A MacGyver Gimbal for Light Weight Travel

Primarily a landscape photographer, I sometimes shoot wildlife or birds. That means I sometimes have distracted daydreams about getting a gimbal. But just the thought of lugging all that weight brings on fatigue. And the prices, yikes! Yes when I dream, I dream Really Right Stuff. As a bit of a comprise, I ordered a Wimberly MonoGimbal Head, which as the name suggests attaches to a monopod and gives you gimbal-like control over your camera; all be it balanced on one leg. Thinking beyond wildlife, I found it useful to shoot music festivals with a long lens once the sun went down. A lot more control and far less fussing with the usual adjustment knob, and your rig stays balanced.

Also this spring I convinced myself I needed a second tripod. This would be for travel, so I would sacrifice sturdiness for something compact and light. So at a time when I cannot travel, but saving money by not purchasing airline tickets, I sprung for the Peak Design Travel tripod. There is a good deal of hype about its features, but I had two requirements that needed some “customization”. First I wanted to use my RRS L-brackets and not Peak Design’s plate on my camera body. Second, I wanted to still make panoramic images. So I found an inexpensive panoramic clamp I attached the Peak Design plate to the bottom in order to secure the pano clamp to Peak Design’s unique ball head.

I had one thing that gave me horizontal movement (panning) and one thing that gave me balanced vertical movement. Why not combine them? I unscrewed the MonoGimbal head, which has an Arca Swiss compatible bottom. Then clamped it to the tripod’s pano clamp.

To get the view finder to my eye, I needed to extend the center column, so it is not exactly rock steady. Furthermore, even after cranking hard on the lock ring, the ball head moves a bit when I put my arm across the lens and apply downward pressure. The use remember trades light weight for sturdy.

Adding the MonoGimbal cost far less than a gimbal. So I clamped it on my RRS tripod, leveling base and ball head, and got similar functionality. This looked more Rube Goldberg than MacGyver, with knobs and levers sticking out in every direction. While much sturdier, the RRS stuff alone weighed more than the combined carbon monopod, Peak tripod, panning clamp and MonoGimbal. Both the monopod and tripod slip easily into side pockets of my bag. This may help reduce some air travel anxiety, as well as offer flexibility in the field. OK, I know this is not the same as a real gimbal, but then I’m not a real wildlife photographer.


Since publishing this post, I purchased the Sony G Master FE 100-400mm lens. A field test made it clear that using the Peak Design Travel Tripod and this lens with the MonoGimbal does not work. The combination is not at all stable, particularly on uneven or sloping ground that requires extending the center column. In fact this lens and tripod combination alone was pretty shaky, and the gimbal threw the weight off center making it worse. The original post was written using my 70-200mm f/4, a much lighter setup with better stability. So if I am using the 100-400, then I will take the Really Right Stuff tripod and MonoGimbal.