Gimbal Heads: Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

by | Camera Gear, Stabilization

If you’re new to the world of photography, you may be wondering what a tripod gimbal head is and why you would need one.

A tripod gimbal head is a type of tripod head that allows for smooth, fluid panning and tilting movements.

They’re often used for video, as well as for wildlife and sports photography.

In this guide, we’ll cover the basics of tripod gimbal heads so that you can decide if one is right for you.

Keep reading to learn more!

Electronic Gimbals Vs. Tripod Gimbal Heads

Before going any further, it is important to address a common point of confusion.

These days, when most people refer to “gimbals,” they are referring to handheld, electronic gimbals used primarily for videography.

These devices use small servo motors and complex electronics to compensate for small jittery movements caused by the camera’s operator.

These types of gimbals allow videographers to capture smooth, buttery video footage.

Read More: Camera Gimbals: The Ultimate Guide

The type of gimbal we will focus on in this article is a tripod gimbal head. These devices are typically analog and free of any electronic components.

The type of gimbal we are focusing on also helps to steady a camera. However, this type of gimbal serves a purpose in both videography and photography.

The reason both of these devices are called “gimbals” is that they both rely on gimbal technology — a physics principle that predates either device.

Here is a great article from all about the physics of gimbals.

Types of Tripod Gimbal Heads

There are two main types of tripod gimbal heads: panning heads and tilting heads.

Panning heads allow you to pan your camera smoothly in a horizontal plane. This means side to side.

Tilting heads allow you to tilt your camera in a vertical plane. This means up and down.

Most tripod gimbal heads will have both panning and tilting capabilities, but some may only have one or the other.

In this article, we will cover the standard type of gimbal which can move freely in almost any direction — thanks to its multi-axis design.

A gimbal head with both panning and tilting capabilities.

Benefits of Using a Tripod Gimbal Head

Holds Heavy Gear

One of the most common reasons that photographers use tripod gimbal heads is heavy equipment.

For sports and wildlife photographers, or others using giant heavy lenses, some type of support for their equipment is simply a necessity.

Often, the sheer weight and size of a sports or wildlife photographer’s camera setup make holding the equipment unmanageable.

This is where the tripod gimbal head comes in. A gimbal head allows a photographer to rest their mount equipment on a tripod, while still maintaining the ability to quickly reorientate their gear and capture the shot.

Smooth Video Footage

For videographers, a tripod gimbal head can allow for smoother movements and greater control over your camera.

This is especially beneficial for video, as it allows you to create fluid, professional-looking pans and tilts.

Additionally, tripod gimbal heads can help reduce camera shake, which is important for

While some videographers may prefer to use a more “high-tech” option like a handheld electronic gimbal, tripod gimbal heads allow for very fine control, as well as the ability to hold heavy equipment.

Sports and wildlife videographers will find these devices especially handy as they can hold heavy equipment and allow for smooth movement. It’s the best of both worlds!

Maintains Position

Another, often overlooked benefit of the tripod gimbal head is that, if set up properly, the gimbal will maintain its position when you let go of it.

This is huge for both photographers and videographers.

Essentially, this feature allows you to track and focus on subjects that may be moving and stopping frequently — such as a bird or a soccer player.

An example of the type of photography that is possible with a gimbal head.

How to Choose a Tripod Gimbal Head

When choosing a tripod gimbal head, there are a few things to keep in mind.

First, consider the type of photography or videography you’ll be using it for. If you’re primarily interested in shooting video, then you’ll want to look for a head with smooth, fluid movement capabilities. This is still important for photography, though it isn’t as crucial.

Second, consider the weight and size of your camera and lens combination. You’ll want to make sure that the head you choose can support the weight of your gear without issue.

Third, consider your budget. Tripod gimbal heads can range in price from around $100 to $1,000 or more. Check out our list below where we break down our top picks at three different price points.

Lastly, do some research and read reviews before making your final decision!

Best Tripod Gimbal Heads

When it comes to gimbal heads, there are a lot of options to choose from at many different price points. This can be overwhelming.

Keep reading for our top three picks at three different levels: beginner, intermediate, and professional.

