Those who want the best gimbal and panorama head need to give the Really Right Stuff PG-02 MK2 Pano-Gimbal Head serious consideration.
The version I Really Right Stuff PG-02 Pano-Gimbal Head was impressive, one of my favorite heads. But, it disappeared from the market — for a seemingly long time.
As I write this review, the improved Really Right Stuff PG-02 MK2 Pano-Gimbal Head just hit the street.
At first glance, the version I and version II heads appear similar and have similar functionality. However, upon closer inspection, one realizes that everything has changed. This is a completely new head.
When RRS requested a review of the PG-02 MK2, the answer was an easy "Of course!" RRS's no-compromise design and build standards, combined with an upgrade to an already great product, made that answer easy. The loaner head arrived, and this review became a high priority.
To begin to answer this question, let's get a definition of gimbal: "A gimbal is a pivoted support that allows the rotation of an object about a single axis." [Wikipedia] From a photography point of view, that object is a camera and lens combination, and the head part of the subject indicates that the gimbal is made to be mounted on a support, most typically a tripod or monopod.
Why use a gimbal head? Controlling a large lens mounted over a ball head or similar mount is challenging and risk filled. Gravity is always trying to pull your top-heavy ball head-mounted camera and large lens setup to the ground while you fight to maintain control over the rig.
"Ball flop" is a painful term derived from this experience going bad, typically involving a camera and lens tipping over, impacting the tripod hard, and potentially knocking the entire tripod over, resulting in everything crashing to the ground. To answer a question that might have arisen, yes, this has happened to me. I caught a 500mm f/4 lens and Canon 1-Series body with my foot just before they hit the ground. That experience is scarring enough that a second occurrence does not happen.
A properly adjusted gimbal mount places the weight of the balanced camera and lens at its pivot point with gravity not influencing the rig's position. This setup leaves a heavy lens and camera body practically weightless to the photographer. Only two fingers are needed to orient even a pro body with a big Canon RF 600mm F4 L IS USM Lens.
Once leveled, always leveled. One of the benefits of two-way-adjustable gimbal heads is that when the tripod is level and the tripod collar is locked in a level vertical or horizontal position, the camera will always be level. This attribute frees the photographer to follow their subject on the ground, flying, etc., without concern for the camera's levelness. Note that a leveling base significantly quickens leveling the head.
While gimbal mounts are practically requisite for large lenses, they work very well with smaller ones for the same reasons. Gimbal heads are a joy to use, especially when following an in-motion subject.
Does the composition demand a wider angle of view than your widest focal length can take in? Do you want a higher resolution than your camera's imaging sensor provides?
Those scenarios call for a panoramic image, stitching multiple images into a single final image. A panorama is the result of many sub-images, generally overlapping each other by some amount (by 1/3 of the frame is a good choice), stitched together using software. Especially when there are close details in the composition, precise pivoting around the lens's nodal point is imperative during capture.
A panorama head provides the pan and tilt movements on the nodal point, aiding the capture of the single or multiple rows of images needed for a panorama. A single-row panorama head rotates the camera on a single axis, and a multi-row panorama head, such as the PG-02 MK2, provides two-axis rotation. While a variety of standard heads and parts can be used in place of a proper panorama head, a built-for-the-job head makes life better, and perhaps none are better than the PG-02 MK2.
Raving about the exceptional design and no-compromise build quality of Really Right Stuff's USA-machined products seems ever unavoidable, and the PG-02 MK2 only advances this regard. This head is another RRS work of art.
The PG-02 MK2 is a solidly constructed head, with almost exclusively machined aluminum and stainless-steel parts providing strength and endurance. There is no unintended flex or movement between the components in this design, and the rounded edges increase comfort.
To gauge the precision of this head's construction, I slid a Mitutoyo caliper over the entire dovetail rail of the Horizontal Base. The thousands place digit on the calipers did not change (1.500"), and all components fit precisely together. This head's fit and finish are impressive.
Let's take a closer look at the individual parts.
