View Full Version : Ball or Tilt Pan head???

15-May-2008, 12:04
Finally ordered my Field Camera. Should have it in a days. Already have the new Feisol Tournament 'pod. Now I need a head. I know ball heads are smaller, lighter weight and generally cheaper than tilt/pans. I cant get away from thinking that a geared tilt/pan would be more precise and easy to work with. Any suggestions on the issue? Camera weight is 6.5 lbs w/o lens.

15-May-2008, 12:26
I've used all three. And liked all three.

The ballhead was a Gitzo #2 and I used it with a Rolie TLR, a Gowland 4x5 pocket View and a Deardorff Special w/ 5x7 back. I got very use to it, but I see where they would be more probmatic with a heavy 8x10. The new Gitzo ballheads look sweet in the Calumet ads. Having a separate panning control is good to have.

The gearhead is a Majestic -- really only geared in one direction and I have used it with my 8x10. I set the camera on it so that the geared movement controlled the horizon. It is sweet to just crank it a bit and have the horizon just where I want it. A gearhead that was geared in multiple directions seems like it would be a pleasure to use...except for the weight and cost.

The tilt-pan heads (such as the Bogen 3-way) are fine, but I found them to be the most hassle of the three basic types. Handles stick out all over the place -- a lot of tightening all the time.

I am now using a Ries double tilt A-250 head for my 8x10, which I also like...but they are way over-kill for a 4x5.


Brian Ellis
15-May-2008, 18:08
I don't care for ball heads for LF photography, I use one (Really Right Stuff now, Arca Swiss B1 before that) only when hiking and then I consider it a compromise to save weight. But generally the big camera just seems to do too much flopping around getting into position on a ball head for my tastes. Either a pan-tilt or a geared head is better for me.

The geared head I use (Bogen 410) is pretty heavy and IMHO the precision it offers isn't necessary for landscape. I bought mine mainly for architecture though now that I have it I also use it for landscape. I like pan-tilt heads fine, I've had a bunch of different ones, the only one I still have is a Bogen 3047 that I don't use, mainly because the geared head works about as well. However, despite the fact that the gears on the 410 can be released when you want to make a big movement so that it can kind of function as a pan-tilt head, it isn't really quite as easy to use in that situation as a pan-tilt head. Those little knobs sometimes are very hard to turn as they get close to their maximum in either direction.

15-May-2008, 18:13
I agree with Brian. A ball head and a large format camera makes a very awkward combination, at least for me anyway. I've tried it a few times, but always to back to a simpler single-tilt ries head.

Renato Tonelli
15-May-2008, 19:34
I'll chime in my agreement with Brian and Daniel. Two years ago I spend good money for a good ball head (Linhof). Too much "flopping around" and it took forever to fine tune a composition. Never got the hang of it and went back to the Manfrotto pan/tilt.

Alan Davenport
15-May-2008, 20:34
IMO, ball heads are the worst choice for LF cameras. Pan/tilt heads are OK, but geared heads are the ultimate.

15-May-2008, 23:30
So what's the difference w/ the Ries tilt heads? are they capable of all movements of a pan head as well?

Ole Tjugen
15-May-2008, 23:47
Just to be contrary, I prefer ball heads.

I use a medium-size Giottos head for up to 4x5" - sometimes 5x7" too - and a huge Unilock head for bigger cameras.

Frank Petronio
16-May-2008, 00:25
With a ballhead you merely have to develop the habit of keeping a hand on the camera when you loosen it. A bad/cheap/dirty ballhead would be the one that requires both hands to operate... Some ballheads like the Arca, RRS, etc. have adjustable tension which you can tighten enough that the camera doesn't flop, but you still want to have a firm hold onto the camera whenever you're using a ballhead.

You will also want to match the right size head to your tripod. Why not just buy one of the Feisol heads and keep it simple?

You could also try a #2 or #3 series Gitzo pan-tilt or maybe a less expensive Bogen 3-way. Remember you can always unload anything decent in the for sale section of this forum, so you probably could try both styles of heads for a few weeks and sell the one you like the least (for maybe 80% of what you paid). Once you adopt this philosophy you can "rent" gear to try it out, flipping whatever doesn't work for you.

The problem with a lot of the heads is that they all use different quick release plates which are a pain in the ass and expensive. Most of the classic Gitzos still use the traditional 1/4-20 screws and are much more versatile.

I use a Linhof 3-way head that has very compact levers instead of long handles -- it is the best head I've ever used (and I've tried all the major brands and types). Like a ballhead I still need to hold onto the camera. The only problem is that even used it would still cost more than your tripod.

Someone will now extol the virtues of the universal Arca-Swiss quick release plates.... ;-) Don't believe them. Everything I say is the absolute last word and flawless.

