Monday, December 7, 2009

Use Your Head

Maybe the most important part of your tripod is the head. That’s why many tripod makers give you options, and most tripod designs have removable heads so you can switch them out or upgrade.
By Jon Canfield Published in Tripods
Use Your Head
For three-way pan-and-tilt heads, the MH 5000 includes a quick-release mounting system, anti-twist pan lock and double-catch safety system to ensure your camera stays attached to the head. The head is fluid through a full 360 degrees of movement and handles up to 18 pounds. The MH 5000 sells for about $85.

The VH 6011 series is a new set of three different pan-and-tilt heads on a smaller scale that's suited to compact video cams weighing less than 10 pounds. These mini-heads all include quick-release systems, lever locking in all axes, full 360-degree fluid motion and light weight. Pricing isn't available.


Renowned for innovations in camera-support technology, Gitzo's ballheads are the only ones to feature an in-stem bubble level for accurate positioning in the vertical position. Gitzo offers two styles of ballheads: Off Center and Center. The Off Center heads are somewhat of a hybrid style, with the functionality of a pan-tilt head in a ballhead package. By moving the ball off-center, Gitzo separates the panning and tilting controls—you don't have the handle of a three-way head, but the positioning of the camera works in the same fashion. The Off Center heads have been redesigned to reduce the weight while maintaining the same look and support capabilities. Prices range from $100 to $400.

The Center ballheads feature a hollow ball, giving them the highest strength-to-weight ratio. The oversized knob makes it easy to lock your head in position when working in cold weather with gloves, and a new lever lock controls the panning feature. Available in three sizes, the Gitzo Off Center and Center heads start at $250.

Gitzo also offers Fluid 3 Way heads, which are ideal for hybrid D-SLRs, featuring the flexibility of a three-way head and smooth pans.


If you're looking for a gimbal head for sports or nature photography, the Jobu line is among the best. The lightest-weight model, the Jobu-Junior 2 Compact ($270) is able to handle lenses up to a 300mm ƒ/2.8, while the BWG-Pro ($600) can handle an 800mm lens. The heavier-duty mounts include a swing arm for finer control when using large lenses. Both models include panning bases. All Jobu gimbals utilize the Arca-Swiss quick-release plate system that permits safe mounting of heavy telephoto lenses.

Kirk Enterprises

Kirk Enterprises is a favorite among pro photographers, with a reputation for excellent engineering and quality. Kirk offers two ballheads—the heavy-duty BH-1 ($365), with a weight of 30 ounces and a load capacity of 50 pounds, and the BH-3 ($265), which weighs 19 ounces and can handle up to 15 pounds. Both heads feature separate tension and locking knobs and a locking panning base. The included quick-release platform is Arca-Swiss-compatible and includes a bubble level. Kirk also offers a complete line of mounting plates and brackets that are designed for each lens or camera.

Along with the ballheads, Kirk Enterprises makes the King Cobra gimbal head for $455. With an Arca-Swiss-style mounting plate, the King Cobra can handle any size lens with a rotating tripod collar.
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