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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, 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, 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, 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.

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