Ball Heads For Tripods -The Best Match for a Tripod

Hello Everyone

Many people believe that a tripod is nothing but a set of legs attached together. This is completely false. You cannot simply attach your camera to the base of a tripod. It won’t even move if you do so. You need some apparatus to help you move the camera around so that you can shoot at various angles and for that you need a good tripod head. Without one, the tripod useless.

“BALL HEADS”, these are compact heads with a metal ball in them which sit on top of your tripod. I personally prefer using ball heads for tripods because they are super easy to use, and offer unlimited possibilities. If you own a tripod, you just might be having one on top of yours too.

WHAT IS A BALL HEAD AFTER ALL ?

Many of you might be familiar with the concept of a mouse ball. These days you will rarely find one, thanks to the optical mouses. Anyways the concept is pretty much the same, there is a ball in the mouse which rolls 360 degrees in any direction depending upon how you move it and thus moves the cursor. Similarly, a ball head allows your camera to move 360 degrees and lock in wherever you want. It that simple to use.

Manfrotto MH05MO-Q2
Photo by Lucasbosch via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons

These are typically made of metal or high grade plastic depending upon the quality. It is a metal ball with a shaft attached onto which a quick release plate is usually welded. The plate may or may not contain a spirit level. All of this in enclosed within a plastic casing which gets attached to your tripod. These are
very popular among photographers and are made by all the top camera equipment manufacturers like Gitzo, Manfrotto, Benro, Vanguard, and more.

WHY IS IT BETTER THAN 3-WAY PAN/TILT

Okay, so now that you are familiar with what is a ball-head the next thing which you should know is what is a pan head and why a ball head is 8/10 times better than a pan/tilt head. Let me be clear, this is my opinion and yours might be completely different

WHAT IS A 3-WAY PAN/TILT HEAD

A 3-way PAN/TILT head allows you to move or pan your camera along all the three axes. It is controlled by two knobs which screw in and lock the camera in place. A photographer can use these knobs as handles and set the camera accordingly.

So, why do I say a ball head is better than a pan head. It’s easy you might have guessed on your own. Let me list down the reasons

3-Way Pan/Tilt Head
Photo by Petri Krohn via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons
  • First of all, it is really tiresome to adjust all the knobs again and again to get that perfect angle, sometimes it is frustrating. Having a ball head solves all that, just unscrew one knob move it around and lock it again in place.
  • Secondly, pan tilt head adds a lot of weight to my tripod, so the whole setup is cumbersome to carry around.
  • Unless, your pan head is fluid based, a ball head is much smoother.

Having said of this, there are a number of advantages to a pan head as well. The biggest one being that no head comes close to it when it comes to panning. You simply cannot achieve the same results with a ball head.

A GOOD BALL HEAD WILL…

The head of the tripod is as important as the legs. The quality of both of these can affect your ability to take perfect pictures. A good ball head will..

  • Lock quickly and will not creep : Creeping is a term which means that when a tripod head or a lens or any other equipment is set to one position and locked, it should not move or go back in its initial state. A good ball head must lock quickly and must not move from it is position.
  • Have a quick release plate: A good ball head must have a good quick release plate that actually release from it is mount quickly. There are times when you want to remove the camera from the tripod quickly and use your hands only for clicking a picture, in those cases a quick release plate must function correctly.

    Ball head without QRP
    Photo by Lucasbosch via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons
  • Have ball tension: This means that even if you unlock the ball from it is place, it should have some amount of tension so that your camera does not drop off immediately. This is a safety feature which must be there in the tripod head. A good head must have lock and tension knobs separate.
  • Function smoothly : A good ball head will function smoothly without any jerks or restrictions. The ball should rotate freely in its socket and it must be well lubricated.
  • Be able to support heavy equipment: The ball head must have a sturdy built, so that it is able to support heavy weights. It depends upon the shaft which connects the ball and the quick release plate, it should be strong and stout. Check the maximum weight that it can handle before buying. It should be around 3kg.

I RECOMMEND THIS…

Generally, a beginner tripod comes with a 2-way or a 3-way pan head. Honestly, it is the best for starting out. It is simple to use and you will spend more time in learning photography. Once, you are seasoned, you can change over to a ball head.

Gitzo Ball Head
© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.5

You can opt from various ball heads made by some of the top manufacturers. Cost wise, choose a head which costs somewhere around $200 for a good one. But for starters just, follow the above key points and choose one. Make sure that it is not too cheap because let’s face it, cheap ones aren’t reliable and you will be doing most of the fine adjustments on your tripod head.

For starters, you can choose one from these…

  • Manfrotto MHXPRO-BHQ2 XPRO Ball Head with 200PL Quick-Release Plate – $150
  • Vanguard Alta BH-300 – Aluminum head – $120
  • Benro G2 Low Profile Ballhead – $190
  • Benro B2 – $120

If you are very serious and have a lot of money to spare, you can go in for Gitzo GH1382QD, it will set you back by almost $350.

CONCLUSION

The head is the most important part of any system, similarly in a tripod the head plays a major role. Cost cutting can be done with legs but not with heads. Some of you might not realize the importance of a good head and you might be hesitant in spending so much money on it but ultimately that’s where your camera will rest.

