My new Lensmaster RH-2 gimbal head arrived today. It's a very simple, very practical unit. Rather than post pictures, you can go straight to the details here:

There are several things to note about it.

  • It's very reasonably priced. In fact, at under $400 delivered, it's probably the cheapest full-size, non-toy gimbal on the market.
  • It has a pleasing, minimalist design, with everything that is necessary and nothing that is not.
  • In use, the motion is smooth and easy. It's not as sweet as the market-leading Wimberley, but it's very close - which at less than half the price is truly excellent.
  • The controls are good. They are not as beautifully swift and accurate as the Wimberley, but perfectly usable. It takes a moment longer to adjust the tension to your requirement, but I really do mean just a moment.
  • The placement of the side-to-side tension knob is good but second-best. On the Lensmaster, it is mounted vertically directly under the lens, where it is slightly awkward to operate - but I do mean slightly. The best gimbals (Wimberley and its many clones) place this control on the same side of the head as the vertical tension knob. This is ideal as you can switch from one to the other in an instant, and (if desired) use your left hand for all adjustments while keeping your right hand free to operate the camera. The vertical central position (as used by Lensmaster and many competitors), although slightly less convenient, still permits easy one-hand operation, and permits a simple, lighter, easier-to-manufacture overall design. The third and by far the worst position is also quite common. I have no idea why. It is downright stupid to locate the second control on the opposite side to the vertical control knob as this makes it impossible to operate the head without using both hands. Nevertheless, a surprising number of manufacturers do this, including (of all people) Jobu, who usually like to think of themselves as the cost-no-object best there is. Anyway, the Lensmaster, for reasons of light weight and simplicity, uses the second method, which is fine.
  • When locked, the tensioners don't fully immobilise the lens the way that the Wimberly ones do. There lens can still move slowly and smoothly if you push it fairly hard. I prefer the hard-lock of the Wimberley, but I don't think that this will be a real issue in practice. (And certainly not an issue with smalller lenses than my 600/4.)
  • The Arca-Swiss clamp is of good quality with a nice, positive feel, but not nearly as long as the Wimberley one. Whether this will make much difference in practical use, I don't know. Probably not. In any case, it can be removed and replaced if desired.
  • Build quality is excellent. It uses the smallest possible number of parts in the simplest possible configuration, but the parts it does use are nicely finished and obviously more than strong enough for any lens.
  • The head comes with useful accessories: one small and one large lens plate, and a few other odds and ends.
  • Service is nothing short of outstanding. More on this below.

Now, you may be wondering why I wanted a Lensmaster, or indeed any gimbal head when I already have a Wimberley. Simply, I wanted a second head to supplement rather than replace the main one. I seldom use two tripods at the same time, but no one tripod is perfect for all uses. My main rig is a big geared-lift Manfrotto. It is quite heavy as carbon fibre tripods go, but it stands taller (when desired) and a geared central column is the only practical way to adjust the height of a full-size lens. If you need to get the rig 20cm higher to peek over a branch, and do that without a slow and noisy scare-the-bird-away rain dance mucking about with heavy weights and multiple tripod legs, you need a geared column.

However, a geared column (or any other sort of column for that matter) places severe restrictions on how low you can go - and getting low down to the ground (even more so low down to the water) is vital too. Sometimes you need a geared column, sometimes you need not to have a column at all. The only answer is to have two tripods. (A very small number of expensive tripods can do both, but only at the cost of having to muck about changing parts over in the field. This is the last thing you want to be doing.)

So there is the first reason: I needed a second head to go with my second tripod.

The second reason is that, for all its many virtues, the Wimberley is quite heavy. There are times when I want something lighter. Together, the new Benro tripod and the Lensmaster weigh about half as much as the big Manfrotto and the Wimberley.

Now the problem. I do quite a lot of flash photography, and the flash extension bracket (purchased at vast expense from Wimberley) requires an Arca-Swiss dovetail on the vertical arm of the head. Only a few tripod heads provide this. Eventually, I emailed Rob at Lensmaster. After a bit of discussion, we decided that rivetting a small Arca-Swiss lens place to the top of the vertical part of the swing arm would do the trick. He emailed me a mock-up photograph to make sure we were on the same page, and the next day made a custom (slightly taller) Lensmaster head for me with the dovetail attached. I had the completed item delivered here in Australia just 8 days after my initial email. (The standard postal service promises "20-30 days" from the UK to Oz: they well and truly out-performed this time.) For all of this, the charge was an extra 15 pounds - about $30. All up, including postage, I paid just under $400AU.

Summary: I highly recommend this product. Very pleased with it. If I could only have one head, and cost was no object, I'd stay with the original and the best - i.e., the Wimberley. But for a light, simple, very strong and practical full gimbal at a bargain price, it's hard to go past the Lensmaster.