Manfrotto employed new design ideas and fresh technology to produce the XPRO ball head. Its body is made from magnesium alloy and has a triple locking system with three wedges that lock the ball in place. Grease-free polymer rings are also employed to ensure smooth movements.
There are three controls on the XPRO Ball Head, one each to govern the panning, ball lock and ball friction.
Manfrotto supplies the head with the same MSQ6 quick release plate as comes with the Gitzo Center Ball Head Series 4, albeit with a different name badge on the front. This means that the XPRO clamp is Arca-Swiss compatible rather than using one of Manfrotto’s own designs.
According to the manufacturer, the head can support weights up to 15kg. While that’s lower than some other heads around, it’s still well within the bounds of what a photographer would normally use. It’s also important to remember that it’s the weight distribution that’s important. A front heavy camera and lens set-up is far more unstable than one that’s balanced over the top of the head.
Rather generously, there are three bubble levels on the head that operate across two planes. Also, unlike the bubble levels on the Gitzo Center Ball Head Series 4, Benro GX35 and Vanguard Veo BH-160S, the levels remain visible when a camera is mounted.
Base diameter: 60mm
Controls: ball lock, friction, pan
Plate compatibility: Arca-Swiss
Maximum load: 15kg
Build and handling
While it doesn’t look as beefy or as high-end as the Gitzo Series 4 ball head, the XPRO Ball Head actually has the same base diameter of 6cm. This helps ensure a more stable platform but it also means that it’s best suited to use with heftier tripods with a fairly large canopy. The ball is also reasonably large and this helps when moving a heavy camera and lens combination into position.
While the main body of the head is made from magnesium alloy, it looks rather plasticky. Meanwhile, the control knobs are made of plastic, which is a little disappointing, but likely helps to keep the weigh down. Where the control knobs score however, is with their shape. Instead of being round and ridged or knurled, they are ergonomically paddle-shaped to help you apply maximum force without your fingers slipping. What’s more, the lock and pan controls can be pulled out and rotated freely so that you can always set them to the optimum position for use. That’s especially useful if the head is on a tripod like the 3 Legged Thing Nicky with a very large canopy (or mounting plate) as they extend beyond the head’s base and would catch on the top of the tripod.
The ball lock and friction controls are a little close together, which might be an issue for people with very large thumbs, but it means that it’s easy to switch from one to the other and back while you look in the camera’s viewfinder.
As the quick release plate is quite long, it may prevent the battery compartment of the camera from being opened but it adds stability.
Fitting the quick release plate in the head is straightforward enough, you just lower the camera onto the head and you’ll hear a soft click and is snaps into place. Then you need to tighten the clamp using the knob under the lens, which can be a little awkward depending upon the diameter of the lens. To remove the camera and quick release plate from the head, you need to undo the clamp a little using the knob and then press the red button on the side to release it fully. It’s a handy safety mechanism but it’s not quite as slick in operation as the one on the Benro GX35 head.
As the XPRO head uses the same quick release plate as the Gitzo Series 4 head it suffers from the same problem, the hex socket in the bolt isn’t quite deep enough to give as secure fit for an Allen key. This means that you have to be careful when you tighten the bolt on the camera.
While the correct blend of friction control and ball lock needs to be found for each camera and lens combination, I found it very easy to achieve with the XPRO Ball Head - easier than with the Gitzo Series 4 head. Consequently, even when I had a 1.57Kg lens mounted on a camera attached directly to the head rather than via the lens collar, I was able to adjust the composition smoothly before locking everything in place with minimal droop when I let go of the camera and lens.
Rearranging the set-up so the lens is supported via its collar makes the balance better and there’s no hint of drooping.
It doesn’t look as impressive as the Gitzo Series 4 Ball Head but the Manfrotto XPRO Ball Head with Top Lock is an excellent tripod head at a very attractive price. It doesn’t take long to get the right balance between the ball friction and lock and the well-shaped controls make getting a tight lock easy. Meanwhile, the safety catch prevents your camera from taking a tumble should you fail to tighten the quickly release sufficiently. It’s a great all-rounder.