Reviews, tips, help, price comparisons for tripod head reviews

Compare prices is the natural human trait when you need to buy something, but comparing prices is NOT the clever way to buy a tripod head. Compare features, perhaps, but not price. You get what you pay for.

And on the subject of comparing features, a tripod head with too many features can become a disaster, a splittling headache out on location photography.

We here at FLAAR have over 40+ years experience in evaluating tripod heads. Our original Arca Swiss monoball ball head; it finally is wearing out (after about 30 years service around the world).

We here at FLAAR have over 40+ years experience in evaluating tripod heads. Our original Arca Swiss monoball ball head; it finally is wearing out (after about 30 years service around the world).

We have the second generation Arca-Swiss Ballhead: it locked within a few days of buying it new. Every time Arca-Swiss unlocked it, the ballhead locked tight within a few hours. This is the worst engineering I have seen in a lifetime of photo equipment.

We even sent it back to Switzerland for repair. But instead of replacing the original defective design, they sent it back and it locked within a few hours again.

So, if you want to pay a high price for Swiss engineering, now you know where to go. I lived in Switzerland for several years, and I definitely liked my Swiss girlfriend who provided a place to stay those years. But engineering: yikes, too much of a good thing.

So for 2013 I finally got tired of the aging original and the nearly useless second generation Arca-Swiss B1 Monoball (?). So now we are evaluating an Arcatech Ultimate Ballhead, provided courtesy of Scott Dordick, CEO of Acratech.

Search for the best tripod head: Acratech? Kirk? Arca-Swiss? Novoflex? Manfrotto?

After about 14 years experience at Photokina (every two years within that period), and over a decade at PMA or PhotoPlus (PhotoEast, New York), the only tripod heads which have stayed in my memory are Acratech, Kirk, Arca-Swss, Novoflex, and Berlebach. Unfortunately Berlebach ties their remarkable awesome head concept to their wooden tripods. Wooden tripods in my past experience have been a worst-case-scenerio out on location in remote areas. If a Berlebach tripod can convince me otherwise, I will willing to try, but in the meantime, I prefer Gitzo tripods.

Manfrotto and Gitzo make great heads: we use the geared Manfrotto for 4x5 cameras and Manfrotto video heads. Gitzo we primarily focus on their tripods.

Each individual photographer may need a different kind, size, shape of tripod head, depending on the size, shape, weight of the camera and lens.

I have a healthy list of current tripod head searches for 2013

  • Search for the best low-level (ground-level) tripod and tripod head.
  • Search for the best tripod head for long, heavy telephoto lenses.
  • Search for the best stacked focus geared focusing rail.
  • Search for the absolute best panoramic tripod head.
  • Search for a tripod head to keep track of 3D ďscanningĒ movements.

These Acratech tripods seem to have as many patents as Arca-Swiss

The owner of Arca-Swiss is an engineer with a lifelong fascintating with engineering complex tripods.

The first Arca-Swiss monoball was the best ballhead every made. The next generation, the infamous Arca-Swiss which locked by itself, is the worst engineered tripod ever made.

So rather than trying an Arca-Swiss tripod head in 2013, we are switching to other brands, starting with Acratech.

How we review and evaluate tripod heads and digital camera equipment

The difference between a review by FLAAR Reports, and a sham review by a commercial box-pusher content farm, is that we actually use the equipment we review.

We actually have an Acratech tripod head. We actually know Scott Dordick (CEO), Abe Lojero (Supervisor, also at the booth in PMA@CES 2013), and we have gotten to know them from years and years of PMA and other expos in earlier times.

The other major difference is that we list downside as well as benefits. For several reasons: first, we are not a paid-reviewer. We do not ask for a sales commission; we do not seek click-through kickbacks either.

Our interest is to search for, test, and learn which is good digital camera equipment so that we can achieve better photography ourselves. Once we learn which brands and models are good, we share this information in our reviews.

Pros & Cons of Acratech tripod heads

#1 benefit: the Arcatech intelligently uses an Arca-Swiss attachment plate system.

The Arca-Swiss plate system is used by pros and camera enthuasiasts around the world. It is a nightmare to try to use the mishmash of other attachment sizes and shapes which other brands try to offer.

#2 benefit: this Arcatech tripod head does not weigh a ton. I love the original Arca Swiss ballhead, but the Arca-Swiss weighs more than some of my entire tripods!

#3 positive aspect: Acratech concentrates on tripod heads. They donít try to develop a hundred-and-one different kinds of products. Arcatech works on tripod heads primarily.

#4 positive aspect: you can meet the Acratech folks at least at PMA@CES. Pardon my lack of brain cells memory bank as to whether they also exhibit at PhotoPlus (PhotoEast in New York in the autumn; last year was a Photokina-Year, so I did not visit PhotoEast in 2012).

#5 positive aspect: this is made in U.S.A., so not a low-bid product made from unknown chemicals.

#6 positive aspect: you can aim the camera straight down (useful for macro situations). The GPU version has macro feature (I will have to double check whether I have the regular Ultimate Ballhead, or the GPU version).

I also notice it has a leveling bubble on the top plate.

If there were no comments on downsides, this would be a sham review.

CONS: my first hesitation is getting to know a new tripod head (after using the original ballhead from Arca-Swiss now for almost 30 years). That Arca-Swiss monoball head has, in effect, no features, no controls other than the tightener knob (yes it has two other knobs but you donít really need to deal with them).

The Acratech is more sophisticated, which means it has more features, so I will have to learn how to use this! Itís like learning how to drive a new car.

But what tempted me about the Acratech is its light weight, and ability to point my camera directly downward.

I fly to Dubai this week, and then to Guatemala. Once I have experience with this Acratech Ultimate ballhead, I will update these comments.

Acratech also makes several other tripod head products

GP Ballhead, lever

GP-SS ballhead

Long Lens Head

Panoramic Head

Spherical Panoramic head

Leveling base

Plus

Nodal Rail

L Brackets

Swift clamp

You can contact the helpful team at Acratech at info@acratech.net, or by telephone 909 392-7522.

Tips, advice, for selecting tripods and tripod heads

Our reviews on tripods are separate from reviews on tripod heads. The page you are on now is for tripod heads.

If your tripod has a tripod head already built on, this is a guarantee both the head and tripod are probably low bid, will probably wobble. Not many professional photographers will use a tripod unless they can select their own head.

All my photographs used by National Geographic were taken with a Gitzo tripod, and an Arca-Swiss ballhead or Manfrotto geared head (the big one; not the small one).

Many of the other photographers on my team use Manfrotto heads on Gitzo tripods (90% of our tripods are Gitzo). When one assistant needed an extra tripod real quick, he bought a brand Made in China. It fell apart in less than 2 months. We have Gitzo tripods and Manfrotto heads from the 1990ís still working just fine today, albeit dented, scraped, and well worn from decades of use.

If you wish to put a tripod head in an engineering museum, consider the Arca-Swiss cube: a veritable PhD dissertation on how to create a toy-for-boys (which is impressive but not functional in 90% of normal photo workflow situations).

Useful accessories for tripods and tripod heads?

Asperin is the best accessory if you have an Arca-Swiss monoball of second generation.

Otherwise of course you need the tripod plate attachment, the accessory that slides into the tripod head. You do not need one from Arca-Swiss. The one from most other brands, such as Acratech, is plenty good enough.

The Acratech tripod even has a manner to allow you to fine-tune the width of the attachment plate (in case yours is not the same absolute nanometer width of the original Arca-Swiss).

First posted Jan 15, 2013, several days after PMA@CES 2013.

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