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View Full Version : Ball head for view cameras--any leveling shortcuts?



Peter Latner
20-Jun-2009, 11:30
For years I've used medium format and 4X5 cameras, always on a tripod. I use a ball head for a Mamiya 7 or Fuji rangefinder, and a pan-tilt head for my Ebony RSW45 or Wista 45. (My ball head's a Linhof Profi II, the pan-tilt is a Gitzo 1270 magnesium, the tripod's a Gitzo G1227.) I'd prefer to use the ball head for everything, but it can be pretty finicky sometimes leveling the 4X5 with one. I get one axis correct, and the other one's off. Then I correct, which slightly throws the first axis off, etc.
I'd love to hear about easy leveling methods from those using ball heads with view cameras. Or am I just going to have to live with that problem by giving up separate axis corrections?

Archphoto
20-Jun-2009, 11:47
The best and cheapest solution would be sticking to the heads you have right now.
Maybe getting an extra tripod if you hate to swap heads.

An other solution would be is getting a geared head like the Manfrotto 410, it is very presize and fast to adjust in all 3 axes.
The 410 would take your camera's with ease, I use it for my RB67 and Shen Hao. 4x5.

Peter

Mark Barendt
20-Jun-2009, 13:27
I've just started trying things a bit differently with my Cambo mono rail, my levels are on the camera's back.

With the camera movements squared I ignore both levels completely and compose roughly the same way I would with an SLR.

If I like what I see I level the camera right to left (I continue to ignore the front to back bubble).

Finally I use tilt to set front to rear level and swing to finish the job to get parallax looking the way I want.

Robert Fisher
20-Jun-2009, 14:14
Peter, I have been using the same Arca B2 head since 1997 with every camera made. I do believe that it might support a Mack truck and keep it square on the tripod.

The B2 is now supporting an SW810 Ebony - it takes literally under 10 seconds to square the body - and it stays put.

Peter Latner
20-Jun-2009, 14:50
Yes, I agree--a good ball head should be able to level a camera as well as a pan-tilt head, and I like the compactness of a ball head. And the Profi II can easily handle the weight of my cameras. I'm wondering more about methods people use with them. Do you think it's just a matter of practice and familiarity? For example, do you adjust the tension on your B2 so it's not too slack? Or do you prefer it loose? Also, do you try for one axis at a time, or everything at once?

Archphoto
20-Jun-2009, 14:51
Good to hear that Robert, I never got used to ball-heads for LF.
Choosing a head is allways a personal thing, something you have to find out for your self what kind suits you best.

Regards,
Peter

kev curry
21-Jun-2009, 00:16
Peter, I realise your using 5x4 but this might be worth a shot.
I struggled with the 8x10 on top of a ball head, until I realised where I was going wrong. At first I would try to compose by holding the bed of the camera in various ways... all unpredictable and uncomfortable. Now I use the carry strap on top of the rear standard to move and position the camera. Using this method I have no fear of the camera flopping over, its all very smooth and stable to operate. With the right tension set on the head (as stiff as poss while allowing smooth movement) I find it easy to position the camera via the strap with the left hand with the right hand under the bed ready to lock down the head.
Poetry unintentional:-}

Archphoto
21-Jun-2009, 03:06
It sounds that you have worked out a good methode with your ball head.

I am doing architecture only (and some landscape..) and have found the 410 the easiest for ME.
I even have the Vapo stand for my Sinar P2, but I am thinking of replacing it with a 405 or 400 greared head: the sheer weight of the Vapo + the heaviest Linhof 3 way head (verry little known) is driving ne into that direction as age (mine) starts to feel.

Peter

Bruce Barlow
21-Jun-2009, 03:21
Fred Picker used to moan constantly about how hard ball heads were to use with LF. I think he's right - I want to control only one plane at a time, and a ball head is tough.

That said, I use a ball head with my 35mm on a monopod and swear by it (rather than at it). It's wonderful. But that's an entirely different approach to photography, IMIHO.

Good luck!

john collins
21-Jun-2009, 03:50
I'm with Robert on this. The B2 will support whatever camera you want, adjust in one plane at a time and never move.

Peter Latner
21-Jun-2009, 07:00
Robert--
Is that true? The B2 can do only one plane at a time?

