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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Gadget Bag: Ballheads Deconstructed

See how this staple of nature photography works, plus how to choose the right one for you

Labels: Gadget BagGear
This Article Features Photo Zoom

Manfrotto 054 Magnesium
Most outdoor photographers use ballheads because they're ideal for landscape photography. A ballhead lets you move the camera to just about any position with a twist of a single knob, then lock it solidly in place with another twist of the same knob.

There are two basic types of ballheads. In the traditional type, the housing attaches to the tripod and the ball moves. In the other type, exemplified by the Novoflex MagicBall, the ball attaches to the tripod and the housing moves. The advantage of the latter is that you can position the camera anywhere within a 120° range in any direction without hunting for a notch as is generally the case with conventional ballheads.

Induro BHS2
When looking at ballheads, consider smoothness and security. The camera shouldn't move as you tighten the lock, nor should it move thereafter. A friction lock lets you adjust the degree of friction to suit your needs. Also consider the weight of your camera and lens. Make sure you get a tripod and a ballhead capable of handling your gear; both come in a variety of sizes and strengths. A larger-diameter ball generally will support heavier gear than a smaller-diameter ball and makes it easier to position your camera precisely. We suggest a ballhead that can hold twice the weight of the heaviest camera/lens combination you intend to use with it.

Novoflex Magicball
Heavy lenses, such as super-telephotos and fast zooms, generally come with tripod mounts to save stress on the camera's lens mount: When the lens is a lot heavier than the camera body, you should attach the lens to the tripod head rather than use the camera's tripod socket.

If you frequently switch from tripod-mounted to handheld shooting, you'll want a ballhead with 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.

Really Right Stuff BH-55 Drawing
We've selected and present here a sampling of ballheads that can handle at least 18 pounds. We chose 18 pounds because, for most nature photography, a nine-pound rig will be the heaviest you're likely to use. That would be a pro DSLR with a large, heavy supertelephoto.

The Acratech Ultimate Ballhead ($289.95, www.acratech.net) weighs less than one pound, yet can support more than 25 pounds at any angle. It's available with right-side or left-side controls.

Weighing just 9.9 ounces, the Arca-Swiss Monoball P0 ($299, www.precisioncameraworks.com) can support 44.1 pounds. It features a unique knobless geared locking system, panning capability and a Slidefix QS quick-release mount.


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