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Can gimbal heads (such as ProMediaGear GK Jr.) be used effectively for bino, spotting, telescope and camera (1 Viewer)

I am a photographer (full frame DSLR) and amateur astronomer who has good telescopes (101mm and 80mm APO reflectors) and binoculars (15x56) for stargazing, recently developed an interest in bird watching and terrestrial viewing. I want to optimize my equipment for versatile uses, quickly got confused and bogged down by a overwhelming variety of choices on tripod heads. Perhaps someone who have gone through this process can share their experience?

1) My equipment weights from 4Lbs (either the 15x56 bino or DSLR with a light lens, not both) to 20Lbs (101mm APO telescope with accessories), I already concluded there is no way a ballhead will work (I have Arco Swiss Z1 ball that can handle 50+Lbs, but the whole assembly will crash if I loosen the ball for repointing. I also concluded 3-way tilt heads are too slow and cumbersome for birding. Because a heavy-duty pan-tilt video head tends to be very large and heavy, still has the crashing concern as ball heads, and I am not that much into videography which requires ultra-smooth motion, I think a photographic gimbal heads would best suits my needs, but here is where my confusion starts.
2) There are Swarovski PTH and Gitzo GHFG1 gimbal fluid heads (clone of each other) designed specifically for birding scopes. But the distance from the quick-release plate center to the vertical rail surface visually is much smaller than the 3" clearance to mount my Swarovski SLC 15-56 binos mounted on the Ta-SLC tripod adapter. So these two are out of the consideration.
3) There are many other gimbal heads that are laterally larger, do satisfy the 3" clearance cited above. One of the choices I am considering is ProMediaGear GK Jr Katana Pro gimbal head which only weighs 2.4 Lbs but can handle 50Lbs. However, for this (and other) photographic gimbals, I can only find reviews on how they are used to handle heavy photographic lenses and cameras for wild life photograph. Are there people use them for bird watching using tripod mounted (relatively) big binos and spotting scopes? Would the relatively short length of binoculars make lateral scan of the terrestrial scenery jittery?
4) An even bigger question is mounting telescope on photographic gimbals. Can I get away with not buying a dedicated Alt Az mount for telescope, but using a heavy-duty photographic gimbal head instead? I just don't like the idea of carrier a Alt Az for telescope, a gimbal for heavy-lens, and a ballhead for photography. Carrying three heads on the road is just too much. What capability am I missing by just a single heavy-duty gimbal head? I thought I can make an adapter to transit from Arca Swiss to Vixen/Losmandy dual clamp to hold a telescope. Since in a gimbal cradle there is no need to do side-mount of heavy equipment which will stress up the more narrower Arca Swiss slots, maybe it is OK? Why am I not seeing anyone talking about mounting 3" to 4" refractor telescope on photographic gimbal mount? What consideration am I missing?
5) There are several reasons I am resisting getting a big and good spotting scope: a) A good spotting scope comparable to my APO telescope will be in the $5K range. b) It will NEVER match the 100 degree apparent field-of-view of Ethos eyepieces that I already have for by telescopes. For example, Swarovski 95mm at 30x has a true field of view of ~1.9 degrees, through my telescope at 32x (with a 17mm eyepiece) I am getting ~3.1 degrees sharp to the edge. The viewing area is 2.7x bigger even at a slightly larger magnification! c) I just don't like carrying so much equipment on the road. What am I missing? How does other people think about using astronomical telescope in place of spotting scope for terrestrial viewing and (stationary, near my parked car on the road side, or walking up to 100 yards from the car).
6) Back to the original question, is there a single tripod head, especially a heavy-duty gimbals (up to 5Lb is OK if I can get away with only one), that can be used to satisfy the varied needs (a) Terrestrial viewing using a 3" to 4" refractor telescope (8Lbs to 20Lbs), in lieu of a spotting scope, on a heavy tripod near my car (b) Birdwatch with 15x56 binocular on a travel tripod for hiking up to a couple of miles (c) Used as a regular ball-head equivalent for landscaping and travel photography? (d) If eventually I do get a spotting scope for bird watching, be compatible with digiscoping as well. Or pointing out my thinking is all wrong, these requirements can not be reconciled in one gimbal head. As I stated earlier, one of the options I am considering is ProMediaGear GK Jr Katana Pro gimbal head which only weighs 2.4 Lbs but can handle 50Lbs equipment.

Thanks!

