While the Sidekick was briefly touched upon in a few recent threads, I thought it best to start a new one so I do not take any of those previous threads further OT. I recently upgraded my ballhead in anticipation of the winter bird migration, and while I am reasonably set to go (with my D300, 70-200 VRII and TC-20e-III), there are several lingering questions floating around in my head, one of which is wondering about the use/need of a Wimberely Sidekick for BIF.
I am aware that this camera/lens combo is used as much handheld as it is on a tripod, so some have thought of the Sidekick as overkill. Others have recommended it because it allows you to pan and tilt wtih greater ease than a ballhead when shooting BIF. There is probably wisdom in both responses, and I eventually need to decide for myself, but I am wondering if I should first get the hang of working with my new ballhead to see how it does or does not work for BIF, or if I should empty my wallet a bit further and incorporate a Sidekick from the start.
As far as the future, I think that my budget is only going to allow me to move up to a 300mm f/4 and TC-14, a combo about the same size as the 70-200 w/TC. Faster or longer glass is probably not in the near future, with the exception of an occasional rental.
Wimberely offers a 60-day trial, which is generous to say the least. And, their phone support was far more friendly and helpful than my recent experience with RRS. So, holding my technique as a constant, any thoughts on the amount of improvement that a Sidekick offers over a ballhead for BIF with either of these lens/TC combos? Wimberely's offer is generous, but I do not want to take advantage of them if I should either wait or take a pass. I am inclined to go for it, but I want to make sure that this is not just a bad case of NAS run amok.
#1. "RE: Wimberely Sidekick Questions" | In response to Reply # 0JonK Nikonian since 03rd Jul 2004Thu 08-Dec-11 11:45 PM
The kind of easy, free, balanced movement you need for birds and wildlife just can't be achieved by perching the lens/body combo on top of a bullhead. The sidekick will be a definite aid.
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#4. "RE: Wimberely Sidekick Questions" | In response to Reply # 3Fri 09-Dec-11 02:41 AM
Marty, Phil & Jon,
Thanks for the advice. I kind of suspected this might be the case, but as I will now be working with a better ballhead, I did not know its limits. I am beginning to wonder if those who think that a Sidekick is overkill might either be great at hand holding longer lenses, or may not think much of working off of a tripod. I have had good and bad experiences shooting both ways the last few years, but I do not feel certain enough to clearly identify the source of my challenges.
I do not want to be dogmatic, but I am trying to improve my technique shooting from a tripod. I realize that will prevent me from getting some shots that require hand holding my gear, but I am trying to improve both my rate and technical quality of my keepers. So, if a Sidekick will help, I would like to incorporate it into my new routine as early as possible. If its just going to be a distraction and not provide much value at this time, then I would hold off on a purchase.
#5. "RE: Wimberely Sidekick Questions" | In response to Reply # 0
Good questions... you're trying to think this through and in my opinion it is a very complex question.
I primarily shoot a 500/4 now, and previously I shot a 300/2.8. The only difference is that I get more reach. The technique issues are the same. You don't have such a lens but what I am going to say will help explain the decision you have.
Neither of my long lenses, nor my 300/4 AFS, have VR. The 500/4 and 300/2.8 needs to be shot on a tripod (by me, based on my capabilities).
The problem I have is that when using a gimbal I can only get to about 45 degrees altitude. If a bird flies in low and directly over my head I am left standing there staring at what is really the best setup to shoot a BIF. That lens just won't go high enough. And in other situations I just can't articulate myself around the tripod fast enough to track the bird.
Because of that I try to always keep a 2nd camera with the 300/4 and TC14 or TC17, on a Kirk strap, for hand held shots I can't get on a tripod.
When I do get those opportunities with the hand held setup I need some seriously fast shutter speeds so in many cases it is sort of a "Hail Mary Pass". My yield is not nearly as high as I would like but this is the only way to get those close in, usually high altitude shots.
This applies to you because regardless of the lens on the tripod you will be altitude challenged, and when shooting hand held you will need those higher shutter speeds (although VR on the 70-200 may help). Also, small lenses such as the 70-200 can be more altitude challenged on a gimbal than large lenses because the camera body hits the mount at a lower altitiude.
