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Review: Benro GD3WH geared head

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Review: Benro GD3WH geared tripod head

Three axis geared tripod head supports 6kg


The Benro GD3WH tripod head made its first appearance at the UK Photography Show earlier this year. [Benro Info]

After a quick test at the show, Benro have lent Keith one of the heads to try out.

It just happens, that at the same time we had the Canon TS-E90mm tilt/shift lens here for a review. Very useful, since it’s in Keith’s architectural and interior photography with shift lenses that accurate setting of camera position is most critical.

The review looks at some examples of its use and whether that quick test at the show was relevant to real-life usage.

Benro GD3WH tripod head

GD3WH head from B&H

The Benro GD3WH

The head immediately feels quite light when unpacking it.  Indeed, surprisingly light, but that’s almost certainly due to the eclectic collection of heads and mounts I’ve built up over many years.

It’s made from a magnesium alloy and feels robust (no loose bits).

What you get

The head is well packed in its box, along with a small instruction booklet and a long Allen key if you need to attach the base plate -very- firmly to your camera. I found the thumb lock more than enough for my gear.

tripod head and box

Specifications

The headline specs are:

  • Magnesium Alloy construction:
  • Weight 870g with 6kg capacity
  • Arca-style Quick Release plate:
  • Three Sprit Levels:
  • Tilt Up/Down +90º/-15º
  • Tilt Landscape –90º/+15º
  • Dimensions: 145 x 139 x 109mm
  • Max. Load: 13.2 lb (6 kg)
  • Weight: 1.92 lb (0.87 kg)

The major features:

geared head

The head can be tilted sideways a full 90º

 

tilt-adjust

The camera can be pointed downwards by 90º – if you need to point upwards by more than 15º you need to reverse the camera.

movement range

The camera can be panned continuously with the third knob.

Using the GD3WH

I took the GD3WH out with me whilst taking some photos with the TS-E 90mm F2.8L Macro lens, mounted on my 50MP Canon 5Ds.

The lens is a superbly sharp one and the 50MP camera can get the best from it. That said, the camera needs to be lined up accurately if you’re not going to have to make any minor corrections to perspective later.

The camera plate is bright blue – actually helpful, since you can quickly spot if it’s on a particular camera body or in the bottom of your bag.

One other nice touch is that whilst you can loosen the plate for slight left/right shifts, you need to pull it to release the mechanism that lets you unscrew it further.

camera and GD3WH

How does this help? It lets you loosen the camera without fear that it’s about to fall off the tripod head.

I’ve nearly done this before in low light whilst I was thinking more about where I was pointing the camera than whether I’d grabbed the wrong knob…

This is the photo taken not far from where I took the ones above.

tse90 up down shift

The image is a stitch of two 50MP images. One is with the lens shifted upwards. The square shot here is about 80MP at full size.  The camera needs to be perfectly level for the best image quality.

My normal tripod heads offer all the movement needed to get the camera level, but fine adjustment can be tricky, since you often need to move two axes at the same time.

With the GD3WH, the twist locks on each axis are spring loaded and allow quick and smooth adjustment to get the head roughly levelled.

Where the gearing helps is to be able to make fine adjustments to the framing, without taking your eye from the viewfinder, or screen at the back.

This short video clip shows the camera being levelled, and then at the end, my applying upwards lens shift to get the composition I want.

Here’s a stitched shot taken from the same position.

De Montfort surgery

Levelling becomes much more critical as you move to wider angle shift lenses.

I use the Canon TS-E17mm quite a lot for architectural work, and recently tested out a special shift frame for the lens. This holds the lens steady and lets you move the camera.

Fortunately it has an Arca Swiss style base, and fits in place securely to the GD3WH

It’s mounted the way it is to allow the camera to be freely shifted downwards. Coincidentally, the head’s pan axis is pretty close to the nodal point of the lens. This makes it great for stitching cylindrical panoramics, with the camera rotated 90º from as shown above.  [TSE Frame review].

Here’s a single shot view of the buildings shown earlier. As you can see, the apparent perspective of a shot with a 90mm shift lens looks quite different to a 17mm shift lens,

VJP 17mm rectified view

The location is the RIBA award winning Vijay Patel building at De Montfort university, near my home in Leicester. I’ve written an article exploring views of the VJP building showing how the choice of lens for architectural photography lets you show buildings in different ways.

Indoors

Using lenses with movements indoors is even more tricky with normal heads, even if the movement is quite smooth.

Space may be a bit tighter, and lighting a bit more constrained when setting up the camera. I also work in busy factories where the best viewpoint may be a bit precarious.

My close-up vision needs glasses, so I often find the excellent optical viewfinder of my Canon 5Ds and 1Ds mk3 much easier to use. This makes using the rear screen for critical adjustment a matter of finding my ‘extra close-up’ glasses. Suffice to say, the smooth movement of the geared head made this a lot easier.

Here’s the camera pointing down my stairs at home, during a test of the TS-E90, using lens tilt to run the plane of sharp focus along the stairs.

To get the shot, you need to adjust the tilt of the lens (the large knob on the side) and the orientation of the camera.

The two interact, with movements of a fraction of a degree making the difference.

line up stairs view

GD3WH Conclusions

The tripod head with its 3/8″ fitting worked just fine on all my supports, right up to the big survey tripod I use for panoramic work (it gives me very accurate levelling).

Do I have any issues with the GD3WH?

Being picky, I’d like to see engraved measurements to allow the base plate to be shifted sideways by a known amount ±15mm would do.

release plate

For the bubble levels I’d also like to see the type that have an additional mark under the bubble to ensure that you are looking square on to the level.  Not having these can make it tricky to be sure that what you see as the centred bubble, really is centred.  Not an issue with studio use, but in low light and cramped spaces it reduced my trust in the levels.

Using the GD3WH

Every so often I come across a gadget or software that within a short while of using, I realise is going to improve the quality and or efficiency of my work.  The GD3WH is just such a device.

I’ve looked at heads in this size range before and found them a bit clunky, with release mechanisms that looked a magnet for grit and dust.  The spring release mechanism on this head is firm and well protected.

The drive seems well geared, for smooth movement, with minimal backlash in the gears.

There’s no way my work justifies something like the ~£1500 Arca-Swiss C1 cube mount, but at under £200, the GD3WH would pay for itself in time saved on location and in post production in relatively short order.

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