Haibo
 

JerryLogan

Well-known member
Hello Haibo,

Good news - with some caveats. I’ve used a Wimberley gimbal head for years. I’ve used it with spotting scopes, astronomical scopes, binoculars and of course long lenses. I’ve been very pleased with the results but YMMV.

For me, a serious gimbal brings the ability to balance the center of gravity vertically as well as horizontally in a compact and manageable package. This is crucial if you plan on using a variety of instruments with substantially different form factors. Higher end alt/az astro mounts can do this as well, but in not so compact, convenient and affordable a package.

Downside? Using encoders for push-to sky navigation will be a kludge and forget about slow motion controls. Keeping a planet or star centered will soon become tedious. It helps to build a suitably angled base for your tripod thereby creating a makeshift equatorial wedge.

You can use an astro scope as a spotter but - a) not if you’re hiking or using in the rain. There’s good reason for armor and nitrogen purging. b) you will need to buy a good amici prism if you’re uncomfortable with tracking fast moving birds with a mirror.

Glad to answer any specific questions. If there’s a problem with the gimbal I’ve undoubtedly been there and done that. Also, maybe we’ll hear from someone who favors a fluid head. Lots of big binocular users wouldn’t be without.

Best,
Jerry
 

BinoBoy

Well-known member
I've tried a high quality gimbal head (Jobu Designs) that wasn't fluid damped and it did not work well with a spotting scope at all. The movements are too jerky. I then bought the Gitzo fluid gimbal and it works great.

A popular cheap option is the Manfroto MVH502AH. It is only rated for 15 lbs but you see people on YouTube using it with 800mm f/5.6 lenses.
 

4 The Birds1

Registered User
Pegasus by Berlebach is not a gimbal head, but I believe it will do everything you want:

https://www.berlebach.de/en/?bereich=details&id=383

If you change the language settings on their website to German, you will additionally see some user reports which they don't show you on the English site. The rendering via Google translate is somewhat rocky, but you will get the gist of it.

A lighter head would of course do for your intended use (b) mounting a pair of binoculars.
 

JerryLogan

Well-known member
I've tried a high quality gimbal head (Jobu Designs) that wasn't fluid damped and it did not work well with a spotting scope at all. The movements are too jerky. I then bought the Gitzo fluid gimbal and it works great.

A popular cheap option is the Manfroto MVH502AH. It is only rated for 15 lbs but you see people on YouTube using it with 800mm f/5.6 lenses.
No doubt, everyone will have their own experiences. I’d only note that heavy duty construction plays a critical role in gimbal performance. Jobu tops out at 25-50 pounds as per the spec sheet while the Wimberley II lists at 100 pounds capacity. For what it’s worth I’ve never had any problems with the Wimberley across some really heavy spotting and astro scopes.
 
Hello Haibo,

Good news - with some caveats. I’ve used a Wimberley gimbal head for years. I’ve used it with spotting scopes, astronomical scopes, binoculars and of course long lenses. I’ve been very pleased with the results but YMMV.

For me, a serious gimbal brings the ability to balance the center of gravity vertically as well as horizontally in a compact and manageable package. This is crucial if you plan on using a variety of instruments with substantially different form factors. Higher end alt/az astro mounts can do this as well, but in not so compact, convenient and affordable a package.

Downside? Using encoders for push-to sky navigation will be a kludge and forget about slow motion controls. Keeping a planet or star centered will soon become tedious. It helps to build a suitably angled base for your tripod thereby creating a makeshift equatorial wedge.

You can use an astro scope as a spotter but - a) not if you’re hiking or using in the rain. There’s good reason for armor and nitrogen purging. b) you will need to buy a good amici prism if you’re uncomfortable with tracking fast moving birds with a mirror.

Glad to answer any specific questions. If there’s a problem with the gimbal I’ve undoubtedly been there and done that. Also, maybe we’ll hear from someone who favors a fluid head. Lots of big binocular users wouldn’t be without.

