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06-28-2009, 12:47 PM   #1
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Ball heads - what to look for

I'm contemplating moving over to a ball head that will fit my Manfrotto Pro Art 144, but the bewildering amount of choice is giving me a headache.

For a start, what is the desirable functions of a ball head ? Presumably, some have less functions than others, but i wouldnt know which of those functions is useful or not, never having tried a ball head.

For instance, is it easier / safer / to have 1 knob perform 2 functions or is it better to have 2 knobs for 2 functions ?

Also, how does say, a Giottos / Gitzo /Slik etc ball head fit on a different make tripod like a Manfrotto ?

I'll research any Ball Heads that anyone recommends later, but for now i'd like to know the answers to the above, if anyone can help

Thanks

06-28-2009, 02:19 PM   #2
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QuoteOriginally posted by Squier Quote

For a start, what is the desirable functions of a ball head ? Presumably, some have less functions than others, but i wouldnt know which of those functions is useful or not, never having tried a ball head.
A ball head is good for positioning the camera quickly to almost any angle. Ball heads are not so good for panning. They are also pretty compact.

QuoteQuote:

For instance, is it easier / safer / to have 1 knob perform 2 functions or is it better to have 2 knobs for 2 functions ?
  • Single is a bit of a pain, though is usable with lightweight setups
  • Two knobs (one for azimuth and the other to tighten) are really handy if you do panoramas
  • Three knobs (azimuth, tighten, tension) is a little bit of overkill, though the separate tension adjustment provides a margin of safety from accidental "lens slam".

QuoteQuote:

Also, how does say, a Giottos / Gitzo /Slik etc ball head fit on a different make tripod like a Manfrotto ?
Most heads are designed to fit most legs through a single screw that attaches the head to the legs. Some may require an adapter for different screw sizes. The big exception is a tripod with a built on head that is not designed to be removed. I am not familiar with your Manfrotto model, so can't say for sure whether it will accept a replacement head.

One other thing you might want to be aware of is the camera platform. Some heads use a proprietary quick release, others use the Arca-Swiss style plate, while others have no quick release, opting for a screw-on platform instead. Many ball heads allow you change camera platform types.

Steve
06-28-2009, 02:26 PM   #3
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Thanks Steve - very useful info
06-28-2009, 04:25 PM   #4
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From experience, I can tell you that you'll want to get a ballhead with a tension knob on it--whether it's integrated in with the tightening knob (i.e. Markins) or it's a separate knob (i.e. Kirk). I currently have a Bogen Manfrotto 486RC2 that only has one knob and I've had to deal with my share of camera creep and "lens slam", as Steve referred to. Needless to say, I'm hoping to pick up a new ballhead (most likely a Kirk, at this point) by the end of the summer, so the issues with lens slam and creeping will go away.

One other reason I'll be getting a new ballhead is so that I can have the Arca-Swiss compatible quick release. The 486RC2 has a universal plate, so it tends to twist while on the camera if I don't tighten it enough. With the Arca-Swiss compatible system, I can buy a custom QR plate for my K20. If you find yourself shooting a good bit in portrait orientation, you can also pick up a custom L-bracket for your body; it means that when you want to shoot in portrait orientation, you don't have to flop the QR mount on the ballhead over to the side, increasing stability. By using custom plates, you will eliminate the twisty camera problem.

In doing your research, you'll find some good info around here about different ballheads that people have actually used and like (or don't like). Here are some links to some highly regarded ballheads to get you started:

Really Right Stuff
Photo Clam
Markins
Feisol
Cullman Magnesit 35--this one doesn't have an Arca-Swiss compatible QR clamp, but people around here that have used it like it a lot. If you were to get this one and later decide that you want an Arca-Swiss compatible QR mount, it is possible to remove the existing QR clamp and replace it with a new one.

My best advice on ballheads is to buy the best that you can afford. You'll save a lot of frustration and possibly money in the long run.

HTH,
Heather

06-28-2009, 04:48 PM   #5
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Many thanks Heather - more useful info.
06-28-2009, 04:58 PM   #6
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Ah ...steve. I meant to say that the 3 way P+T head on my Pro Art 144 removes by 3 screws underneath. Its not a fixed head
06-28-2009, 10:29 PM   #7
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I've been using a Feisol CB-50 head for a while now. I have never been a ball head lover, but I'm quite liking this head. It's easy to use, and very solid.
I'm sure the Markins or other higher priced heads are better, but this little head is doing really well for me.

