Mid priced tripod head recommendations?

Discussion in 'Nature' started by louis_greene, Sep 30, 2007.

  1. Ok, I have noticed I am getting some out of focus images even with tripod
    mounted shota and a remote shutter release. If I use mirror lockup it made a
    world of difference (using a 5D and 300mm with a 1.4 converter). I have good
    legs but I have been using a three way Culman head from my older junkier tripod
    (because I had the quick change plates). I am thinking it is no longer up to
    the task. Any recommendations for a good replacement? I am thinking $100+ but I
    don't know if that is plenty or not near enough cash for something decent. I
    don't even know where to begin looking so any guidence is much appreciated.
    Mostly landscape, gradually doing more wildlife. Looking into a 1 series body
    upgrade too which may have a little more heaft. Weight is an issue, but not a
    total limiting factor. Can anyone point me in the right direction with
    articles, links, reviews, and or maybe a specific recommendation?
  2. Your combination of a 300mm lens with a 1.4x TC is the equivalent of a 420mm lens. A lens of this length requires a SUBSTANTIAL tripod combined with good technique for consistent results. If mirror-lockup makes a significant improvement, then you might as well be balancing your camera on a rock as using your current tripod. Unless the head is made of plastic, it is unlikely the cause of your problem.

    With the camera and lens in place, look through the viewfinder and tap on a leg, the lens, the head, and see how much the camera shakes and how quickly the vibration dissipates. That will give you a better idea of the weak points in your setup.

    Off hand, I would suggest a Gitzo series 5 aluminum legset for this lens combination, or possibly one of the new Series 3 tripods with the 6x CF construction. A suitable ball head would cost $300 and up, but any of the heavy-duty Manfrotto 3-way heads, geared or handle, would be sturdy enough.

    You might consult http://www.reallyrightstuff.com for opinions on tripods and heads, and http://www.moosepeterson.com for his "Long Lens Technique".
  3. My solution, using some stuff I had and some I didn't, was the Frankenpod: Leitz Tiltall legs, a Gitzo center column and an Acratech head. The whole thing would cost about $400-$450 to replicate but it made a huge difference in steadiness.

    There's a decent tripod tutorial here on P.net in the learning section but it's a little out of date on available hardware.
  4. Edward - As a matter of fact the head is made of plastic. It is cheep and I know it. It got me by for a while but I've upped the ante now and need to correct the weak link in the chain. I am happy with the legs. It's the head that's the weak link. Thanks for the links.

    Josef - I'll check out those items.
  5. Louis, ANY ball and socket head, even a relatively low priced one such as this Manfrotto (Bogen in US?) - which would be somewhere round your $100 price, will be a vast improvement over a plastic head.
  6. Thanks I'll look at this one.

    The one I had was similar to this one http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/284638-REG/Cullmann_CU_3200_Universal_3200_Video_Tripod.html
  7. You spend $2,500 on a camera body and over a thousand on a lens, but will only put a hundred bucks on the single most important thing for sharp photos? ROFL!!!!!! Get an AcraTech Ultimate ballhead. You are throwing money down the toilet on the hundred dollar heads and will end up with the AcraTech or equiv. anyway. Nearly $4,000 camera/lens on a hundred dollar head....ROFL!!!!!

    Kent in SD

    Kent in SD
  8. Point well taken Kent. Truth is I do A LOT more wide angle landscape stuff than the large Telephoto. Even with the cheezy head I was using the only place it comprimised quality was over 300mm. I'll look at that ballhead though. Hopefully it's not like the Gitzo tripod issue. It may be a great tripod, top of the line even, but there are many other lower priced Tripods that do the job as well. Maybe they weigh a few ounces more and don't have the same name throwing weight, but they do thier job. None the less, I do not want this to turn into a Tripod debate. I just need some input on people's experiences with Tripod heads that do the job (top of the line or not). I don't need a Ferrari, just a dependable vehicle to get me the results I want(sharp pictures). Thanks
  9. BTW Kent, I just looked at that head. It seems nice and that price is reasonable (but not what I expected based on your posting). Thanks for your input.
  10. Kent is right, the single most important point in the optical chain is the tripod/head combo. A good tripod/head can make as much difference as a lens upgrade.

    Since you say you have a good set of tripod legs (hopefully Bogen or Gitzo or similar, rated for 20+ lbs, and rock solid to the touch) and are shooting with a SLR, I'd steer you to any of the main mid-grade ballheads. A ballhead is much more user-friendly, especially for SLR shooting.

    Kent has mentioned one of the primary contenders, the Acratech Ultimate Ballhead. The other alternatives to look at are the Kirk BH-3, the Markins M10, Arca Swiss Z1, or the Really Right Stuff (RRS) BH-40. Of these, the Kirk and Acratech will be the most affordable. If you want to do it right the first time, buy one of the larger series ballheads Kirk BH-1, RRS BH-55, Arca Swiss B1, or Markins M20.

    If you are looking at putting more money into gear and lenses (esp longer lenses), bite the bullet and just buy once. This article is a good read for a sense of perspective on the issue...