Best,
Jerry
Thanks Jerry! Indeed this is the general direction I am moving toward. After combining the great information I received from this forum (and from CloudyNights in another post with more focus on TeleVue NP101is refractor compatibility), I decided to forget about the 4" 18Lbs (with accessories) NP101is for now, but focus on my smaller 80mm f6 refractor which only weights ~8Lbs therefore much more manageable. I bought a Gitzo GT5543LS systematic series 5 tripod plus a central column with a combined weight of 7.2Lbs as the mobile platform with a 88Lbs weight rating (it actually takes my body weight at nearly twice as much). I also bought a ProMediaGear GK Jr gimbal head that weights 2.4Lbs and has a nominal rating of 50Lbs. The 50Lbs rate is questionable/very optimistic, but I am hoping it can hold up to 10Lbs steadily and reliably. The main attraction is the light weight. I just practiced hiking/birding today locally with this gimbal head on a lighter Gitzo series 2 mountaineer tripod with a combined weight of 6.4Lbs, still a quite handle-able weight for a 3 mile hike, and the combo worked great for my 15x56 binoculars and 70-200mmf2.8 lens with 2x teleconverter. I am planning to use this gimbal head with the big series 5 tripod for road-side observation near the car, the combined weight is 9.6Lbs (whereas the lighter tripod with the same head at 6.4Lbs is for hiking). In this mode, the gimbal head would already be mounted on the tripod in an large open tripod bag, so setting up the tripod is just a minute, with another minute to put on the equipment, which could be a) telephoto lens b) 15x56 binoculars or c) 80mm f6 telescope. I am waiting for a newly order Losmandy DV adapter plate to arrive before I can test the 80mmf6 telescope. If this combination works, then indeed I would have a somewhat portable and quick solution for most of my day-time observation/photography need by using just one gimbal head. I will gain some experience with this set up first before deciding whether night-time stargazing requires additional mount. I am fairly certain the big Gitzo is adequate as a very light weight astronomical tripod (at 7.2Lbs). The main question is whether I need a much sturdier Stellavue M2C style Alt-Az head to put on this tripod to handle the much heavier/bulkier TeleVue NP101is telescope. For manual star tracking purpose, that might be preferred over a much stronger gimbal. Thanks again to you and other BirdForum enthusiasts for sharing great info to help me making a selection. Best wishes! Haibo
 
I've tried a high quality gimbal head (Jobu Designs) that wasn't fluid damped and it did not work well with a spotting scope at all. The movements are too jerky. I then bought the Gitzo fluid gimbal and it works great.

A popular cheap option is the Manfroto MVH502AH. It is only rated for 15 lbs but you see people on YouTube using it with 800mm f/5.6 lenses.
Thanks for the info. I agree with your observation that regular gimbal is not fluid enough for videography applications. I actually looked very closely at Gitzo fluid gimbal (and its Swavroski clone). The main problem I had with this model has a narrow profile which appears to be optimized for the narrow profile of typical spotting scope. The distance from the center line of the dovetail and the vertical surface of the bar that hold the cradle is much smaller than the 3.0" I need to hold my Swarovski 15x56 SLC binoculars. Since I only do photograph and digiscoping on perched birds, I decided to sacrifice with the smoother fluid motion in favor of compatibility with a wider array of equipment. Your point on motion smoothness is well taken, thanks for sharing! Haibo

(Also, the weight rate for both Gitzo and Swarovski gimbal heads are unusually low, there is a possibility the manufacturers are being conservative in their listing because their gimbals look pretty heavy-duty to me in visual appearence. This is another reason to give me pause. My 8Lbs 80mm f6 telescope would exceed half of the recommended weight limit, which is the typical way people treat the nominal specs. Could the low weight rating be a trade-off in fluid head design to ensure motion smoothness?)
 

JerryLogan

Well-known member
@Spectrum805
If the Losmandy adapter doesn’t work out you can always just attach a substantial arca-swiss plate (>10cm) to your telescope rings in place of or on the existing plate. Longer plates help with balancing.

Also, If you don’t mind, can you say a little something about how you’re mounting your binoculars the gimbal?

Have a great time out there!
 
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Also, If you don’t mind, can you say a little something about how you’re mounting your binoculars the gimbal?

