HOW TO: Ball Heads

Well, I did it. I finally broke down and bought myself a new gadget. After realizing the loose change in the kitchen junk drawer had gotten totally out of control, I tallied up my pile of treasure and realized there was almost enough to pay for a ball head for my tripod. This was the one piece of camera gear that had been on my wish list for a few months. I had installed one on my monopod not long ago, and after experiencing the ease of use, I just had to get one for the tripod.

My old tripod head had three knobs, each controlling one of the three axis. One for vertical, one for horizontal and one for rotation left or right. The new ball head has one knob that allows you to adjust all three at the same time. You loosen the knob, adjust the camera to your desired position, then tighten the knob. One knob on the new setup versus three on the old. How cool is that.

The ball head also has friction control knob, allowing micro adjustments to be made without completely loosening the ball head. In addition, a separate control allows you to rotate the camera left or right, without even having to loosen the ball head at all. This control is especially handy for panoramics.

My new tripod/ball head combo passed the test with flying colors earlier this week. I was on location at a local orchard and market doing both an indoor and outdoor shoot. And even though it was early in the morning, the shop was already busy with customers. Setting up and composing shots of fruit, vegetables, flowers and other market items, while staying out of everyone’s way, was made much easier and quicker with the ball head.

In a very short time, working the camera and ball head has become second nature. I find myself not even looking for the knobs from my old setup any more.

If you are looking to upgrade your tripod with a ball head and are not sure if you will like it, head on over to your local camera store and check them out. They come in many sizes and price ranges, and I think you will be happy with the convenience they offer. I know I am.

  1. September 18, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Was just looking at those yesterday…the tripods, not the apples. Didn’t get one, not enough change under the sofa.

    • September 18, 2011 at 2:49 pm

      Ahh…must find a better map to the treasure!!

  2. September 19, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    Hi David,

    I just stumbled across your blog, I guess in reading a comment on someone else’s blog. I do a lot of bird and wildlife photography, and I use a Wimberley gimbal head. I used to have a ball head and I loved it for scenics, etc. Great choice. By the way, you have some great photographs. I will subscribe and see what else you are up to.

    Bob Zeller

    • September 20, 2011 at 8:05 am

      HI Bob, thanks for the kind words and subscribing to my blog.I have been checking out your blog also. I will subscribe to your also. I feel that learning from others is very fulfilling. Really great photography !! I have seen the Wimberley heads but have never used one. I can imagine that those heads would be very practical for birds and other wildlife.

  3. September 19, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    This is on my wish list as well. I’m glad that you’ve found the transition so easy and satisfying! I have adjusted well to the limitations of my old tripod, but I have missed shots because I was unable to switch views quickly enough. Maybe my own shopping will be sooner rather than later!

    • September 20, 2011 at 8:08 am

      Hi Tricia, I really think that you will find a lot of use for the ball head. I put it off for quite a while…figured that my old heads still works, why spend the money etc. You will probably say the same thing I did(why did I wait so long)

  4. September 23, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    congratulations David and hope to see more photos now 🙂

    my very first tripod was one with a ball head so i can understand what you describe on how it lets you focus on taking photos rather than fiddling with the 3 axes.

    Having said that, as one commentor mentions earlier, each type has its own place.If you ever rent (or buy) a 500mm+ lens, a Gimbal head is almost invariably required. If you ever want to shoot video and want to try panning, you will then miss the head (the axis type) you just replaced…i guess different horses for different courses…

    • September 25, 2011 at 2:52 pm

      Thanks Abu, my old head served me well for 20+ years and after a lot of procrastination and validation I finally broke down and bought the Manfrotto 498 Midi. You are correct in regards to the gimbal head. Those are just way cool and the best way to go for wildlife photography. Oh yeah, the new Manfrotto head I purchased has a separate control for panning…you just loosen the knob and pan away…I doesn’t affect the ball head setting at all. Very handy.

      • September 26, 2011 at 1:52 pm

        yes that knob is handy for panos and i have used it extensively…i was talking about a panning video. The one time i tried using that knob(on my ballhead) for a pano of snow geese i found the result a bit jerky when viewing the video on big screen. people who do a lot of video find the result smother using the pan-head …but then again i am not sure how much of video u are gonna shoot…. a dslr for video itself is not ideal (jerky focus change while shooting etc) so i will leave that for a different discussion ….

  5. September 29, 2011 at 9:19 am

    Roger that…not sure if I will ever get into video…we rarely watch any of the DVD’s we have. But you never know…may come in handy to make a DVD as presents for family and friends and mix stills with video and add music…have always wanted to do that…hmmmm

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