Not all tripod heads are equal and there isn’t a “one size fits all” tripod head that is the best choice for everything. When I first bought my tripod I truly believed I only needed one tripod head, the one it came with, however after a few short weeks I realised how naïve I had been. When choosing the most suitable tripod head for your needs there are some key questions you should ask yourself and things you need to consider.
Choosing a tripod head – What are you going to use it for?
When you are buying a tripod head you need to decide what type of photography it will be used for since different tripod heads are used for different subjects and buying the wrong type of tripod head for the subject you want to use it for will be a big mistake. A ball head tripod head is best suited for situations where you need to lock the camera in various positions at different angles, such as macro photography. A tilt and pan tripod is best suited situations where you need to keep the lock the camera in a position that is totally horizontal or vertical, such as landscape photography.
Choosing a tripod head – How much gear are you going to put on it?
Not all tripod heads will support the same weight. If you load a tripod head with too much weight you will find it will creep and not hold the camera and lens securely in one place. In the worst case scenario the tripod head will fail and send your expensive camera and lens crashing to the ground, which is not good. Before buying a tripod head you need to attach your heaviest lens to your camera, add your filter holder and filters and then weigh it. You need to make sure any tripod head you are considering is man enough to securely hold the weight of your heaviest kit. You need to make sure the tripod head can easily take the weight and not just scrape it otherwise you may find the tripod head will fail at some point in the future.
Tilt and pan tripod heads typically hold more weight than ball head tripod heads, however there are always exceptions to this and there are some very robust and strong ball head tripod heads out there, as well as some lightweight and weak tilt and pan tripod heads.
Choosing a tripod head – How much are you prepared to spend?
Money and how much you are willing to spend is an important decision with everything, and this includes buying tripod heads. There are some cheap tripod heads out there however these are typically made out of low grade materials, won’t hold much weight and are weak.
Considering the tripod head is going to be keeping your expensive camera, lens an filters off the ground I would advise scrimping on a tripod head and buy the best and strongest you can afford. The strongest tripod head isn’t necessarily the most expensive, and we all know the popular brands demand more money but are not always the strongest or best products.
Whatever you do never be persuaded or duped in to buying a cheap tripod head as it is likely to end up in a very expensive mistake in the future.
Choosing a tripod head – Don’t just read about them
I am all for reading about products and researching them before making a purchase however I make it is important to take it to the next step, which is something many people don’t do. There seems to be many people who are more than happy to buy a tripod head based on some product reviews without actually going to see it, which is dangerous.
Before buying a tripod head it is important you go and see it in the flesh, pick it up, load a camera and lens on it, play with and see what it can do. Sure, devise a short list of tripod heads but make sure you go to a local camera shop and see each one to make sure the tripod head is going to do everything you want it to.
The tripod heads I use
I own both a ball head tripod head and a tilt and pan tripod head and both of them are made by Manfrotto. My first serious tripod (it wasn’t my first ever tripod because I stupidly bought a cheap and cheerful one in the first instance) was a Manfrotto and I was so impressed with the quality and strength I bought a Manfrotto XPRO ball head joint to go with it. I bought the ball head joint primarily for macro photography since it allowed me to set my camera a variety of different angles to get the best shot.
Even though you can use a ball head joint tripod had for landscape photography it can be a mission getting the camera exactly horizontal to keep the horizon straight. The ball head joint I bought could easily hold my camera, macro lens and ring flash however the weight of my camera, landscape lens and filters was on the edge. The ball head joint could hold the weight, however there was a bit of lens creep if I didn’t tighten everything up super tight. I didn’t want to push the ball head joint to its absolute limit therefore I needed a stronger tripod head that could support more weight so I bought a Manfrotto MHXPRO3W tilt and pan tripod head.
I am very impressed with both of my Manfrotto tripod heads and I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending them. The Manfrotto tripod heads are tough, durable, made out of top quality materials, fully adjustable and more than man enough for what I need them to do. Okay, Manfrotto tripod heads aren’t the cheapest tripod heads available but you get what you pay for and you get a lot of bang for the buck. Besides, I would prefer to spend a little more and be one hundred percent confident the tripod heads are going to securely support my expensive camera and lens set ups rather than scrimping and worrying about it.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.