scary way to clamp your $10,000+ lens, but they are designed to withstand their own weight at any angle, and I haven’t ever heard a single horror story. Side mount gimbals are safe!
Simply put, it’s my belief that if there is a side mount version of a gimbal that you like, then it’s the side mount version you should be buying.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that all cradle mount gimbals should be off the short list of buying options. There are some manufacturers, notably Wimberley and Gitzo, that simply don’t make side mount versions of some of their gimbal. In that case, it’s possible that the benefits that those heads offer might outweigh the fact that it’s not a lighter side mount design.
In a Hurry?
If you’re in a hurry and need a quick solution, you can’t go wrong with the exceptionally well-priced Gitzo fluid gimbal. Yes, you read that right, a well-priced Gitzo product! Gitzo’s products usually sit at the very top end of the pricing spectrum in any given product category, but this one is a welcome exception. It’s cheaper or on a par with the competition, and it’s a fluid head which is smoother than a traditional bearing system. It comes with a video handle which most people charge extra for, and it looks awesome, too!
The Shortlist (in no particular order)
This table shows you the list of products that I’m going to be reviewing further in this guide. I didn’t choose these products blindly, so if it made it as far as being included in this gear guide at all then it has already shown some merit. If you don’t have time to read the in-depth guide then these links might save you some time.
If you’re reading on a mobile device, the table might look better if you rotate your screen horizontally.
|Really Right Stuff PG-02 – Highly Recomended||N/A||Check Price|
|Really Right Stuff FG-02 – Best for video||N/A||Check Price|
|Gitzo GHFG1 Fluid Gimbal – #1 Choice||Check Price||Check Price|
|Wimberley WH-200||Check Price||Check Price|
|Oben GH-30 – Cheapest||Check Price||Check Price|
|Wimberley Sidekick||Check Price||Check Price|
|Induro GHB1 – Budget Choice||N/A||Check Price|
|Sirui PH-20||Check Price||Check Price|
Really Right Stuff PG-02
The PG-02 from Really Right Stuff is a modular gimbal head that can be constructed with both a side mount or cradle mount to suit your preference. I’ve discussed that choice earlier and my feelings are pretty clear: The cradle mount is pointless. Save some money and weight in your pack and just use the side mount if this is the gimbal you want, it’s solid as a rock. I should know, I’ve been using one for many years!
The thing that first attracted me to the PG-02 is the two-piece design with the horizontal rail and the vertical arm. You can take the two pieces apart and clip them together parallel to each other to make it easier to transport. This modular design also means you can use the horizontal rail as a nodal slide for panoramic photography, simply by adding the FAS clamp to it. You don’t even need a panning clamp on your ballhead because the panning base is built into the PG-02’s horizontal arm. Simply mount it to your existing ballhead, use that ballhead to perfectly level the horizontal arm and spin it around to create your panos. In fact, I owned the horizontal arm for a couple of years just for panos, before I decided to add the vertical arm to create the gimbal! It’s nice to be able to build your kit up in that way, piece by piece.
Everything about this gimbal screams quality. The design and machining is beautiful and the movement of the gimbal is buttery smooth, even with the heaviest of camera setups. The PG-02 is rated up to a 50lb load, but with even a 600mm lens on a pro body barely tipping the scales at 12lbs, you are never going to need that kind of capacity. Suffice to say, whatever gear you put on this thing, it barely breaks a sweat and vibration dampening is extremely good.
In terms of build quality and robustness, the Really Right Stuff gimbals are the absolute gold standard but you do pay a price for that. At $766 for the side mount version, you’re looking at a couple of hundred dollars more than some other excellent options like the Gitzo or Wimberley. I do not think that spending that extra money over those two well-regarded options will get you better photos. Once you reach the higher end of the pricing bracket you are generally getting a very high quality gimbal, but what you do get with the RRS gimbal is the useful 2-piece modularity, and the ability to build on top of that to make a multi-row panoramic head.
Adding a nodal rail such as the MPR-CL II to the PG-02 side mount version of the gimbal will turn it into a multi-row panoramic head. This is only possible because you can adjust the horizontal position of the vertical arm so that the lens’ optical centre is exactly over the point of rotation. Simply adding a nodal slide to a regular gimbal, such as the Gitzo or Wimberley, doesn’t work. With that you would only be able to adjust the fore and aft positioning of the optical centre, but unless you can move the camera left and right, as you can with the PG-02, then you can’t use it for panos.
