Friday, January 11, 2013

Jobu Design Micro Gimbal (BWG-M1) Review


Introduction:
Jobu Design is a Canadian manufacturer of camera accessories, including bubble levels that fit into camera hoteshoes, panning bases, Arca-Swiss compatible plates, clamps and gimbal heads. In this case the focus will be on the most basic gimbal accessory in Jobu's lineup, the BWG-M1 (Mini Gimbal). The BWG-M1 is a micro gimbal attachment that transforms any Arca-Swiss compatible ballhead (Arca-Swiss, Kirk, Markins, RRS, Acratech) into a basic gimbal head. This attachment is designed for use with smaller telephoto lenses, such as a 70-200mm F2.8, 150-500mm Sigma, 100-400mm Canon, 300mm F4 or 400mm F5.6 lenses.

Build Quality and Features:
The BWG-M1 frame is made of aluminum, along with a number of steel and rubber parts. The finish is smooth to the touch, and needless to say this accessory feels extremely well crafted, with no apparent weak points. The Arca-Swiss compatible clamp is well made, and holds the type of lenses it was designed for without any loss of friction. The clamp on the attachment uses a screw knob type release and has a rough metal finish, for grip. The over-sized friction knob is covered with soft rubber.

* Jobu recommends using this attachment with high quality Arca-Swiss compatible heads with screw knob releases, rather than cam action (RRS/Markins) quick release levers.

For full technical details on the BGW-M1 visit Jobu's website.


In Use:
To use the BWG-M1, the accessory is placed into an Arca-Swiss compatible ballhead and locked in like a lens or camera plate would be. After that  you simply rotate the ballhead into the vertical position so that the clamp on the gimbal is in the correct orientation. Once the gimbal attachment is in place, mount the tripod foot of the lens into the clamp and lock it down as usual.

In terms of actual use, the gimbal works smoothly, allowing you to easily track your subject without worrying about your equipment flopping around, as it could on a standard ballhead. The smoothness of panning depends entirely on the quality of your ballhead, and thus is out of the scope of this review. The oversize friction knob allows you to easily adjust the angle of the lens as needed. During testing I used the knob with gloves on and had no issues .In practice this gimbal attachment operates very similar to traditional gimbal heads, but without the weight and size.

To point the camera up or down simply loosen the large rubber knob, and move your equipment as required. To rotate your gear from side to side, use the panning adjustment on your ballhead. This attachment would not be practical for ballhead without a independent panning base. If your ballhead does not have one, you may need to purchase a separate panning base. The point of the gimbal design is to keep the lens steady and moving as smoothly as possible, so a ballhead with a a smoothly operating panning base is ideal. When a semi-pro DSLR (D7000, D300s, D600, D700, 60D, 7D, 6D or 5D series) body and a 70-200mm F2.8 or 300mm F4 lens are used the system operates smoothly, and without any issues. That being said, there are some minor issues with this attachment.

Balance is thrown off if a battery grip is attached, and the ability to tilt the lens upwards is more limited at the same time. As a result using a pro body (1D series, D2 series, D3 series or a D4) could also cause similar problems. Similar loss of balance can also occur when using a teleconverter or macro extension tubes. To counter this loss of balance, the knob on the gimbal head simply needs to be tightened slightly. This will slightly reduce the fluidity of movement, but it is still better than using a standard ballhead to track birds in flight. Another way to help restore balance is to place your left hand on top the lens lightly, in order to counter balance the weight of the camera.

Equipment Used For Testing:
The BWG-M1 was field tested with a Nikon D300, and D700, both with and without MB-D10 battery grip. The lens used was a AF-S 300mm F4D IF-ED, with and without TC14E 1.4x Teleconverter. The BWG-M1 itself was attached to a Markins Q-10 Ballhead, with screw knob release, and mounted on a Gitzo GT3531s tripod.


Comments and Conclusion:
The Jobu Design BWG-M1 is a compact gimbal head attachment, made to give gimbal functionality to Arca-Swiss compatible ballheads. Although there are some limitations, when using semi-pro cameras with a grip attached, the system works very well. The attachment itself is well made, easy to use and shows no sign of weakness when mounted equipment is within the design limits. The simple nature and functionality of the BWG-M1 makes it a useful item to have in your camera bag.

Pros:
  • Light Weight and compact, for easy transportation (fits in your camera bag when not in use)
  • Extremely well made, and easily handles equipment it was designed for
  • Perfect for amateur bird and landscape photographers who use compact telephoto lenses
  • Works well with entry level and semi-pro DSLRs
  • Inexpensive, compared to most full gimbal heads
Cons: 
  • Doesn't balance out on it's own when a battery grip (semi-pro DSLR) or teleconverter is used
  • Travel, tilting up, is restricted when using a battery grip