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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.

Complementing the venerable Kirk BH-1 is the Kirk BH-3 ballhead from Kirk Enterprises. The BH-3 weighs 1.2 pounds, and it has a quick-release platform with a built-in spirit level; the platform is compatible with Arca-Swiss-type release plates. Kirk Enterprises is a comparatively small American company (compared to many of the large European manufacturers), with a loyal following of users who have come to appreciate the company's five-year warranty and the fact that the heads are made to order. Estimated Street Price: $255.

The latest high-tech design and materials are built into the Manfrotto 486MGRC4. Instead of using a simple helical device to tension the ball, the 486MGRC4 has a hydraulic system to lock things down. The trick construction allows the head to lock tightly with minimal turning of the lock-knob, yet the system still has the smoothness you'd expect from a quality Manfrotto ballhead. The 468MGRC4 weighs 1.6 pounds and supports up to 35.3 pounds. Estimated Street Price: $349.

At a glance, the Novoflex MagicBall is fundamentally different from all other ballheads. Instead of a collar that bolts to the tripod and an articulating ball, the MagicBall has a ball that bolts down while the camera platform rotates around it. This unique design provides access to more of the sphere for a broader range of adjustments. The sphere itself is scratch-resistant, and the camera locks via a large, machined control knob. The MagicBall weighs 2.2 pounds and supports up to 22 pounds. Estimated Street Price: $399.

Really Right Stuff manufactures the BH-55 ballhead. The unit is described as being "the culmination of two years of iterative development." Part of that development was building a head that's functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. The tension knobs are attractively built into the collar, and the ballhead locks via a thumb level instead of a rotating knob. The BH-55 weighs 1.85 pounds, with a capacity of 50 pounds. Estimated Street Price: $355-$575, depending on options.

The Slik SBH-320 Professional ballhead can support up to 15.4 pounds. The head is secured via a large thumb knob, and an indexed base helps keep you aligned properly. The ballhead weighs 11.9 ounces and comes in a quick release or non-quick-release version, too.


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