What is the ultimate big lens monopod head? The Wimberley MH-100 MonoGimbal Gimbal Monopod Head just claimed that title. If you use a lens with a tripod foot on a monopod, you want this head.
The Wimberley MH-100 MonoGimbal Gimbal Monopod Head is compact and light yet very heavy duty, functions extremely smoothly, is comfortable-to-use, and provides a unique side-mount gimbal head that makes using even the largest and heaviest lens on a monopod easy.
After the Shenandoah National Park Whitetail Buck in Rut workshop, I headed over to Charlottesville, VA to visit my friends at Wimberley. Immediately upon walking in the door, they excitedly gave me an evaluation sample of their new MH-100 MonoGimbal Gimbal Monopod Head.
A monopod is used to hold the weight of a camera and lens while providing a stable shooting platform. A monopod can be directly attached to a camera or lens, providing the most compact, solid, and lightweight connection possible. This option is great until an even modest up or down angle is needed and then things become awkward fast. The monopod must be tipped to achieve the angle and handholding, despite that being the challenge originally avoided, rapidly becomes a better option. Using a big lens directly mounted to a monopod limits use to primarily level shooting orientations.
Primarily, a monopod head is needed when a level camera is not expected. Shooting field sports? You probably don't need a monopod head. Shooting an air show with a big lens? You are going to find a monopod head mandatory.
Adding a normal tripod head to the monopod solves the angle problem but controlling a large lens on a monopod-mounted ball head can be difficult (a third hand seems needed even without the tripod collar being loosened). The full-sized ball heads required to support larger lenses are not light or inexpensive and three-way heads are awkward to use on a monopod.
Heads made specifically for monopod use are a better option for mounting lenses to a monopod. These are typically one-way heads with a single locking knob. With a one-way monopod head in use, the monopod can be rotated for panning, tipped side-to-side for leveling, and the head movement provides for the needed up-down shooting angle.
While there are some very nice monopod heads available (I currently own one of the best), there is a primary issue remaining to be addressed. When mounting a heavy lens on a monopod head (or ball head), the weight is above the pivot axle and in addition to adjustments becoming slightly awkward, there is risk of the camera and lens tipping over when the head is not locked down. This can happen fast and hard enough to cause damage (including causing a painfully-bloodied hand as I've personally experienced). When the head is loosened, the other hand must have a tight grip on the camera to avoid the tipping.
Using a gimbal head on a monopod is an option many photographers take. This type of head allows the lens to become balanced under or beside the pivot point, solving the balance problem (note that a conventional ball head with the clamp neck lowered into a drop notch can act as side-mount gimbal). Despite solving the balance problem, gimbal heads are not the perfect solution as they are not light, often weighing considerably more than the monopod they are mounted to, and they are not small, adding considerable bulk to the setup. Gimbal heads tend to be very expensive as well.
The Wimberley MH-100 MonoGimbal Gimbal Monopod Head is the right solution, providing very heavy-duty, very smooth, side-mount gimbal functionality in an extremely simple, comfortable, and compact design.
The Wimberley MH-100 MonoGimbal Gimbal Monopod Head body is solid CNC machined aluminum with Arca Swiss-standard dovetail grooves on the bottom for attaching to any standard clamp (as I have on my monopod), complete with safety stop screws, and the provided 3/8"-16 threads facilitate direct monopod attachment. The 1/4"-20 monopod thread size is supported with an optional reducer bushing though monopods providing only this thread size option likely have an underrated load capacity. A strong monopod is highly recommended — Wimberley suggests a capacity rating 3x higher than the load being supported. I find the rounded top of the small MH-100 body to be a very comfortable rest and control point for my left hand.
A large, rubber-coated, large-lobed lock knob is attached to a 360°-rotating thick stainless steel shaft that smoothly rides on a radial roller thrust bearing, runs through the main housing, and connects to a significantly-sized Wimberley quick-release clamp. Being directly connected, the lock knob rotates with the clamp and if a hand is holding the knob in a fixed position, the tightness adjusts slightly when the lens is pivoted up or down. The amount of adjustment is very minor and with the lock knob being captive, the loosening eventually stops.
I can confirm that you are able to pass time on the sidelines by using this mount like a fidget spinner for your balanced lens. You are going love this awesome attention-garnering feature (use at your own risk):
The MH-100 design is very simple and maintenance-free under normal use. Disassembly is possible should such become necessary, such as when exposed to a significant amount of saltwater, sand, and/or other grit.
The clamp is positioned far enough out that impact with the monopod mounting platform or a clamp mounted to the platform is unlikely. Most lens and tripod foot combinations will clear the monopod even when angled straight down (as made obvious in the video clip).