Have a great time out there!
Jerry,

My journey into birding has many curious turns. I am an amateur astronomer who enjoy stargazing (so I already have many telescopes, the smallest of which is a 80mm f6 Orion ED80T-CF, ~8Lbs with 2" diagonal and a 10mm Ethos eyepiece, and binoculars, the biggest of which is Swarovski 15x56 SLC, ~3 Lbs) and a (terrestrial) photographer more in a casual travel photo sense (so I also have good photography equipment up to 200mmf2.8 with 2x converter). I also enjoy local casual hiking and see whatever creature comes along, so birding maybe too big a word to describe myself as I am a real beginner in this, probably more suitably called a bird watcher who aspires to be a birder one day. At home, every ~3 years or so, an Anna's hummingbird would come by to set up a nest in the side yard brush at a location easy for me to see from inside my house, it is really a struggle to set up an astronomical telescope on a German Equatorial Mount (that weighs 70Lbs including counterweights) to point at a humming bird nest. I either have to leave this huge set up in the kitchen, blocking everyone's traffic, or have to spend 15 minutes setting up each time. Our family also travels every now and then, with me being the slowest person in the pack at every scenery spot. All these needs converge to call for a universal grab-and-go cross-platform solution for (a) photographic lens (b) binoculars (c) telescope (in lieu of a spotting scope for now, in fair weather use only. The same solution definitely would also work for spotting scope except for people whose primary interest is in videography which could require a fluid head) primarily for day-time terrestrial use. For hiking, the same tripod head can be put on top of a lighter tripod (3.8 Lbs), this is the reason I focused on a most light-weight gimbal head (2.4Lbs) that still has an acceptable weight rating (claiming 50Lbs which is most likely an exaggeration, but I only expect my load to be under 10Lbs) . For stargazing (if more than a quick glance of bright objects), most likely I will use the same heavy tripod (7.2 Lbs) with a yet-to-be-determined compact astronomical Alt-Az mount in order for reasonable manual tracking and to access the region closer to zenith.

Now back to the binocular mount. Swarvski 15x56 SLC is technically a hunting bino but works great for birding and general scenary. For example, I saw a humming bird repeatedly dive bomb in the air ~60 yards away, seemingly for nothing, until I pick up the 15x56 to discover it was attacking a swarm of flying insects. 15x56 is handhold-able, but for longer viewing performs better on a tripod. My lighter Gitzo series 2 mountaineering tripod with a heavy-duty Arca Swiss Z1 ballhead works great for this viewing purpose for hiking less than 3 hours (it also works for photography, but does not work for my telescope). Then I thought I already have this thing on tripod, why not doing some digiscoping? So I bought a Swarovski VPA adapter, which is well designed and easy to use. I ran into several practical problems in a row that negatively affects my enjoyment: (1) The 1x lens on iphone has too wide a view, I see the whole field of view circle unless digitally zooming in, which reduces the available # of pixels in use. I am used to the DSLR quality, further reduction of already meagerly 4000x3000 pixel array is just unacceptable. After some research, I got myself an iphone 12 pro max, which has a 2.5x optical mag to solve this problem. (2) I am too lazy to remove iphone from its protective case each time putting onto the VPA adapter, so I modified the case slightly by shaving off 1-2mm of the cell phone case in two strategic locations that makes iphone 12 Pro Max an exact fit into the VPA adapter (length wise, it is exact, without even 1mm to spare. If the iphone were just 1mm longer, the VPA adapter will run out of travel range!) (3) Now with the big cell phone and a big impact resistant phone case, and a VPA adapter, the whole thing gets heavy when just hanging on one eyepiece of 15x56 bino in free air! In the vertical composition, it works, but still tends to rotating counterclockwise over time, just too much gravitationally induced torque on the left-side eye cup. It does not work at all for the horizontal composition, the torque is just too much, I have to hold the phone by hand to keep it still. OK for photo, but not OK for video because my hand shakes too much, for example, when video taping sunset with just a one degree field-of-view. Every vibration disturbs the peacefulness of the serene sunset. (4) The engineer in me (yes, by now you have probably already figured out I am a scientist/engineer who loves problem solving) kicked into action. I produced a custom cell-phone rotation blocker device (See photo) out of a acra-swiss nodal slide, with a Swarovski TAs-SLC adapter permanently mounted in the middle, and another acra-swiss plate held orthogonal by the nodal clamp, with my hand-made metal bracket to the left to hold the cell phone in horizontal composition (See photo). If I slide the plate to the right, the same metal bracket also stops the cell phone rotation in vertical composition (See photo). The rotation problem was nicely solved! Or so did I think. (5) Then come alone a burrowing owl (See photo) setting up a nest a few miles north from my home in a bird reserve in San Diego, and quickly become a local attraction. I brought my new gadget there to test out. It mostly worked as intended (in preventing cell phone rotation), but the whole thing is left-side heavy, tends to crash down when I loosen the ballhead for compositional tuning. The focal length is also so long through the 15x56 bino plus 2.5x cell phone lens that even the mighty Acra Swiss Z ball (with more than 60Lbs rating) produces sagging when I tightens the knob. I had to anticipate how much it sags in order to try a few times to offset and get the precise composition I want on the stationary owl. When other birds come by and stay for only 10 seconds, just forget about the possibility of catching them on a ballhead. So the owl, the sagging and the crashing motivated my quest to find the light-weight gimbal head search reported earlier. The same head also have to meet my need for general travel photography using regular DSLR with telephoto lens, and holding my light-weight astronomical telescope as a terrestrial spotting scope.

