Photography News issue 24

54 Accessories test Tripod heads Explore the world of specialist heads and see how investing in different models can improve your shooting... The point at whichyou start thinking about tripodheads as separate things to tripod legs defines you as a photographer; most of us start off with a low- cost, all-in-one model where the head is stuck fast to the legs, but move on to twinning separate heads and legs and you’re really getting serious. Unlike all-in-one affairs, enthusiast pairings let you adapt to different subjects, improve your shooting, and help you pack smaller and lighter, if required; they come in shapes and sizes designed to meet every need there is, so whether you shoot wildlife, sport, landscapes, still-life or anything in between, there’ll be something to suit your needs. Even if you already have an enthusiast tripod and head set-up, investing in alternative heads is important because although you can often use the same set of legs for different subjects, different heads let you specialise and get the most from your shooting. Fortunately, the commonality of tripod head connectors means you can mix and match manufacturers, because the vast majority mount using a 3/8in thread and use a 1/4in threaded quick-release plate to attach your camera, and improve stability and the speed of access. When buying, first consider the application; what are you shooting and what’s the bestmodel for the job?After all, we can all agree that Ferraris are awesome, but trying to off-road up a mountainside in one is anything but. So, while a ball head allows fast and free movement, it’s not necessarily as accurate as a three-way model. Pick the right head for the job and success will come. The weight and load capacity are also vital – you don’t want to be carrying more than you need to, but conversely if your kit is in the heavyweight bracket you need a head that will support it with ease. Also consider the load-bearing of the tripod it’s going onto, because that has to support both the head you’re using and the camera gear on top. Now let’s get to picking your next tripod head… Buyers’ guide

Photography News Issue 24

MANFROTTO XPRO 3-Way geared head £160

Type: Geared Height: 130mm Weight: 750g Max load: 4kg


SIRUI PH-20 £400

Type: Gimbal Height: 230mm Weight: 1.09kg Max load: 20kg


VANGUARD PH-304 window mount £35 Type: Window mount Height: 145mm Weight: 730kg Max load: 4kg

NEST NT-301 Pistol Grip £35


Type: Pistol grip Height: 125mm Weight: 440kg Max load: 5kg


Manfrotto XPRO 3-Way geared head £130

2 Sirui PH-20 £400 When using long telephoto lenses, some support goes a longway in reducing camera shake and producing sharper pics. But you also need a freedom of movement and balance that isn’t usually offered by typical ball or three-way heads. Gimbal heads, however, offer a much better solution, letting you mount long, heavy lenses at the centre of gravity of the lens and body, then track the subject with very little effort as, when correctly adjusted, the camera and lens will feel almost weightless. This PH-20 gimbal head is a top-notch example and with its supporting arm being made frommulti-layer carbon-fibre, it provides lots of strength at a minimal weight. Combined with aircraft-grade aluminium alloy in its bracket support, it’s a stable, versatile platform for camera and lens set-ups weighing up to 20kg, but weighs only 1.09kg itself. The carbon-fibre arm also means it’s more comfortable to handle in freezing conditions, where metal can stick itself to your hands. The head canmove through 360º horizontally, and has a broad tilt range of +150 to -60º, so following subjects is easy. It also uses an Arca-Swiss compatible quick-release system, and a plate is included.

Vanguard PH-304 windowmount £35



This XPRO 3-Way geared headwill provide very precise framing thanks to the ‘geared’ part of the name. Like a regular three-way head, it pans and tilts both to the front and either side, but each axis has a rubberised ‘micrometric’ knob, which you turn to slowly change the orientation making minor adjustments easy to apply. Unlike a ball head, you can adjust one plane of movement at a time, and you don’t need to support the camera when recomposing, so it’s great for macro work, or exacting architectural compositions. The geared operation shifts the view about 5º per turn and there are built- in scales on the knobs to calculate this. When quicker movement is needed, there are levers that you pinch into the knobs for a free, sweeping turn. Befitting its precision objectives, the head also has bubble-levels on each axis, so you can make sure you’re shooting straight. The XPRO 3-Way uses a standard Manfrotto 200PL quick release plate and it supports loads of up to 4kg, so it will accept most DSLR set-ups. Weighing 750g the head has a sturdy feel, too, and a standard 3/8in screw thread, so can be mounted on almost any set of legs.

Now you might think that a window- mounted camera support is a bit of a niche buy, but get ready to think again, because having one in your arsenal can be very useful indeed. This excellent example, the Vanguard PH-304 doesn’t only attach to car or building window frames, it’ll sit securely on pretty much any object that you can fit within its vice- like jaws; fences, branches, pipes… even the legs of a tripod itself are fair game if required, allowing an almost unlimited range of locked-off exposures and creative compositions. So, whether you don’t have your tripod to hand and simply want a little more stability in your shots, or need to position a camera in place that a regular tripod and head can’t reach, the PH-304 comes in extremely handy. And with its smooth, free movement, you can use it for a spotting scope or video applications, too. On top of the adjustable base sits a three-way head with a front to back +90 to -60º tilt and a 0 to 90º lateral one, and the head also pans through 360º. Camera attachment is via an included Vanguard QS-36 and the head will support loads of up to 4kg, weighing only 730g itself.

Above Though tripod legs can be used for awide range of photography, specialist heads help you adapt to specific subjects.

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