There are various types of heads each with their own purpose. Be it a ball, 3-way pan, fluid or gimbal, they cannot be compared to each other. They all have their own pros and cons. For general purposes, I think ball heads for tripods are excellent. Having a pan or a spare ball head is fine. All in all, it is upto you to decide what type of head suits you and with which one are you comfortable working with.

Let me know your thoughts on this and if you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments section and I’ll be more than happy to help you out.

Shashwat

Founder of TripodsforAll

24 thoughts on “Ball Heads For Tripods -The Best Match for a Tripod”

  1. I don’t know anything about “Ball Heads For Tripods”, but with your detailed explanation and picture, I really learn about a new thing! Thank you so much! I’m not a professional photographer and I’m not a guy who loves photography, but I will share this to one of my friends who loves this! Thank you so much!

  2. Indeed this was an educative post,  I got to understand the use of the ball head which is a metal or plastic apparatus placed on top of a tripod that increases stability and provides faster, more accurate rotation for the photographer so that your camera can be moved around in 360 degrees with total precision. It’s an honor to come across this interesting post. 

  3. Hi Shashwat,

    I am not a photographer but your article has taught me a lot of things about Ball Heads for Tripods. 

    My younger brother loves to take photos and he has bought a standard tripod. l will show him this article and l think it will help him to buy a better tripod with a ball head.

    Thank you for this helpful article.

    Shui Hyen

    1. Hello Shui

      Its good to know that you like my article. Hope it has given you some insights. Do let me know what your brother thinks about this article.

      Hope you have a great week ahead.

  4. It’s a very well written post. I got to know a lot of things about Ball Heads for Tripods. Headings that you have chosen for your writings are captivating and matches with what’s exactly going on in reader’s mind.
    Hope you write more such posts.

  5. Personally, I do not see the difference. Is it that the ball heads can turn around on it own? if yes, is it safe? I’m just scared that my camera will fall off. But if it can be safe, this is something great. Because I am kinda tired of coming back to my tripod to change direction. But you what would have been more awesome?? if it could sense the presence or moves of a person and turn directly. 

    Well, that is just the geek in me speaking.

    Thanks

    1. By “Turning around on its own”, I mean you won’t need handles to move the thing. Please be rest assured you camera won’t fall of as long as it is screwed tightly with the base plate.

      PS: You idea about self moving head is fascinating. 

  6. Hey there,

    Tanks for a very informative post! Being able to move the camera on a tripod is a cool and great feature to have. It is very well needed in this era of great technology in photography and social media. A tripod can also be used with mobile phones – as we know, some mobile phones have cameras that are better than DSLRs. This can help with taking photos and videos much easier.

    Thanks!

    Marios

  7. Hi there! I’m so pleased that I stumbled upon your article about ball heads for tripods. I actually purchased one of these some time ago and was wondering if you could give me any advice?

    I use my tripod for both photography and capturing video. The ball head is great for photography as it locks into any position I want and stays where I leave it. However… When it comes to video its a different matter. 

    As I obviously need to move the camera when shooting video, the ball head doesn’t perform so well. You mentioned about using lubricant in your article here and I think that is what I need. When I pan around with he camera, the ball head occasionally sticks and jumps. Not ideal for shooting video!

    I’m just wondering if you have any advice on lubricant or should I try a different kind of tripod?

    Thanks,

    Andrew 

    1. M sure just a bit of machine lubricant will work just fine. But you might wanna think about going in for a fluid head. It will surely help you a lot in video making

  8. I agree with this post, ball heads are good for tripods, I love using it because it makes the work easier, it enables me to tilt the camera to desired angle for better and easy shooting. You need a ball head tripod if you’re a competent photographer. I support this post, look out for a good ball head and make sure it’s not too cheap especially for starters 

  9. Long before now I have always imagined what makes a tripod device to be moving at an angle and in all directions without having any answers but this article as helped alot by bringing out the main reason behind it which is Ball head. Ball heads does alots of work interms of capturing with cameras and getting a good view. Going for a good ball head will bring out the best capturing moment. Awesome job done here.

  10. Thanks for this wonderful review on ball head for tripods,  I will consider buying one for my best friend he will really love it but I don’t really know anything about photography but having one at home too is not a bad idea. I am grateful I came across this wonderful post.

  11. Tripods for all! My mind went to the tripod stand that is always used in the laboratory. However, this website has made me know that there is a tripod used by photographers, of which there is an attached tripod head. Though I am not a professional photographer, I am elated to know the different types of tripod head like a ball, 3-way pan, fluid, and gimbal. I will be glad to discuss what I have learned on this website with my photographer friend.

  12. I’ve just read your post about the benefits of ball head tripods. I was wondering if you could please comment on the ball heads for regular use in country areas. I am looking at buying my first tripod, and want something easy to use with good precision, however I spend a lot of time with horses and dust.. your comment about the mouse ball got me thinking – I remember using the old mouse and the ball used to get dirty and you’d have to pull it out to clean so you could direct the mouse better. I was wondering how the ball head tripod would go to use it in constantly dusty areas?

    1. Hey, sadly your assumption is true regarding the dust. Balls heads are vulnerable to dust and dirt (for that matter, I guess all the heads are). What I would suggest is that you keep it inside a bag or case at all times or wrap the head inside a plastic bag in between shoots. That’s gonna help!

      Feel free to ask any questions

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