--Peter

BrianShaw
21-Jun-2009, 07:54
I'm with Fred Picker on this one! Ball head for LF cameras isn't worth the hassle to me.

Colin Graham
21-Jun-2009, 08:10
Yeah, me too. Maybe the high-end ballheads are different in that you can control one plane at a time, but not the ones I tried. Minute adjustments on a distinct axis were very awkward if not outright maddening.

falth j
21-Jun-2009, 08:31
Everyone around me extolled the virtues of a ball head, but I noticed they tended to shoot smaller formats, while I struggled with larger cameras, and panoramic shots.


I thought I died and went to heaven when I found the comparative ease of use of a tripod with a leveling center post and the bogen 410 head, that I now almost always use with all formats up to 4x5.…

Brian Ellis
21-Jun-2009, 08:45
The short answer for me at least is "no." I use a ball head for my Canon 5D and used to use it for 35mm and medium format but I've never liked a ball head for 4x5 and especially not for anything larger. The ball head I used to use was an Arca B1, now I use a Really Right Stuff head on a Feisol and a Bogen 410 geared head on a Gitzo 1325 for LF and occasionally with the 5D but the RRS/Feisol combination gets most of the use these days.

Peter Latner
21-Jun-2009, 08:46
I'll keep trying a bit longer with my ball head, adjusting the tension, holding the camera from the top, etc. The Manfrotto 410 looks interesting, but it's heavier than I want for my tripod and it's dedicated to Bogen's QR system, whereas I'm heavily invested in Arca-style. One other issue, though, is when I use my pan-tilt head (Gitzo 1270M), the movements tend to be somewhat jerky, although having that one-axis-at-a-time feature is nice. Everyone's been helpful about this--thanks.

Robert Fisher
21-Jun-2009, 09:02
Peter, AGAIN, the B2 (although technically not a ball head) will support ANY CAMERA 150 pounds or less. My B2 has been around the world with numerous big 600mm Nikons and the 300-800 Sigma mounted on it. 8x10 cameras are of no concern.

Per B&H:

The Arca-Swiss B2 is a totally unique 3-way panhead designed, assembled and operated just like a ballhead. Dual axes have friction control and independent tightening knobs, and an independent panbed base makes the B2 the ideal head for colossal setups like 8x10 view cameras or 600mm telephoto lenses.

The Arca Swiss Monoball eliminates the need to modulate the tension, because its elliptical nature corrects it by virtue of its own design. The load stays exactly where you tell it to once locked into position. A separate control is set to apply a constant minimum friction, which allows the photographer the peace of mind that comes with knowing that his gear will never move of its own volition. The heavier the equipment, the more the advantages of the Arca Swiss become evident. The exquisite finish adds to the exact positioning capacity.

Sal Santamaura
21-Jun-2009, 09:31
The Arca-Swiss B2, while actually a two-axis (not single "ball") head, is total overkill for a 4x5. Get yourself this head

http://www.badgergraphic.com/store/cart.php?m=product_detail&p=705

and put this clamp on it

http://reallyrightstuff.com/rrs/Itemdesc.asp?ic=B2%2DLLR%2DII&eq=&Tp=

You'll never look back, and the combination will continue to serve well in case you want to use it with larger formats. I've mounted everything through 8x10 on mine and find it to easily adjust and lock down tight.

Colin Graham
21-Jun-2009, 09:57
Goodness, $5 for a setscrew (http://reallyrightstuff.com/rrs/Itemdesc.asp?ic=Stud-3%2F8-16x3%2F4&eq=&Tp=)... You can get a pack of 25 from McMaster Carr for $7. Really gives a sense of scale to the rest of their product line.

Sal Santamaura
21-Jun-2009, 10:21
Goodness, $5 for a setscrew (http://reallyrightstuff.com/rrs/Itemdesc.asp?ic=Stud-3%2F8-16x3%2F4&eq=&Tp=)... You can get a pack of 25 from McMaster Carr for $7. Really gives a sense of scale to the rest of their product line.Well, actually that depends on whether one desires 18-8 or 316 stainless:

http://www.mcmaster.com/#set-screws/=2ey73u

I suspect RRS is providing 316. In any case, what's your point? Stocking and selling single-quantities of items like that, as an accommodation for cutomers purchasing its principal products, incurs RRS handling, storage and packaging expenses that must be recovered. Most purchasers are not familiar with McMaster Carr nor would they find the "overhead" cost of time and shipping expense to research and place an order for a single stud worthwhile. RRS' price for that stud conveys no information about the value, utility, quality or competetiveness of its product line.

