What's the deal? Side-mount vs. Top-Mount

Posted by Jobu Tech Team on 9/19/2013
We often forget that the terminology we use in our shop and design offices often doesn't make sense to our customers, especially new ones entering the photo market. One typical area of concern is the top-mount vs. side-mount gimbal debate.

First of all, it's bad enough 99% of the population doesn't know what a gimbal is, so when we start adding secondary terms like top-mount or side-mount, it really limits the understanding of the products.
LW3 vs HD3

Not to sound goofy, but, "In the beginning..." there were only side-mount gimbals. Back around 2002 we were designing gimbals that would hold the lens foot "sideways" in the quick release. We didn't make anything else, and we didn't think it terribly important to do it any other way. Lenses were big, heavy, and expensive (well, they still are, mostly) and not many folks could really afford more than one (which is still, mostly, true). So, when our typical customer wanted to mount a lens, they would slap a lens plate on the foot, rotate the collar 90 degrees and put it in the gimbal head. Hence, this was the side-mount design.

So, why did we stick with a design that was so minimalistic for so long? Well, it worked. In the film days, a 600mm F4 lens was REALLY darn heavy, so adding a swing-arm to the gimbal (about 3/4 of a pound, or 300grams) was like insult to injury. Not only that, but the extra 8" of aluminum required to make a perpendicular arm added serious vibration. We didn't have ISO 12500 with Velvia, not that I remember.

In the end, carrying one big lens in a side-ways quick release was the optimal scenario. The shortest distance from the tripod top-plate to the camera was with this design. Solid, robust, lightweight, few moving parts.

However, changing lenses, or installing the lens for the first time when getting ready for a shoot, meant that you incurred a chance at mis-installing your lens, and dropping it in the dirt. Why? Well, a 20lb piece of glass with camera takes 2 hands to hold. So getting the quick-release clamped down required a 3rd hand, a friend, wife, or some serious juggling skills to get it all in place and clamped before it fell out. It's not so bad in you living room, but in a snowstorm, or in the twilight, or a cold, damp, morning... well... let's just say you should make sure you practice in your living room.

Enter the days of the "Swing-Arm". Or "Horizontal Arm". Or "L Bracket". Or "Swinging Bit". Or "Cradle". Same thing, different names and interpretations of the same device. We made our horizontal arms in a fashion that allowed the lens foot of your big lens to stay under the lens, as the manufacturer intended. This allowed you (1) Centre the lens, (2) adjust the vertical balance, and (3) gave you a 3rd hand while installing the lens. Woo-hoo! Everything is better, right!?!?!

Well, mostly yes, but some no.

A horizontal arm is heavy. Not terribly heavy, but it's still there. It's still takes up physical space and has a weight to it. It vibrates. "What", you say? Well, sure it does. Everything does. It adds length to the camera-gimbal system, so there is more vibration. A lot? Not really. Not that 99% of the population would notice or care about. What else? Well, you know, we had to make it, so you have to pay for it. There is a cost associated with this component.

OK, now you're confused. What's better for me?!?!?! I don't want vibration, I don't want extra cost or weight!!!

Most people: Yes, that includes you. Get a swing-arm gimbal, like the Jr.3, Heavy Duty, or Pro series. The benefit of being able to centre your lens, and safely install it, plus adjust vertical balance outweigh all the other benefits by far.

According to my charts and reports... 5% of you like the sidemount gimbals (our Lightweight series). Who is this customer? Well, you are going out on a hike, or on a plane, or a kayak, and you are only bringing one lens in your bag. You need to save weight and you need a stiff setup. Bush planes to Northern Canada, hikers, boaters, small jets for African safari's... these are the typical places we see the sidemount heads go.

So which to get? Well, luckily our systems are modular. If you bought one, you can easily convert it to the other. So, don't get caught up in the vortex of online discussions and debates. You can switch things around whenever you need, in about 30 seconds. Set up your equipment for your requirements, not someone else's.



Michael Deeley
Date: 2/4/2015
As stated in my previous email, I purchased your Black Widow 11 side mount gimbal head 18 months or so ago and need to convert it to one of your horizontal mount swing arms; preferably with height adjustment. To quote your tech team statement above "If you bought one,you can easily convert to the other". I also have the WAA2 Wide angle adapter, but this is unsuitable for my needs. Your advice is appreciated along with the price, Thanks, Michael Deeley

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