The RRS PG-02 is by far the most flexible gimbal design, and I know of several people that actually prefer using it over a regular ballhead. Unlike a ballhead, the pan and tilt motions are entirely disconnected so this gives an experience that is somewhat similar to using a geared head or a 3-way pan/tilt head. If I’m packing light and don’t want to take both a ballhead and a gimbal head with me on a trip, this is the one that comes with me.
Does the modularity and flexibility of the PG-02’s design justify the higher price tag for you? If you ever shoot panos, I suspect it probably does, because one less head to bring is always nice. If you’re already invested in the Really Right Stuff ecosystem of Arca-Swiss compatible products, such as accessory rails and clamps, then again I suspect that the higher price is probably going to be worth it to you too. I have a closet full of RRS parts and I’m always Frankensteining fun solutions together.
Note: If you’re interested in other heads from RRS, I have written a giant guide and comparison of all the Really Right Stuff ballheads and gimbals.
Really Right Stuff FG-02
The FG-02 has many of the same features and design characteristics of the PG-02, so I’m not going to waste time repeating myself on all those points. The main difference is that the FG-02 uses fluid cartridges in the horizontal and vertical panning joints, which makes the gimbal movement much smoother. This smoother movement is hugely beneficial when shooting video because even the slightest jitter in your pan or tilt can be amplified to a massive degree when shooting with long focal lengths.
The resistance of the movement is also adjustable in four steps, which is definitely useful when making long sweeping pans for a video, compared to small adjustments when looking through the viewfinder for stills photography. The resistance is cleverly controlled by two buttons. Pressing them individually gives you two different resistances, then you have a third when they are both pressed, and a fourth when neither are pressed. An elegant solution that adds very little bulk to the design.
The FG-02 is available in several different versions including a regular side mount with a 60mm clamp for stills only, side mount with a video pan handle for video or stills usage, or a full cradle mount for stills (no pan handle). At $1340 for the cheapest of these options, you’re looking at a serious purchase here! That said, it can potentially negate the need for a separate video head in your kit, which can easily cost the same amount of money. In fact, you could very well argue that this FG-02 is the most versatile tripod head of any kind on the market. It can be used in place of a ballhead if you add the MPR-CL II rail that was discussed earlier in the PG-02 section, it can replace a fluid video head, it can be used as a multi-row pano head and of course it’s also your long lens gimbal for wildlife photography.
You really can use this head for almost everything you could ever do with a camera on a tripod. Now the high price doesn’t seem so bad, does it?
Note that due to the higher price and specialist nature, the FG-02 is usually built to order, so don’t leave it until the last minute to order one before your next big trip or you might be disappointed if there’s not enough lead time.
Gitzo GHFG1 Fluid Gimbal
The Gitzo fluid gimbal is the newest head on this list and it’s surprising in a few ways. Firstly this is a fluid head which means that rotational resistance at both the horizontal and vertical panning joints is dampened by a fluid cartridge. Fluid heads deliver a much smoother panning motion as we discussed in the section about the RRS fluid gimbal above. This makes the Gitzo GHFG1 an excellent option for someone that mostly shoots photos, but wants to dabble occasionally in some video. There’s even a panning bar included in the package to aid with the smooth motion.
The second surprising thing about the Gitzo head is the relatively low price point. Gitzo products are known to be of the highest quality and many photographers aspire to own them, but the price point can sometimes be prohibitive. In the case of their GHFG1 gimbal, the price is actually something of a bargain when you compare it to other models in this gear guide. It’s much less than half the price of Really Right Stuff’s fluid gimbal, and it’s cheaper than the most popular non-fluid gimbals, the Wimberley WH-200 and the RRS PG-02. I never thought I’d use the word ‘bargain’ relating to a Gitzo product, but the GHFG1 is just that, and for that reason I have given it the #1 choice in this gear guide.
The main downside is that they do not offer a side mount version of this gimbal, which would have saved a little weight. That said, as I think you can see from the photo, the horizontal offset of the gimbal is a bit smaller than some other options which helps to keep the bulk down when transporting it, plus the cradle and pan handle can also be quickly removed.