Colin Graham
21-Jun-2009, 10:28
Well, most people are probably familiar with the local hardware store where they probably only cost 80 cents each. In any case, thanks for the link- always nice to have options, right? BTW, you can get 10 of the 316 version for $6

But my main point was they probably aren't making a great deal of money selling set screws- so why use the extravagant price for a mundane item to set an economic baseline? Sort of reinforces sticker shock and gives an impression of gouging- whether deserved or not.


Well, actually that depends on whether one desires 18-8 or 316 stainless:

http://www.mcmaster.com/#set-screws/=2ey73u

I suspect RRS is providing 316. In any case, what's your point? Stocking and selling single-quantities of items like that, as an accommodation for cutomers purchasing its principal products, incurs RRS handling, storage and packaging expenses that must be recovered. Most purchasers are not familiar with McMaster Carr nor would they find the "overhead" cost of time and shipping expense to research and place an order for a single stud worthwhile. RRS' price for that stud conveys no information about the value, utility, quality or competetiveness of its product line.

Doug Dolde
21-Jun-2009, 11:29
I dumped my Arca B1 for the new Arca Z1-DP. It has a separate panning function at the top so once you get it leveled you can pan and stay level.

Chris Strobel
21-Jun-2009, 14:30
I found this picture of Jack Dykinga using this head which looks like a RRS BH-55.Am I correct here?I've been thinking about buying one for my new Feisol sticks.

http://www.azstarnet.com/ss/2007/03/04/l171700-1.jpg

timparkin
21-Jun-2009, 15:15
I found this picture of Jack Dykinga using this head which looks like a RRS BH-55.Am I correct here?I've been thinking about buying one for my new Feisol sticks.

http://www.azstarnet.com/ss/2007/03/04/l171700-1.jpg

Yes that is indeed a BH55.. I use one myself (on an ebony 45SU) and am very happy with it. I don't use much tension on it either.. I just grab the strap at the top of the back standard and move it about until I'm happy.

Tim

darr
21-Jun-2009, 15:20
I found this picture of Jack Dykinga using this head which looks like a RRS BH-55.Am I correct here?I've been thinking about buying one for my new Feisol sticks.

http://www.azstarnet.com/ss/2007/03/04/l171700-1.jpg

Yes, it looks like the RRS BH-55 ballhead I use, except his has the screw-knob clamp whereas I use the lever-release. I purchased a screw-knob clamp and have it mounted on an older Gitzo Rational 4 head for in studio use. Glad I did. :)

rdenney
22-Jun-2009, 13:35
Yes, I agree--a good ball head should be able to level a camera as well as a pan-tilt head, and I like the compactness of a ball head. And the Profi II can easily handle the weight of my cameras. I'm wondering more about methods people use with them. Do you think it's just a matter of practice and familiarity? For example, do you adjust the tension on your B2 so it's not too slack? Or do you prefer it loose? Also, do you try for one axis at a time, or everything at once?

The B2 has two clamping axes, unlike most ballheads that lock the ball from one point. It does it by having two nested balls, one constrained to fore-aft movement and the other to movements side to side.

I've been going down the same path as you. I have used an Arca Monoball (early style) for a while now for small and medium format. I had always used a Bogen 3047 in the old days, but I have always hated how the handles on it defy compact packing and seem to catch on everything. And I finally got sick of futzing with the hex-plates. Switching to Arca-style mounting plates made it possible to permanently mount plates on the all the cameras I use regularly. The plates are much less bulky, too, and come in configurations that prevent twisting to a much greater extent than the Bogen/Manfrotto plates.

I love the Monoball for smaller cameras but can't stand it for the Sinar. My procedure has been to first level the top of the tripod (easy with the Bogen 3036 legs with adjustable center braces). Then, zero the controls on the camera, and then level the top of the ball using the camera's bubble levels. Then, remember to lock it all down tightly. At that point, panning the ball should not cause the camera to wander out of level, within the precision of the bubble on the tripod (which is not great). This process was seldom satisfactory, mostly because the levels on the Sinar couldn't be seen from the same vantage point and that made it very difficult to get the ball positioned properly. And the Sinar tripod mount allows the camera to be tilted to one side without any calibration marks to zero, though I had made my own marks.

