How to Use Your Ball Head Like a Gimbal Head for Outdoor, Sports, and Wildlife Photography

One of the biggest challenges all photographers and videographers face is knowing what gear to bring on any given shoot. To make it worse, we are constantly torn on when to purchase or use dedicated specialty gear versus all-around multipurpose gear. Each photographer has to learn this for their own style and genre of photography; however, learning tips that can help you get the most out of each piece of gear will always increase the usefulness of that gear. 

Here is a great tip coming from Wildlife Photographer Morten Hilmer on how to use a ball head in a similar fashion to a gimbal head when it just doesn't make sense to bring the much heavier gimbal head. I don't shoot a ton of wildlife photography, but as an adventure and outdoor photographe,r I spend a lot of time hiking and carrying my equipment to where I plan on shooting. Sometimes, making the decision to bring a tripod is difficult, and when I do, I always use a ball head as any weight savings I can get are essential. Although I think this trick benefits wildlife photography the most, there are certainly times when I'm shooting adventure sporting events in difficult locations or have a need to be able to move quickly from one location to another, during which this would be rather useful.

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12 Comments

Jasmin Bataille's picture

Why not using a fluid head instead? Using a gimbal head on a tripod is weird to say the least... unless you're doing panoramic work indeed. A fluid head like the Sirui AV-5 is tiny, offer superb build quality, sturdiness and smooth movements for under 300$. It's so small, I just top my tripod with it and the whole thing is hanging out on my bag's strap!
This honestly is just overkill. A fluid head will make your movement to follow birds, cars etc significantly faster and smoother anyway. At one point, turn to cinema gear with rigs to support your lenses etc... but a gimbal head on a tripod? I have yet to figure how this can be any useful, except for panoramas as I said...

Michael DeStefano's picture

It is not a motorized gimbal stabilizer but a type of tripod head called a gimbal head. Not sure from your comment that was clear.

Also, the purpose and use of a fluid head vs a gimbal head are drastically different and not really comparable. While you could certainly use a fluid head to track a car or athlete horizontally. It doesn't have anywhere near the range of movement of a gimbal head all around. Second, a fluid head offers resistance for smooth slow movement while a gimbal head has zero resistance and is center balanced for fast tracking.

No comparison. For the big teles on fast moving nature a gimbal is superior. It gets you into accurate tracking and capture in precious milliseconds where wildlife might allow you that.

I switched to a fluid head 6 months ago and I will never go back to a ball head. I can do everything he shows with my Manfroto fluid head. So much simpler.

Studio 403's picture

Great post. Question. At my age, I have tremors. Looking for a good tripod head, for my NIkkor 70-200 2.8 lens It is heavy for me. and I don't know if I should turn off anti vibrate when I use a monopod. When I shoot from about 60 ft, not getting super sharp shots. Any suggestion how to set up my D610 for this. that one head looks it would cost a gazzialin dollars. Thanks FS I like this. and what does anyone suggest how to focus meter wise,

It's going to depend on your shutter speed. Try to increase the speed and see if motion blur decreases. Obviously, that speed will depend on your focal length.

Studio 403's picture

Thank you Sir

Ed Sanford's picture

Nice post... I never thought of using my ball head in this manner.

Giovanni Aprea's picture

Brilliant post but one thing I know for sure, I'd never buy used gear from this guy 😄

Appreciate the post Michael. Just ordered a budget set up. Links below, but this video helped a ton

Tripod (Comes with Fluid Head) http://a.co/d/gJMQVkn
And the Koolehaoda Q45: http://a.co/d/6R9sgvC

Brian Harris's picture

Michael DeStefano What 600mm lens are you shooting with in the above video?