The RRS PG-02 MK2 is a modular head with parts available individually or in logical packages. Note that a camera or lens with an Arca-Swiss-style dovetail plate or bracket is required for attachment to the PG-02 MK2. I highly recommend you adopt this standard for your kit regardless of selecting this head.
The foundation of the PG-02 MK2 Pano-Gimbal Head is the PG-02 MK2 HB Horizontal Base. This is a very substantial, long aluminum piece that features a 360° panning base.
Attachment of the panning base to a support, usually a tripod, is via a stainless steel 3/8"-16 (a standard size) threaded insert. Alternatively, the base dovetail can be mounted into a quick release clamp.
The end-positioned pan lock lever turns a long stainless-steel rod to engage the panning brake. The easy-to-access lever smoothly and quickly locks the panning movement, with about 145° separating free and locked-down states. The panning base has a 5° angular scale, measuring from 0 to 360° with an index mark on both sides.
Part of the specialness of this head is that the long dovetail on top of the Horizontal Base allows adjustment of the Vertical Arm over a wide distance, enabling centered lens positions for a wide range of lens sizes. The Horizontal Base includes a laser engraved millimeter scale, marked in 1mm increments from 35mm to 129mm, with 0 corresponding to the center of the panning base. This indexing makes remembered side-mounted positions easy to repeat, and a pair of long index marks aids in quick alignment of the full gimbal arm.
Note that the MK2 head does not retain the bottom dovetail feature of the predecessor's horizontal base.
The top of the base features a bullseye level, important for leveling the head, and a machined stop nub to prevent a Vertical Arm or other accessories from sliding off.
The panning brake is tightened significantly to tighten or loosen the base on a tripod, monopod, or other support.
The PG-02 MK2 VA Vertical Arm clamps to the Horizontal Base's dovetail to complete the primary head structure. Simply open the lateral slide lock knob, align the arm to center the lens over the panning axis, and lock the knob tightly. The machined aluminum lobed Vertical Arm locking knob is compact and comfortable to use, and it locks tightly.
Like the base, the Vertical Arm is a substantial part. As with the Horizontal Base, the Vertical Arm is hollow, open on one side to save weight, but there is significant wall thickness for utmost rigidity. Start connecting parts at 90° angles, and flex becomes my immediate concern. Fortunately, this connection is impressively rock solid.
Near the top of the Vertical Arm is the 360° tilt rotator, featuring a laser engraved angular scale measuring from 0 to 360° in 5° increments and an index mark on both sides. The tilt rotator mount provides four orientations, enabling the rotation index to be initialized as desired (typically to 0 when level).
Usually, a lock knob (or lever with the last variation of the PG-02 MK1) is positioned opposite of the tilt rotator, requiring the user's controlling arm to be raised to the lens level to access it. For the MK2, RRS borrowed a feature from the Horizontal Base. A lever at the bottom of the Vertical Arm turns a long stainless-steel rod to engage the tilt brake.
Fast adjustments can make the difference between getting a great shot and getting nothing. With adjacent levers, the controlling hand can make panning and tilt drag adjustments simultaneously. Push both left-positioned levers away to loosen the drag and pull both back to tighten the drag. This design is differentiating.
With approximately 135° of rotation space available in its cutout, the tilt lever must lock quickly, and it does. Tilt drag resistance ranges from free to locked rather tightly.
A pair of 1/4"-20 threaded inserts are provided on the lever side of the Vertical Arm, supporting the addition of a seemingly endless range of attachments.
The base of the Vertical Arm is unmarked.
Do you ever need to shoot straight up? We needed to do this during the last solar eclipse, and lunar eclipses have subsequently required a straight up camera position. Reversing the Vertical Arm orientation on the Horizontal Base permits adjustment so that the lens hangs over the end of the vertical base, permitting 360° tilt rotation. Of course, a sturdy support such as a tripod with a leg angled out under the camera is required for balance.
Inititially, the PG-02 MK2 is available in two options, both featuring my favorite RRS Lever Release Clamps.