The B2 ballhead solves some of this problem by making the two axes separately lockable. And there are also other expensive solutions that should work well.

But I was looking for a cheaper solution. I found a used set of 3036 legs locally, and that allows me to set up a tripod with the legs I like optimized for the view camera, while leaving the existing setup with the Monoball for use with smaller cameras. That cost $100. I then installed a Wimberley mounting clamp (for Arca-style mounting plates) onto a Bogen hex-plate and put that on my Manfrotto 229 head that I already had. That worked okay, but that head is just too tall and it still has those annoying handles. So, I finally succumbed to the temptation to get a 410 geared head, given that I could not find the original Sinar tilt head for a reasonable sum. And then as soon as I did that, the Sinar tilt head became available for a very good price on this forum and I bought one of those as well. I've still spent MUCH less than a B2 or any of the other expensive alternatives that have been presented in this thread.

Rick "thinking the Sinar tilt head is going to win the day" Denney

Daniel Unkefer
22-Jun-2009, 17:26
the Sinar tilt head is going to win the day"

I predict you will enjoy using it with your F.

-Dan, have four or five of these, mostly green, but also several modern black ones.

rdenney
22-Jun-2009, 17:46
I predict you will enjoy using it with your F.

-Dan, have four or five of these, mostly green, but also several modern black ones.

Good to hear from you, Dan. Next time you're east, give me a shout. We'll go out Sinaring and Kieving together, heh, heh.

Rick "so far really impressed by even the so-called budget Sinar stuff" Denney

Darin Boville
22-Jun-2009, 18:14
Goodness, $5 for a setscrew (http://reallyrightstuff.com/rrs/Itemdesc.asp?ic=Stud-3%2F8-16x3%2F4&eq=&Tp=)... You can get a pack of 25 from McMaster Carr for $7. Really gives a sense of scale to the rest of their product line.

Aw, that's nothing. You haven't factored in the $6.50 shipping cost yet for a grant total of $11.50!

For my part I use a 410 for almost all 4x5 work and most DSLR work. Even on the DSLR I got tired of dealing with a ball head when the edges were critical or the magnification was high, or both.

However, the B2 looks interesting (at an "interesting" price)...

--Darin

D. Bryant
22-Jun-2009, 18:20
Aw, that's nothing. You haven't factored in the $6.50 shipping cost yet for a grant total of $11.50!

For my part I use a 410 for almost all 4x5 work and most DSLR work. Even on the DSLR I got tired of dealing with a ball head when the edges were critical or the magnification was high, or both.

However, the B2 looks interesting (at an "interesting" price)...

--Darin

The B2 would be way over kill for a 4x5 or SLR. Consider the Markins Q3 Emille.

http://www.markinsamerica.com/MA5/Q3.php

The 410 is a tedious head to use in my opinion, not to mention the lack luster mounting plate.

Don Bryant

Colin Graham
22-Jun-2009, 18:48
Well, to be fair to RRS, looks like Markins is charging $8 for a titanium set screw (http://www.markinsamerica.com/MA5/CB1.php). :D
I think I'll just go throw more dimes at the orphans, lol.

D. Bryant
22-Jun-2009, 19:22
Well, to be fair to RRS, looks like Markins is charging $8 for a titanium set screw (http://www.markinsamerica.com/MA5/CB1.php). :D
I think I'll just go throw more dimes at the orphans, lol.

8 bucks to secure a camera costing thousand - I don't see the relevance. As for RRS they make good stuff and so does Kirk. I'm glad we have choices.

Don Bryant

Colin Graham
22-Jun-2009, 19:46
8 bucks to secure a camera costing thousand - I don't see the relevance.
Don Bryant


Well, can't help you there. Why spend 80 cents when you're at the local hardware store when you can drop $15-17 with shipping? How could that possibly be relevant in this day and age?

