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06-03-2016, 08:33 AM   #1
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Silly tripod question

Do all tripod heads have a common thread for fitting to the base (tripod proper), or are there proprietary traps I should watch out for?

I ask because I am thinking of buying an ultra-cheap ball head to play around with on an ultra-dodgy secondhand tripod I have, to see what ball heads are like before I decide to spend MUCH bigger bucks getting something really, really good (which will eventually have to hold the weight of a K-1 plus whatever lens and flash I choose to graft to it).

06-03-2016, 08:51 AM   #2
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Sort of.

There are two common sizes 1/4" and 3/8" I think. And usually there is a sleeve adapter provided to convert 1/4" to 3/8". Cheaper heads / tripods might have 1/4" or 3/8". Better ones will have 3/8". And of course the really cheap ones have integrated heads that do not come off the tripod.

QuoteOriginally posted by pathdoc Quote
I am thinking of buying an ultra-cheap ball head to play around with on an ultra-dodgy secondhand tripod I have
Not sure if you will learn as much from this as you think. In my experience a cheap ball head is simply a pain to use and sours you on ball heads completely. A good one is a joy to use and actually helps you take pictures. It is NOT a case of cheap being just not as good, cheap ones simply do not work and actively try to make your life miserable.

That said, there are now a lot of rather inexpensive ball heads that are not cheaply made. Which was not the case years ago when I had my poor experience, so YMMV.
06-03-2016, 08:57 AM   #3
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Pretty much all use one of two sizes and the smaller size can be converted using an adapter.

These may be of interest



I have to say that you are not going to learn much of use by going ultra cheap with either ball head or tripod. In fact you may do yourself a disservice and arrive at an incorrect conclusion particularly with the ball head. Can you hire or do you have a friendly dealer that can let you try and buy?
06-03-2016, 09:37 AM   #4
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There are two standards 1/4"-20 and 3/8"-16. The Acratech video that TonyW posted has an excellent explanation. Every tripod I have run into has the 3/8"-16. I do have a monopod that has a 1/4"-20 stud. To use it, I have a couple of these 1/4"-20 to 3/8"-16 bushings (you can get them in packs of 2, 5 or ...., get several as they are easily lost).The reason for the difference is...
  • 1/4"-20 - is designed to screw into the base of the camera.
  • 3/8"-16 - is designed to screw into the base of heads (Ball, 3 way, geared or .....) that have a clamp, that attaches to the plate that screws directly in to the camera base
QuoteQuote:
A good one is a joy to use and actually helps you take pictures. It is NOT a case of cheap being just not as good, cheap ones simply do not work and actively try to make your life miserable.
I can only second jatrax's observation. I could write a loooooong post on this topic.



06-03-2016, 10:09 AM   #5
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I will third or fourth the observation that a cheap ball head will not let you appreciate what a decent ball head does. Excellent quality ball heads can be had for little over $100 (IMHO, the best almost at any price are currently made by Sirui). I think that 3/8 16 threads go back into the 1930's when Leica used the larger thread on their early cameras, and continued to do so into the 50''s and 60's I believe. 1/4 20 threads were used way back into the 19th century. I have a circa 1900 11x14 wooden view camera that has a (puny looking) 1/4 20 mounting socket.

Last edited by WPRESTO; 06-03-2016 at 10:17 AM.
06-03-2016, 10:59 AM   #6
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I have the ultra-cheap tripod already ($5 at a garage sale, but it does the job at a pinch when only a light prime is mounted and I am not afraid to expose it to the worst the elements can offer). Ball head advice noted;

QuoteOriginally posted by jatrax Quote
a lot of rather inexpensive ball heads that are not cheaply made.
This would be what I'm favouring. Any particular suggestions?

I've actually seen the Acratech vid already, but thank you for reposting. Thanks to all for your input thus far.

I do have a nice pan-tilt Velbon Sherpa 600R with a QR plate, but I felt a change could not be a bad thing, especially if I could mount it on the Velbon in place of the current head.

