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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
Founder of TripodsforAll