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Site Updated: 2/1/10
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Review: Wimberley Sidekick

Posted 1/21/10 by

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If you own a telephoto lens big enough to warrant its own tripod collar/foot, then at some point you've probably figured out just how much of a pain it can be using a ball head with a heavy load especially if you want to keep the horizon level while tracking a moving subject.

Fortunately, several companies make gimbal style heads that balance the lens, allowing smooth fingertip control (including panning and tilting) with even the heaviest of camera and lens combinations. However gimbal heads aren't ideal if you also want to use your tripod with non-collared lenses, unless you are prepared to change heads in the field or carry two tripods.

Wimberley Sidekick

Enter the Wimberley Sidekick, an innovative solution that can in seconds convert your ball head into a gimbal head, and for only around $250 (about half the cost of a dedicated gimbal head).

It doesn't work with any old ball head however your ball head needs to be strong enough, it must have an Arca-Type Quick Release Clamp (we refitted our existing Manfrotto 468MG with a Wimberley C-10MG) that it can hold vertically (most heads have a slot for this). The ball head must also have a panning base to allow the lens to rotate while the ball is locked down. Wimberley has a list of recommended ball heads on their website. With the right ball head, the Sidekick can happily support up to a 600mm f4 lens.

You also need a suitable Arca-Type lens plate or replacement foot on your lens, a compatibility guide can be found on Wimberley's Website.

In the interests of full disclosure, the specific Sidekick used in this review is a demo unit kindly provided to us by Wimberley for long term testing. As such we will periodically be updating this review detailing how this Sidekick holds up over time under heavy use, and in some cases extreme conditions.

Installation/Set Up

The Wimberley Sidekick comes packaged as shown below, complete with an 8-page manual:

Wimberley Sidekick

Setting up the sidekick is remarkably simple:

  1. Move your QR Clamp on your ball head so it is vertical (as seen in the picture below), and firmly lock down the ball and socket. Release the panning base, so the head spins freely (but with the ball locked down), and your ballhead is now ready.

    Adjusting your ball head for the Wimberley Sidekick

  2. Drop the Sidekick into the Quick Release Clamp and tighten.

    Installing the Wimberley Sidekick

  3. Now slide the lens foot into the clamp on the Sidekick, until the lens is balanced (i.e., with no or little friction on the Sidekick, the lens won't tip forwards or backwards). Tighten the clamp.

    Installing the Wimberley Sidekick

  4. Turn the large knob on the Sidekick to set the friction, and your lens will now pan (thanks to the ball head) and tilt (thanks to the Sidekick) freely.

It's that simple. With a little practice, balancing the lens becomes easy, and setting up a lens on the sidekick takes seconds.

Fit and Finish

The fit and finish of the Sidekick are simply excellent. The controls (setting friction and the knob on the clamp) are easy to use, and just feel "right". About what you'd expect from Wimberley really.

Performance (Jan 2010)

If you have a big lens, and don't have a gimbal style set-up, you are really missing out. If you also want to use the same tripod for macro, landscape or studio type work with smaller lenses, then the Wimberley Sidekick matched with a decent ball head is a killer combination.

It's very fast and easy to set up and use, even in sub zero temperatures with thick gloves. Balancing the lens takes a little practice, but being able to effortlessly (and very smoothly) pan and tilt a heavy lens/camera combination makes the Sidekick invaluable. It's so easy to use, that even my 6-year-old daughter loves using it as you can see below:

Wimberley Sidekick

If you have a big collared lens, we'd have to rate the Sidekick (or similar quality Gimbal setup) as "absolutely essential": our unit now lives in my "Go Bag", if I'm taking a collared lens with me anywhere, then you can rest assured I'm also taking the Wimberley Sidekick. My only wish is I had gone one sooner.

We'll update this review periodically moving forward, this lens will get a lot of use over the coming months/years, we'll report back how it holds up and performs in different environments.

To get your Wimberley Sidekick, please check out B&H Photo or Wimberley's Website.

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