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11-02-2014, 01:57 PM   #1
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Leveling Ballheads

Over the years I have posted on using an Arcatech GP ballhead that provides the ability to pan level - which helps on single row panoramas. I have had the unit for 5 - 7 years, actually I forget. I use it all the time. Its just drop dead simple, works first time, all the time, absolutely not ever a problem.

Last evening I stumbled across a new ballhead design - actually two different products, that use a ballhead in ballhead design.
  • The product
  • Arca-Swiss Monoball Z2 - This I have not been able to find much operational information on, other than it goes for 800+ euros. At least one website had this as a discontinued product.
The main feature here is that you are able to pan level with the design, with the additional benefit of panning vertically (without having to flip the ballhead into the gimbal slot). The nice aspect here is that with the Uniqball, is its price of $320-$350, which is less than the $399 that the Arcatech GP goes for (and I see that the price might be rising to $420).

I have not personally tried out the Uniqball, but have looked at videos. I have been very satisfied with my GP, so not looking to change (if its not broke - why go to the trouble of fixing it, or changing). But for folks wanting to spend a bit less for appears to be a well engineered German product, this does look very promising - an excellent candidate. The ball in ball design is a very unique approach.



11-02-2014, 02:05 PM   #2
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Saw the Uniqball online last week. I have a original Acratech ballhead that has done yeoman service for nealy 10 years. I've considered getting a leveling base, but trying to forward/back tilt defeats the purpose with a regular ballhead. This makes the Uniqball very attractive to me. And besides, it's a new piece of gear I don't already own.
11-02-2014, 02:18 PM - 1 Like   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by interested_observer Quote
Leveling Ballheads
My mind just boggled when I read this thread title.
11-02-2014, 02:18 PM   #4
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I've done a review for "that other big site" that compares the Acratech GP to the Uniqball (among others). I'll let you know when it's published... which should be any day now.

The Z2 pretty much died when the P1 and P0 appeared, which is a good thing. It was crap.

BTW, the Uniqball is Hungarian, not German.

11-02-2014, 02:33 PM   #5
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This looks like a very cool product.

I also use an Acratech GP and have an Acratech leveling base that it is usually attached to. Although I can do the upside-down thing without the leveling base, I am very often using it in gimbal mode with heavy lenses so I find that helpful. I bought the Acratech so I wouldn't have to think about getting another head forever (except maybe a dedicated gimbal) since it is so capable and is also pretty light. This looks like a very good option though. Glad I'm not in the market -- these kind of choices make me nuts...

Last edited by vonBaloney; 11-02-2014 at 02:39 PM.
11-02-2014, 02:33 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by panoguy Quote
I've done a review for "that other big site" that compares the Acratech GP to the Uniqball (among others). I'll let you know when it's published... which should be any day now.

The Z2 pretty much died when the P1 and P0 appeared, which is a good thing. It was crap.
Yes, I look forward to reading your review. As I wrote, I do like the GP a lot. Having said that, I have acquired a used, fully depreciated Manfrotto 410, from a professional photographer up in the bay area, who was upgrading to the AS Cube. I got it for a song off of Craigslist. I went to the 410 for the 10% of the time where you want some really fine control in each of the isolated axis (yaw, pitch and roll). Its impossible with any ballhead, but for the other 90% of the time - its the GP.

As for the Z2, I saw the ball in ball, but I could not figure out how it worked in their design. In the case of the Uniqball, it was readily apparent.

Here is a pretty good video that looks at the Uniquball - until Pano's review comes out.


11-02-2014, 03:02 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by interested_observer Quote
I went to the 410 for the 10% of the time where you want some really fine control in each of the isolated axis (yaw, pitch and roll). Its impossible with any ballhead, but for the other 90% of the time - its the GP.
Have you seen this combination of a ball head and geared head? The gears essentially move the entire ball and locking mechanism, so you just position the ball where you want and lock it, then turn the gear knobs for extremely fine and controlled movement.

BTW, have you ever done this with your GP? Unscrew the little friction knob all the way, then only tighten the larger lock knob. When I do this, the ball will only move in one axis, like a strange pan/ tilt head. Off at a 30 angle, but still a pretty weird trick... just wondering if every GP can do this.

11-02-2014, 03:22 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by panoguy Quote
Have you seen this combination of a ball head and geared head? The gears essentially move the entire ball and locking mechanism, so you just position the ball where you want and lock it, then turn the gear knobs for extremely fine and controlled movement.

BTW, have you ever done this with your GP? Unscrew the little friction knob all the way, then only tighten the larger lock knob. When I do this, the ball will only move in one axis, like a strange pan/ tilt head. Off at a 30 angle, but still a pretty weird trick... just wondering if every GP can do this.
No, I have not seen that ball/geared head. But, it has the turntable at the base, and therefore it will not level pan. Perhaps, I a one trick pony, but I do like to have the option of setting down the tripod, leveling the head, attaching the camera, taking the intended shot, and then taking a pano to sort of putting things in context.

On taking off the GP's friction knob off, - No, but, now you have me thinking.....

11-02-2014, 04:35 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by interested_observer Quote
Over the years I have posted on using an Arcatech GP ballhead that provides the ability to pan level - which helps on single row panoramas. I have had the unit for 5 - 7 years, actually I forget. I use it all the time. Its just drop dead simple, works first time, all the time, absolutely not ever a problem.

Last evening I stumbled across a new ballhead design - actually two different products, that use a ballhead in ballhead design.
  • The product
  • Arca-Swiss Monoball Z2 - This I have not been able to find much operational information on, other than it goes for 800+ euros. At least one website had this as a discontinued product.
The main feature here is that you are able to pan level with the design, with the additional benefit of panning vertically (without having to flip the ballhead into the gimbal slot). The nice aspect here is that with the Uniqball, is its price of $320-$350, which is less than the $399 that the Arcatech GP goes for (and I see that the price might be rising to $420).

