The best gimbal heads are practically essential tools if you're working with heavy cameras and lenses. Much more effective than a standard ball head, a gimbal head gives a camera a lower centre of gravity; it effectively hangs alongside the head, rather than balancing on top.
Why is this useful? Well, once you've got it all set up right, your camera and lens will effectively be weightless and will hold any position they're placed in, even if the tilt lock is loosened. Complete stability becomes easy to achieve, even with heavy telephoto lens, and you've got a smooth and stable base for panning. This makes gimbal heads extremely useful for shooting both stills and video
It does take some practice to get the hang of setting up a gimbal head; you need to align it so that the mounting plate is properly balanced. Also, some heads allow for vertical panning as well as horizontal, and if this is the case then you need to make sure that the centre-line of the lens is parallel with the gimbal's tilt axis. It takes a little time. It's also worth noting that gimbal heads are complex pieces of machinery, and don't exactly come cheap, especially if you choose one made from a premium material like carbon fibre.
Therefore, it pays to do your research and make sure you're buying the head that's right for you. There are multiple factors to consider when looking at which gimbal head is best, and we've compiled a few below...
Five things to watch out for
1. Vertical adjustment
You don't necessarily need to get a gimbal with vertical adjustment to feel the benefits of a gimbal head, but if you want to achieve complete weightlessness then you'll need it. The more vertical travel it has, the better.
2. Precision engineering
Loosening the clamps locking the pan base and tilt arm on cheaper gimbals, can introduce slack and wobble in the joints. Better designs will have tighter tolerances.
2. Precision engineering
Loosening the clamps that lock the pan base and tilt arm on cheaper gimbals can unfortunately introduce unwanted slack and wobble in the joints. However, better (and usually more expensive) designs will have tighter tolerances.
While small dials and controls can look stylish and tidy, any wildlife photographer knows that it's easy to get caught short in bad weather. Set yourself up for success by looking for a gimbal head that has large controls that are easy to grip through gloves.
4. Mounting methods
All of the gimbal heads that we've featured in this guide use the Arca-Swiss mounting plate standard. If you purchase a gimbal head with a long plate, then you'll also get better adjustment.
5. Don't skimp on the legs
Mounting a gimbal head on a cheap travel tripod is akin to fitting a state-of-the-art lock to a flimsy wooden door. Look for sturdy, rigid legs, even if the combined weight will be unwieldy.
So let's get to it! Below are our picks for the six best gimbal heads you can buy right now...
Best gimbal heads in 2021
A hugely impressive gimbal head from Benro, the GH5C is constructed from carbon fibre. This means it's not only stronger than aluminium heads, but also lighter, making it perfect for taking it out on a landscape-shooting expedition. It can support almost 30kg of camera gear, which is far more than pretty much any photographer or videographer would need. Even when fully loaded though, its movement is silky smooth; Benro claim that it creates a feeling of virtual "weightlessness", allowing for smooth camera movements to be made with the lightest touch. Panning with the head really couldn't be easier.
All this comes at a cost, of course, but if smooth horizontal and vertical movement of heavy lenses is what you need, this is one of the best tools you can get for the job.
It may almost be one of the cheapest options , but stick the Benro GH2 alongside the highly-acclaimed Wimberley head (below) and you’ll have a tough job spotting the difference. Although you don’t get the style of the Gitzo or the customization potential of the Custom Brackets head, the GH2 is still an absolute pleasure to use. Its pan and tilt locking knobs are easy to lock and release when wearing gloves, there’s enough adjustment on the vertical arm for mounting tall lenses, and it includes an industry-standard Arca mounting plate.
But the real test of a gimbal is smoothness, and the GH2 doesn’t disappoint. It’s a fraction less silky than the three most expensive heads here, but both pan and tilt move beautifully and smoothly and with no bearing slack. For the price, it’s rather good.
We couldn’t find a camera/lens combo to completely test the Benro’s 23kg load rating, but the GH2 had no trouble supporting our beastly 4.5kg 400mm f/2.8 setup.
First impressions of the WH-200 leave you wondering why this is one of the priciest heads here. Next to the feature-packed ProMediaGear, it looks average, but Wimberley heads have a solid reputation, and it’s easy to see why when you use one.
There’s plenty of vertical adjustment for mounting lenses of varying size, yet the head is still quite compact at 23.5cm tall and tips the scales at just 1.4kg. The pan and tilt axes both turn exceptionally smoothly and can be locked completely steady by grippy, ergonomics knobs. These also control the friction resistance in each joint, which is progressively adjustable.
The head uses a standardized Arca-Swiss lens mount, and Wimberley offers replacement low-profile lens feet to help balance lenses supplied with a taller than average foot.
You can count on GItzo products being beautifully designed and well engineered, and accordingly GHFG1 Fluid Gimbal Head looks and feels fantastic. Its fluid dampening system works decently enough, though perhaps not as well as one might have hoped, but this is still a really solid gimbal head that'll support even hefty kit setups. While the maximum capacity isn't as enormous as the Benro GH2's, in practice 8kg is going to be more than enough for anyone's support needs, so wildlife and outdoor action photographers can rest easy.
Control knobs are easy to operate, and the Arca-style plate makes it easy to balance and detach equipment when necessary. Really, you can't go wrong with anything Gitzo-branded, as this high-quality head goes to show.
Named appropriately, this gimbal is all about customization. There are no fewer than nine knobs dotted around the bracketry, with separate pan and tilt drag knobs to control resistance independently of the locking clamps. The complexity is also a result of this being a collapsible, modular design, where the horizontal and vertical arms can be separated for more streamlined storage.
Another thoughtful touch is the scalloped-edge base plate that you can grip directly when mounting the head to your tripod, rather than using the pan lock for extra leverage.
As you’d expect for hardware with a premium price, build quality is top notch. Everything clamps down securely, there’s no lateral play in any bearings, and the plethora of adjustment options makes it a cinch to mount lenses of all sizes. Once on board, even the heaviest glass will move effortlessly.
The Katana looks more like a piece of weapons hardware than a camera support, owing to its macho design and huge 33cm height. Being such a tall gimbal does mean there’s plenty of vertical adjustment to perfectly balance even the largest lens.
The stellar build and material quality results in a load capacity of 23kg, ensuring any lens this side of the Hubble Space Telescope will have a stable footing. The only drawback of such strength is that, at 2.2kg, this is the heaviest gimbal here.
Maintenance-free steel ball bearings give perfectly smooth tilt and panning motion, and with no bearing slack when the locking knobs are undone. These are large enough for easy use in all weathers, plus they can be repositioned for more convenient access. You can also partly tighten the locking knobs to increase friction without introducing any jerkiness, and when fully tightened, your camera is held steady.
While this head is available outside the US, it can be difficult to find. If you're struggling, ProMediaGear keeps a list of international stockists, which you can find here.