QuoteOriginally posted by TonyW Quote
Can you hire or do you have a friendly dealer that can let you try and buy?
Nearest dedicated camera/photographic equipment store I know of is 400km away. What I have here are consumer electronics chain stores and Walmart.
06-03-2016, 11:16 AM - 1 Like   #7
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I personally have tried many ball heads - some very expensive. I grew up with pan tilt and I'm having a difficult time getting to the point where I think Ball heads make sense for me. But I continue to try them every time I take my tripod out for a spin. So far besides my annoyance with them, they work fine for purpose.

I bought my dad a mint Tilt-all on ebay and he loves it. Pan and tilt head, reasonably sturdy (my Bogen and my NEST are sturdier). It is the "cheapest" tripod I would recommend if you aren't terribly concerned with weight. The Bogen 3021 is another good option in my humble opinion. Heads are trouble. I have $400 heads and $100 heads and I still don't love any of them. The original freaky bogen head (pan and tilt without wand controls) is the only head I actively hate. I have joystick, ball, and still pine for a good pan and tilt sometimes.

06-03-2016, 11:48 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by pathdoc Quote
This would be what I'm favouring. Any particular suggestions?
Well I use Manfrotto carbon fiber 055 sticks and the Acratech head so I'm not the best source for info on inexpensive ball heads However, I have heard good things about Sirui, and Benro. My wife uses a Benro B3 which is really overkill for her but we got it used for a song.

And this is really old, but advice I used after I bought my first two tripods. Tripods and Ball Heads by Thom Hogan
06-03-2016, 01:12 PM - 1 Like   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by jatrax Quote
And this is really old, but advice I used after I bought my first two tripods. Tripods and Ball Heads by Thom Hogan
Hogan recommends Gitzo tripods essentially to the exclusion of all other options. I have a Gitzo, a 1228 carbon fiber, and it has been a disappointment from the start (it's quite old now). The collar locks on the legs are a royal pain - slow and unreliable. The smallest leg section would start collapsing even when the pod was new, except unless I twisted the locking collar with wrist-straining force. After 20 years or so all the leg sections would unexpectedly start to collapse when a moderately heavy camera + lens was attached. SO... after a great deal of scrounging to find a supplier, I purchased replacement friction locking pads (these came from Britain - there seemed to be no source in the USA despite Gitzo's claim of "lifetime guarantee"). I dismantled all the leg sections, carefully cleaned everything, installed the new friction pads (made of plastic rather than the original fiber), reassembled, and guess what? The smallest leg section still slides in unless the locking collar is twisted with a vengeance that makes it almost impossible to unlock without using pliers. LOUSY tripod IMHO. The flip locks on my MUCH OLDER Bogen 3021 are still 100% reliable. Even more embarrassing for Gitzo (or it should be), the enormously simple, convenient lever-locks on my humble Slik 444 Sport, also much older than the Gitzo, continue to be 100% slip proof, fast, convenient, even with loads that I would never trust on the Gitzo (eg: 400mm f4 Tamron + 2XL extender + Pentax LX with winder and sport finder, OR Nikon FA with motor drive, 500mm f4 P + 2X 301 TC - not the slightest sign of leg collapse with the little Slik or the Bogen 3021). Considering their price, I would rate Gitzo pods a transparent rip-off - more hype than substance.
06-03-2016, 01:46 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by WPRESTO Quote
Hogan recommends Gitzo tripods essentially to the exclusion of all other options. I have a Gitzo, a 1228 carbon fiber, and it has been a disappointment from the start (it's quite old now). The collar locks on the legs are a royal pain - slow and unreliable. The smallest leg section would start collapsing even when the pod was new, except unless I twisted the locking collar with wrist-straining force. After 20 years or so all the leg sections would unexpectedly start to collapse when a moderately heavy camera + lens was attached. SO... after a great deal of scrounging to find a supplier, I purchased replacement friction locking pads (these came from Britain - there seemed to be no source in the USA despite Gitzo's claim of "lifetime guarantee"). I dismantled all the leg sections, carefully cleaned everything, installed the new friction pads (made of plastic rather than the original fiber), reassembled, and guess what? The smallest leg section still slides in unless the locking collar is twisted with a vengeance that makes it almost impossible to unlock without using pliers. LOUSY tripod IMHO. The flip locks on my MUCH OLDER Bogen 3021 are still 100% reliable. Even more embarrassing for Gitzo (or it should be), the enormously simple, convenient lever-locks on my humble Slik 444 Sport, also much older than the Gitzo, continue to be 100% slip proof, fast, convenient, even with loads that I would never trust on the Gitzo (eg: 400mm f4 Tamron + 2XL extender + Pentax LX with winder and sport finder, OR Nikon FA with motor drive, 500mm f4 P + 2X 301 TC - not the slightest sign of leg collapse with the little Slik or the Bogen 3021). Considering their price, I would rate Gitzo pods a transparent rip-off - more hype than substance.
My Bogen is awesome. But the new NEST I picked up in the marketplace is quite nice. I found it easy to lock and unlock and I really enjoy toting it since it is so light. However the Sunwayfoto head which is nice is still a ball head and I am still struggling with this type of head having only used ball heads for about 3 years. Joystick heads, pan and tilt heads and so forth are more my old staple. Oh technically I used a ball head as long as 40 years ago but it was undampened and only used for simplicity and compactness not for functionality.
06-03-2016, 03:14 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by UncleVanya Quote
My Bogen is awesome. But the new NEST I picked up in the marketplace is quite nice. I found it easy to lock and unlock and I really enjoy toting it since it is so light. However the Sunwayfoto head which is nice is still a ball head and I am still struggling with this type of head having only used ball heads for about 3 years. Joystick heads, pan and tilt heads and so forth are more my old staple. Oh technically I used a ball head as long as 40 years ago but it was undampened and only used for simplicity and compactness not for functionality.
FYI: Generally I prefer pan & tilt, provided they also have a good right-left (horizon) tilt. Have many tripod heads of all sizes, debris from a search for the "perfect" head. My favorites are a rather small Slik pan/tilt that has adjustable tension on both those axes. and two Sirui ball heads, one of modest the size, the other a 77bl-rated beast. I have an old Gitzo "rationale" P&T that is a very good head, stronger than the Slik, but with no tension control it moves a bit too freely. I have a very strong Canon P&T that uses a single knob to lock both major movements, first tilt then pan. It's even stronger than the Gitzo, although only modestly larger, but it is very hard to hold the pan steady as you tighten to get the tilt locked.
06-03-2016, 05:02 PM   #12
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Cheap Ball Heads