I am attaching a few photos to illustrate.
1) The burrowing owl that motivated by gimbal head search, image taken through Swarovski 15x56 SLC with iphone 12 Pro Max 2.5x lens (plus TAs-SLC bino holder, VPA digiscoping adapter, and my homemade gadget).
2) Home-made cell-phone anti-rotation gadget
3) With cell phone in horizontal composition, phone resting on metal L-bracket to prevent rotation. Perfect gimbal balance.
4) With cell phone in vertical composition, the phone butts against the L-bracket to prevent rotation. I have to revert the gimbal head orientation to prevent the arca swiss plate from colliding with the knob that fasten the gimbal cradle. So the gimbal is not balanced vertically but seems to be OK by tightening the vertical axis friction.
5) Promediagear GK Jr gimbal head (2.4Lbs) on Gitzo GT5543LS series 5 tripod and GS5513s rapid center column (7.2Lbs) for a combined 9.6 Lbs "near-the-car-on-the-road-side" travel solution for multiple purposes of terrestrial viewing and photography). I plan to leave this tripod/head assembled and stored togather in the large (39" long) tripod bag, so I can deploy it in one minute, plus another minute to put on either the 15x56 bino, DSLR camera with telephoto lens, or a small astronomical telescope for medium mag (48x) 100 degree AFOV view as a "fair weather" spotting scope.
6) With Nikon D850 camera and 70-200f2.8 zoom and 2x teleconverter mounted. The shoe only has a little over 1" in the Arca Swiss clamp when in perfect balance, I judge it strong enough, too lazy to mount a longer lens shoe plate.

There is one item on the bino gadget I wish can be better. The manual knob used to tighten the nodal clamp is only ~5mm from my nose when I use the 15x56 on this set up for visual use. Every now an then, my nose touches it. Not really too bothersome for me, but not very elegant. If someone has idea on a nodal slide with a clamp not using knob (for example, using a level clamp, I have not come across), or other ideas, I would love to know.

When the Losmandy DVA clamp comes in, I plan to (drill to holes) and fasten it to a 6" Arca Swiss plat to test out the 80mm telescope. Keep finger crossed. If it works, I will be very happy. So far this set up works nicely up to an ~45 degree elevation angle, with some struggle, I can get to perhaps ~55 degree, so an astronomical Alt-Az mount would still be needed to access ~50 degree to zenith. I had seriously considered a Fotopro E9H gimbal head that can solve this problem, because it's gimbal arm can be tilted in a very unconventional design. But it's 4.2Lbs weight gave me pause (not suitable for hiking) and the cradle vertical travel range of only 8cm makes me question whether my telescope will be positioned too high to achieve perfect balance. So in the end, I traded daytime convenience over the zenith access. Nothing is for free, trade-off is always needed. I think I am getting close to a day-time optimized solution that is versitle enough to suit my very varied needs.

Thanks everyone for replying to this thread. I am learning a lot of new things from more experienced people in birding.

Haibo
 

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Pegasus and Albatros would be unsuitable for birding and astronomy as they only allow a 43° tilt angle.

@Spectrum805: Many 2-way video heads have a counterbalance spring (variable on some), which would prevent "crashing".

John
John,

Indeed, a limit to ~45 degree, with effort to ~55 degree, is the elevation limit for my visual use of 15x56 bino on the gimbal set up I am putting together. Any higher angle, my face would be uncomfortably against the base of the gimbal head. There is a potentially interesting gimbal head solution to reach zenith in the form of Fotopro E9H, which has a very unconventional tilt-able gimbal arm. In the end, I decided it's 4.2 Lbs weight is too much for hiking, and the vertical travel range is also 2cm shorter than the Promediagear GK Jr (which is 1.8 Lbs lighter) so I was afraid my telescope center-of-mass would be positioned too high after inserting a Losmandy DVA clamp below, potentially crashing the telescope down onto the tripod.

For digiscoping, I can reach zenith with 15x56 on my home-made "anti-cell-phone-rotation" gadget (described in my reply to Jerry, post #10), because my face is not in the way.

Haibo
 

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The Losmandy DVA plate came in, mounted onto a 6" Arca Swiss plate, works with the gimbal head very well. The Orion 80mm APO telescope works well with the set up. Shown here is with a 10mm Ethos, giving a 48x magnification and 2.1 degree field-of-view. Used as a fair weather version of the spotting scope to supplement my 15x56 binoculars. Can be pushed along effortlessly with one finger, at such a medium magnification, almost no vibration unless I deliberately hit the gimbal arm. The whole set up is 17.6 Lbs, very stable and easy to move along. If I change to a lighter weight Mountaineer series 2 tripod, the weight is further reduced to 14.4 Lbs.
 