06-29-2009, 01:30 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Wheatfield Quote
I've been using a Feisol CB-50 head for a while now. I have never been a ball head lover, but I'm quite liking this head. It's easy to use, and very solid.
I'm sure the Markins or other higher priced heads are better, but this little head is doing really well for me.
I'll second the Feisol CB-50 head for use, but it a rather large head. It also has a separate panning base, so panning isn't an issue as mention in other posts.

Thank you
Russell
06-29-2009, 04:35 AM   #9
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I'm getting the lowdown , post by post - thanks folks

Locking knob and seperate drag knob, and seperate panning knob
06-29-2009, 05:58 AM   #10
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What puzzles me about all these ball head discussions is this....

I have a Bogen 3221 tripod, rated to hold about 15 pounds.

I have a Manfrotto 488rc2 ball head rated to hold 17 + pounds

Sitting on top of all this is a K200D which weighs less than 2 pounds with batteries.

A Bigma only weighs 4 pounds -

so now I have 6 pounds on top of the head rated to hold more than 3 times that weight, on top of a set of legs rated to hold more than 2 times the total weight of camera, lens, and ball head.......

So is that enough?

Is there a rule of thumb that says your ball head should support 4 times the weight of the heaviest combo you are going to put on it? Or 5 times? 6 times?

I understand "buy the best you can afford" but doesn't it make more sense to determine what your needs are, what you are going to do with your tripod legs and ball head set up, the max weight you are going to put on it, and then buy a ball head that will meet those needs?

I know RRS and Kirk and Markins and all the other top end manufacturers would LOVE for me to come buy their top of the line ball heads and plates, but is there a point at which it all becomes complete overkill for the photographer? Does putting a ball head that will hold 50 pounds on top of a set of legs rated to hold 25 pounds make any sense or is all this ball head talk just BHBA?

My tripod/ball head combo holds my camera, doesn't droop, is easy enough to position, and I can still put gas in the truck to get to the places I want to actually use it.

500 bucks for a tripod, 400 for a ball head, 200 for plates, just so you can set it all up in your living room and wish you could afford to drive somewhere to take some pictures doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

Especially when my camera and largest lens only weigh a combined 6 pounds.

What am I missing?

Al
06-29-2009, 06:04 AM   #11
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You have a point

The only thing i can think of is if you only buy a tripod / head that supports what your heaviest set up is at the moment, if you then decide to go buy a much bigger / heavier lens, you may well be right at the limit, or even over it. You then have the added cost of losing money on selling your head and then the added cost of another head to support the new weight
06-29-2009, 07:11 AM   #12
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My Feisol Tournament is rated for 10kg, the CB-50D ball head is rated to 19kg.
My K20D with the grip attached is around 1kg, and the 60-250 is another kilo.
I don't know what the weight ratings mean, but my K20/60-250 is not oversupported by the tripod. The legs are up to the task, but I wouldn't want to put anything much heavier, such as my 600, onto that leg set.
06-29-2009, 07:15 AM   #13
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I agree and I am not suggesting that at all.

What I am asking is, is there a rule of thumb that says your tripod ball head combo should support "x" times more than your camera and heaviest lens?

I followed the other thread on Ball Heads, and I'm sorry, but I'm just not buying all the hype behind all these really expensive ball heads unless you have a specific need for them.

So with that in mind, I think it might be better to decide what you have, what you dream to move up to, and then pick the ball head leg combination that will suit you now AND in the future. But all this "I have "XYZ" ball head and love it" comments are just fluff, and dont really do anyone justice.

It would be nice to know, what are the base lines in choosing a ball head tripod set up so one does not buy too little and end up having to spend more, or buy too much and end up having spent too much.


In reply to Wheatfield

I think it has more to do with the mass at the top of the tripod/head in relationship to the area of the base at the bottom of the tripod. There has to come a time when even something that will hold 100 pounds becomes unstable and top heavy under load.

The ball head may be capable of keeping the camera and lens steady, and the legs of the tripod might support that much weight, but the weak link is the area of the base and how much it is able to support such a top heavy set up without toppling over. I think that is often overlooked in these discussions. The great pyramids are built the way they are for a reason

Al

Last edited by AGW; 06-29-2009 at 07:28 AM.
06-29-2009, 08:54 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by Russell-Evans Quote
I'll second the Feisol CB-50 head for use, but it a rather large head. It also has a separate panning base, so panning isn't an issue as mention in other posts.
I have the Giottos 1301. It also has a separate panning base that is very handy for doing panoramic shots (assuming that both the tripod and camera platform are level). It works very poorly however for following motion when compared to traditional tilt/pan head.

Steve
06-29-2009, 09:55 AM   #15
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Whats the problem with the Ball head panning that is better on a P+T head ?
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