- Ed Dozier
Movo GH-700 Gimbal Head Review and Tutorial
The Movo gimbal head is the perfect partner for your big telephoto lens. It’s essentially identical to the well-regarded Wimberley WH-200 gimbal head II, for a fraction of the price. I’m not trying to sell these Movo gimbals, but I thought you should know. If you feel that your reputation would be ruined if somebody sees “MOVO” on your gimbal, then consider buying the Wimberley instead.
Gimbal heads are designed to let you easily track moving subjects with the lightest of a touch. All of the weight is supported by your tripod or monopod, so you don’t experience any fatigue trying to hold large and heavy telephoto lenses. You really don’t need a gimbal for small, light lenses; if your lens doesn’t have a tripod foot, then don’t use a gimbal.
Gimbals in some ways operate the opposite of a conventional tripod head or a ball-head. You could face a nightmare if you loosen a ball-head and then let go of your camera with a heavy lens on it, causing it to instantly flop to the side. With a gimbal, after you loosen its tilt/pan knobs and let go of your camera, nothing happens!
Movo GH-700 Gimbal Head US $100.00
The Movo GH-700 gimbal has a 30 pound load limit, which should be enough for virtually any lens/camera combination that you would ever put on it. It comes with an Arca-Swiss lens mount. The gimbal weighs 3.1 pounds (1.4KG). It’s about 10 inches tall and 10 inches wide, which is necessary to accommodate big-diameter telephotos. As is always the case, this means you need to get an Arca-swiss plate to put on the tripod foot of any Nikkor telephoto.
You can find carbon-fiber gimbals to save some weight, but they’re pricey.
Wimberley WH-200 Gimbal Head II US $595.00
If you can tell the difference between the Movo and the Wimberley gimbal, aside from the Movo giving you a marked height scale on it, then you have better eyes than me. I’m not saying the Wimberley is inferior in any way, I’m just saying the Movo is an equivalent product for much less money.
You should note that gimbal heads for still photography are different than gimbal heads for video. The Movo and Wimberley are for still photography.
I almost always use my Movo gimbal on a Feisol carbon-fiber monopod (CM-1471), since it’s a much more mobile combination than using a tripod. This is an ideal wildlife photography rig. The gimbal has a 3/8” female tripod thread, instead of the more-common ¼-20 thread. If you prefer a tripod, it works equally on those, too.
Gimbal heads enable you to perfectly balance your camera and big lens, so that it will maintain the position wherever you have aimed your lens when you let go of it. This balance makes for an ideal shooting situation, where your gear feels weightless and moves fluidly in any direction. You can follow subjects easily, because you can both pan and tilt the lens simultaneously.
You can spend hours shooting with the heaviest of lenses and still not experience any arm fatigue. The main thing to tire you out is walking from one spot to another. I use a sturdy strap to connect my photo backpack to my monopod when I’m walking, so that the weight is transferred to my backpack across my chest.
All of my big, heavy telephotos have an Arca-swiss mount, so they mount quickly and easily onto the gimbal.
I have been using my Movo gimbal for over 5 years now, and it works as well as the day I got it. It’s all metal, except for the heavy-duty plastic knobs on it (the same as the Wimberley). This is one piece of gear you don’t need to pamper.
Attach the Arca-swiss lens foot to the gimbal
You can mount the lens onto the gimbal with the tilt knob either on the right or left side of the camera. I prefer to mount the lens so that the tilt knob is on the camera right-hand side (shutter button side). This lets me use my left hand to zoom and manually focus the lens without any obstructions. The gimbal itself works equally well in either mounting configuration.
How to adjust the gimbal for proper balance
Start by loosening the ‘Tilt knob’, so that the lens can easily tilt up and down while mounted on the gimbal. Loosen the ‘Height knob’ and (temporarily) lower the Arca-swiss lens platform to the bottom position. Get a good grip on your lens while doing this height adjustment, so that it doesn’t suddenly drop to the lowest position.
You need to adjust the front-back balance of your camera and lens by sliding the lens foot along the Arca-swiss mount, just like you do when using a tripod head. With just this balance adjustment, the lens should come to rest in a horizontal position if you tilt it and then let it swing back. Lock the lens foot with the Arca-swiss knob after it is balanced.
Tilt axis should intersect Lens axis
You also need to adjust the height of the lens (loosen the ‘Height knob’), to make sure the ‘Lens Axis’ intersects the upper pivot point (‘Tilt Axis’) of the gimbal. On most lenses, the center of gravity is the same as the lens optical axis center. This vertical gimbal adjustment (locked with the Height knob) enables the camera/lens combination to stay in the same position as you let go of your camera, even when the Tilt tightening knob on the gimbal is loose. You may have to slightly raise or lower the lens height, depending upon the center of gravity of the lens, to achieve perfect balance. Now, you should be able to tilt the lens up or down and have it stay there after you let go of the lens.
The Movo has a handy vertical scale on it, so that you can note the proper height for a given lens/camera combination. If you have other lenses that you use on the gimbal, you can then quickly adjust to the proper height for that combination using the scale.
When properly balanced, you shouldn’t need to tighten the tilt axis knob. The tilt and pan only need to be locked when you want your camera/lens rigidly locked into position like on a conventional tripod head.
You may find that with very light cameras on big lenses that you can’t slide the lens back far enough on the Arca-swiss mount to achieve balance. A camera battery grip can really help here, providing the needed extra weight to balance. A longer Arca-swiss plate on your lens tripod foot may help, unless it starts to hit the tripod/monopod when you tilt the lens on the gimbal. I suppose you could attach extra weights to the camera tripod socket, like metal plates or washers held with a ¼-20 bolt.
Be aware that zooms can shift the front/back balance of the lens as you zoom. Try to balance your rig at your most-used zoom position.
While shooting, you typically don’t need to tighten the tilt or pan knobs. I generally leave vibration reduction active on my lenses, since I’m still holding onto the camera. I don’t use the “panning” mode of vibration reduction, since both axes are usually in motion.
If you mount the gimbal onto a tripod for static shooting, go ahead and tighten the tilt and pan knobs after aiming the lens.
Balanced camera and lens
Gimbal mounted on monopod
For the price, it would be hard to beat this gimbal. It’s rugged and very smooth in operation. It’s such a pleasure to be able to concentrate on shooting instead of struggling with the weight of a heavy telephoto.
There’s a world of difference between using a conventional tripod head and the freedom of a gimbal. Once you use a gimbal, you’re going to want one.