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Hans Weigum

Well-known member
Jerry,

My journey into birding has many curious turns. I am an amateur astronomer who enjoy stargazing (so I already have many telescopes, the smallest of which is a 80mm f6 Orion ED80T-CF, ~8Lbs with 2" diagonal and a 10mm Ethos eyepiece, and binoculars, the biggest of which is Swarovski 15x56 SLC, ~3 Lbs) and a (terrestrial) photographer more in a casual travel photo sense (so I also have good photography equipment up to 200mmf2.8 with 2x converter). I also enjoy local casual hiking and see whatever creature comes along, so birding maybe too big a word to describe myself as I am a real beginner in this, probably more suitably called a bird watcher who aspires to be a birder one day. At home, every ~3 years or so, an Anna's hummingbird would come by to set up a nest in the side yard brush at a location easy for me to see from inside my house, it is really a struggle to set up an astronomical telescope on a German Equatorial Mount (that weighs 70Lbs including counterweights) to point at a humming bird nest. I either have to leave this huge set up in the kitchen, blocking everyone's traffic, or have to spend 15 minutes setting up each time. Our family also travels every now and then, with me being the slowest person in the pack at every scenery spot. All these needs converge to call for a universal grab-and-go cross-platform solution for (a) photographic lens (b) binoculars (c) telescope (in lieu of a spotting scope for now, in fair weather use only. The same solution definitely would also work for spotting scope except for people whose primary interest is in videography which could require a fluid head) primarily for day-time terrestrial use. For hiking, the same tripod head can be put on top of a lighter tripod (3.8 Lbs), this is the reason I focused on a most light-weight gimbal head (2.4Lbs) that still has an acceptable weight rating (claiming 50Lbs which is most likely an exaggeration, but I only expect my load to be under 10Lbs) . For stargazing (if more than a quick glance of bright objects), most likely I will use the same heavy tripod (7.2 Lbs) with a yet-to-be-determined compact astronomical Alt-Az mount in order for reasonable manual tracking and to access the region closer to zenith.

Now back to the binocular mount. Swarvski 15x56 SLC is technically a hunting bino but works great for birding and general scenary. For example, I saw a humming bird repeatedly dive bomb in the air ~60 yards away, seemingly for nothing, until I pick up the 15x56 to discover it was attacking a swarm of flying insects. 15x56 is handhold-able, but for longer viewing performs better on a tripod. My lighter Gitzo series 2 mountaineering tripod with a heavy-duty Arca Swiss Z1 ballhead works great for this viewing purpose for hiking less than 3 hours (it also works for photography, but does not work for my telescope). Then I thought I already have this thing on tripod, why not doing some digiscoping? So I bought a Swarovski VPA adapter, which is well designed and easy to use. I ran into several practical problems in a row that negatively affects my enjoyment: (1) The 1x lens on iphone has too wide a view, I see the whole field of view circle unless digitally zooming in, which reduces the available # of pixels in use. I am used to the DSLR quality, further reduction of already meagerly 4000x3000 pixel array is just unacceptable. After some research, I got myself an iphone 12 pro max, which has a 2.5x optical mag to solve this problem. (2) I am too lazy to remove iphone from its protective case each time putting onto the VPA adapter, so I modified the case slightly by shaving off 1-2mm of the cell phone case in two strategic locations that makes iphone 12 Pro Max an exact fit into the VPA adapter (length wise, it is exact, without even 1mm to spare. If the iphone were just 1mm longer, the VPA adapter will run out of travel range!) (3) Now with the big cell phone and a big impact resistant phone case, and a VPA adapter, the whole thing gets heavy when just hanging on one eyepiece of 15x56 bino in free air! In the vertical composition, it works, but still tends to rotating counterclockwise over time, just too much gravitationally induced torque on the left-side eye cup. It does not work at all for the horizontal composition, the torque is just too much, I have to hold the phone by hand to keep it still. OK for photo, but not OK for video because my hand shakes too much, for example, when video taping sunset with just a one degree field-of-view. Every vibration disturbs the peacefulness of the serene sunset. (4) The engineer in me (yes, by now you have probably already figured out I am a scientist/engineer who loves problem solving) kicked into action. I produced a custom cell-phone rotation blocker device (See photo) out of a acra-swiss nodal slide, with a Swarovski TAs-SLC adapter permanently mounted in the middle, and another acra-swiss plate held orthogonal by the nodal clamp, with my hand-made metal bracket to the left to hold the cell phone in horizontal composition (See photo). If I slide the plate to the right, the same metal bracket also stops the cell phone rotation in vertical composition (See photo). The rotation problem was nicely solved! Or so did I think. (5) Then come alone a burrowing owl (See photo) setting up a nest a few miles north from my home in a bird reserve in San Diego, and quickly become a local attraction. I brought my new gadget there to test out. It mostly worked as intended (in preventing cell phone rotation), but the whole thing is left-side heavy, tends to crash down when I loosen the ballhead for compositional tuning. The focal length is also so long through the 15x56 bino plus 2.5x cell phone lens that even the mighty Acra Swiss Z ball (with more than 60Lbs rating) produces sagging when I tightens the knob. I had to anticipate how much it sags in order to try a few times to offset and get the precise composition I want on the stationary owl. When other birds come by and stay for only 10 seconds, just forget about the possibility of catching them on a ballhead. So the owl, the sagging and the crashing motivated my quest to find the light-weight gimbal head search reported earlier. The same head also have to meet my need for general travel photography using regular DSLR with telephoto lens, and holding my light-weight astronomical telescope as a terrestrial spotting scope.

