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LensVid Exclusive: Zenelli CARBONZX – Carbon Fiber Gimbal Head Review


Earlier this year we received one of the sexiest pieces of photographic gear that we ever had a chance to use, and no, it isn’t a camera or a lens – it is a Gimbal head. If this sounds strange to you consider this – the manufacturer is called Zenelli, it is designed and manufactured in Italy and is almost completely made of carbon fiber – making it the first such head in the world. We went to see if the amazing looks is also accompanied by great functionality and performance.

Over the past the past two years we had a chance to review here quite a few long telephoto lenses (sadly so far – mostly zooms). Today we bring you our fist review of a gimbal head designed specifically for use with these types of long, heavy (and typically expensive) telephoto gear.

Zenelli, is the manufacturer of the CARBONZX line of gimbal heads, as well as a second line called Kevlass based on Kevlar and Glass (which is not as light as the CARBONZX head but is also less expensive). In our view the CARBONZX is by far the most interesting product of the two and the reason is the low weight that the carbon fiber allows for (slightly over 1kg/2.2lb) almost 40% less than Wimberley WH-200 which is considered the industry standard for professionals. Of course this comes at a price (literally), and so we wanted to see what we are paying for with the CARBONZX – so lets start.

Zenelli CARBONZX – can a gimbal head be sexy?

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The video above is long so here is a table of contents to help you navigate around:

  • 0-1:19 – Intro.
  • 1:20 – 04:57 – unboxing.
  • 04:58 -16:34 – filling our talk with nature and wildlife photographer Yossi Eshbol on the head.
  • 16:35-18:40 – conclusion

General design and features

The CARBONZX is about 23cm or 9 inches tall and about 25 cm or 10 inches wide with a max thickness of about 10 cm or 4 inches. The CARBONZX has a distance from center of lens to vertical arm of  7.6 cm / 3 inches enough for very thick lenses and a metal knob for tilting the arm of the head and a strong plastic leaver for rotating the head in 360 degrees.

This is all more or less standard with gimbal heads but there are a few features which are a bit more unique:

  • Save lens lever – this small metal piece (which you can see in the video) can save your lens from falling if you forgot to close the tilt lock.
  • Quick-Release Lever with a backup locking mechanism – this is a double mechanism that prevent accidental release of your camera/lens – you need to open both locks to take out your gear.

The dual locking mechanism – maybe a bit over designed

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  • Bauble head – pretty standard but still nice to have (just under the main part.
  • Panoramic axis alignment – This one is pretty unique as far as gimbals go – the alignment of the head allows for precise panoramic image capture making the gimbal a more versatile tool.

In terms of materials – the CARBONZX as we mentioned, is made mostly of carbon fiber covered in a special transparent paint (you can see the fibers below and they simply look beautiful). There are also parts made out of hard-anodized aluminium and stainless steel (there are two knobs made out of what seems like hard plastic).

Save lens lever – a big help

DSC_4284Performance and functionality

We had a chance to do some testing with one of Israel’s most accomplished nature and wildlife photographers Yossi Eshbol. In more than 40 years as a a professional wildlife photographer, Eshbol won numerous awards including the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 (you can see a few of Eshbol’s images on the video and many more on his facebook page).

We spent almost half a day with Eshbol on Ganei Hanadiv – the spectacular gardens in the north of Israel and the burial place of the Rothschild’s family. Our original plan was to go down to the ponds where the birds are and shoot our video and do our testing there but with weeks of shortcoming hot temperatures this summer we had to find a place with a little bit of shade.

Talking to Eshbol during the testing and the recording of the video segment (which was done in Hebrew at his request, we translated the important parts), we learned that although Eshbol used a gimbal head by Wimberley in the past – for him to go to head for the past 10 years or so is actually a heavy duty video fluid head by Gitzo that he adapted to his needs (he has done several minor modifications to make it work better).

Eshbol with his D4S and 800mm lens using the CARBONZX

Yossi-zenelli-headFor many nature and wildlife photographers, (especially in the U.S. and Europe) this might sound very strange, however according to Eshbol, in Asia using a fluid head for nature photography is actually pretty common. The logic behind this is simple – a heavy duty fluid head like the one Eshbol is using is designed to carry very very heavy weights and it has a very low center of gravity. Another inherit advantage is super smooth and precise motion and great counter balance  which protects the lens from falling forward by accident.

However a heavy duty fluid head also has a very big disadvantage which Eshbol admits to immediately- weight. His head weights over 2kg / 4.4lbs  – twice as much as the CARBONZX – and when he also needs to carry his 800mm Nikon lens and D4S body plus a tripod and some other gear – every kilogram is something that you are going to feel on your back (not to mention weight limitations when taking this kind of gear for a shoot overseas. So apparently for pro nature photographers such as Eshbol weight considerations are extremely important and in some situations might even come before price.

The CARBONZX seem to function well in our relatively short test with the 800mm Nikon and we were both pretty surprised to see that balancing it took no time at all (is it the CARBONZX, Eshbol’s experience and just dumb luck – we don’t know). Movement was fast and smooth but also fairly accurate. As we have mentioned in the video there was some stability issues that had nothing to do with the head and everything to do with the top plate of our old Gitzo legs, but apart from that everything seemed to function perfectly.

Eshbol was also impressed by the save lens lever which he recognized immediately. On the downside he didn’t like the dual locking mechanism which he felt was too cumbersome and complex and he prefers the option to use the thumb screw lock instead (we tend to agree).

At the end of our testing Eshbol didn’t find any major functionality issues with the CARBONZX and the weight indeed seems to be a big attraction of the unit – on the other hand even pros like Eshbol who own gear costing tens of thousands of dollars might think twice before spending almost $1500 on a gimbal head.

Conclusion

Working with the CARBONZX (together with Eshbol’s 800mm lens) proved to be a memorable experience, similar in many ways to driving a Ferrari after using a sedan for many years.

There is very little not to like about the CARBONZX, it is light, very well made with great functionality and is definitely the most attractive piece of hardware that we reviewed in years. The only thing that takes some getting use to (and playing with) is the double locking mechanism for the plate. But you can replace it with a simple knob that comes with the unit so we don’t feel that it is a real drawback.

Zenelli – like driving a Ferrari 

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At the end of the day the Zenelli is set to be the ultimate professional gimbal head aimed at top pros with deep pockets (the CARBONZX with all the accessories goes for $1480 on B&H), looking for the perfect gimbal with the lowest weight possible for shooting on the go.

What we liked

  • The most lightweight Gimbal of its type.
  • First Carbon fiber gimbal head – very strong (and super sexy).
  • Well designed – easy to set up and use.
  • Very high build quality – designed and made in Italy.

What we didn’t like so much

  • The special dual locking mechanism can be a bit tricky to set up (but you can always replace it with a simple knob that comes with the head).
  • Priced well above the competition.

You can check out more LensVid exclusive articles and reviews on the following link.

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