The PG-02 MK2 Vertical Arm will directly accept all full-size current model 3/8"-16 threaded RRS clamps. A clamp directly attached to the Vertical Arm creates the ideal 360° panorama head and creates a side-mount gimbal setup ideal for use with even the largest collared lenses. Note that a Vertical Arm must be horizontally adjustable on the base to center cameras and lenses on a side mount and, as already discussed, the RRS PG-02 MK2 has that feature, supporting up to a 5.92" (150.4mm) diameter.
The initially included side-mount clamp option is the B2-LR-II, featuring 60mm jaws.
Most will find this clamp the perfect option, but the B2-LLR-II Lever Release Clamp offers the same features with the extra "L" in the name referring to longer 80mm clamp jaws. The longer option costs and weighs slightly more than the smaller clamp, but the differences are minor. We use B2-LLR-II clamps on all large studio/lab heads, but I didn't feel the need to mount one on the PG-02 MK2.
The PG-02 Full Gimbal option includes the PG-VR MK2 Vertical Rail and the PG-CC MK2 Cradle Clamp in the package.
The rail attaches to the Vertical Arm identically to the clamps, and provides a significant dovetail surface with laser engraved mm indexing and a machined safety stop at the bottom. The Vertical Rail is, as expected, solidly constructed and includes a 1/4"-20 threaded insert on the top (mount a flash, microphone, another head, etc.), along with a port for attaching the 8.5" (216mm) (relatively short) control bar included in this package.
The also substantial cradle mounts to the rail, providing a top-loading lever release clamp.
The clamp is adjusted on the Vertical Rail to center the lens on the tilt axis, with the index marks making repeated setup easy.
That leads us to the big question:
Is the side mount adequate for using a large telephoto lens? Absolutely. The Canon RF 600mm F4 L IS USM Lens on a gripped EOS R5, shown side-mounted below, moves extremely smoothly with no strain detected. Even a 600mm f/4 lens weighs far less than the PG-02 MK2's 50 lbs. (23kg) load capacity rating.
Another question we should address is: are the movements different between the two options? That is another easy question. No.
If both setups are properly adjusted, the balanced and centered lens pivots precisely on the panning and tilt axis, and the movements are identical.
What are the advantages of a side-mount gimbal head?
Touching on one of the first side-mount advantages in that list, with more parts between the tripod and the lens, the cradle adds modest additional vibration-dampening time. The difference was just over 5 seconds vs. 4 seconds with a 600 f/4 and gripped body mounted (note that some vibration time must be attributed to the lens and its mount). The vibration difference will not matter with moving subjects, but it could be a factor in the wind and with more-stationary subjects, such as the moon.
In the version I head review, I was off to a slow start on this list, so I opted to get the assistance of a Really Right Stuff representative. What was the rep's immediate answer to that question? "None." We chatted a bit, but I didn't get anywhere. He told me to get the 60mm side-mount clamp version. Fortunately, I came up with enough reasons on my own to at least create a list.
Here is my "What are the advantages of a full gimbal mount?" list:
For some large lenses, especially those with tall feet, the cradle positions the Vertical Arm closer to the panning axis than with side mounting. The difference for the Canon 600 f/4L IS II Lens is 35mm. However, the opposite is also true. A short-footed tripod ring on a small-diameter lens will place the Vertical Arm closer to the panning axis when side- mounted.
Side mounting the camera (without a collared lens) requires an L-bracket for landscape orientation and minimally a base plate for vertical compositions, which results in the lock lever positioned to the right of the camera or the shutter release positioned on the bottom. Cradle-mounting a camera body requires an MPR-CL II (nodal plate, perpendicular plate, or similar) along with, minimally, a base plate for horizontal composition and an L-plate for vertical composition. That was a lot of words to say that the side mount has an advantage for direct camera mounting, but it isn't a big one.
When I started the PG-02 version I review, I expected to advise buying the cradle version and picking up a clamp to have the benefits of both systems (the swap is easy to make – after the blue thread locker wears off), but in the end, I couldn't justify having the full gimbal parts wasting space in my kit. I bought the PG-02 with the B2-LR-II Lever Release Clamp (60mm jaws). Use some of the money left over to buy the MPR-CL II.
