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| p.1 #17 · Really Right Stuff RRS PG-02 Gimbal Head instead of Ball Head |
The Really Right Stuff dovetail system, with their dovetails used on heads, and a high quality clamp on the tripod, seems plenty rigid and strong. I happen to use RRS lever clamps on my tripods to grab the dovetail, but a high quality screw clamp might be slightly better for a big load. For a gimbal mount on a tripod, it has more leverage that could act on the dovetail to try to overcome the clamping, but the load is well centered, so I do not see it as a significant issue. You do want to make sure you tightly attach the dovetail part and the clamp to each of the parts they go on, because a loose connection would clearly offer some wobble that you do not want.
A related topic is how you use your gimbal mount. If you do lock it down for fixed shots, you want a properly sized rigid tripod and rigid connections. But if you know you will be working with the gimbal locks loose, and will be tracking subjects, then you can get away with a much lighter tripod, and could even tolerate some poor connections, because all that is really going on is vertical support. And of course the big Canon lenses have high quality image stabilization, especially in the 200-400, so there are a lot of static shots where you might have locked down for, but that come out fine with loose gimbal support because of IS. Also, IS works very well for slow panning in Mode 1, and moderate panning in Mode 2.
I still will occasionally convert one of my Systematic tripods or my RRS TVC-33 over to direct connection of a BH-55 if I care about the extra weight of the dovetail system, but I do that only for weight, and not for rigidity.
Good long lens technique is an important factor to keep in mind. For clamped down shooting on either a ball head or a gimbal head, putting your left hand on top of the lens out toward the front adds that mass and adds a form of dampening, both of which reduce vibrations that might spoil sharpness.
One of the weakest links in a super telephoto is the lens collar structure. Some are better than others, but they really do not provide very rigid support of the lens. For the most critical of shooting, you should consider some form of added support at the front of the lens, like the long lens support systems that RRS or others have available. But we are mostly talking about long exposures that are too long for IS to handle vibrations, and those cases are rare for most photographers to shoot. I am about to set up long lens support for occasional use, but it will be mostly for astronomy uses with 30 second or longer exposures on a equatorial drive system.