Nope, It’s Not a Ball Head: Consider This Tripod Head Instead

You probably own one. Your favorite photographer probably owns one. That sketchy guy seeking boudoir models on Craigslist probably has one. But is a ball head really the best option out there for all photographers?

In this video, James Brew takes a closer look at the far less popular three-way geared head. We all know that ball heads excel at being relatively compact, lightweight, and fast, but for some photographers they’re still missing that special sauce.

As I found when I reviewed the Really Right Stuff PG-01 panoramic gimbal head, there’s really something to the act of slowing down the photographic process through independent axial adjustments. With a three-way geared head, as the name would suggest, you can control your camera’s leveling, horizontal framing, and vertical framing all separately plus with the precision of turning a geared knob. It’s not all about giving yourself time to think and improving the tactile experience of the photographic process, they are also really great for quick, repeatable panoramic images as well.

While this video covers the $209.95 Benro GD3WH specifically, the functionally is generally the same throughout the range of options. Have you used a three-way gear head before? How was your experience compared to the ubiquitous ball head? Let us know in the comments below.

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8 Comments

Deleted Account's picture

Geared heads work better for what I do, but they're quite expensive and prone to breaking so I've just reverted back to using ball heads.

M M's picture

I had one for a while. It's great but very big so not very good for occasions where you have to do some hiking,

Aleksandar Stajic's picture

Have it. Love it. It's not for everyone though but what is.

Adam Rubinstein's picture

Forget that nonsense. Buy a FlexShooter Pro. Best thing out there.

Yury Hushchyn's picture

For me and one of my genres (shipspotting at extreme distances - 8 to 20 km to the subject) geared head is just perfect. No way I can fine tune composition and center subject at 1200 or 3000mm without geared head. And I am on Manfrotto. Works just perfect for me.

Chris Cameron's picture

I have a geared head and I liked it, till I got a video head. Now I'm L brackets and Video heads all the way.

Nick Haynes's picture

I seldom use a tripod, which is probably why... I've never been understand what people see in ball heads. The freedom to flop? No thanks. I assume that the practised, trained user can instantly point and lock: that is certainly not me.

With a simple pan and tilt head, one can follow lines, then move up/down or along. Or one can have the luxury of knowing that the camera will be horizontal, because that's locked, as one simultaneously OR separately moves the other two.

Geared heads, same, but with precision, and, I assume, much slower to use. Is there is quick release, or does the entire movement by gear? The precision must be a blessing to those that need it. And perhaps a curse to those that simply need to reach a bird on a fence before it flies away.

Anyway, speaking as a different kind of "gear head," I find all these gadgets fascinating.

Deleted Account's picture

Ball heads are generally WAY quicker to get into position than Pan/Tilt heads. They're also more compact since there's no handles jutting out waiting to get snagged on things. Pan/Tilt heads can be a bit of a pain in the ass to adjust if you're not on level terrain since you've got to adjust the two axis separately. With a ball head, you just loosen the knob, adjusting your camera in one shot by hand, and lock it in place. You're not really depending on the tripod head to assist you with the adjustment in any way with a ball head (unless you are using some sort of panning feature). To me, a pan/tilt head is kind of the middle ground between a ball head and a geared head for photo work. It's not as quick as a ball head, but it's not as precise as a geared head. I would guess that's why it's not as popular outside of video folk who get some very real benefits from it due to the smooth movements.