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Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Gadget Bag: Have A Ballhead!


Prized for solid construction and ease of use, ballheads are the choice of professional landscape photographers the world over.


When it comes to choosing a ballhead, there's a range of sizes and prices to consider. The size head you choose is determined by the weight of your camera setup. You'll want to choose a head that can easily support your largest and heaviest potential setup. If you regularly shoot with a 400mm ƒ/2.8 (about 12 pounds) on a professional-level D-SLR, you'll probably want to look for a ballhead that can easily handle something on the order of 20 pounds. If you have a more compact digital SLR and you never use anything heavier than a four-pound lens, you can save a significant amount of money by going with a less heavy-duty ballhead.

We all fall into the trap of not wanting to carry heavy gear into the field. Seriously, how many times have you left the tripod in the trunk because you decided that it's just too heavy? If you buy a ballhead that can support a 30-pound setup, you'll be adding a significant amount of weight to that tripod and we're fairly confident it won't make you more inclined to haul it around on a hot summer afternoon. Sure, the mondo ballhead looks good and you might get some appreciative stares as you pull it out at the parking lot, but if you don't need that level of support, it's overkill and you'll just be carrying extra weight or, more likely, leaving that extra weight in the car. There's a saying that the most expensive piece of gear you carry is the one that's never used. Don't let your tripod become your most expensive piece of gear because the ballhead is too heavy.

Using a tripod is a guaranteed way to improve your photography. The head is the tool that makes it possible for you to get the most benefit from the tripod. Ballheads are easy to use and, with a little practice, you'll find you can make a full range of adjustments to your camera position in a matter of a second or two. It's no wonder so many of OP's top contributors never head into the field without one.

Ballhead Sampling

Arca-Swiss has been making professional ballheads seemingly since the dawn of time. The B1 uses a unique shape in the ball itself—an ellipse rather than a perfectly round sphere—which works a bit like a self-lock. When you tilt your camera, there's more pressure on the ball, but with the ellipse shape, you don't need to add tension in order to maintain stability. A large thumb dial is easy to operate, and both the thumb dial and the base are indexed for precision-oriented shooting. The heavy-duty head weighs 1.4 pounds and is capable of supporting up to 90 pounds. Estimated Street Price: $399.

Italian tripod and accessory manufacturer Giottos produces a range of ballheads. The MH2000 can support up to 26 pounds. The head is unique in that it incorporates a pair of balls each with its own lock. Essentially, the MH2000 works like a three-way head, but with the speed of a ballhead. A pair of large thumb knobs control tension on each ball. The unit weighs 1.44 pounds. Estimated Street Price: $165.

The Gitzo G1276M has an atypical look, in that the camera mounts in an offset orientation to the head. This design keeps the ballhead low-profile and makes it possible to get the camera into particularly low places. The G1276M features magnesium construction and weighs 1.25 pounds. Adjustments are made via large, easy-to-manipulate knobs, and the head can support up to 11 pounds. Estimated Street Price: $215.


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