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Old Jun 15, 2006, 5:22 PM   #1
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Hey all, I'm a new photographer so all I have for a tripod is this little tiny thing 3 inches tall that doesn't work at all for outdoor situations.

So I'm looking for a new one, but first I must know... what is a ballhead, why do you need one and is it bought seperately from the tripod?
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Old Jun 15, 2006, 6:09 PM   #2
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A Tripod head is the part of the tripod that you mount the camera/lens onto, and which sits on top of the legs and provides the various degrees of movement for your camera.

There are two general types of heads that a tripod can have. One type is called a 3 way Pan/tilt head. These heads have separate axis and controls for panning the camera, tilting the camera back and forth, and moving the camera between horizontal and vertical shooting positions.

The second type of head is a Ball head. A ball head allows all of these movements to be carried out with a single control pivot (although most ball heads also offer separate pan controls as well).

Generally speaking, inexpensive tripods come with a 3 way Pan/tilt head already matched to the tripod. 3 way pan/tilt heads are thought to be easier to use when the camera does not have to follow a moving subject, but rather, just to hold the camera in a fixed position, while a really good ball head makes it easier to track a subject that is moving on more than one axis at a time.

Because of that, alot of pros prefer the degree of control that a good ball head provides. Usually, high end tripods are sold with the legs and head sold separately, and there are a wide range of ball heads, and also specialized control heads for a range of professional applications, including precision pan/tilt heads as well. Basic, light to medium duty ball heads can be bought for as little as $20-25, while precision professional heavy duty ball heads might cost as much as $400.

As for what type of tripod and head is right for you, it depends on what you shoot, and what you are looking for in a tripod.

Personally, I find that a cheap ball head is the worst choice of all, a decent pan/tilt head is more useful. But a good ball head can be the best type of tripod mount for tracking moving objects.

There are other, exotic types of tripod heads available as well, such as gimbal mounts for shooting wildlife with big lenses, and macro precision heads, but for general purpose use, the decision comes down to a pan/tilt head, vs. an inexpensive ball head, vs. an expensive precision ball head.
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Old Jun 15, 2006, 6:16 PM   #3
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Alright, thank you very much, I think I'll have to take a look at some of these Tripods and decide which one to use when I can actually see them in action.
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Old Jun 16, 2006, 9:31 AM   #4
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I've owned a couple cheap tripods with built in pan/tilt heads, and now have a very nice pro tripod with a ball head.

Some things that I've learned, the tripod needs to be sort of level so that it dosent fall over and this can be done by making each leg shorter/longer or by tilting each leg out at different angles. The second method is faster, and can become important when setting up outside on uneven ground. Constantly changing the length of each leg gets tiring, and you then have to reset them to thier long setting before your next setup (or else your tripod gets shorter every time you move!).

With a ballhead, you then unlock the ball and just slip the camera into the position you want and level it at the same time, and lock it down. Simple and quick, very nice and fast to use.

With a pan/tilt head you need to fiddle with the tripod more to get it very close to level, then putz with two or three different twist locks to pan swivel and tilt the camera into position.

If your working on fairly level ground and want your camera to be fairly level, then a pan/tilt setup dosent get in the way much. If your moving around a bit on uneven ground and want the camera to be in more unusual setups, the pan/tilt arrangement can get tiring.

A pan/tilt head that holds securely can be had for reasonably cheap. A cheap ball head is likely not going to hold as securely (might droop or move when you cinch it down changing your composition). Good ball heads are very expensive, but with your little camera you shouldnt need anything extravagent. Its more important with big heavy SLR equipment.

The other part of the equation is the quick release where your camera attaches. This can be a simple screw post that goes right into the camera, or one of the many types of plates that attach semi-permanently to the camera and then snap into the top of your tripod head.

Then after all that, you can start piling money on to reduce the weight (by upgrading to carbon fiber for instance) because a solid pro setup starts around 7-9lbs...

A cheap starter tripod isnt neccasarily a bad thing, especially for a light p&s camera, but when you start playing with big toys tripods can get pretty serious.
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