Last Updated on 07/31/2022 by Mark Beckenbach
There’s no denying that sports and wildlife photographers love long lenses. But the drive to get the perfect image in these genres means investing in expensive (read: heavy) lenses. Mirrorless manufacturers are doing fantastic work in reducing telephoto lens sizes and weights. But, it doesn’t mean those lenses are lightweight enough for hours of handheld usage. The lightweight Benro GH5CMINI mini gimbal goes a long way to solving these weight issues. We take a look at what it offers and if it’s the right gimbal for your kind of photography.
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The year was either 2009 or 2011. The venue – the Dubai International Airport. I was attending the last day of the Dubai International Airshow that year. In tow was my Nikon D300 and 70-300mm lens. When I added a battery grip to it, that camera and lens combination looked way more professional (back then) than any prosumer camera on the market. It was back in an era when blue skies were still common. One fighter jet after another began their gravity-defying acrobatic displays as everyone’s eyes were fixated upwards. I probably had the most menacing-looking camera out there. That was until a seasoned pro came and stood alongside me. What impressed me back then wasn’t his D3s and 600mm f4 attached to it, but the gimbal he used.
Like a composer waving his baton at an orchestra, he moved this massive lens and camera effortlessly. These jets whizzed past us so many times, but they were no match for the smooth and silent gimbal that swirled anywhere he wanted to snap his shutter. He came back with some fantastic images using this. I still remember seeing that tightly framed image of the pilot in a cockpit. And a decade after that memorable day, I got to use a gimbal for myself, courtesy of Benro USA. Their GH5CMINI is significantly smaller than most, but it’s a top performer 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 with a heavier lens while saving a lot on the price. But you can only handhold a telephoto zoom lens for short periods before you begin to feel the strain on your shoulders and back. And it’s not practical to mount them on tripods where you’d constantly loosen and tighten the ballhead to increase the fluidity of motion and then set the lens-camera combo to rest. Imagine doing this exercise for hours while out on a wildlife safari.
If you’re a videographer that regularly uses gimbals for video work, this one is nothing like those gimbals. But it does the job perfectly for what it’s meant for – ensuring you’re not bogged down by the weight of your gear while shooting for long periods. I found the Arca-Swiss plate a tad confusing to get off the gimbal, but apart from that, it was a straightforward setup. Photographing fast-moving aerial birds was much easier using the Benro GH5CMINI gimbal than just with my gear on the tripod ball head. And even if the subject isn’t all that active, when using a large DSLR and a super heavy telephoto lens, you tend to get tired quickly if you’re handholding them for even short periods of time.
The Benro GH5CMINI Mini Gimbal Head receives five out of five stars. Want one? Head over to Amazon.
- Lightweight Carbon Fiber construction at just 1kg / 2.2lbs
- Load capacity of 30kg / 66lbs
- Smoother 360° panning
- Arca-Swiss Compatible Camera Plate/Clamp
- Pan & Tilt Lock Knobs
- Comes with a convenient drawstring bag
- Tightening or loosening the Pan knobs didn’t seem to change the resistance of movement. I was expecting the rotation to be a lot smoother when loosened, but this wasn’t the case with my unit
- The drawstring bag could have used thick padding.
I used the Benro GH5CMINI Mini Gimbal (we got to keep it) with:
- Nikon D4 (our own purchase)
- Nikkor 200-400mm f4 VR II lens (our own purchase)
- Leofoto Mr. Q LQ-284C tripod (without ballhead, also our own purchase)
It’s beautiful to look at. The carbon fiber exterior isn’t glossy, nor is the gunmetal paint on the different plates. The Benro GH5CMINI looks like it’s well made from one solid piece of metal. But it’s not heavy at all at just 1kg/2lbs.
There are scales on the vertical and horizontal plates for precise height and horizontal adjustments.
I slotted the horizontal plate on this first before mounting my camera and lens to it, but I guess you could do it the other way around too.
There was no wobbling or shifting of weight once I mounted the camera and lens on this, and the gimbal balanced itself very well.
There’s a bubble level on the base of the gimbal. Useful if you’re nitpicky about being perfectly level
The Nikon D4 weighs about 1340g/2lb 15.3oz with a battery and memory card inserted. The Nikkor 200-400 f4 VR II less is approximately 3360 g/7.4 lbs. The Benro GH5CMini gimbal is rated to carry over 6 times this load, so I didn’t exactly test the weight limits to the maximum. However, when I used it, the plate that the lens was mounted to didn’t come loose at all.
Depending on what camera and lens you’d use, you can get up to 360 degrees of tilt and pan movement. Using the D4 and 200-400mm still gave me a large range to work with. I can easily use this setup for photographing fighter jets someday.
I know it’s a light gimbal, but surely the bag provided by Benro could have been much better quality. It didn’t have to be velvet, but I would have much preferred a bag with a padded interior.
Ease of Use
The plate is Arca-Swiss compatible, but I did wonder why the arrows on the knobs here indicated that I needed to pull them out first. I could still tighten and loosen these by simply turning them without pulling them out. I initially thought that I had to pull this out to remove the plate, so it was confusing at first when the plate didn’t come off.
When I first used the gimbal, I thought the lock direction on the Tilt and Pan knobs were in opposite directions. This really threw me off because I couldn’t understand why anyone would design these in this manner. Later, when I took a second look, I observed that both the knobs tightened in the same direction. But the Pan knob really doesn’t behave very differently when tightened or loosened on the unit I received for review. It turns smoothly irrespective of whether the knob is fully tightened or not.
I spent some time tracking and photographing flamingoes at a bird-watching point not too far from home. In the past I would use the same lens on either the Nikon D4, Z6, or Z9, but the lens would be mounted to a ballhead on my tripod. This was far from comfortable to use, given that the range of movement of the gear was severely limited. I often missed shots where I had to track flying birds or even fast-moving action on the ground. This meant that after a while, I’d just take the setup off the tripod and hand hold it for as often as possible, resting it along the ledge when my shoulders needed a rest.
Being able to literally take a load off my arms and shoulders by using this gimbal for shoots like this is beyond useful. I can keep looking through the viewfinder for longer periods, whereas in the past, I’d repeatedly be keeping the camera down after a burst of shots.
Benro USA states that the GH5CMini features “dynamic maneuverability, precision, and versatility.” I can agree with this. At this price point, it’s pretty competitive, and its weight-to-load ratio is impressive. Plates getting loosened was something I was worried might happen during usage, but I’m happy to report that this gimbal had none of those issues. Just remember to use it alongside a sturdy tripod that can support the weight of the whole combination (lens, camera, and gimbal)
Who Should Buy the Benro GH5CMINI?
Both wildlife and sports photographers (who can use a tripod at sporting venues) would benefit from using the Benro GH5CMINI gimbal head. It allows the photographer to free up their mind without worrying about using heavy gear for extended periods. Being able to fluidly move your camera up to 360 degrees in two axes is super handy.
At this price point and load capacity, with stylish looks to boot, 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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