    I took the long route on this issue before finally ending up with a Gitzo 1325 carbon fiber tripod and a Markins M20 ballhead. This was my fourth tripod and head, so I learned things the hard way. :)
  11. I'm hoping to not learn the hard way (this time at least :)). Thanks for the link and info Sheldon.
  12. Lets say I just want to do this once. For Arca Swiss I don't see the B1. I see a Z1 or a P1 ("D", or an "S"). Is that the newer version? I also looked at the Markins M20. Any thoughts between these two?
  13. If there isn't a full-line photo shop close to you, the Calumet and B&H web sites both have a lot of information on ballheads big enough to steady a 5D and a 500mm lens. (The basic Acratech I use probably isn't quite enough).

    The Thom Hogan article is very good. When you figure out what you need, www.keh.com often has these items used and in good condition, to save you some money. If you mostly shoot from the car and don't walk long distances, there are a lot of used steel and aluminum leg sets around from people who traded them for carbon. I wouldn't venture away from Manfrotto/Bogen or Gitzo myself, for a one-time purchase.
  14. I'm originally from NY and miss B&H : ( In Alaska there are a few shops but not a whole lot of stock in the cutting edge or upper end areas on hand to compare. My needs are really just a 300mm f4 with a 1.4 tele. So it'll be a little long but not heavy like a set 500mm would be. None the less more stability can't be bad so I am leaning toward the Arca swiss, Markins, or RRS ballheads. Anyone on the Arca swiss numbers/letters thing? I see no B1 any longer. Is it now Z1 or P1?
  15. The Arca Z1 is the closest in style and performance to the venerable model B1. It has the elongated ball which increases tension as it is tilted, and the single-knob control with gentle lockup. The new price at B&H is about $315, which is $100 less than the B1. The Z1 comes in two flavors - with and without a panning mechanism built into the clamp. There is already a panning mechanism in the base of the head.

    The RRS is a very good and well-made head, but costs much more than the Z1. People who have the RRS BH-55 love it! RRS introduced their ball heads somewhat after I bought an Arca B1. It would have been a tough choice otherwise.

    The Markins is an unabashed knock-off of the Arca. It uses Arca-style plates and clamps, but a slightly undersized.
  16. I bought a Gitzo 1325, partly because I often hike with it and the weight savings was important. I chose the AcraTech because it is very light weight and also because of its open design. I live in South Dakota and photo outdoors almost every day. It's very dusty here in summer and in winter we get lots of snow, sometimes coming sideways at 40 mph. I liked the open design of the AcraTech because it's so easy to clean. It has never once locked up on me, even when it was once laying in the bottom of my duckboat when a big wave came in. Tripod & head were in 3 or 4 inches of water and temperature was about 5 above zero. The water in the boat actually froze solid before I could fish out my tripod. I beat the ice apart with a rock and pulled out the tripod. Worked perfectly and ice fell away cleanly. I think it's impossible to lock up the AcraTech with dirt/ice/etc. The biggest lens I use with it is the Nikon 80-400mm VR, but also routinely use a 4x5 field camera on it too. It's very solid. A good tripod/head you only buy once and keep for years and years. Mine has held up to tough use for over 3 or 4 years now and works like new. I've been through three camera bodies in that same time.

    Kent in SD
  17. I say, take the Thom Hogan article to heart...or do like many (myself included) and buy cheap...then midrange...then the right stuff. It cost me at least 40% extra doing it that way (of course, there's the fact that I couldn't afford the 'right stuff' when I was buying the cheap stuff...but I also didn't own the nice cameras/lenses then either).

    I settled on two tripods/heads over time. My 'light' setup matches Thom's 'light' recommendation. Hakuba CF + Acratech. I've actually mounted a manual focus 500f4+1.4x on that combo. It's not quite up to the task but did work with careful long-lens technique. My heavy setup includes a Gitzo 410 (steel version...I really like how tall this tripod is. I'm 6'1" and on flat ground my camera is too high to see through if I do max extension...) and Arca Swiss B1. cameras/lenses all get really-right-stuff or Kirk brand quick release plates. The thing is that once you buy the stuff, you'll never regret it. It's so much nicer to work with than cheap or mid-range stuff. When you tighten the knobs they stay tight, yet they're easy to loosen.

    Good luck with your decision making!
  18. Louis, I've always purchased Kirk products over the years, and do not regret a single item.
    They have all exceeded my expectations. They are very easy to talk with, and very
    experienced. Just give them a call and they will give you some good recommendations. Jeff
  19. stemked

    stemked Moderator

    A head that is say $100 less than a Kirk but still fantastic with the Arca Swiss quick release are the Markins heads. They are lighter than equilivant Kirk/ AS but unbeliveably solid/I use mine with such big boys as a Pentax 6X7 medium format (up to 200mm lens) or even 500mm f4.5 Takumar (35mm body) combos. They are Korean but now have distibutors in the US, a quick search will find you the source. For the price, weight, load factors, they are difficult ballheads to match IMHO.

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