I have not personally tried out the Uniqball, but have looked at videos. I have been very satisfied with my GP, so not looking to change (if its not broke - why go to the trouble of fixing it, or changing). But for folks wanting to spend a bit less for appears to be a well engineered German product, this does look very promising - an excellent candidate. The ball in ball design is a very unique approach.

Nice! But then I saw the price!
11-02-2014, 07:18 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Kerrowdown Quote
My mind just boggled when I read this thread title.
I saw the title and immediately thought about punching annoying people in the face.
11-02-2014, 09:26 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by Kerrowdown Quote
My mind just boggled when I read this thread title.
QuoteOriginally posted by luftfluss Quote
I saw the title and immediately thought about punching annoying people in the face.
When I decided to make a post on this, I did give some thought to the title - OK, 30 seconds of thought. I wound up essentially just copying the title (phrasing) from their website - actually, I toned it down quite a bit. So, what would be a better title? What would be more descriptive? I do admit that "leveling" and "ballhead" tend to be somewhat of an oxymoron. But in 3 or 4 well chosen words using "ballhead", what would you choose? Just wondering - I'm an engineer, not a marketing guy.

This is probably just as good a place as any to ask - truth in functional descriptions. Every ballhead manufacturer marketing their ballhead products has a turntable stuck on the bottom of their units. All the vendors, in their descriptions, indicate that their products are able to pan. Well - what they don't say is "able to pan level", unless the tripod is level (just a minor point). Then what is the purpose of the ballhead? Very few people figure out what might be going on and what they can do to remedy the situation. Solid Geometry is not a lot of folks' strong point. The bottom line is, that in marketing their products, they hand waved a the solution to a problem, but their respective products actually accentuate (or masks) the problem rather than actually solving it.
I can read the email now - you are using the ball head incorrectly, the tripod needs to be accurately leveled prior to using the ballhead for panning
I will say that these folks did come up with a workable, elegant design that does appear pretty useful in actual operation. Where as Arca Swiss came up with a pretty clunky implementation of the same general concept, then brought a crappy product to market, for a price that chokes a horse. Every vendor has their dogs.

I am not defending or kicking any particular vendor. You get what ever ballhead appeals to you in what ever way (functionality, looks, reputation, recommendations, price, etc.). Then start using it and making adjustments as you go along.

... and no, I don't own stock in the company.

11-02-2014, 10:18 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by interested_observer Quote
When I decided to make a post on this, I did give some thought to the title - OK, 30 seconds of thought. I wound up essentially just copying the title (phrasing) from their website - actually, I toned it down quite a bit. So, what would be a better title? What would be more descriptive? I do admit that "leveling" and "ballhead" tend to be somewhat of an oxymoron. But in 3 or 4 well chosen words using "ballhead", what would you choose? Just wondering - I'm an engineer, not a marketing guy.
I'm the wrong person to ask, as I'm a bit of an idiot... can't you tell by my post?
11-02-2014, 10:50 PM   #13
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I think some marketing speak is involved with several of these ballheads, particularly when they talk about them acting as a gimbal. I suppose that if you rely on the strict definition of a gimbal, then their description is passable, but a gimbal head for a camera with lens mounted is a different matter, because its purpose, when set up accurately, is to place the centre of rotation about the horizontal and vertical axes at the centre of mass of the camera and lens, thus allowing for balance as you pan and tilt. No ballhead arrangement is going to allow you to do that, because the centre of rotation is always going to be below the centre of mass (unless you mount it upside-down, of course). My cheap Chinese gimbal mount beats the most sophisticated ballhead arrangement available, in that regard. Indeed, it's the reason my Giottos ballhead sits in the cabinet at home, in spite of the weight of the gimbal mount. I've seen an astronomical telescope (I forget whose) that actually mounts the telescope tube within an oversized ball, so that the mount is effectively a gimbal, but that's a fixed arrangement. These ballheads are clever stuff, nonetheless, and probably easier to carry if you're packing for as light and flexible a camera load as possible.
11-02-2014, 11:14 PM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by RobA_Oz Quote
I think some marketing speak is involved with several of these ballheads, particularly when they talk about them acting as a gimbal. I suppose that if you rely on the strict definition of a gimbal, then their description is passable, but a gimbal head for a camera with lens mounted is a different matter, because its purpose, when set up accurately, is to place the centre of rotation about the horizontal and vertical axes at the centre of mass of the camera and lens, thus allowing for balance as you pan and tilt. No ballhead arrangement is going to allow you to do that, because the centre of rotation is always going to be below the centre of mass (unless you mount it upside-down, of course). My cheap Chinese gimbal mount beats the most sophisticated ballhead arrangement available, in that regard. Indeed, it's the reason my Giottos ballhead sits in the cabinet at home, in spite of the weight of the gimbal mount. I've seen an astronomical telescope (I forget whose) that actually mounts the telescope tube within an oversized ball, so that the mount is effectively a gimbal, but that's a fixed arrangement. These ballheads are clever stuff, nonetheless, and probably easier to carry if you're packing for as light and flexible a camera load as possible.
The "gimbal mode" on a ballhead puts the neck into a drop slot so the head/clamp is horizonal and you mount your lens with the footplate facing sideways (and balanced). It will now be "weightless" in this position, but the mass is off-center from the base of the head, so your vertical tilting is centered but your horizonal panning is not quite. Arcatech's implementation of this is quite nice. Not a real gimbal, but it works pretty well. I use camera/lens combos over 10lbs with the Acratech in gimbal mode with no problems.
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