Brian K
16-May-2008, 04:10
The choice of head type is a series of compromises usually involving weight and size as the determining factors. The best head for a view camera is a geared head. It allows precise controlled moves and can be rock solid, however this comes at the serious expense of weight, these can be quite heavy. A regular pan tilt type head is lighter but usually has longish arms that always seem to be in the way when you're trying to stow the tripod. Lastly you have ballheads. This is what I use with my Linhof MT and for field cameras can work quite well as long as you ALWAYS keep one hand on the camera as you adjust. However they can be a little slow to critically compose as they tend to require a certain amount of back and forth until you hit exactly the right spot and if you are trying to get perfect verticals and horizontals it will take a little longer with a ball head.

As for Arca quick release, I must extol the virtues of them when used with the appropriate camera. For a field camera or a lightweight 4x5 they are super convenient. I would not use them with anything larger than a 5x7" though. And while everything that Franks says is usually the absolute last word and flawless (after all he is the absolute master of getting skinny tattooed girls to take their clothes off ), in this case he's wrong and needs immediate punishment. Maybe two weeks of shooting a ball bearing catalog?

David A. Goldfarb
16-May-2008, 04:36
The ultimate, I think, is the Arca-Swiss B2 (until Arca comes out with a lighter weight Z2, which is said to be in the works), which has the strength-for-weight of a ballhead and the control of a pan-tilt head, but it's expensive.

I sometimes use an Acratech ballhead lately, which is wonderfully light, and while it can be maddening when you're used to a pan-tilt head or geared head, I find that it greatly helps to use a circular bullet level (rather than one or two cylindrical levels) to level the camera, since the bubble moves the way the head moves--at least when you want the camera level, which I usually do. If you want the camera to be pointed up or down, then it's better to have two perpendicular levels, but it's also maddening.

FLM makes a few heads that look like they might be a compromise between a single ball head and a B2, but I haven't tried them myself. They have a braking mechanism so that you can level the camera left to right, apply the "tilt function", and it will hold the camera level while you tilt forward or back. It seems like a great idea, if it works, and it comes in smaller versions than the B2, if you don't need a head that supports 150 lbs.

I like my Arca quick releases. I've got them on pretty much everything, even the big cameras. My best Arca trick is on my Linhof Tech V. I have a short plate on the body and a 4" plate on the baseboard, so I can slide the camera back and forth in the clamp for balance or as an ersatz macro rail, and I can clamp across the two plates.

Bob Salomon
16-May-2008, 04:48
For those going to the Ft. Collins show in June we will be bringing several high end heads such as the Linhof 003636 3-Way Leveling Head, the Novoflex Classic Ball 3 and 5 and their MagicBall series, the new Berlebach 2-way and 3-way pan heads with tension control and, of course, Giottos latest series of ball heads. To go with these we will also show the Novoflex, Berlebach and Giottos quick release bases and plates that are Arca compatible.

Doremus Scudder
16-May-2008, 05:54
The problem I have with ball heads is that one cannot make small adjustments in one dimension without loosening the locks on one or two others. I do, however, like the small size of the ball heads, and hate the long handles on normal pan/tilt heads.

My solution was the Manfrotto 3025 head that has three lock knobs and is about the same size as some larger ball heads. I can loosen all three knobs and use it like a ball head, but then tighten what I want and make adjustments in just one direction. The best of both worlds for me. I am sure there are other heads like this in many sizes.

BTW, I hate quick release heads: they release quickly, and often when one doesn't want them to! I find that by loosening the adjustment for the tilt, tilting the camera plate 90 degrees to vertical to allow easy access to the mounting screw and mounting the camera sideways and then flopping it back down to normal position is just about as fast as a quick release and much more secure. Somewhere on the forum is a thread about a guy getting his meter lanyard hooked around his quick-release lever and sending his 8x10 camera tumbling.... not something I want to do!

Good hunting,

Doremus Scudder

16-May-2008, 10:07
I will agree with Doremus about quick releases -- I prefer not to use them...but then my only experience with them have been the hexagonal Bogen ones -- there are probably better ones out there. But I like the solidity of a direct camera-to-head contact. Since I really only use one camera these days, quick interchangability is not an issue and taking maybe 10 more seconds (if that much) to put the camera on the pod is not significant in the way I work.

I used a ballhead for 10 years (4x5 and 5x7), and perhaps it was a matter of practice, but I had no more difficulty lining up images with it than I do with pan-tilt heads. I did have a 4x5 for awhile that had a revolving back that I could use to straighten up horizons without loosening the ballhead -- that was nice.


Bjorn Nilsson
16-May-2008, 10:11
The one I really like is the Sinar tilt/pan head. Compact, quite light and steady as a rock. I use mine in combination with a leveling base on a Feisol 3371 which makes it very easy to adjust and use.