Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Use Your Head
Choosing a tripod head for still and video
Arca-Swiss has long been the standard for ballheads. Their Z1 represents an update to their legendary B1, reducing size and price, but retaining superlative construction and the same elliptical ball shape unique to Arca-Swiss. What’s special about the ball’s shape is that it actually increases resistance tension as the load shifts away from center. Practically, this means it’s self-tightening—you won’t have to worry about your camera falling against your tripod. The ball itself is coated to provide a smooth glide without the need for lubricants (which can gum up when exposed to dust). The Z1 with a single pan base starts at about $367, or about $548 with a double pan base.
If you’re looking for a gimbal-style head, Custom Brackets offers a few that are worth checking out. The CB Gimbal-LB weighs less than two pounds and will support telephoto lenses up to 400mm. The gimbal head uses roller bearings to make pan-and-tilt operations smooth, with adjustable tension settings and laser-engraved reference lines. The CB Gimbal-LB lists for $560. If you already have an Arca-Swiss-style ballhead with quick release, you can add the CB Gimbal Basic for about $300. Because the system is modular, you can upgrade to a full CB Gimbal for $450.
The Flashpoint F-4 is a ballhead made of magnesium for lighter weight than some of the other heads without giving up any stabilty or strength. With a weight under two pounds, the F-4 can support up to 44 pounds and includes separate locking, tension and panning adjustment knobs. It retails for $125.
For lighter load-bearing needs, the Flashpoint F-1 ($50) supports up to 8.8 pounds and weighs less than nine ounces. And, if size is a real issue, it’s hard to beat the F-9 compact head ($69). At only eight ounces and less than three inches tall, this is a great option for traveling and can support up to 40 pounds. All of the Flashpoint ballheads include a quick-release system.
You’ll need to look long and hard to find a wider range of heads than those offered by Giottos. With 23 ballhead and five three-way head models to choose from, almost any size camera system is supported. In the ballhead category, the MH 3300 offers both a mounting plate and a quick-release system that uses standard Arca-Swiss-style mounting plates or Giottos’ own plates, and includes a panning base and separate tension adjustment knob. Giottos uses a hollow ball to reduce weight without sacrificing strength.
With the standard mount, the MH 3300 sells for about $155, while the quick-release version runs about $215. If your needs are more modest, the MH 7000 series is a good choice. Using levers rather than knobs to control ball tension and panning, the MH 7001 doesn’t support as much weight (about 11 pounds), but is more compact. It sells for about $70, including a quick-release mount
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