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06-22-2010, 09:00 AM   #1
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What Head for My Tripod?

I have a Giottos MT-8340 tripod, that has a weight limit of 6.6 lbs. I currently have a Slik SBH-120DQ ball head on it, and the head has a weight limit of 4.5 lbs.

The other day I was trying out some macro shots with my Kx and DFA100/2.8WR, and I was using the center column as a lateral arm tilted down. The head was tilted back, so the camera would be fairly parallel with the ground. I noticed that after I framed the shot and locked the head, the lens would droop. I tried to compensate for this by locking the head with the shot framed a bit higher than I wanted. It was really frustrating, as I could only estimate the final framing.

Anyway, I guess I need a better ball head. Clearly I need something with a higher weight limit, but I don't want to go overboard with a humongous head. I'm trying to keep the weight down, but I want to be able to hold my setup securely.

My Kx, DFA100/2.8WR, AF160FC ring flash, neck strap and Eneloops for both camera and flash weighs 3.6 lbs. If I were to swap the DFA100 out for a DA55-300, that adds 100g to the load, so I estimate a max weight of ~4.5 lbs. For me, this is a pretty hefty load, so I don't see myself going over that, and certainly not with my current light-weight tripod.

I'm looking at two heads: the Manfrotto 494rc2 and the Giottos MH1001-652, rated at 8 and 17.6 lbs. respectively.

My concern is that the Manfrotto might still not handle the weight of my setup, though the head itself is twice the weight of my current head and has a friction control. The Giottos is quite a bit heavier than the Manfrotto, but it's got a friction control and panning control as well. I don't want to overwhelm my tripod with a too-heavy head, but I also won't use said tripod if I can't easily set the head and have it securely hold my camera setup while shooting.

I'd like to maintain this as a light-weight setup. Later on I might add a heavier tripod and head, but for now I'd like to stay light.

Any thoughts on the heads I've mentioned, my setup in general, or recommendations on heads I haven't considered?

I can't buy locally, so I've been checking specs on the web and will have to order via the web as well.

TIA!


Last edited by twokatmew; 06-22-2010 at 02:45 PM. Reason: typo, correct weight limit on Giottos head
06-22-2010, 10:36 AM - 1 Like   #2
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QuoteOriginally posted by twokatmew Quote
...I'm looking at two heads: the Manfrotto 494rc2 and the Giottos MH1001-652, rated at 8 and 11 lbs. respectively.

...

I'd like to maintain this as a light-weight setup. Later on I might add a heavier tripod and head, but for now I'd like to stay light.

Any thoughts on the heads I've mentioned, my setup in general, or recommendations on heads I haven't considered?
Well, I recently spent a bunch of time investigating tripods and ball heads. I was on a budget, so I decided to mostly ignore the weight of the tripod and ball head and instead find the best price/performance for what I wanted. I have a K200D with battery grip, and for shooting macro I have the Pentax FA 100mm lens. I read that ball head ratings are the max they can support, not the ideal amount they can support well and still be used easily, so that when buying one, you should buy a head which is rated for considerably more weight that you will actually be using it with: "Some ballheads are very smooth at a light load, but if the load approaches their ‘rated’ weight load they become rough and jerky."

I decided partway through that it could be useful to get something that had Arca-Swiss compatible quick release plates, and that really limited my options, especially in the price-conscious category, but I did find the Smith Victor BH5, and it should be arriving shortly. It's considerably heavier than either of the heads you list, but it's rated for 26lbs, has lock and drag controls, and has Arca-Swiss compatible plates.

I'm not sure you're going to find a ball head that is both light and can handle the load you want to put on it and have it work well without spending a serious amount of money.
06-22-2010, 02:58 PM   #3
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Yes, I've spent quite a bit of time researching all this as well. I know manufacturers really stretch the truth when it comes to weight limits, but I'm not really sure if I need to buy a tripod and head rated for twice the maximum weight of my camera setup, or if, say, 150% is enough?