I am attaching a few photos to illustrate.
1) The burrowing owl that motivated by gimbal head search, image taken through Swarovski 15x56 SLC with iphone 12 Pro Max 2.5x lens (plus TAs-SLC bino holder, VPA digiscoping adapter, and my homemade gadget).
2) Home-made cell-phone anti-rotation gadget
3) With cell phone in horizontal composition, phone resting on metal L-bracket to prevent rotation. Perfect gimbal balance.
4) With cell phone in vertical composition, the phone butts against the L-bracket to prevent rotation. I have to revert the gimbal head orientation to prevent the arca swiss plate from colliding with the knob that fasten the gimbal cradle. So the gimbal is not balanced vertically but seems to be OK by tightening the vertical axis friction.
5) Promediagear GK Jr gimbal head (2.4Lbs) on Gitzo GT5543LS series 5 tripod and GS5513s rapid center column (7.2Lbs) for a combined 9.6 Lbs "near-the-car-on-the-road-side" travel solution for multiple purposes of terrestrial viewing and photography). I plan to leave this tripod/head assembled and stored togather in the large (39" long) tripod bag, so I can deploy it in one minute, plus another minute to put on either the 15x56 bino, DSLR camera with telephoto lens, or a small astronomical telescope for medium mag (48x) 100 degree AFOV view as a "fair weather" spotting scope.
6) With Nikon D850 camera and 70-200f2.8 zoom and 2x teleconverter mounted. The shoe only has a little over 1" in the Arca Swiss clamp when in perfect balance, I judge it strong enough, too lazy to mount a longer lens shoe plate.

There is one item on the bino gadget I wish can be better. The manual knob used to tighten the nodal clamp is only ~5mm from my nose when I use the 15x56 on this set up for visual use. Every now an then, my nose touches it. Not really too bothersome for me, but not very elegant. If someone has idea on a nodal slide with a clamp not using knob (for example, using a level clamp, I have not come across), or other ideas, I would love to know.

When the Losmandy DVA clamp comes in, I plan to (drill to holes) and fasten it to a 6" Arca Swiss plat to test out the 80mm telescope. Keep finger crossed. If it works, I will be very happy. So far this set up works nicely up to an ~45 degree elevation angle, with some struggle, I can get to perhaps ~55 degree, so an astronomical Alt-Az mount would still be needed to access ~50 degree to zenith. I had seriously considered a Fotopro E9H gimbal head that can solve this problem, because it's gimbal arm can be tilted in a very unconventional design. But it's 4.2Lbs weight gave me pause (not suitable for hiking) and the cradle vertical travel range of only 8cm makes me question whether my telescope will be positioned too high to achieve perfect balance. So in the end, I traded daytime convenience over the zenith access. Nothing is for free, trade-off is always needed. I think I am getting close to a day-time optimized solution that is versitle enough to suit my very varied needs.

Thanks everyone for replying to this thread. I am learning a lot of new things from more experienced people in birding.

Haibo

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Deflection (engineering) - Wikipedia

Simplified summary: Deflection of beams of constant cross section and identical load increases with the length of a beam., being quite irrelevant if the load bearing element is straight or angulated. As a first approximation: The longer the flux of force becomes, the more instable the load bearing structure is getting.

