Of course that title is a tad facetious, but I truly did not expect this much functionality out of what at first seemed like a niche product.
The Really Right Stuff PG-01 Pano-Gimbal Head has a few different design options or add-ons to choose from. It can come with either a regular flat base or a built-in leveling base, a screw knob clamp or a lever release clamp for attaching to Arca Swiss-style plates, and an optional RRS MPR-CL nodal slide for removing the parallax effect with most wide-angle lenses on a mirrorless body. Depending on the configuration you choose, the price ranges from $240 to $435. For this particular review, my exact configuration is the leveling base option with screw knob clamp and the additional nodal slide.
Developed for mirrorless cameras or lighter DSLR setups, the Really Right Stuff PG-01 is both a panoramic and gimbal head with an 8 pound load capacity. As a panoramic head, the RRS PG-01 features complete 360-degree engraved markings on the swinging base. Likewise, the vertical arm also has 360-degree engraved markings on the rotating camera mount. Together, it’s dead simple to achieve repeatable results capturing single-row or multi-row panoramic images. Before performing a panoramic sweep of photos, look in the viewfinder or at the LCD screen in live view and determine how many degrees you need to move the camera and lens for each image. Be sure to account for at least 20 to 50 percent overlap so that the post-processing sticking software has enough information to put everything together accurately. With the degrees of movement in mind, you are free to continuously create panoramic images at will without even having to look at anything other than the engraved markings.
As a gimbal head, RRS suggests not using it with telephoto lenses larger or heavier than the typical 70-200mm f/2.8, however I used it with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II USM with — mostly — success. At no point during sticks-to-the-ground use did I think the 100-400mm was too much lens for the PG-01, however I found that picking up the tripod and moving with the camera and lens attached would strain the clamping power of the leveling base and it wouldn’t hold tight that much weight. The Canon 100-400mm II is only slightly heavier than the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 III — 0.3 pounds — so I’m going to assume this will happen with 70-200 as well. If you’re the kind of person who likes to just pick up everything and carry it as is, it may be a better option to go with the flat non-leveling base as it wouldn’t have this failure point. The flat version has an Arca Swiss-style dovetail at the base which means it can attach right onto a ball head (after you take it back out of the trash, sorry) to regain that leveling capability and likely a much stronger hold for carrying.
With an L-bracket, the PG-01 can also serve as a regular, horizontal frame tripod head as well. My initial reaction to this would be “why?”, but after trying it out it’s actually a really nice way to work with a single-frame landscape scene. After locking the camera to the PG-01 and leveling the base, I appreciated having independent vertical and horizontal panning movements to really nail a composition. If you are a believer in the mantra of slowing down your process and thinking through your compositions, this is an excellent enabler for it. And if in the end I realized that it would be nice to add a little extra image to the sides, well I was already in place and ready to go with a pano head.
What I Liked
- Although it takes a little extra time to get it set up, it’s overall an easy process that doesn’t require tools. Engraved millimeter numbered markings can speed up putting it together if its positions are noted for the next time.
- The included hex wrench magnetically attaches and tucks away so it’s always with me. While the pano gimbal head itself does not require any tools to assemble, the base has a small hole to stick the wrench in and tighten it down if needed, or for securing a tripod plate to the camera.
- Has tight gliding friction when turning the head, metal knurled knobs, smooth rounded edges throughout; everything tactile when using it feels like a premium piece of gear.
- Dovetail base for fast swapping of tripod heads. The non-leveling base version can be mounted straight onto a ball head to get back the leveling capability.
- Engraved markings make each single-row or multi-row panorama sweep an easily repeatable process and takes almost all the effort away from creating a panoramic image set versus a single photo. As the light would change in my scene, making another sweep of photos was no sweat.
- I’ve come to really enjoy the three-step independent process of framing single exposures even over using a ball head. I can think about my compositions and adjust them in clean level horizontal and vertical movements rather than loosening a ball head and all axes free up at once. If in the moment I decide that I want a little extra on the sides or vertically, it’s no extra work adding more scene to my photos since the panoramic capability is always ready to go.
- Its overall versatility was surprising. I’ve used it to capture panoramic photos, single frame images, and as a telephoto lens gimbal. With the nodal slide and abundance of markings, I bet you can get away with basic macro focusing rail type movements too.
What Could Be Improved
- A more compact way to keep the pieces physically grouped when disassembled.
- Flat base may work better if planning to use as a gimbal head for telephoto lenses at all. The leveling base is the weak point when carrying tripod with gear mounted.
Perhaps with no surprise to Really Right Stuff’s devout following, the PG-01 Pano Gimbal Head is a high quality piece of gear not only for those interested in stepping up their panoramic photo game, but as a do-it-all tripod head.