In case you haven't already figured it out, the MH-100 is primarily meant for use with lenses that have tripod mount feet. A smooth-rotating collar improves the overall experience, a low-profile foot makes side-to-side balancing easier, and click stops can be slightly annoying depending on how the head is being used. For attachment to the clamp, tripod feet require an Arca Swiss-compatible dovetail, either built-in from the factory, added via a replacement foot (recommended – Wimberley's are great and shown in the with-lens product images), or added via a lens plate. When the foot is mounted in the MH-100 clamp in a balanced position (and the monopod supported), the camera and lens combination becomes neutrally balanced even when the head's locking knob is loosened. The risk of tipping on the head is eliminated and with the tripod collar loosened, the lens is freely movable, ready to catch the fastest action.
I mentioned using the head on the left side of the camera with my hand resting on the head, directing the setup. However, the guys at Wimberley had the head mounted on the right side when they first handed the setup to me. Mounting on the right side of the lens clears the camera and lens for two-handed use, similar to handholding. Both sides work very well.
A camera with a base plate can be mounted directly to the left side of the head in vertical orientation (shutter release up). A camera with an L-plate can be mounted the same way or on the right side in horizontal orientation. A direct camera-mounted setup will not be properly balanced but adding an adequately long perpendicular plate enables either of the direct camera-mounted options to be balanced. With a direct camera mount, the angle of the monopod must be used for leveling the camera and a slight off-balance scenario will be found.
A big lens positioned to the side of a monopod immediately looks like a balance problem. It appeared that a big lens hanging from the side of a monopod would awkwardly pull to the side, requiring a constant force to keep it vertically straight. With a big, heavy lens (think Canon 600mm f/4L IS II or Nikon 600mm f/4E VR) and a vertically straight monopod, there is a pull. However, the pull is not strong and tipping the monopod slightly completely offsets the pull. While this may sound awkward, adjusting the monopod to a neutral balanced position seems very natural in use. Rotating the lens in the tripod collar maintains the level camera position.
The MH-100 head's load capacity is 50 lb (22.68 kg) and you will be challenged to find a camera and lens setup weighing even 1/2 of that amount. That huge capacity comes at a light weight of 0.77 lb (349 g) and small size of (H, W, L) 3.4 x 2.5 x 4.4" (8.6 x 6.3 x 11.2 cm). Those numbers all add up to one tuff little head. That this head is so small and light makes me much more likely to carry it in the first place.
While monopod heads make shooting at upward or downward angles far easier, they offer benefits even when the camera angles are remaining level. First is that this head allows the monopod to be quickly folded in line with the camera, creating a more compact setup for storage (including in a car), navigating a crowd (including when hanging from a should strap), etc. In this position, the monopod becomes a solid, comfortable carrying handle for the kit. This head offsets the lens in relation to the monopod axis and this creates a bit of a hook for the lens to hang over the shoulder from, making this carry position more comfortable. While tripods support a camera from three sides, monopods require the photographer to hold their own body still, essentially providing the other two sides of the support. Some appreciate that a monopod head permits the monopod to be positioned forward of the photographer with the lens leaning toward them by some amount, allowing their body to apply pressure in the other direction at the eyecup, creating additional stability. Those counting on a monopod head to add some height to an otherwise deficient monopod are not going to get much gain with the MH-100, but most quality monopods are adequately high and getting lower is a more common issue for me. That the monopod can be angled permits a lower to the ground camera position that I much more frequently need.
The build quality of the MH-100 is excellent. There is little to go wrong with this product and Wimberley backs it with a solid 5 year warranty. While the MH-100's price is not low, it is considerably less expensive than some other quality monopod heads. It is a good value.
The other reason I was in Charlottesville, VA was to stage for photographing the NCAA Division I regional cross country finals the next morning. I was appropriately for this review going to be shooting with a 600mm f/4 lens on a monopod. I'm always hesitant to first use a new piece of gear for a shoot that matters but having quickly gained confidence in the MH-100, I opted to put it directly into use.
I mounted the Wimberley Monopod Head to the clamp already on the monopod, attached that to the Wimberley lens foot on the lens, and then also attached a Black Rapid Sport Breathe shoulder strap. I had over an hour to scout the venue prior to the start of the first race and was walking through crowds some of this time. Walking through crowds with a normally-attached monopod invites taking someone out with the big T-shaped setup but folding the monopod in line with the lens made navigation easier.
While shooting the warmups, the MH-100 was very comfortable to use and the movement seemed completely natural, requiring very little acclimation. I committed to using it for the race and continued using it for staged action photos after the race.
As mentioned, the MH-100 review sample was provided at no cost.
I use monopods a lot. They take the load off of my shoulder and stabilize the camera while not slowing me down which is especially important when chasing sports and wildlife. Adding a head to a monopod increases this support's versatility and the Wimberley MH-100 MonoGimbal Gimbal Monopod Head is an optimal choice. This heavy-duty head is comfortable and natural to use, does not add much size or weight to the setup, is extremely smooth-functioning, and the side-mount gimbal design makes it very easy to use even the largest, heaviest lenses on a monopod. Great product!
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