Three stainless-steel flat head screws are used to mount a clamp or Vertical Rail to the Vertical Arm. The center is a 1/4"-20 x 3/4", and the other two are M5-0.8 x 12mm.
Note that blue thread locker makes these screws initially difficult to remove and install. That the recessed area of the Vertical Rail barely clears the hex key wrench also increases the challenge.
Weight seems to be a top concern for most photography gear. We always prefer to carry less weight, but less weight often results in compromises – typically strength and rigidity when support is involved. The PG-02 MK2, when assembled, is not small or light, but it is modestly smaller and lighter than its predecessor.
Here are the manufacturer's specifications:
|PG-02 MK2 B2-LR-II
Note that the control arm increases the PG-02 depth to 8.55" (217mm).
Here are measured weights:
|PG-02 MK2 B2-LR-II
|P-02 HB Horizontal Base
|P-02 VA Vertical Arm
|B2-LR-II 60mm Clamp
|P-VR Vertical Rail
|P-CC Cradle Clamp
The B2-LLR-II 80mm clamp option weighs 1.4 oz (40g) more than the 60mm B2-LR-II.
For comparison, the Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head weighs 30.52 oz (865.1 g).
The PG-02 MK2 Horizontal Base's tripod mount contact area is relatively small, measuring 2.1 x 1.5" (53.3 x 38.1mm). The irregular shape is due to the built-in dovetail.
The PG-02 MK2 is rated to carry a 50 lbs. (23 kg) load directly over center down to 15 lbs. at 7" (177.8mm) off-center.
The RRS PG-02 MK2 requires a base for mounting, and that base is usually a tripod or monopod. Weaknesses are minimally additive in a camera support system, so choosing a good quality foundation is imperative. The Really Right Stuff TVC-34L Mk2 Tripod is a great option.
With few exceptions, a tripod under a 2-way adjustable head should be leveled. Once leveled, including the lens mount ring's locked position, the camera will remain level regardless of the head's movements, allowing the photographer to concentrate on composing images. Tripod collars with click-stops at the 90° positions facilitate the camera leveling task.
Simply leveling the tripod is adequate, and typically, this is the lightest, most solid, and lowest-cost option. However, leveling a tripod can be a fiddly and somewhat time-consuming task, especially when working on uneven ground, such as the bottom of a stream.
Ideal for ease of use is to mount the PG-02 MK2 to a leveling base. The head can be threaded onto a leveling base or clamped into a leveling base-mounted lever release clamp via the built-in dovetail adapter. The RRS TH-DVTL-55 Dovetail Plate mounted to the bottom of other heads in the kit permits quick swapping.
The leveling base makes fast and easy work of head leveling, though at the cost of additional weight and, at least with many of RRS's leveling base options, reduction of the tripod's rated capacity. The Really Right Stuff TA-3 and TA-4 Leveling Bases are rated for 1/2 as much as their matching tripod models. The TA-4 (for series 4 tripods) Leveling Base's 50 lbs. (23 kg) load capacity rating makes it a perfect match for the PG-02 MK2's capacity.
If using a strong ball head such as the Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head, the PG-02 MK2's Dovetail adapter can be directly attached to the ball head clamp, and then the ball head becomes the leveling base. Though not as low profile as a leveling base, the BH-55 is rated for twice as much weight as the TA-3 (50 lbs. vs. 25 lbs.).
I was impressed to see vibrations settle similarly fast when using the BH-55 under the PG-02 MK2 as when direct-mounted to the tripod. Use the BH-55 as the regular ball head., and when a pano opportunity shows up, mount the PG-02 MK2 right on the BH-55.
Having a selection of RRS parts is a bit like a pile of Legos. Once you get started, you want to keep building. Partly because it is so fun, but primarily because what you build is so useful.
With standardized dovetails, clamps, and threaded inserts, there seems to be no end to the parts combinations. The versatility of the standard clamp and dovetail system combined with the threaded inserts on the Vertical Arm back and Vertical Rail top results in a practically unlimited set of uses. To get your thinking started, I quickly created this setup from the gear I had on hand during the v1 PG-02 review.