Best Beginner Option: NEEWER Professional Gimbal Tripod Head

The NEEWER Professional Gimbal Tripod Head is a solid choice for beginners just getting into gimbal head photography.

When it comes to beginner gear, NEEWER is a reputable brand known for its acceptable build quality.

At just $100 USD, this gimbal head offers enough usability to get you out and shooting.

This product boasts a robust aluminum design and all the basic features needed such as an Arca-type quick-release plate, bubble level, and non-skid rubbers on the quick-release plate to prevent scratches.

If you’re a new photographer or an experienced one interested in trying out gimbal photography, this product is for you.

Click here to check out the NEEWER Professional Gimbal Tripod Head

Best Intermediate Option: Benro GH2

The Benro GH2 Gimbal Head is a great “bang-for-your-buck” option for intermediate photographers looking to upgrade.

This gimbal head offers smooth movement, a simple design with easy-locking knobs, and an Arca mounting plate offering wide compatibility.

While there are certainly better gimbal heads out there, this product provides a lot of value at a relatively low price of around $350 USD.

Consider this gimbal head if you’ve been shooting on cheap gear for a while and feel the need to up your gimbal game.

Click here to check out the Benro GH2

Best Professional Option: Wimberley WH-200 Version II

Wimberley is a well-known name in the gimbal head industry and this model lives up to the company’s reputation. The Wimberley WH-200 Version II is a serious contender for all-around best gimbal heads.

This gimbals head offers beautiful performance, superb build quality, and a great range of lens compatibility.

This model is the second iteration of the Wimberley WH-200 and offers some upgrades from the original. These include an improved panning base and a modified placement of the pan-locking knob.

The only drawback of this incredible product is its steep price tag. At nearly $600 USD, this gimbal head really isn’t intended for beginners.

However, to be fair, there are much more expensive gimbal heads out there that operate at a similar standard.

Click here to check out the Wimberley WH-200 Version II

How To Set Up A Tripod Gimbal Head

  1. Attach your gimbal tripod head to your tripod: Most tripod heads will work with most tripods. However, gimbals do differ in design and it is important to refer to your tripod head’s manual to ensure you are mounting it correctly.
  2. Make sure that your tripod is perfectly level: This is crucial. If your tripod is not set up correctly, then your gimbal will not operate right. Having a heavy-duty tripod with a spirit bubble level built will help with this.
  3. Mount your camera and lens onto your gimbal head: Gimbal heads are designed to be used with long lenses. To maintain an appropriate centre of balance, these lenses typically include their own quick-release plates around a quarter or halfway down their shaft. Simply slip this quick-release plate into your tripod head’s groove and tighten it.
  4. Balance Your gimbal: Balancing your gimbal is a crucial step. An unbalanced gimbal will not function as intended. To balance your gimbal, you will need to adjust each axis until your gear can stand freely in any direction on its own. Start by tightening all of your gimbals axes. You will then loosen them one by one to adjust your camera’s position:
    • Position your camera forwards and backwards: Loosen your gimbal’s tilt knob in order to see how your camera’s placement affects your gimbal balance. Then slide your camera forwards or backwards until it remains level. If your camera is causing your gimbal to tilt forwards or backwards then you will still need to adjust your gear.
    • Adjust your camera’s vertical position: Loosen your gimbal’s vertical knob and slide your camera up or down until it is level. Again, if your camera is causing your gimbal to tilt forwards or backwards then you will still need to adjust your gear. Once you’ve found the correct position, tighten the vertical knob.
    • Loosen the pan knob: Once you’ve balanced your camera, loosen the pan knob to check if your camera can stand freely in any position. If your camera cannot stand freely on its own, go back and rebalance your gimbal.

Final Thoughts

Tripod gimbal heads offer a number of benefits for photographers and videographers alike.

If you’re looking for smooth, fluid movement and greater control over your camera, then a tripod gimbal head may be right for you.

Keep in mind the type of photography or videography you’ll be using it for, as well as the weight and size of your camera and lens combination when choosing a head.

And finally, don’t forget to do your research before making your final purchase decision!

Happy shooting!

New To Gimbals?

With so much to learn, mastering your new gimbal can be hard. Get started with our in-depth beginner guide to gimbal filmmaking.