Typically I loathe the sort of outburst that I'm currently making, but what the hell. The fact that this litte screw is 8 bucks is clearly touching a nerve. I'll likely get over it. My apologies to the participants of the thread.

rdenney
22-Jun-2009, 21:32
Well, to be fair to RRS, looks like Markins is charging $8 for a titanium set screw (http://www.markinsamerica.com/MA5/CB1.php). :D
I think I'll just go throw more dimes at the orphans, lol.

Titanium?

Sheesh.

Half the strength of high-strength steel and a tendency to gall even worse than stainless steel, which is bad enough. It is, of course, lighter. I didn't realize that the weight of set screws was crucial.

Rick "who found some nickel-plated brass on some Indian knockoffs" Denney

rdenney
22-Jun-2009, 21:41
The B2 would be way over kill for a 4x5 or SLR. Consider the Markins Q3 Emille.

http://www.markinsamerica.com/MA5/Q3.php

The 410 is a tedious head to use in my opinion, not to mention the lack luster mounting plate.

With respect, how does the Markins solve the problem of the original post? The bubble level might help, but I don't see how it's going to be any easier to level than the B1, Monoball, or any other ballhead (save the B2, which has separate locking for each axis).

For my Sinar, any ballhead is overkill. The rail can already be tilted laterally on the tripod clamp, so all that's really needed is panning and fore/aft tilting, which the Sinar tilt head provides, especially if the tripod base can be leveled.

I'll find out if the 410 is tedious--I have one on the way. But it does have momentary quick releases for the geared controls to allow very fast gross positioning. Without that, I would agree that it would likely be too fiddly. We'll see.

Rick "whose Monoball is bigger than a B2 and doesn't seem all that much too large" Denney

Henry Carter
23-Jun-2009, 00:13
The Linhof 3663 3-way levelling head is a light, rigid, compact and elegant solution for 4X5 cameras.

Yes it is expensive, but after 10 years of use you come to appreciate that it was built to perform flawlessly for the next several generations.

Bob McCarthy
23-Jun-2009, 06:01
I use a B-55 with all my camera rigs.

But I have the Gitzo leveling base on the tripod (1325). I set up the tripod at the height I want, use the leveling base to level the top of the tripod. I have the ball locked down in a perfect vertical alignment.

I snap the camera on the Ball head, spin the camera to verify a good bubble and shoot.

If I keep the ball head in the vertical position, I only have to level the tripod base on each setup, everything is already prealigned.

http://www.naturescapes.net/store/product.php?productid=289

Fast and precise.

bob

D. Bryant
23-Jun-2009, 06:37
With respect, how does the Markins solve the problem of the original post? The bubble level might help, but I don't see how it's going to be any easier to level than the B1, Monoball, or any other ballhead (save the B2, which has separate locking for each axis).

For my Sinar, any ballhead is overkill. The rail can already be tilted laterally on the tripod clamp, so all that's really needed is panning and fore/aft tilting, which the Sinar tilt head provides, especially if the tripod base can be leveled.

I'll find out if the 410 is tedious--I have one on the way. But it does have momentary quick releases for the geared controls to allow very fast gross positioning. Without that, I would agree that it would likely be too fiddly. We'll see.

Rick "whose Monoball is bigger than a B2 and doesn't seem all that much too large" Denney

My post wasn't written in response to the original post. I owned a 410 for several years and finally sold it. For a larger heavier camera like the Sinar a larger ball head is is going to be necessary. But I would never use a Sinar outside of the studio.

Don Bryant

venchka
23-Jun-2009, 07:52
Peter, I have been using the same Arca B2 head since 1997 with every camera made. I do believe that it might support a Mack truck and keep it square on the tripod.

The B2 is now supporting an SW810 Ebony - it takes literally under 10 seconds to square the body - and it stays put.

Robert,

If you give lessons on leveling field cameras on ball heads, I could use one!

Wayne

Pete Roody
23-Jun-2009, 09:17
I have the same setup as Bob (Gitzo 1325 with levelling base) and can quickly level the base. I still prefer using a 3-way pan-tilt head versus a ball head with this setup. You typically start at level but many compositions require some movement, typically in one plane. It is frustrating to use a ball head in these instances.


I use a B-55 with all my camera rigs.

But I have the Gitzo leveling base on the tripod (1325). I set up the tripod at the height I want, use the leveling base to level the top of the tripod. I have the ball locked down in a perfect vertical alignment.