A great accessory for the PG-02 MK2 is the RRS MPR-CL II w/ integral clamp, typically used as a nodal slide to avoid parallax during pano capture and seen in many of the product images on this page.
The camera mounts in the MPR-CL II's clamp, and the MPR-CL II clamps into the PG-02 MK2's clamp. As mentioned earlier, this piece or one similar is required for using non-collared lenses on the full gimbal cradle.
The bottom line: the PG-02 MK2 is a dream to use.
All moving parts are extremely smooth, and good smoothness is retained under drag control. The all-metal knobs and levers feel and work great, and the head's aesthetics are excellent, increasing the fun level.
The close proximity of the panning and tilt axis drag levers is a differentiating feature that impacts performance in the field when quick adjustments are needed. With a short throw, these levers provide the full range of drag friction, except for the tilt angle rotation not fully locking when closed. Keep the latter in mind when carrying a PG-02 MK2 with a camera mounted.
You can't see one of the biggest improvements to this head. The original PG-02 panning and tilt brakes were not intended for damping movements, and that use was causing damage. RRS added drag-control to the PG-02 MKII design, enabling resistance control. "The drag functionality in the PG-02 mkII has been enhanced for a smoother operation over the previous design. This allows for an improved experience when tracking a moving subject in both the pan and tilt axis."
Critical for precise subject framing is that the lens does not move with application of the panning and tilt brakes. Even some high-end heads have this problem, but not the PG-02 MK2. Adjusting the brakes does not move the lens. Create the composition, lock the brakes, and take the photo. Perfect.
RRS includes a nicely padded, zippered nylon, RRS logo carrying case, with a handle on top and adjustable padded dividers inside. While the PG-02 MK2 (and all other gimbal heads) is awkward to case while mounted on a tripod, its modular design permits breakdown for storage or travel.
This case, though somewhat larger than necessary, will ensure the head parts are well-protected.
A convenient way to pack the Horizontal Base and Vertical Arm together is to clamp them together, ensuring that they do not impact each other.
Here are some comparison observations I can share.
It is hard to make a wrong decision here. Both options are superb.
Of course. Nearly all tripod heads can be used for video — when locked down.
However, you probably want to know if the PG-02 MK2 is a good choice for smoothly panned video capture. That answer is probably "No" if you are serious about movie quality.
With the drag fully released, this head's movements are extremely smooth. However, they are undamped, and a very skilled operator is needed to capture smooth panning footage.
As drag is added, smoothness decreases very slightly, and rebound becomes a mild issue (if the movement pressure is released). If panning video use of a gimbal head is important to you, ask Really Right Stuff to produce the FG-02 MK2 Fluid Pano-Gimbal Head.
Take the same great qualities of the PG-02 version I, and add 4 levels (3 damped, plus off) of fluid-damped panning and tilting for a better video capture experience. That was the FG-02.
While the FG-02 continued to support 50 lbs. (23kg), the damped load capacity was reduced to 15 lbs. (6.8kg), which is still a significant weight. The FG-02 was slightly heavier, but the primary downside was that the FG-02 was considerably more expensive (a build to order product for RRS).
As was the original PG-02, the FG-02 was discontinued. The PG-02 MK2 is now here, and the "Will Really Right Stuff introduce an FG-02 MK2 Fluid Pano-Gimbal Head?" question is a relevant one. That question has not been answered definitively yet. Per Really Right Stuff, the PG-02 MK2's success in the marketplace will determine the final answer.
The reviewed Really Right Stuff PG-02 MK2 Pano-Gimbal Head was on loan from RRS, and at review time, this head is only available directly from Really Right Stuff. RRS is not an affiliate of this site, but until B&H adds this head to their site (Feb?), the buy link directs to Really Right Stuff's site in case you can't wait.
The design and performance of the Really Right Stuff PG-02 MK2 Pano-Gimbal Head is exceptional, and after reviewing it, I purchased the side-mount version.
Bringing you this site is my full-time job (typically 60-80 hours per week). Thus, I depend solely on the commissions received from you using the links on this site to make any purchase. I am grateful for your support! - Bryan