How to Buy the Right Tripod Head for Your Camera

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How to Buy the Right Tripod Head for Your Camera
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How to Buy the Right Tripod Head for Your Camera

A tripod for a camera is basically constructed of three legs which are connected to a plate at the top. It is possible to connect a camera directly to the stop plate, but it will then only be possible to aim the camera directly straight ahead. A tripod head can be connected to the plate and the camera is then fixed onto the tripod head which can be moved around as needed. This gives the user much greater flexibility in both aiming and positioning the camera. There are three main types of tripod head available, and they function in slightly different ways.

Types of Tripod Head

Given the wide variety of camera types and models available, it goes without saying that there are also several different kinds of tripod heads. The list below describes a few of the most commonly used variations.

Ball Heads

One of the main advantages of using a ball head on a tripod is the speed with which it can be adjusted. There is normally only one lock to be undone and then the ball head can be moved in any direction and relocked in the required position. Some ball heads may also have controls to enable fine tuning of the lock to ensure pin point accuracy. A ball head is particularly good for portrait photography when there is no need to adjust any of the angles separately. There are a variety of locking mechanisms available for ball heads, and it is worth considering the pros and cons of each before purchasing. A hydrostatic ball head uses a reservoir of liquid as a locking mechanism instead of a pin or a clamp. The liquid is usually oil, and the benefit of this type of ball head is that it will not wear out as quickly. The alternative type of locking mechanism for a ball head is the sprung grip lock. This will lock the ball head securely but does have the disadvantage of adding some additional bulk and weight.
It is vital to confirm the maximum load capacity of a ball head before purchasing as heavier cameras or ones with telephoto lenses may be unsuitable for this type of tripod head and be at risk of tipping over. If it is intended to use the ball head with a heavier camera, then it is best to buy a model that has the additional support of an adjustable friction damper. This will make it easy to adjust the camera and reduce the pressure on a single lock. Another point to check is how the camera will actually be fastened to the tripod head. There are two types of fastenings. The standard screw head fastenings will not add much additional weight and are very small. The downside is that they will take more time to set up and to unfasten. The other type of fastening is a quick release (QR) mount. This will add some bulk to the tripod head but has the advantage of being quicker to set up and easy to use. The quick release mount has the added bonus of ensuring that the camera is immediately in perfect alignment to the tripod head as soon as it has clicked into place, whereas cameras attached by screw fastenings will normally require some additional minor adjustments once they have been attached.
There is also a variation of the ball head type of tripod head called a pistol or joystick head which is adjusted by squeezing a trigger instead of altering a locking screw. The trigger releases the tension on the ball which enables adjustments to be made. In theory, this is a very simple procedure but in practice precise adjustments can be difficult to make and can result in the camera needing to be fully unscrewed in order to reverse the orientation. Otherwise it has been shown that there can be a danger of the connecting screw becoming loose. This joystick type of ball head has also been shown to be prone to sag at the front depending on the weight of the camera so should probably be avoided.

Pan and Tilt Heads

There are normally two or three separate controls to make adjustments on pan and tilt tripod heads. This enables the user to adjust the camera left and right, up and down, and the whole 360 degrees around. Each of the controls will have the ability to be adjusted and locked independently. This enables the position of the camera to be more precisely adjusted as one axis can be altered in isolation although positioning can take a little longer using this type of tripod head. The ability to alter solely one axis is particularly useful for landscape photography when it may be necessary to set the horizon first while still retaining the capacity to make other movements. A pan and tilt head is also ideal for macro photography, when the ability to make tiny precise movements are essential. A pan and tilt tripod head which has three controls will normally have two extending locking arms which will control the tilt and swivel function, while the pan function will be controlled by a small thumbscrew. It is definitely worth checking that the extending arms on the pan and tilt head can be easily removed as they would add substantial bulk when travelling with the tripod and could run the risk of being bent or damaged.

Gimbal Heads

The best way of describing a gimbal head is that it combines some features of the ball head and the pan and tilt heads. Based on the design of a telescope, a gimbal head sets out to balance a camera at its natural point of gravity and then allows rotation around that point so that a camera which has a large lens will not be at risk of tipping over, as could happen with a ball head. A gimbal head is a good choice for a heavy camera or one with telephoto lenses as it will provide security in addition to flexibility.

To find a Tripod head on eBay

The first step is to open the eBay homepage and then click on the All Categories link which is situated near the top left of the homepage. Then click on the link for the Cameras & Photography category. A list of sub categories will then be displayed on the left side of the page including one for Tripods & Supports.. Click on this link and a further list of sub categories will be shown which includes a link for Tripod Heads.. A list of all the tripod heads that are currently available to buy will then be displayed. It is possible to refine the search even further if the user is looking for a specific type of tripod head as there are further links available for Ball Heads,, Pan/Tilt Heads and other types of tripod heads. It is also possible to search directly on eBay for a tripod head by using the search bar which is positioned near the top of every eBay page. Typing in specific keywords such as "tripod ball head new" would display all of that type of tripod head which was currently available for sale.

Conclusion

Making a decision about which is the best type of tripod head to buy is mainly dependant on the type and the weight of the camera that will be used with the tripod and whether the tripod is intended for all round use or for a specific type of photography. All of the different types of tripod heads have both advantages and disadvantages. The final choice, therefore, also depends on which factors are the most important to the user, such as the required speed of adjustment, the ability to make precise adjustments on individual axis, and less bulk being added to the tripod.

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