Wimberley Sidekick Tele Lens Holder

Another view of the Wimberley Sidekick suspension device intended for use with long, fast telephoto lenses such as a 35mm format 300mm f/2.8 or the Pentax 645N with a 400mm f/5.6.

The large, fast telephoto lenses that are so popular these days for sports and action photography are long and heavy, making them unwieldy and impractical for handheld use, so they require steady tripod support to produce sharply-detailed pictures. While conventional tripod heads, even today's popular large ball heads, do offer steady support, they just don't provide easy maneuvering of these monster lenses. Once a typical tripod having a standard tilt-top or a ball head has the big telephoto lens attached (this type of lens always has an independent tripod socket since they often are heavier than the camera body) they must then be tightened down to minimize movement. This is necessary because the rotatable tripod socket often is not aligned with the balance point of the lens/camera combination because there is no front to back adjustment. This out of balance condition also means that the head must be first loosened before any further minor or major attitude adjustments of the lens aim are made. A tedious process when trying to follow rapidly moving subjects such as typically encountered in sports and wildlife photography.

That's when the unique lens support systems from Wimberley prove to be practical. The original Wimberley head is a gimbal-type device that includes an elevation tilt mechanism with an adjustable platform for front to back alignment. This allows perfect balance of the lens/camera center of gravity along with the tilt axis of the head, even when used with big lenses such as the 15 lb 600mm f/4. The user can perfectly balance the lens so there is no tendency to flop or creep, and it is stable in any position. In fact, the lens does not have to be locked tightly in place. It remains entirely flexible and maneuverable all while the weight and bulk are being rigidly supported, which is necessary for the production of sharp images. Simply aim the lens and let go. It will remain directed at the target. This flexible support combined with maneuverability is a feat impossible to achieve using any regular tilt-top or ball head on any tripod because the center of gravity of the lens is above the tilt axis, rendering it top heavy and unstable.

The original Wimberley head is a gimbal-type device that includes an elevation tilt mechanism with an adjustable platform for front to back alignment. When properly adjusted there is a perfect balance of the lens/camera center of gravity when used with big, heavy lenses such as the 15 lb 600mm f/4. The lens does not have to be locked tightly in place so it remains entirely flexible and maneuverable. This flexible support combined with maneuverability is impossible to achieve using only a regular tilt-top or ball head on any tripod.

Although a sample of the original Wimberley device was provided, we could not properly evaluate it since there were none of the long, heavy telephoto lenses available on loan within 60 miles of where the author resides. A cursory examination of the unit shows it to be very well constructed with enough top to bottom and front to back adjustments. It should be infinitely adjustable to obtain proper balance for use with a variety of telephoto lenses. So we had to concentrate our testing on the new, smaller Wimberley Sidekick which works slightly smaller with less exotic lenses.

The new companion device, called the Wimberley Sidekick, is intended for slightly shorter and less hefty telephoto lenses such as the 300mm f/2.8 (plus some larger and smaller telephoto lenses). It is used in conjunction with a standard ball head and a quick release plate to convert a normal ball head into a gimbal head by providing the needed elevated tilt mechanism.

First a sliding "V" notch plate is firmly attached to the lens then adjusted forward or backward until the lens/camera combination is balanced front to back. Now the device allows the lens to pivot up or down about its center of gravity so following a moving subject is simplified and the lens stays exactly where you aim it, even when it's not locked down by a large pivot adjustment knob. By leaving the horizontal lock of the ball head loose you achieve horizontal panning capability.

Depending upon the configuration of the camera in use, there might be some limitation on the up-down motion of the camera. For instance, the Pentax 645N I used has a built-in grip, which tended to touch against the base of the Sidekick when aimed just slightly above horizontal for vertical composition. Although the lens tripod socket can be rotated to reposition the grip to the top, the camera base would hit against the clamp. I had to remove the sliding clamp base (using the supplied Allen wrench) and reposition it so the grip was at the top when I needed to shoot above the horizon line. A minor inconvenience and something that might not happen with a 35mm SLR having a grip that does not extend quite as far from the body. I found it also helps to have a tripod with a bubble level on the top to be certain the head is level, then the lens/camera combination will track smoothly in one plane when making any horizontal pans to follow action. Neither could I rotate the camera quickly from vertical to horizontal due to it hitting against the clamp base. This was corrected by simply rotating the clamp base 180° and retightening the screw. It's just a matter of learning by practical experience how to properly use a new accessory.

Attached to a tripod ball head the lightweight Wimberley Sidekick gives a gimbal-type mount suspension for long, fast telephoto lenses such as a 35mm format 300mm f/2.8 or the Pentax 645N with a 400mm f/5.6 as shown. Vertical and horizontal adjustments allow the user to perfectly balance the heavy lens/camera combination so the round knob on the left does not have to be tightened down allowing the camera to be easily moved to follow moving subjects as are typically encountered in sports or wildlife photography.

While I had the Sidekick to try, I also was testing the new Pentax 645N with a SMC Pentax-FA 645 400mm f/5.6 IF lens, which proved to be an appropriate size and focal length to use. With this camera lens combination I tried using the Sidekick on some fall sports and also to track some of the birds, squirrels, and chipmunks scurrying about our wooded backyard. I found it to be an extremely helpful and efficient method of supporting a big telephoto lens while tracking the two and four-legged creatures. I believe it would be a real asset for any active photographer using long telephoto lenses to record fast-paced subjects of any type.

At a convenient weight of just 1.3 lbs and slightly more than half the price of the larger, and admittedly more versatile Wimberley head, the Sidekick should appeal to all types of photographers. It is especially suitable for those who desire more maneuverability of their fast telephoto lens but don't want to be encumbered by the weight or cost of the larger original model. When you want to use the ball head with a shorter lens, simply remove the Sidekick and store it in your bag.

A few dealers handle this specialized device. If you cannot locate information locally, contact the inventor at: Wimberley, 974 Baker Lane, Win-chester, VA 22603; (540) 665-2744 and ask for a brochure; or access their new web site at: www.tripod head.com. They can also tell you which lenses are compatible with their unique telephoto lens support devices. The original Wimberley head (intended for lenses similar in size to a 600mm f/4) weighs 3.6 lbs, lists for $465, and the optional quick release clamp is $120. The new, smaller and lighter (1.3 lbs), pocketable Wimberley Sidekick (that requires a ball head for proper operation) is designed for lenses similar to most 300mm f/2.8 models as well as most 400 and 500mm lenses; it lists for $250.