Is this precision tool worth considering for your photography workflow?
Three-way geared precision heads aren’t really the most popular kind of tripod heads, and this may be for practical reasons. Most tripod kits come with ball-heads that are often very simple to operate with one or two knobs to control everything. Pan-and-tilt heads are also relatively common for most entry-level tripods but are generally less used because of the obvious simplicity of the ball-head’s lock-unlock system. Geared precision heads are generally better known by experienced photographers who may have found the need for the benefits of what is usually a more complicated and heavier tripod setup. That is mostly because of the efficiency in making minute adjustments as well as setting up meticulous framing and composition.
What Is a Three-Way Geared Precision Head?
A geared head is a kind of tripod head that has three separate control mechanisms for three independent actions. One knob is dedicated to panning, another knob is for horizontal tilt, and the third controls only the vertical or forward tilt. Each of the three different axes of motion is adjusted independently from the others to be able to achieve precise adjustments when framing a shot. Unlike ball heads and pan-tilt heads, where the knobs control only the friction lock that allows or restricts movement, each knob on the three-way geared head controls a gear that has a resulting movement directly proportional to the turn made on the knob. This way, the photographer has full control of the resulting movement, no matter how small it is.
What Is a Three-Way Geared Precision Head Used For?
Geared heads are useful in various kinds of photography that require meticulous composition, especially when not everything can be corrected in post. It is, however, not an absolute essential but more of a tool that makes things more convenient and efficient. Geared heads allow for controlled movement and precise adjustments often at the expense of speed (especially if the user hasn’t entirely gotten used to the controls). Using them isn’t as simple as the unlock-adjust-lock process of ball heads, but for an experienced user, the controlled movements may actually lessen overshooting or unintended adjustments on a different axis.
The Manfrotto Three-Way Geared Precision Head
The Manfrotto MHXPRO-3WG is made up of mainly matte black Technopolymer with rubber-coated knobs and red metallic accents. The use of technopolymer allows for a relatively lighter net weight on the head without actually sacrificing payload. It adds a total of 13.0 cm to the tripod’s height, while the base width is at 6 cm. Each of the three knobs is coated with a rubberized material for better grip when adjusting and each with an accompanying spring-clamp lock system that works like motorcycle brakes that gives the user an option for faster and bigger movements.
On the same axes as the movement of adjustment on each knob are conveniently placed angle indicators that allow the user to monitor the degree of rotation that has been made for more controlled adjustments. Alongside them are individual neon green bubble level indicators to guide each adjustment, especially when the tripod is on uneven ground. The MHXPRO-threeWG comes with a quick-release mounting mechanism specifically made for the Manfrotto 200-PL14 plate. There is no option for side-mounting (Arca Swiss compatible) plates on the three-way geared head, unlike the Manfrotto X-Pro ball head.
Functionality and Motion
The pan knob allows for a full 360° rotation of movement with seamless motion and no clicks. The lateral tilt allows for 20° to the right and up to 90° tilt to the left for an upright vertical frame. The vertical tilt allows for 20° upward movement and a full 90° tilt down. Squeezing the spring-clamp locks allows for bigger and faster movement that can be followed by precise adjustments through the knobs.
The 750-gram overall weight of the head lessens the bulk of carrying the relatively bigger tripod head and also increases the probability of using it with even smaller tripods as it doesn’t virtually add much to the load. In comparison to the older three-way geared head, this is actually extensively lighter. The older Manfrotto 410 geared head weighs in at 1.22 kilograms, while the newer Benro GD3WH is 120 grams heavier, coming in at 870 grams.While having one kilogram less payload compared to the Manfrotto 410, it still can accommodate a wide range of heavy gear. It can carry a combination of a Sony a1 (737 grams) with the Sony FE 200-600mm G (2,115 grams), or the Sony FE 600mm f/4 (3,030 grams). With a DSLR setup, that’s a Canon 1D X Mark III (1,400 grams) with an EF 100-400mm L IS II (1,640 grams), all below the payload limit of four kilograms.
The Manfrotto MHXPRO-3WG three-way geared precision head has quite a number of applications in various genres. Geared heads are commonly preferred in architectural photography when precise framing, angles, and strict perspective control are often required. It also gives added control in shooting panoramas, especially when excessive movement can cause distortion of the resulting image.
This can also be quite helpful in landscape photography, especially when shooting very detailed compositions with wide angle lenses. It would offer precise framing adjustments and the technopolymer build reduces the bulk in carrying it along with your gear and is relatively more resistant to damage from moisture and dust. With the precise adjustments in each axis, it can also be a good tool for shooting multi-row panoramas of wide vistas that may go beyond the lens’ angle of view.
The three-way geared head is also quite efficient in shooting macro and still life. The precise adjustments can help in achieving close-up focus in very small focus distances, while the controlled lateral and vertical tilt can allow for precise framing in shooting styled setups and flat-lays.
Other genres and workflows can also benefit from three-way geared heads, specifically those that don’t require rapid movements. With good familiarity with controls, the fine adjustments can do quite well in composing frames with very long telephoto lenses where small movements have big adjustments. The spring-clamp locks give a bit more efficiency as well if large movements are required.
What I Liked:
- Capable payload
- Adjustment precision
What Can Be Improved:
- Not Arca Swiss compatible mounting mechanism
You can purchase yours here.