Jobu Design BWG-Pro Gimbal Head Review

March 19th, 2010 by Joe McCabe

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Introduction

I was recently given the opportunity test and review the Jobu BWG-Pro gimbal head.  Outdoor Photo Gear arranged to have Jobu Design send a BWG-Pro my way so that I could test it out, write a review for OPG and provide feedback to Jobu Design.  All-in-all, I was very impressed with the BWG-Pro’s design, construction and operation.

Background

I am a Juneau, Alaska based photographer who shoots everything from still life to landscapes to wildlife.  I use Canon DSLRs and own a host of lenses, including a Canon 500mm f/4 IS.  To date, when using my 500mm, I’ve been using a Wimberley Sidekick mounted on a ballhead (currently the RRS BH-55) all atop an old but sturdy Gitzo 1345.  I should note that until spending time with the BWG-Pro, I hadn’t really tested any other full gimbal head to any great degree.  I had always felt the ballhead/Sidekick combination was adequate for my needs and hadn’t been convinced otherwise when given the occasional opportunity to briefly borrow or try full gimbal heads.  My tests of the BWG-Pro were my first chance to really put a full gimbal head through its paces and get comfortable with the "full gimbal way of life". 

I should also note that, despite my best intentions and efforts, the weather and wildlife in southeast Alaska, British Columbia and the Yukon were less than cooperative during the time I had the BWG-Pro.  The early fall rains had begun and the salmon runs were in their lull between their regular summer runs and their late fall runs.  The sated bears and eagles apparently decided to use the ugly weather and lack of food to rest up before the next and last influx of salmon before winter. So, sadly, most of my testing of the BWG-Pro was not done in the heat of the wildlife photo moment but in more controlled settings.  The upside to this was that I was able to really give the BWG-Pro an unhurried, extensive examination.

Product Description

The Jobu Design BWG-Pro is the largest gimbal head that offered by Jobu Design, and I think it is the beefiest on the market.  Weighing in at 3.5 pounds, its main arm is constructed from cast, heat treated, oversized stock.  The BWG-Pro has full ball bearing support in its tilt-axis and its horizontal mount swing arm has spring loaded movement.  It also uses soft-touch rubberized knobs and a unique low-profile lockout switch that locks tilt movement for travel.  It comes standard with a 2.5 inch, knobbed, Arca-Swiss compatible quick release plate (longer plates are available) and is offered in two paint schemes, field green and matte black.  It is recommended for use with lenses from 70-200mm F2.8 and up.

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Construction, Fit and Finish 

That the BWG-Pro is the largest and heaviest gimbal head offered by Jobu Design comes as no surprise, as it is built very, very well.  With large, oversized main and swing arms, adjustable base plate, large, rubberized knobs and paired, instead of single, hex bolts, the BWG-Pro is obviously intended to securely handle very large and heavy lenses with ease. Although the BWG-Pro is fairly large and heavy, it is only .3 pounds heavier than my standard BH-55 plus Sidekick set-up.  In use, while hiking, I never noticed that extra .3 pounds.  The fit of the BWG-Pro is quality.  The BWG-pro is solid, with no loose joints, rattling, loose knobs, etc. 

The unit I tested was painted an appropriate field green.  The paint job was quite nice and seemed durable but I was pretty gentle with the unit so I really can’t attest to its long term durability.

Operation

In use, the BWG-Pro mounted with my 500mm f/4 IS and Canon 1D2n, performed very well and made me a full gimbal head convert.  Now I sheepishly understand what I’ve been missing!  The movements of the BWG-Pro were silky smooth, and the unit was rock solid when clamped down, even at odd angles.  I appreciated the positive, large, rubberized knobs.  Not only did the knobs do a nice job of securing the arms, they were comfortable and easy to operate, even while wearing gloves.  The unit was fairly easy to set-up, and once you have the adjustable height base plate set appropriately for your lens/camera combination, you’re good to go with a nearly “weightless” long lens experience. 

The inclusion of the lockout switch is a nice touch.  It locks the tilt arm in its neutral, vertical position so that when you move the tripod your lens and camera don’t freely tilt.  This makes carrying and transporting your gear much easier and more pleasant than would otherwise be the case.

I do have some minor suggestions for Jobu.  First, I’d like the option of a lever operated quick release clamp.  While I understand that a knob operated clamp is more secure, I find that lever operated clamps are much more convenient, especially in cold weather when fiddling with a small knob means taking off your warm gloves.  I also felt that while the adjustable height base plate is a nice, even necessary, feature and is very secure once clamped down, that it was a bit difficult to adjust if it was bearing any weight.  I'd also like to see the tension knob placed on the side of the main arm, where the lockout switch is currently located, a location to which my hand would naturally move while shooting. I understand however that there are probably design/engineering considerations in the choice of the switch and knob positions.  Of course, none of these quips rise to the level of deal breakers for me – the BWG-Pro is a quality piece of gear to be sure.

I also loaned the BWG-Pro to my friend and professional nature photographer, John Hyde and asked that he review it as well.  I asked that he use his 600mm f/4 lens, which is both longer and heavier than my 500mm.  He provided the following input:

“If you need a solid support for photographing subjects in motion with long, heavy lens the BWG-Pro is a must have.

Once you get the balance right for the lens being used it is always ready to go at a moment’s notice.  Unlike a ball head which must be tightened down if you wish to back away from the camera and tripod, or move to a new location, this gimbal head can save precious seconds because it is always ready to go.

I used this in combination with my 600 F4 and two different pro bodies and it performed very well. Smooth panning operation even when set fairly tight, so tracking subjects is a breeze.

The trick to getting the best performance from this (and any gimbal head) is having the tension on the head adjusted for the lens and the tripod height adjusted correctly for height of the photographer. Once this is achieved both horizontal and vertical panning are optimized. If you are using a lens that can rotate within its collar, then that will make panning and tracking even easier. The height of the base can also be adjusted vertically as well.

Initially I had some concern that the base release was a bit small but the double tapped design held firm. 

The bulk and weight of this head are more than a ball head but well worth it in terms of performance. It is essential for long lens use in my opinion.

And when you consider the price tag of those long telephoto lenses the cost of this head isn’t too bad. Especially when you consider the enhanced performance and ability to capture those photos that otherwise would have gotten away!”

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Conclusion

After having spent time with my Canon 1D2n and 500mm f/4 IS clamped happily, securely and weightlessly on the Jobu BWG-Pro, I’m now convinced that, if at all possible, every nature photographer using big glass should at least try the Jobu BWG-Pro.  My minor suggestions aside, I can’t see how one would improve on the construction and performance of the Jobu BWG-Pro.  For me, now that I’ve tested one, it occupies quite a high place on my Spring 2010 photography gear shopping list.

 

You can find more information on the BWG-Pro in the Store.

See Joe McCabe's Flikr photostream here.

You can view John Hyde's website here.

 

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