QuoteOriginally posted by pathdoc Quote
Do all tripod heads have a common thread for fitting to the base (tripod proper), or are there proprietary traps I should watch out for?

I ask because I am thinking of buying an ultra-cheap ball head to play around with on an ultra-dodgy secondhand tripod I have, to see what ball heads are like before I decide to spend MUCH bigger bucks getting something really, really good (which will eventually have to hold the weight of a K-1 plus whatever lens and flash I choose to graft to it).
Unfortunately in this world you GENERALLY get what you pay for. Now yes, there are expensive ball heads that people do not like, and you may find a cheap one that works, but ball heads are tricky things as the clamping mechanism is the key to making them work well. The best thing to do is go someplace and try some out. Make certain you use something close to your equipment when you do and make certain you tilt and clamp in many positions to see how the head holds. You do not want to have your shot all set up just to have the camera sloowwlly dip tward the ground as you are getting ready to take the shot!

To put it bluntly, I think a cheap ball head will only frustrate you and put you into the mind set that ball heads don't work. The same happens with a cheap tripod. It doesn't hold the camera well so you just forget about it and think that using a tripod is all hype.
06-03-2016, 06:25 PM   #13
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Markins Q20i

I really like my Markins . Nearly as much as it cost me.
06-03-2016, 06:44 PM   #14
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That Markins Q20i looks interesting.
06-03-2016, 06:54 PM   #15
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I have the Sherpa 600 you mention and when I unscrew the whole head assembly I can swap in a ball head - but seldom do as I like the pan and tilt on the Sherpa - adequate for the job.
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