When I got my tripod, my heaviest lens was my DA35, so it was fine. Now that I've added the DFA100, it's definitely not. I'd previously ruled out Arca Swiss compatible heads, as they tend to be bigger and heavier, and I also don't expect to need anything except a plain old quick release plate. That said, I just checked out the Smith Victor heads, and I found the BH2, which is rated for 18lbs and only weighs 408g. The comparable Giottos head (MH1302-655) only weighs 372g but is considerably more expensive.

My situation is that I'm on a budget, and I'm physically unable to handle a lot of weight. Otherwise, I wouldn't be so concerned about keeping it light.

Thanks for the pointer to the Smith Victor heads.
06-22-2010, 06:05 PM - 1 Like   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by twokatmew Quote
but I'm not really sure if I need to buy a tripod and head rated for twice the maximum weight of my camera setup, or if, say, 150% is enough?
You probably should stop thinking in terms of weight and instead focus in on torque. Depending on the lens, a good chunk of the weight can be more than three inches away from the camera body. Once the camera is off axis, even that little two to three inch neck on the ball head introduces torque.

Thank you
Russell

06-22-2010, 09:23 PM - 1 Like   #5
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That BH2 looks sufficient, I should think, at least if that ringllite doesn't have too much weight up front, and it does look like it's an Arca-compatible plate, so if there turn out to be issues about torque, as Russel mentioned, you may be able to get a longer plate and shift thecenter of gravity of the rig back somewhat over the head, if you get drooping anyway.

But I think you'll be OK.
06-23-2010, 05:01 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by Ratmagiclady Quote
That BH2 looks sufficient, I should think, at least if that ringllite doesn't have too much weight up front, and it does look like it's an Arca-compatible plate, so if there turn out to be issues about torque, as Russel mentioned, you may be able to get a longer plate and shift thecenter of gravity of the rig back somewhat over the head, if you get drooping anyway.

But I think you'll be OK.
Thx! I don't see torque specs for any of the ball heads I've looked at, but I'll order this one and see how it goes.
06-23-2010, 07:09 PM - 1 Like   #7
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I was in a somewhat of a similar position as you. I wanted a light weight ballhead that would carry a substantial load. What I wound up with was an Acratech GP ballhead - the deciding factor was I wanted something that could be used as a gimble and a pano head. It weighs in at just 1 pound and will carry a 25 pound load. It was more that I really wanted to pay, but kept saving my lunch money. Anyway it may be an option for you....
Acratech, Inc::Ballheads & Tripod Accessories
06-24-2010, 06:25 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by interested_observer Quote
I was in a somewhat of a similar position as you. I wanted a light weight ballhead that would carry a substantial load. What I wound up with was an Acratech GP ballhead - the deciding factor was I wanted something that could be used as a gimble and a pano head. It weighs in at just 1 pound and will carry a 25 pound load. It was more that I really wanted to pay, but kept saving my lunch money. Anyway it may be an option for you....
Acratech, Inc::Ballheads & Tripod Accessories
Whew, pricey, but ... what a fantastic design! I watched the video, and it's amazing what camera positions obtainable with it and how easily this head moves. Wow.

Anyway, trying to stay light and inexpensive was OK until I got the DFA100 and started doing macros. I hadn't anticipated making such demands on my tripod and head, and unfortunately I'm spending more by buying these intermediate products and then having to ultimately upgrade to better stuff. So I decided on a compromise.... Last night I ordered the Giottos MH1302655 head and will give that a whirl. The reviews were better than on the seemingly comparable Smith Victor BH2, and it's got levels on the clamp.

If the Giottos doesn't work for me though, I think I'll start saving my pennies for the Acratech. They now have the GP-s ball head which is more compact than the GP and 50g lighter, yet it has the same weight rating, functionality and price.

Ratmagiclady, you mentioned getting a longer plate if I have trouble with torque issues. Might a nodal rail like this work?

Thanks all, and I'll post back once I get the Giottos head and try it out.

06-24-2010, 08:39 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by twokatmew Quote
Whew, pricey, but ... what a fantastic design! I watched the video, and it's amazing what camera positions obtainable with it and how easily this head moves. Wow.


If the Giottos doesn't work for me though, I think I'll start saving my pennies for the Acratech.