If you use a small lens on a gimbal you may need to remove the grip (if used), which gives you another 10 degrees or so, and if you use a Sidekick you can cock the gimbal back to give you more altitude. Also consider removing the L bracket- it just inhibits a little vertical travel although it does protect the body from the inevitable bumps against the mount. Cocking the gimbal arm back will actually let you get straight up, but then you have limits if a bird flies low across your field of view.
I have a number of images here illustrating these various limits with the full Wimberly and Sidekick. In some ways the Sidekick is actually more flexible than a full Wimberly and a nod in that direction. Using a TC20 is an advantage in terms of the mechanics because it gives you more working room between the lens body and foot. For example, worst case, with a 70-200 and body with a grip, and no TC, there can be almost no vertical movement before the grip hits the mount. You can see from my illustrations that my older TV20E-II gives me the most movement simply due to the length of the TC.
A lot of my BIF shots have been done at Chincoteague NWR shooting the snowgeese migration. In that case I am shooting birds typically coming in on final approach (or taking off) and tracking them right down to their landing. This tends to be lowish altitude shots (right down to horizontal) and is ideal for a gimbal.
Since your lens is easily hand held you can take advantage of a Wimberly by just removing the Wimberly from the ballhead clamp to take an occasional overhead shot- if have time to do that.
Now, you have a new Q20 that is either on the way or you just got it. It is probably the best ballhead in the world for shooting BIF without a gimbal. I have shot one for years (actually the older predecessor M20 that performs similar enough to be fully relevant here).
With short focal lengths, if you set up the tension properly it will feel more or less like a well damped fluid head. It is "almost" frictionless. At 400mm you will appreciate the difference between the least friction money can buy for a ballhead and truly frictionless, as you get with a Sidekick.
You will find that the normal tension used for static or slow moving subjects is too much to track a fast bird. The solution is to lighten the tension a bit for BIF. The result is that the more you loosen the friction the easier it is to track the bird- until the lens slowly flops over because your shooting at too low a tension to hold it up properly. And after resetting your lens upright 50 times, or losing a few shots, that is when you start seriously thinking about a gimbal, and that is exactly the process I went through during the 2004 snowgoose migration with my new gear, including an M10 (Q10 now).
I think it is wrong to be dogmatic about this issue. Sometimes a gimbal is the right tool for the job, and sometimes it is not- we need to work hand held. My philosophy is to have ready access to as many different tools as possible to accommodate different jobs I run into in the field.
You will also find that even with static subjects a gimbal is just easier to manage and a bit quicker, with faster more accurate framing. The Sidekick is particularly valuable because it allows you to reconfigure out in the field, even in the heat of battle. You can put it on and take it off in less than a minute.
The only downside to the Sidekick (or any other gimbal) is that it is slightly more vibration prone than the Q20 alone. That is the inevitable consequence of adding moment arm to the support. It is actually slightly more stable than a top loading WH-200. The only time this might be an issue is very early or late where you might find your self shooting at around 1/50s or less. When I first got it I would remove it for those shots but over the years I decided the difference was usually not worth the effort. However, if I were specifically going out to shoot a lunar image or some other low light image I would remove in the interests of my stability OCD.
Wimberly usually has "B" stock available, which is an inevitable result of their very liberal try before you buy policy. My advice is to get the Wimberly if you can afford it, and try to apply what I've said above, recognizing what situations require what tools. Then if you don't like it you should be able to sell it with only a modest "rental cost".
Even after I "upgraded" to a WH-200 for certain reasons mainly related to flash brackets I retained the Sidekick because it is just such a valuable tool for me. I don't use it a lot (usually using a WH-200) but when I need it I'm glad that it's in my tool bag. It's also a better travel solution where weight and bulk matter and when I want to do multiple things with only one tripod.
I'll also add that I have found Wimberly to give the most honest objective advice of any vendor I have ever communicated with. That is especially true of the phone conversations I've had when I needed very subtle answers to very subtle problems I've posed. A good example is their WH-200 vs Sidekick FAQ on their site, which I believe to be absolutely honest and accurate, with no attempt to up-sell to the full Wimberly. They just state the physics which is obvious to anyone very familiar with both devices. This is only one important reason I am a loyal Wimberly customer. Vendors like that should be supported.
my Nikonians gallery.
