Tripod ball head vs tilt/pan head
PhotoCamel: Your friendly photo community, with free discussion forums, digital photography reviews, photo sharing, galleries, downloads, blogs, photography contests, and prizes.

Go Back   PhotoCamel - Your Friendly Photography Forum > Tools Of the Trade > Camera Accessories

LinkBack Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 04-10-2008   #1
Posts: 24
CamelKarma: 15
Editing OK?: Ask First
Constructive Critique?: Yes
Default Tripod ball head vs tilt/pan head

I'm in the market for a new tripod and I'm finding this quite a challenge. I am trying to decide between a ball head and tilt/pan head. I've never used a ball head. Can someone explain the pros and cons of each? Also, I currently have 2 tripods, one has a quick release on the head and the other does not. I'm torn here as well. I like having the quick release but I do not like shooting with the plate on my camera as it is a bit large and cumbersome. I guess I don't mind giving up the quick release as long as it is easy get the camera on and off as needed. Any thoughts on this would be appreciated as well.

I guess a few words about it's intended use would be helpful as well. I will be using this in a home studio but also plan on taking it on hikes, etc. My camera is a Canon 40D and my largest lens is the Sigma 70-200 F2.8 so maybe 5 to 6 pounds.


Members don't see ads in threads. Register for your free account today and become a member of PhotoCamel to open up the site's many benefits and features.
Daron is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-10-2008   #2
F1 Camel
gryphonslair99's Avatar
Location: Wichita, Kansas, USA
Posts: 3,652
CamelKarma: 1091466
Editing OK?: Yes
Constructive Critique?: Yes
Default Re: Tripod ball head vs tilt/pan head

There are three general types of head on the market. All have their pros and cons. I have and use all three types as they all have specific applications that they are good for.

1. Pan/tilt head. Pros= Probably the most stable of the three types of heads. Cons= generally the most cumbersum to use. Three different axis points each with it's own control. I use my Pan/tilt head when I am doing technical work such as macro or small product shoots. It is the easiest to adjust exactly where you want it and with a macro focus rail on top it makes those minor focus changes easy to do.

2. Ball head. Pros= Most compact easy to carry head. Especially if you are going out into the field. Virtually no protrusions. Cons= Touchy to adjust. Not all have an individual pan feature built in and they tend to have just a hair of sag once you tighten the ball and let loose of the camera body. I use mine whenever I am out and about for general photography. It is the most versatile of the three heads for general use.

3. Pistol grip head. Pros = very quick and easy to adjust. Side grip heads are as stable as ball heads. Cons= pistol grip sticks out to the side or on the vertical grip heads a lack of stability. My pistol grip head is virtually the only head I use for portraits especially in the studio. It is very fast to frame a shot and I'm not concerned about dragging it around. It has it's own set of legs that are heavier and perfect for studio use.

If I had to live with only one head I would probably choose a ball head. But a good one with a dedicated pan base on the bottom.

As for Quick Release, I love QR heads and plates. All three of my heads have the same QR system on it allowing me to leave plates on all my bodies and lenses that have lens mount rings. My monopod also has the same QR attachment on it to simplify things.
Amateurs worry about equipment, professionals worry about time, masters worry about light.

I can honestly say that there are two most remarkable men in the world today. Michio Kaku is one and I am the other one. Between us we cover all knowledge.

Kaku knows all that can be known....And I know the rest.

"Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery. Today?
Today is a gift. That is why we call it the present."

Master Oogway from Kung Fu Panda
gryphonslair99 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-11-2008   #3
richardpcrowe's Avatar
Location: Escondido, California
Posts: 1,533
CamelKarma: 313787
Editing OK?: Ask First
Constructive Critique?: Yes
Default Re: Tripod ball head vs tilt/pan head

I prefer a ball head for non-moving subjects because it is IMO quicker to frame and level my camera/lens with a "GOOD" ball head than it is using a pan-tilt head.

I far prefer a gimbal type head for following fast moving subjects with a long focal length lens. However if I don't have a gimbal head or if I am using a lens without a tripod ring when following fast moving subjects; I prefer the pan-tilt head since I can direct the camera with a handle rather than by holding the camera/lens.

There are basically three types if gimbal heads.

I use a Manfrotto 3421 which consists of two "U" shaped arms connected to the tripod by the bottom of the exterior arm. The ends of each "U" shaped arm is connected by a tension screw. I use my camera right side up with both "U" shaped arms situated so that their open sides are up. The Manfortto illustration shows the camera being mounted inverted on the interior "U" arm which is also inverted. I have never been successful using the 3421 in this configuration nor have I even seen another photographer using a 3421 with the camera inverted.

I love the 3421 because I can balance the camera/lens so that only finger pressure is needed to follow action. The downside is that it is difficult to use a flash without jury rigging the 3421.

Bogen / Manfrotto | 3421 Heavy Tele Lens Support with | 3421

There are other gimbal type mounts:

Gimbal Heads

India is producing rip-off versions of the above mounts. I have heard that their quality is really pretty good but, have no personal experience with these mounts.

Tripod/ Gimbal Head Sidekick for Large Telephoto lenses - eBay (item 380015625148 end time Apr-15-08 04:55:13 PDT)

Tripod / Gimbal mount head for large telephoto lenses - eBay (item 140223445727 end time Apr-13-08 05:16:42 PDT)

Regarding Quick release systems. I always use a QR system when utilizing a tripod. It makes switching cameras/lenses easier. However, if you are working with two lenses which can utilize the same tripod ring (as an example: the 70-200mm f/4L IS and 400mm f/5.6L) you can use the tripod ring as a modified QR system.

I personally like an ARCA Swiss compatible QR system because of the many camera and lens specific plates available for the ARCA System. I use a Really Right Stuff Canon 30D right angle "L" camera plate when I am shooting with a non-tripod ring lens. The RRS "L" plate conforms to the shape of the 30D and will facilitate turning the camera from horizontal to vertical format as well as making it easy to hand hold while the plate is still attached. Additionally, when switched from horizontal to vertical position, this type of plate keeps the camera over the axis of the tripod for a steadier mount.

Really Right Stuff ... Quick-Release Camera Body L-Plates

The more commonly used Manfrotto RC2 QR system also has a right angle "L" plate but, it is generic and IMO doesn't fit individual cameras as well as the RRS plate.

I wasn't able to find the Manfrotto "right angle" or "L" plate or whatever they call their version. I have a hard time finding items on the manfrotto web site. It is difficult unless you know the exact item number or exact Manfrotto designation. Even when you know what Manfrotto calls the item, the company occasionally switches the names around for no apparent reason...

Richard Crowe
Escondido, California
richardpcrowe is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-22-2008   #4
fly4rfun's Avatar
Location: Pennsboro, WV
Posts: 1,061
CamelKarma: 147716
Editing OK?: Yes
Constructive Critique?: Yes
Default Re: Tripod ball head vs tilt/pan head

I just bought a sunpak pistol grip, has the ball action, quick release plate, plus a release that allows for panning. I love it. took off the other ball type head I had on. 69.95 at shutterbug

Members don't see ads in threads. Register for your free account today and become a member of PhotoCamel to open up the site's many benefits and features.
fly4rfun is offline   Reply With Quote

« PhotoCamel - Your Friendly Photography Forum > Tools Of the Trade > Camera Accessories »

Share this topic:

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
tripod and head KauMikel Photography Talk 2 04-05-2007 04:04 PM
Ball Head Confusion diver46 Camera Accessories 7 01-18-2007 11:35 PM
Which ball head? JDArt Camera Accessories 4 03-27-2006 09:18 PM