Ratmagiclady, you mentioned getting a longer plate if I have trouble with torque issues. Might a nodal rail like this work?

Thanks all, and I'll post back once I get the Giottos head and try it out.

Oh, you went for the Giottos. Stylin.'


And, yeah, that sort of rail could possibly help with center-of gravity issues, I should think, as well as actually make a useful aid for macro work in other ways. Someone else is probably a lot better qualified to say what's worth carrying in the field: in general it seems people here don't get too fancy that way.

I'd been thinking simpler: just a longer QR plate that you could orient under the camera-lens-ring-flash combo so that you can place the center of gravity over the ball, or closer to it, (Wouldn't take much, maybe a plate that's an inch or two longer, I'd think,) then it might be steadier and less prone to drooping.

I like the Acratech heads, too. Given the money, I think I'd be inclined to go with the Ultimate: they're cheaper than the GPs by a significant fraction, (Still a few hunddred dollars. ) and kind of have the sort of simple-and-elegant-and-clever sort of design I like. I was thinking of one of those for you, too, if you'd seemed to be in that sort of market, because it seems that the sort of built-in 45 degree angle to the ball's seat would be pretty useful for the sort of tilty-column work you're talking about.

The simplicity looks nice for if fatigue is a factor, as well. For me, the aches and pains tend to deter setting up camera support more than I'd like, as it is, and it looks very un-fussy to operate while distracted or anything. I'm not always 100 percent with my concentration and all.

The GP sure looks like it does a lot of neat tricks, though.
06-24-2010, 11:47 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Ratmagiclady Quote
Oh, you went for the Giottos. Stylin.'

And, yeah, that sort of rail could possibly help with center-of gravity issues, I should think, as well as actually make a useful aid for macro work in other ways. Someone else is probably a lot better qualified to say what's worth carrying in the field: in general it seems people here don't get too fancy that way.

I'd been thinking simpler: just a longer QR plate that you could orient under the camera-lens-ring-flash combo so that you can place the center of gravity over the ball, or closer to it, (Wouldn't take much, maybe a plate that's an inch or two longer, I'd think,) then it might be steadier and less prone to drooping.

I like the Acratech heads, too. Given the money, I think I'd be inclined to go with the Ultimate: they're cheaper than the GPs by a significant fraction, (Still a few hunddred dollars. ) and kind of have the sort of simple-and-elegant-and-clever sort of design I like. I was thinking of one of those for you, too, if you'd seemed to be in that sort of market, because it seems that the sort of built-in 45 degree angle to the ball's seat would be pretty useful for the sort of tilty-column work you're talking about.
I was checking out Kirk's site, and I think I like their long rail plate better. Price is better, too. They also have a longer universal camera plate (2.75"). I'd have to mount it sideways to support the lens, but it looks like it might work.

I was looking at Acratech's Ultimate ball head, and although I do indeed like the design, it doesn't have a friction control. That's one feature I've really wanted, and the Giottos has it, so I guess I'll find out how valuable it is soon enough.

QuoteOriginally posted by Ratmagiclady:
The simplicity looks nice for if fatigue is a factor, as well. For me, the aches and pains tend to deter setting up camera support more than I'd like, as it is, and it looks very un-fussy to operate while distracted or anything. I'm not always 100 percent with my concentration and all.

The GP sure looks like it does a lot of neat tricks, though.
Yes indeed! Fatique, aches & pains and not-so-great concentration are definitely issues. On the worst days I tend to stay away from my photo equipment though. If I'm going to drop something, I'd prefer it not to be my camera and fancy lens!

I agree the GP-s sure looks like a fantastic head. I can't imagine I'd ever make use of all its features. But then again, I didn't expect to be doing macros with a DFA100WR!

Last edited by twokatmew; 06-24-2010 at 11:50 AM. Reason: typo
06-24-2010, 02:27 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by twokatmew Quote
I was checking out Kirk's site, and I think I like their long rail plate better. Price is better, too. They also have a longer universal camera plate (2.75"). I'd have to mount it sideways to support the lens, but it looks like it might work.