I snap the camera on the Ball head, spin the camera to verify a good bubble and shoot.

If I keep the ball head in the vertical position, I only have to level the tripod base on each setup, everything is already prealigned.

http://www.naturescapes.net/store/product.php?productid=289

Fast and precise.

bob

rdenney
23-Jun-2009, 10:01
But I would never use a Sinar outside of the studio.

Understood. But I would, heh, heh.

In fact, I'm coming to the conclusion that the Sinar is no heavier nor any more unbalanced than a field camera that accommodates the same goodies. And it's much more compact that my Cambo. It's no Gowland Pocket View, but it's still about as compact as any 4x5 view camera and not really any greater a load on a tripod head than a full-featured field camera. You swept up a lot of 4x5 real-estate with your response, so I didn't really know where you were drawing your boundaries.

On the more general topic: The B2 ballhead is NOT like other ballheads. I inspected one in some detail a couple of weeks ago as I was pondering alternatives to my Monoball. It looks like a ballhead, but it comprises two nested balls that each ride on an axis, rather than a single free ball. Those axes are at right angles and are separately lockable. Thus, it is completely possible with the B2 to adjust the two axes completely independently. I've not seen another ball head with that capability. The B2 is really a combination of a ballhead and a three-way head. It uses the ball shapes to provide a large friction surface, which makes it easier to lock it down with a smallish knob, rather than the open clamp on a shaft that requires a long handle typical of three-way heads. With bubble levels on the platform, which, alas, it does not have, it would be perfect (except for the price).

Rick "who might well come to agree that the 410 is too fiddly" Denney

Peter Latner
23-Jun-2009, 15:01
Lots of good suggestions--thanks. And it's valuable to know how others deal with it.

Here's the plan for now:


. . . . After talking with the people at Really Right Stuff, I'm trading in my RRS clamp for a newer model that has a built-in level. The idea is to level the head, then mount the camera. I'm a little dubious, but it's worth a try. (How will I know where to exactly settle on a place for the tripod without looking through the camera?) But RRS gives you 50% off the price of a new clamp with your trade-in. And, the new one has a lever rather than a knob. So, for $60, not a big risk.

. . . .Use my Gitzo pan-tilt head if necessary.

. . . .Get better at leveling my camera with the ball head. Harder things have been mastered.

. . . .Keep my eyes open for a used Linhof 3-way leveling head.

spiky247
25-Jun-2009, 23:57
does anyone else here use the Gitzo Systematic GH5380SQR ball head?
I just got it as a set with my GT3530LS tripod, it is very stable when locked down. I'm thinking about getting another one, but with out the quick plate and adding the GS3750DQR pan head on top, this way once you level everything on the ball head you can pan without changing the other two axis, has anyone had experience with this setup?

Archphoto
26-Jun-2009, 03:13
Having a panhead ontop: probably the best place for it !
I have the heaviest 3 way head Linhof ever build (extreemly rare and NOT selling) and it even works when the tripod is placed in a bit weird position.
After leveling you can pan and stay level.

Foba makes a seperate panorama att that you can put ontop of the head the BALTO, dia 76mm and can take a Sinar P2 8x10. I have used it in the studio, great !
Foba has a smaller one aswell, the BALTA.

A head or a combination with panorama capabilities at both the bottom and top is a real asset in the field and studio.

Peter

nelson_chan
26-Jun-2009, 22:18
I just got a Linhof 3-way leveling head with Linhof quick release plate on the used market and can say that all the praise is well deserved. Good luck on your search

boris
27-Jun-2009, 00:58
does anyone else here use the Gitzo Systematic GH5380SQR ball head?
I just got it as a set with my GT3530LS tripod, it is very stable when locked down. I'm thinking about getting another one, but with out the quick plate and adding the GS3750DQR pan head on top, this way once you level everything on the ball head you can pan without changing the other two axis, has anyone had experience with this setup?

i have the same ball head. i can levell a linhof technika 5x7 with a huge tele xenar 500mm in 10 seconds. sensitive friction adjustment and limited adjustability ( 30 ) makes tipping impossible.
the fear of loosing control of 8kg isn't helpfull especially if you work in public. ;)
boris