Facit applied here: Despite (or exactly because of) the enormous expense made here stringing together individual components, the resulting structure gets undesirably deformable.

HW​
 

WRL

Member
Pegasus and Albatros would be unsuitable for birding and astronomy as they only allow a 43° tilt angle.

@Spectrum805: Many 2-way video heads have a counterbalance spring (variable on some), which would prevent "crashing".

John
@Tringa45: I disagree with your verdict re. PEGASUS/ALBATROS not being suitable for birding. The 43 deg tilt limitation is not a practical limitation, in my opinion. I can hardly imagine using a spotting scope beyond this angle. I own a PEGASUS and use it mainly for birding (scope and photo). I can not recall having ever had a "tilt"- problem of that nature.
By-the-way: There is some leeway in the tilt angle if you adjust the tripod legs accordingly. In addition, if you have a ball mounting (i.e. 75 or 100 mm sphere) for this head there are up 15+ additional degrees of tilt (depending on your tripod).
All in all I can only suggest not to exclude these excellent and sturdy head(s) too early as possible candidates for quite universal applications.
 

Tringa45

Well-known member
Europe
@Tringa45: I disagree with your verdict re. PEGASUS/ALBATROS not being suitable for birding. The 43 deg tilt limitation is not a practical limitation, in my opinion. I can hardly imagine using a spotting scope beyond this angle. I own a PEGASUS and use it mainly for birding (scope and photo). I can not recall having ever had a "tilt"- problem of that nature.
By-the-way: There is some leeway in the tilt angle if you adjust the tripod legs accordingly. In addition, if you have a ball mounting (i.e. 75 or 100 mm sphere) for this head there are up 15+ additional degrees of tilt (depending on your tripod).
All in all I can only suggest not to exclude these excellent and sturdy head(s) too early as possible candidates for quite universal applications.
Why recommend something that is going to impose limitations?
The OP is also an amateur astronomer so that rules out the Pegasus/Albatros from the start. If your tripod head has to cope with heavy camera lenses and a scope then the Pegasus may be an acceptable compromise for you, but have you never trained your scope on the stars or on songbirds high in a tree?
I have never seen a birder in the field with a levelling head. They are intended for use with film/video cameras and are completely unnecessary for photographers and scope users.
Purely for scope use the Berlebach 553 would be a much better choice than the Pegasus. It's lighter and less expensive than the Pegasus, offers +/-90° tilt and a counterbalance.

John
 

4 The Birds1

Registered User
Having originally proposed the Pegasus for Haibo's needs, I still believe it that it would have been a good match for his list of requirements - see his original post 6) (a)-(d) . (Astronomy use was NOT on the list - otherwise I would not have suggested Pegasus )

Haibo was looking for a head for terrestrial use of telescopes up to 20 lb, binoculars, fotography and possibly scope and digiscoping. 20 lbs is clearly in excess of the 553's capacity. He was not concerned about it having to be lightweight - 5 lb was his limit.

I have both the 553 and the Pegasus.
The 553 is a beautiful piece of equipment , it is light and smooth, and yes, it has 90 deg tilt movement and a spring counterbalance.
It is a good and adequate head for use with a 95 mm scope, but it is not suitable for a 20 lbs load.

I have used heavier arrays - mounting scope and camera parallel. Total weight still inside the 6kg limit of the 553, but standing somewhat taller than a scope alone. This pushed the 553 beyond it's comfort zone, including the spring in its counterbalance which was unable to keep up.
The Pegasus on the other hand handles this with great ease and holds it supremely firm - like a vice. The other big advantage of Pegasus is the single tightening screw for all movements, where the 553 has two separate mechanisms for tilt and for rotation.
For birding I honestly cannot recall an occasion where I was troubled by Pegasus' angular limitation. (I guess underneath a canopy or in a fly-over situation it could potentially be limiting)

Anyhow, Haibo has settled for a Gimbal.
 

Tringa45

Well-known member
Europe
@Tringa45: Please read my post carefully. I referred to your statement regarding BIRDING, not astronomy.
And exactly for that application the Pegasus is overweight, overpriced and limited by 43° tilt and the lack of a counterbalance. As 4 The Birds1 points out, the 553 is completely adequate for a 95 mm scope and the theoretical stability advantage of a Pegasus is irrelevant. The rotating collar on the scope and likely the tripod itself would be the weaker links in the chain.

@ 4 The Birds1: The 20 lbs weight requirement was for a 101 mm (astro) refractor. That rules out Pegasus and 553.

John
 

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