I was looking at Acratech's Ultimate ball head, and although I do indeed like the design, it doesn't have a friction control. That's one feature I've really wanted, and the Giottos has it, so I guess I'll find out how valuable it is soon enough.
I believe you can kind of adjust that with the littler knob, though I misremember at the moment. I tend to use relatively-heavy bodies compared to my lenses, so for me, precise friction control isn't a huge deal for me, but that's probably worth checking into if it comes to a big investment. I'm not really there yet, myself. Actually, what I have is pretty nice for me: I just don't necessarily expect great longevity under a lot of field use, given that I seem to have an awesome example of a not-well-regarded label. (Go, Skor! )

Works great now, but usually all I ask of tripods is, "Please stand in front of me and hold my camera very steady. Do not annoy the RML by being hitchey or fussy. Thank you." Not a lot of contortions involved, and I usually am not carrying my heavy stuff, so I expect I will be able to keep this one nice for a long time if I baby it a little. If I get back to the North I'll probably get something more durable and put it on something more portable, either by being travel-style Feisol legs or old-fashioned wood like surveyors still use.





QuoteQuote:
Yes indeed! Fatique, aches & pains and not-so-great concentration are definitely issues. On the worst days I tend to stay away from my photo equipment though. If I'm going to drop something, I'd prefer it not to be my camera and fancy lens!
The answer to this is habits. Wear and carry and hold things consistently so that conscious distraction or forgetfulness won't be your undoing. I'm not above using automation and a vague sort of style on bad days with digital, though: I'll get on the shutter and bracket if I can't concentrate. Not very satisfying in some ways, but better than making no photos at all. If I'm worried I'll drop something, I put the strap right around my neck.




QuoteQuote:
I agree the GP-s sure looks like a fantastic head. I can't imagine I'd ever make use of all its features. But then again, I didn't expect to be doing macros with a DFA100WR!
Admittedly, I'd have to be thinking a) Do I really need that and b) Will I ever be switching that around in that manner.

I can foresee some contingencies where some features could be worthwhile: one place where we may go is kind of a small pond, and being able to take a minute and reconfigure a head for sports or panoramas or a leveling base might come in handy from time to time.


I do like the gimballey function.
06-27-2010, 02:21 PM   #12
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I ran across this - its a new design from Arca Swiss, and it covers the functionality of the Acratech GP (panoramic and gimbal head) - and its cheaper!!!

However after loading up all the options... (the price goes up quite a bit).
06-27-2010, 05:12 PM   #13
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Consider the following:

Markins Q3 - I use this, cheap and good
Photoclam - cheaper and just as good
Really Right Stuff - very nice but could be priced better, sits low
Kirk - OK performance, but sits tall
Arca Swiss - was once popular but now matched by cheaper alternatives, not cheap
Acratech - unique design and pricy and no friction control, no better than the rest

A ball head with friction control allows you to lock the ball with camera and lens mounted but still allows you to move it for precise fine positioning.
Btw I use a Gitzo CF tripod with my Markins Q3 and total weight for both is a shade under 1.4kg. Rock steady no droop reliability. I use it for everything instead of having a few tripods in the past.

Last edited by creampuff; 06-27-2010 at 05:22 PM.
06-27-2010, 09:52 PM - 1 Like   #14
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I would suggest the Manfrotto 410 for macro work, ballheads even those from top tier production companies will be found wanting when compared to the precision of a geared tripod head.

my review of the Much bigger and expensive Manfrotto 405 is here

06-27-2010, 10:37 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by Digitalis Quote
I would suggest the Manfrotto 410 for macro work, ballheads even those from top tier production companies will be found wanting when compared to the precision of a geared tripod head.
I beg to differ.
I was a longtime Manfrotto user and with the exception of the fluid video heads, all the ballheads when locked had lens droop. The 3-way heads do allow you to lock tight but when having to unlock any of the 3 knobs for each axis, it can get to be fiddly whereas a good ballhead with friction control allows you to move the locked camera and lens effortlessly quickly. I have no doubt of the stability of 3 way heads but it is just so much easier to track and shoot moving subjects from birds to caterpillars using a good ballhead with the friction control knob dialled in..
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