#6. "RE: Wimberely Sidekick Questions" | In response to Reply # 5Fri 09-Dec-11 02:38 PM
I think that you are now up to two dinners on me the next time you are in the Northwest! Thanks for the very thoughtful advice. There was too many good points for me to quote from your message, so I will give a general reply.
Your scenarios sound quite like what I imagine my BIF trips to be. And while I am currently saving for a new body, and possibly a 300mm f/4, I expect they will eventually be in my kit, and then I will have a mounted camera body, and a hand held one. With that eventual future in mind, and in light of your description of how even a Markins head can be a challenge for BIF, I called back Wimberely and ordered a "B" stock Sidekick. Short of the return shipping cost, I really have nothing to loose. Their customer service is really quite exceptional, so it seemed like a test drive was in order.
I should have the Sidekick next week, and that will work well with my schedule for my next "goose chase".
Thanks again! I really appreciate all of your advice and wisdom. If you told me you were also a "bird whisperer", I'd fly you out here in a moment.
#7. "RE: Wimberely Sidekick Questions" | In response to Reply # 6ChristopherP Nikonian since 26th Oct 2003Sat 10-Dec-11 07:33 AM
Ken, enjoy your new Sidekick. I couldn't be more pleased with mine. Neil covered it all so well. I'd like to add this. The capability to tilt the rig forward or back for clearance or to gain a better angle that Neil discussed is really amazingly flexible. My Sidekick setup is the 80-200 f2.8 AFS usually with the TC20eIII, a delightful but heavy combination on Gitzo 2542L Legs. I use an AcraTech GV1 on their AcraTech leveling base. This head with the Sidekick allows me to drop the ball into the side notch and know I have a 90 degree drop, and also enable me to tilt of the whole rig forward (more down) or back (more up) giving great clearance and very smooth support. Since the GV1 is designed as a gimbal (for smaller lens) it has a bearing that rides in the drop notch. I found that it enables the tilt capability Neil discussed extremely well and in a stable light weight package.
I am sure you will enjoy the Sidekick. Oh by the way my other learning is that once the equipment is not in the way, chasing those little birds still takes much practice. My admiration for folks who catch the birds has gone way up.
my Nikonians gallery.
#8. "RE: Wimberely Sidekick Questions" | In response to Reply # 7Mon 12-Dec-11 03:27 PM
Thanks for your insight. While Neil did cover it quite well, it is always good to hear other people's experiences. My Sidekick arrives this Friday, but I will probably not be able to head out on a "goose chase" until Christmas weekend at the earliest.
Chasing birds is quite the challenge, and you are correct that the equipment needs to not be in the way. But, the only way for that to happen is for me to get used to using it, and not think about it.
Friends always remind me that you really do not produce art until you create and destroy your first 500 pieces. A bit of an exaggeration, but I understand the sentiment. All of the physical needs to be second nature, not unlike driving a manual transmission. Then you can concentrate on what's important.
#9. "RE: Wimberely Sidekick Questions" | In response to Reply # 6Tue 13-Dec-11 01:47 PM
I really need some western birds for my photo life list.
I can whisper at birds as well as the best of them.
Can't guarantee it will accomplish anything, though, other than getting me out west to add to my list
my Nikonians gallery.
#11. "RE: Wimberely Sidekick Questions" | In response to Reply # 9Tue 13-Dec-11 05:48 PM
>I really need some western birds for my photo life list.
Can I interest you in a slightly used seagull?
If you are a skier or snow boarder, then visiting out here in the winter can work out quite well. Otherwise, I suggest the late spring or summer for better weather. while there a re many places along the coast that are great for birding, there are a couple of places inland that may be worth the trouble. Malheur NWR in south-central Oregon is one place that comes to mind. The Oregon desert is a great place to get lost, metaphorically as well as physically, and you can always head to the coast for a few days to cool off.
In the mean time, should I send a few gulls your way?