A layman’s guide to choosing the best tripod head

A layman's guide to choosing the best tripod head

The tripod is one of the more central photo accessories to any photographer’s kit bag. But how do you know the best tripod head to use for the type of shots you want? Below we answer five key questions every novice needs to know about choosing a tripod head.

A layman's guide to choosing the best tripod head

On this head, the diameter of the mounting platform is smaller than the tripod platform, so it’s a poor match, reducing the overall stability

A layman's guide to choosing the best tripod head

The mounting platform at the top of a tripod’s centre column usually has a diameter of around either 38mm or 60mm. Choose a head that’s a close match

What are the choices?

The three main choices are ball-and- socket heads, two-way heads and three-way heads. pistol grip heads are a variant of regular ball-and-socket heads, requiring just a squeeze of the trigger to release the main clamp (see page 116 for a good example). Two-way heads lack a swivel facility for portrait (upright) orientation shooting, and are more suited to video use.

How do they work?

Ball-and-socket heads have a single clamping screw that locks the head firmly in place after positional adjustments. Additional features may include an adjustable friction damper and a pan-only lock. Traditional three- way heads have individual clamping mechanisms for each of the pan, tilt and swivel adjustments.

Who makes them?

Practically all tripod manufacturers also make tripod heads, but some of the best and most cost-effective options are made by big names such as Benro, Giottos, Manfrotto and Vanguard.

Which should I choose?

Ball-and-socket heads are best when you want to make quick and easy positional adjustments. Three-way heads are generally preferable when you want to make very fine and precise adjustments – in macro photography, for example.

How do they attach to my tripod?

Your tripod will have either a 1/4-inch or larger 3/8-inch mounting screw. Adaptors are widely available for fitting a head with a 3/8-inch thread onto a tripod with a smaller 1/4-inch screw, but you can’t fit a head with a smaller thread onto a tripod with a larger screw. Many tripods also feature additional grub screws that can be used to firmly lock the head in place.


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