I also wish that they had put a bubble level it so that you can easily ensure a level panning motion. Many tripods have a bubble, or perhaps you’re going to use it with a levelling head that has a bubble, but it still would have been a nice improvement.
Still, these are relatively minor issues and overall this gimbal would be a fantastic choice for photographers with any level of equipment. The 17lb load rating is plenty enough to deal with a 600mm lens and a pro-sized DSLR, but the overall size is not so huge as to be totally overkill with a smaller 100-400mm or 200-500mm setup either. A truly great gimbal that will last a lifetime and be a great companion for a pro, or someone that is starting out with a smaller lens but eventually wants to upgrade to a larger super telephoto.
This gimbal design has been around a long time and it’s popular with many photographers. The design is bland as heck, but they are among the very smoothest gimbals on the market and their durability and general robustness have been proven by time.
Honestly though, if I had $550 to spend on a gimbal, these days I would opt for the cheaper Gitzo Fluid Gimbal. You save some money, it’s slightly lighter, it comes with a video pan handle and it’s a fluid head so the resistance when moving the head is far smoother than the Wimberley. You could even go with a full carbon head like the Sirui PH-20 if weight is your priority.
Wimberley is a smaller company that really had a lockdown on the gimbal market a decade ago, but with so many new designs and advancements from other companies, they need to step it up and update this head if they still want to be relevant in a few years time.
The Oben GH-30 deserves a spot on this list because it brings gimbals down to a price point that makes them accessible to many more people. At just $250, this is a nice beginner option for people that don’t do a huge amount of wildlife photography but want something that will make life considerably easier for them on the odd weekend excursion. It’s also a good budget option if you have booked a very expensive wildlife photography vacation and suddenly realize that you should be taking a gimbal with you, but don’t want to break the bank.
One thing I will say about this gimbal is that I do not recommend that you take the 44lb load rating at face value. I’m not saying that it’s not true, I don’t doubt that it could hold 44lbs, but a maximum load rating is definitely not the same thing as a recommended usable rating.
With very heavy camera setups, the Oben GH-30 starts to lose some of its smoothness. It’s fine with something light such as a 70-200mm, 100-400mm, 200-500mm or Nikon 500mm PF, but if you have anything larger then I would recommend you spend a little more and at least look towards the slightly beefier Induro GHB1, which is also much lighter.
The Sidekick is an interesting design for someone that needs to carry both a ballhead and a gimbal head. Instead of switching heads entirely, this handy gizmo converts your existing ballhead into a gimbal. To do this, your ballhead will need to have a separate panning base lock knob, and an Arca-Swiss compatible clamp on it.
All you do is release the ball lock and flop the clamp into your drop notch, positioning it vertically, then tighten the ball as much as you can. Now clamp the Sidekick into the now vertical ballhead clamp and loosen the ballhead’s panning base lock knob to rotate the gimbal.
There’s obviously some weight savings with this setup if you were planning to carry both a ballhead and a gimbal, but the stability of the setup will be hugely reliant on the quality of your ballhead. If you do decide to go down this route, don’t skimp on that part of the equation! Something big and beefy like the RRS BH-55 would be my personal pick if you plan to use big super telephoto lenses with it.
It’s also worth noting that the weight of a solid ballhead, plus the weight of the Sidekick, is actually more than the weight of most of the gimbals that are mentioned in this guide. In other words, the only way you are saving weight on your back, or in your bag, is in situations where you positively must have a ballhead with you for some reason. At that point, a ballhead+Sidekick is obviously lighter then a ballhead+full gimbal.
At about $250 you save a significant chunk of change with the Sidekick compared to the full Wimberley gimbal ($550), but it’s only really a saving if you already own a high-end ballhead to pair it with. If you have to go out and buy a new ballhead, then your total bill is certainly going to be larger than the cost of the Wimberley Gimbal or the Gitzo gimbal and maybe even more than the RRS gimbal too! A really great ballhead can easily set you back $350-$500.
