Hi-Tech Studio: Inside Ballheads

The many benefits of a ballhead are well known. They’re solid and stable, and they’re easy to adjust in an almost unlimited way. On most models, a single locking knob is the only control you need to manipulate. You’ll see a couple of distinct ballhead designs, one where the ball moves within a cylindrical housing, and the other where the ball locks to the tripod and the camera platform rotates around it (the Novoflex MagicBall is an example of this latter type). Each type has some advantages, but as far as your workflow is concerned, it’s mostly a matter of getting used to the ballhead that you buy.

The most important consideration when choosing your ballhead is matching the head’s capacity to the weight of your rig. It might look silly to have a small mirrorless camera attached to a ballhead with a 20-pound capacity, but it’s much better to err on the side of too much capacity. Larger-diameter ball systems support heavier gear than a smaller-diameter ball. A rule of thumb is to choose a ballhead that can accommodate two times the weight of your heaviest setup.

In use, any heavy setup should be handled carefully. Large, heavy supertelephotos and telephoto zooms usually come with a tripod mount that saves stress on the mount and also keeps the rig balanced better on the tripod. There are also some aftermarket collars for lenses that don’t come with one. And you can also get a lower-profile collar-tripod head attachment to help give your rig an overall lower profile.

If you frequently switch from tripod-mounted to handheld shooting, you’ll want a ballhead that has a head with a quick-release feature. You attach the quick-release plate to the camera’s tripod socket, then just slip the plate into and out of the head’s quick-release slot to lock and release the camera quickly and simply.

Here’s a sampling of ballheads that can handle pro gear.

The Acratech Ultimate Ballhead QR ($299.95, www.acratech.net) weighs less than one pound, yet can support more than 25 pounds at any angle. It features an open structure so dirt can’t get trapped inside, and is available with right-side or left-side controls. The 45º angle clamps make it easy to point the camera downward.

Weighing just 9.9 ounces, the Arca-Swiss Monoball P0 ($309, rodklukas.com/arca-swiss/) can support 44.1 pounds. It features a unique knobless geared locking system, panning capability and a Slidefix QS quick-release mount.

Benbo‘s BEN306 Professional Ball & Socket Head ($125, www.patersonphotographic.com/benbo-ball-and-socket-heads.html) weighs 11.6 ounces and can support up to 27 pounds. It has three control knobs, a large lock knob, a smaller knob to adjust tension and a third to lock the revolving base. The Benro B3 Double Action Ball Head ($217, www.benrousa.com) weighs about 1.5 pounds and can support 66 pounds. It provides separate knobs for locking, drag and panning (with a 360° panning scale for easy panoramas). The unit uses an Arca-type quick-release plate.

The heavy-duty Cullmann MB8.3 Ball Head ($219.95, www.rtsphoto.com) weighs 28.5 ounces and can support 66 pounds. It features two bubble levels, a quick-release system and separate pan lock. Construction is of rugged aluminum.

The Feisol Ball Head CB-50DC ($169, www.feisol.net) features an outer layer of carbon fiber, which is strong, light and feels pleasant, even in cold weather. It features separate ball-locking and pan knobs, plus a quick-release system. The unit weighs 20.1 ounces and can support 41 pounds.

The Flashpoint F-9 Compact Tripod Ball Head ($69.95, www.adorama.com) is economically priced, yet the 14-ounce magnesium-alloy unit can support up to 40 pounds. It features a quick-release plate and a quick-lock knob.

The modular Foba Mini-Superball Plus ($580, www.foba.ch) weighs 28.8 ounces and can support 26.5 pounds. It features an Arca-type quick-release unit (plate not included) and has a long-handled locking knob for easy operation.

The Giottos MH3300-658 ($199.95, www.hpmarketingcorp.com) weighs 2.1 pounds and can hold 28 pounds. It features calibrated base and tension controls, and comes with a quick release.

Gitzo‘s off-center ballheads provide a range of movement not possible with conventional heads. The Series 5 Magnesium Quick Release Off Centre Ball Head ($399, www.gitzo.us) weighs 2.2 pounds and can support 26.46 pounds. It features magnesium construction, separate tilt and pan locking knobs, and a quick-release system.

Induro’s BHD3 Ballhead ($215, www.indurogear.com) weighs 2.2 pounds and can support 55 pounds. It features a separate pan lock, an Arca-style quick-release with safety lock, and machined magnesium-alloy construction.

Kirk‘s BH-1 Ball Head ($385, www.kirkphoto.com) weighs 30 ounces, can support 50 pounds, and comes with an Arca-style quick-release plate. There’s a separate lock for the 360º panning base. External parts are made of 6061-T aircraft aluminum, and internal parts, from brass and stainless steel to avoid corrosion.

The heavy-duty Linhof Profi Ballhead III Q ($1,149, www.hpmarketingcorp.com) weighs 2.9 pounds and can support 22 pounds. It features separate ball and pan locks, and a 360º panning scale. Included is a Quickfix II quick-release plate. Manfrotto‘s 057 Magnesium Ball Head with Q5 Quick Release ($259, www.manfrotto.us) weighs three pounds and can support 33 pounds. It features lever locks, a 90º to 105º Portrait Angle Selector, a QS quick-release system and three bubble levels.

The Novoflex MagicBall ($539, www.hpmarketingcorp.com) features a unique design in which it can be positioned up to 120º in virtually any plane, then locked there with the same large grip-and-fix handle. The MagicBall has a distinctive shape because the ball is locked down and the camera platform moves around it. It weighs two pounds and can support up to 22 pounds.

Really Right Stuff‘s recently improved BH-40 LR ($375, www.reallyrightstuff.com) weighs 11.9 ounces and can support 18 pounds. The low-profile unit features a compact release-lever clamp (requires a Really Right Stuff quick-release plate) and separate knobs for locking/unlocking the ball, tension adjustment and panning. There’s a degree scale for precise pan control.

The Redged RT-3 ($110.70, www.redged.com) is the company’s strongest RT-series head, weighing 15.2 ounces and able to support 22 pounds. It features smooth operation, a 360º
ruler for panning and a lever-action quick release.

The 10.7-ounce Sirui G-10X ballhead ($94.95, www.siruicanada.com) can support up to 40 pounds. It features aluminum-alloy construction, an Arca-type quick-release, and separate knobs for main lock, pan lock and friction control. A safety butt
on prevents the quick-release plate from slipping out accidentally.

Featuring anodized aluminum construction and single-knob operation, the Slik SBH-550 Pro Ball Head ($189.95, www.kenkotokinausa.com) weighs 20.8 ounces and can support up to 22 pounds. It features a panning base with degree markings, and is available in black or gun metallic.

Smith-Victor‘s economy-priced BH2 ballhead ($44.95, www.smithvictor.com) weighs 14.4 ounces and can support 18 pounds. It features separate knobs for ball lock, pan lock and tension adjustment, and a quick-release system.

The Evolution 2 AirHed 1 (AH1) from 3 Legged Thing ($80, www.3leggedthing.com) weighs just 11.8 ounces, yet can support up to 77 pounds. The magnesium unit is available in sharp blue with copper-colored quick-release plate (also magnesium), as well as basic black. It features a dual control knob, separate pan lock and triple bubble levels.

Vanguard‘s BBH-300 ($169.95, www.vanguardworld.com) weighs 23.3 ounces and can support 66 pounds. It features a rapid-leveling system and two bubble levels, and comes with a quick-release plate.

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