There are many choices if you are considering Gimbal Heads (if you have a large lens with a lens foot, a gimbal head allows you to easily and smoothly pan and tilt your lens while tracking moving objects). We recently reviewed the exceptional CB Gimbal head from Custom Brackets, now it's the turn of the CB Gimbal Basic.
The full CB Gimbal consists of 4 modules, one of which is the Upright, a.k.a. the CB Gimbal Basic, which is also sold separately and can be used on its own with an appropriate ball head. A CB Gimbal Upgrade Kit is also available, containing the other three modules that make up the full CB Gimbal.
The CB Gimbal Basic works in exactly the same way as the Wimberley Sidekick: You need an Arca-Type ball head, with a panning base, that allows you to position the Arca Clamp at a 90 degree angle. For this review we used our Manfrotto 468MG converted with a Wimberly C-10MG Quick Release Clamp. You also need an Arca-Type lens plate or replacement foot on your lens.
According to Custom Brackets, the CB Gimbal Basic has the capacity to handle all telephoto lenses, although a lot depends on the quality and strength of your ball head. The CB Gimbal Basic utilizes precision roller bearings, and has a black "hard anodized" finish for strength, light weight and scratch resistance. Made from aircraft aluminum and weighing 1.5lbs, the CB Gimbal Basic is just over 9 inches long, 4.5 inches wide and 3 inches deep, making it very easy to pack.
Other notable features include:
- Separate controls for locking and to set drag/friction.
- A soft rubber coating on the main control knobs for comfort and grip.
- Assembly knobs are ergonomic, aluminum and captive for maximum performance.
The huge advantage of this style of gimbal head, is if you are traveling relatively light, and are switching between telephoto and shorter lenses, it's easy to switch between them just drop the CB Gimbal Basic into the clamp on your ball head. If you have a full gimbal head and need to continually change between a lens with a foot and one without, you either need to keep removing and swapping out your ball head and gimbal head, or carry two tripods (one for each head).
The CB Gimbal Basic is maintenance free, and backed by an industry leading 5-year warranty. At the time of writing has a street price around $270 (see B&H Photo)
In the interests of full disclosure, the CB Gimbal Basic used in this review is a module from a full CB Gimbal kindly provided to us by Custom Brackets for testing. We will periodically be updating this review detailing how this Gimbal Head holds up over time under heavy use, and in some cases extreme conditions.
Setting up the CB Gimbal Basic is straightforward:
- First set up your ball head: rotate the ball so the Arca-Type Clamp is on it's side, so the CB Gimbal Basic can be inserted vertically and then lock the ball down. Release the panning lock, so the head rotates freely.
- Slide the CB Gimbal Basic into the Clamp and tighten.
- Slide your lens foot into the clamp on the CB Gimbal Basic, and move the lens foot back and forth until the lens is balanced, then tighten the clamp.
One thing to note here, is the knob on the clamp has to be pushed in against a spring to open or close the clamp when it's not pushed in it rotates freely. This is a safety feature: if you accidentally bump the knob, it'll just spin out of the way instead of loosening the clamp that happens to be holding your very expensive lens. The picture below shows the knob in question you have to push it in a ¼" against a spring before it will work the clamp:
The CB Gimbal Basic has two rubber coated knobs, as shown in the picture below. The knob at the back (on the left in the picture) locks the tilt movement when tightened (this is a friction lock, so the harder you tighten the stronger the lock). A mere 1/2 turn is all that is needed to go from "locked" to "freely rotating". The second, smaller rubber covered knob (shown sticking out at a 45 degree angle in the picture below) allows you to fine tune the "drag" or "friction" on the tilt motion.
Fit and Finish
The CB Gimbal Basic is constructed from aircraft aluminum and is "hard anodized" for lightness, strength and scratch resistance. Overall the finish is excellent.
The ergonomic knobs are comfortable and large enough to easily use with thick winter gloves. Everything appears to be made from metal or rubber, no plastic.
The clamp provides an impressively strong and stable grip on your big lens when tightened, thanks in part to the large locking knob.
One very important note though: The precision bearings used in the CB Gimbal Basic are designed to work under load. If you handle one of these units in a store or elsewhere, I'll guarantee your first thoughts will be along the lines of "wow, I was expecting it to be smoother than that" mine certainly were. Side by side, in your hand the Wimberley Sidekick definitely feels smoother. However once it's on a tripod with a lens attached, the CB Gimbal simply transforms and becomes amazingly smooth, and an absolute joy to operate. With a properly balanced lens and no drag set, we find the CB Gimbal Basic to be smoother and make the camera feel lighter than a Wimberley Sidekick with its friction control backed out all of the way.
The CB Gimbal Basic's functionality is right up there with the very best. It is the smoothest side-mounted Gimbal we have ever used.
If you are traveling light, then a side mounted gimbal gives you the maximum flexibility for the least weight (and cost). However side mounted gimbals lack the ability to vary height, so if shooting with flash you can end up with a top heavy setup that wants to flop forwards or backwards: sometimes there is no substitute to a full blown gimbal head. This fact plays to another advantage of the CB Gimbal's modular design: There is no need to buy two gimbals (a light side mounted one for portability that works with your existing ball head, plus a full blown gimbal head setup) you can either buy the CB Gimbal which includes the CB Gimbal Basic module and have both, or get the CB Gimbal Basic first, and add the other three modules (i.e. buy the CB Gimbal Upgrade Kit) at a later date to give you both options. That alone could save you significant money in the long run.
If there is one minor drawback to the CB Gimbal Basic, it is because it's straight: while this makes it easier to pack, it also offsets the center of gravity of your lens/camera combination by a couple of inches relative to the center of rotation of your ballhead. If you use this setup on a monopod, this is noticeable the tilt motion is amazing, but the panning is no longer centered on the monopod column.
Based on our experience so far with it, we have to give it two solid thumbs up it is certainly strong enough to handle the heaviest of lenses (providing your ball head is up to it), and it has the smoothest tilt action we've experienced. Perhaps just as importantly, if in the future you decide you need a full gimbal head, you can purchase a CB Gimbal Upgrade Kit and have both.
Ours will get significant use in varying conditions (meaning usually bad, freezing cold, wet, dusty or otherwise generally unpleasant conditions) over the coming months with assorted lenses, we'll update this review periodically as to how the CB Gimbal Basic performs over time. With the robustness of the build and the maintenance free design, we anticipate it will hold up extremely well.
You can get your CB Gimbal Basic from B&H Photo or directly from Custom Brackets.
In addition to the CB Gimbal Basic reviewed here, Custom Brackets also sells the CB Gimbal (see our CB Gimbal Review), a CB Gimbal-LS (a smaller, lighter gimbal head, with fewer features) and a CB Gimbal-LB (a more basic setup for smaller lenses up to 400mm).
Custom Brackets also make accessories for the CB Gimbal including Lens Plates (we've already reviewed the GLM-1 Lens Plate for 500mm, 600mm and 800mm lenses), and we are told a flash bracket is in the works. The full line can be found on Custom Brackets Website.