The Induro GHB1 is my budget gimbal of choice ($349), even though it’s not the cheapest on the list. Let me explain…
The Oben GH-30 is $100 cheaper than this gimbal, but I believe the GHB1 performs better with heavier loads. If you don’t currently use anything bigger than a 100-400mm or 200-500mm lens then this might not matter to you now, but do you plan on upgrading your lens at some point?
Most people aspire to own something like a heavier 300mm or 500mm prime (or more) and with the cheaper Oben GH-30 I feel like you’d need to upgrade your gimbal as well. Not so with the Induro GHB1, though. This is a nice, no-frills, robust gimbal that can take a seriously heavy camera setup and will be able to stick with you along your own equipment upgrade path.
The load rating for this head is 22lbs, but these kinds of numbers are notoriously cloudy to understand. Does that represent a number past which they do not recommend using it? Or does it represent a number past which it will break? Who is making the decisions on what is “usable” smoothness? I mention the rating because if I don’t, someone will ask me for it, but I personally think that you can’t make a decision based on that number alone, because every manufacturer has a different way of coming up with those numbers.
Another reason to consider the Induro, over the cheaper Oben GH-30 is that the Oben head tops the scales at 3.2lbs, whereas the Induro GHB1 with its side mount style weighs just 1.7lbs. That’s a significant difference if you’re travelling with the gimbal, whether it’s in your backpack or your checked luggage!
If the side mount style really freaks you out, there’s also the cradle style GHB2.
The Sirui PH-20 is carbon head so the weight is relatively low, at 2.4 lbs. This can be lightened even more by removing the cradle clamp and installing the additional included clamp directly onto the gimbal arm to create a side mount gimbal, which I much prefer. For some reason the fact that it comes with this additional clamp isn’t mentioned in the description and specs on B&H Photo, but it does indeed come with it in the case.
That’s right, it also comes in a nice zippered case, and in there you’ll also find a very generously proportioned Arca-Swiss lens plate to use with the gimbal. Something which Wimberley and Really Right Stuff do not provide with their heads.
All in all, the Sirui (pronounced sooray) PH-20 is incredibly good value at $470 when you consider the accessories that come with it, and the carbon construction. If your budget extends that far, it’s a noticeable jump up in quality from the Induro GHB1, and frankly the smoothness of its pan and tilt motion is absolutely on a par with the Wimberley WH-200.
In terms of price competition, many people will probably be considering it alongside the Gitzo Fluid Gimbal which is only $30 more. The Gitzo wins that battle if you want to shoot some video, where the fluid cartridges and pan handle give it the edge. But if weight and compactness is your priority, I have to give it to the Sirui PH-20 with its carbon construction and optional side mount configuration with the included second clamp.
One annoyance with the PH-20 that is worth knowing about is a quirk with the panning lock knob. For some reason, Surui used a geared locking mechanism for this which means that the panning base can only be locked in certain positions. When you lock the panning base, the teeth slide into the nearest slot and this can cause some movement. Unfortunately this makes it useless for landscape photography, but it probably won’t woryy wildlife photographers too much. When I’m using a gimbal I never lock the panning base unless I’m picking the tripod up to move it to a new location. If you do lock your panning base as part of your own routine, then this isn’t the head for you.
Protect Your Gimbal
If you’re planning on buying a gimbal for wildlife photography, you might also want to pick up a camouflage gimbal cover from LensCoat. They have recently started to make covers for a much larger range of gimbal heads, including the Gitzo Fluid Gimbal, Oben GH-30, Induro GHB1, Wimberley WH-200 and several others. For about $40 I think they are a great idea.
My Gimbal of Choice?
Personally I use the Really Right Stuff PG-02, and have done for many years. It’s a bit more expensive than some of the other options, but the ability to break it down into two simple pieces makes is considerably easier to carry than most other options. I also have many other RRS products, so the head fits nicely into my existing system. I tend to put things in backpacks and cary them long distances, so ease of portability is high on my personal list of important features. I really love the Gitzo fluid gimbal too, but it’s not quite as easy to pack.
Which Tripod Gimbal Do You Use?
I spent a great deal of time testing and researching gimbals to find what I believe to be the best solutions on the market right now, but it’s always great to hear from other photographers about their experiences. What kind of tripod gimbal head are you using right now, or which one are you thinking of buying?
Leave a comment below and let me know!