When your arms need to relax. Benro GH5CMINI Gimbal Review
There’s no denying that sports and wildlife photographers love long lenses. But the drive to get the perfect picture in these genres means investing in expensive (read: heavy) lenses. Manufacturers of mirrorless cameras are doing a fantastic job of reducing the size and weight of telephoto lenses. That doesn’t mean these lenses are light enough for hours of handheld use. The lightweight Benro GH5CMINI mini gimbal goes a long way to solving many of these problems. We take a look at what it offers and if it’s the right gimbal for your type of photography.
The year was 2009 or 2011. The place – Dubai International Airport. I was attending the last day of the Dubai International Airshow that year. In tow was my Nikon D300 and a 70-300mm lens. When I added a handful of battery to it, this camera and lens combination looked way more professional (at the time) than any prosumer camera on the market. This was at a time when blue skies were still common. One fighter jet after another began its gravity-defying acrobatics as everyone’s eyes were fixed upwards. I had probably the most threatening camera ever. That was until a seasoned professional stood by my side. What impressed me at the time was not his D3s and 600mm f4s attached to them, but the gimbal he was using.
Like a composer waving his baton in front of an orchestra, he effortlessly moved that massive lens and camera. These jets flew past us so many times, but they were no match for the smooth, quiet gimbal that swirled wherever it wanted to slam its shutter. He came back with fantastic images using this. I still remember seeing that well-framed image of the pilot in a cockpit. And a decade after that momentous day, I was able to use a gimbal for myself, courtesy of Benro USA. Their GH5CMINI is significantly smaller than most, but it’s a very capable device in its own right.
The big picture
We can still use DSLR telephoto lenses on mirrorless cameras with adapters. Many of us would sacrifice a bit of AF speed and prefer to juggle a heavier lens while saving a lot on the price. But you can only hold a telephoto lens for short periods of time before you start to feel the pressure on your shoulders and back. And it’s inconvenient to mount them on tripods where you constantly loosen and tighten the ball head to increase smoothness of movement, then adjust the lens-camera combo to rest. Imagine doing this exercise for hours on a wildlife safari.
If you are a videographer who regularly uses gimbals for video work, this one has nothing to do with these gimbals. But it does the job perfectly for what it’s intended for: making sure you’re not bogged down by the weight of your gear when shooting for long periods of time. I found the Arca-Swiss plate a little confusing to get out of the gimbal, but other than that it was a straightforward setup. Shooting fast-moving aerial birds was much easier with the Benro GH5CMINI gimbal than with my gear on the tripod ball head. And even if the subject isn’t very active, when using a large DSLR and a super-heavy telephoto lens, you tend to tire quickly if you hold them in your hand for even short periods of time.
The Benro GH5CMINI mini gimbal head receives Five out of five stars. Want one? Head to Amazon.
- Lightweight carbon fiber construction at only 1 kg / 2.2 lbs
- Load capacity of 30 kg / 66 lbs.
- Smoother 360° panning
- Arca-Swiss Compatible Camera Plate/Clamp
- Pan and tilt lock buttons
- Comes with a handy drawstring bag
- Tightening or loosening the pan knobs doesn’t seem to change the resistance of the movement. I expected the rotation to be much smoother when loosened, but that was not the case with my device
- The drawstring bag could have used thick padding.
I used the Benro GH5CMINI Mini Gimbal (you have to keep it) with:
- Nikon D4 (our own purchase)
- Nikkor 200-400mm f4 VR II lens (our purchase)
- Leofoto Mr. Q LQ-284C tripod (without ball head, also our own purchase)
It’s beautiful to look at. The carbon fiber exterior isn’t shiny, nor is the gunmetal paint on the various plates. The Benro GH5CMINI looks nicely made from one solid piece of metal. But it’s not heavy at all at only 1 kg / 2 lbs.
There are scales on the vertical and horizontal plates for precise height and horizontal adjustments.
I split the horizontal plate first before mounting my camera and lens on it, but I guess you can do it the other way around as well.
There was no wobbling or weight shifting once I mounted the camera and lens on it, and the gimbal balanced itself very well.
There is a bubble level at the base of the gimbal. Useful if you’re picky about being perfectly level
The Nikon D4 weighs approximately 1340g/2lb 15.3oz with a battery and memory card inserted. The Nikkor 200-400 f4 VR II less is about 3360g/7.4lbs. The Benro GH5CMini gimbal is rated to hold 6 times that load, so I haven’t exactly tested the maximum weight limits. However, when I used it, the plate the lens was mounted on didn’t come off at all.
Depending on the camera and lens you will be using, you can achieve up to 360 degrees of tilt and pan movement. Using the D4 and 200-400mm still gave me a wide working range. I can easily use this setup to photograph fighter jets one day.
I know it’s a lightweight gimbal, but surely the bag supplied by Benro could have been much better quality. It didn’t have to be velor, but I would have much preferred a bag with a padded interior.
Ease of use
The plate is Arca-Swiss compatible, but I wondered why the arrows on the buttons here said I had to remove them first. I could still tighten and loosen them by simply twisting them without removing them. I first thought I had to pull it off to remove the plaque, so it was confusing at first when the plaque wouldn’t come off.
When I first used the gimbal, I thought the locking direction on the tilt and pan buttons were in opposite directions. It really baffled me because I couldn’t understand why anyone would design them that way. Later, when I took a second look, I observed that the two buttons were tightening in the same direction. But the Pan knob really doesn’t behave much differently when tightened or loosened on the device I received for review. It spins smoothly whether the knob is fully tightened or not.
I spent time tracking and photographing flamingos at a birding spot not too far from my house. In the past I used the same lens on the Nikon D4, Z6 or Z9, but the lens was mounted on a ball head on my tripod. It was far from comfortable to use, given that the gear’s range of motion was severely limited. I often missed shots where I had to follow birds in flight or even fast action on the ground. This meant that after a while I would simply remove the setup from the tripod and hold it in my hand as often as possible, resting it along the ledge when my shoulders needed a rest.
Being able to literally take the strain off my arms and shoulders using this gimbal for shoots like this is more than helpful. I can continue to look through the viewfinder for longer periods of time, whereas in the past I would repeatedly hold the camera down after a burst of shots.
Benro USA states that the GH5CMini offers “dynamic handling, precision and versatility”. I can agree with that. At this price, it is quite competitive and its weight-to-load ratio is impressive. I was concerned that the plates would come loose during use, but I’m happy to report that this gimbal had none of those issues. Remember to use it with a sturdy tripod that can support the weight of the whole set (lens, camera and gimbal)
Who should buy the Benro GH5CMINI?
Wildlife and sports photographers (who may use a tripod at sports venues) would benefit from using the Benro GH5CMINI gimbal head. It allows the photographer to free their mind without worrying about using heavy equipment for long periods of time. Being able to move your camera fluidly up to 360 degrees on two axes is very convenient.
At this price and load capacity, with a sleek look, the Benro GH5CMini gimbal head is a good buy for anyone who regularly uses heavy lenses and cameras in their photography career.
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