If you need to support a bulky set-up, no other type of tripod head will do
raditional ball tripod heads are versatile, and a geared head is great for precision work. But as this issue’s Apprentice explains (see page 8), when it comes to supporting full-frame bodies and long telephoto lenses, you need a big head… or, rather, your tripod does.
Simply using a larger ball head isn’t ideal, as having the weight of a 400mm-plus telephoto lens and an FX Nikon perched on top means a precarious balancing act. A gimbal head enables you to lower your Nikon’s centre of gravity so it effectively hangs alongside the head, rather than sitting on top.
When setting up, you’ll need to spend a minute or so aligning your lens so it balances on the head’s mounting plate; and if you go for a gimbal with vertical adjustment, be sure to set this so the centre line of the lens is parallel with the gimbal’s tilt axis. Once you’ve found the sweet spot, your Nikon and lens will be perfectly balanced, and should feel almost weightless.
Here we’ve selected five heads. All use the same basic design, but as we’ll see, the details separate the best from the rest...