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The best panoramic tripod heads: get a wider view with your camera!

The best panoramic tripod heads in 2020
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The best panoramic tripod heads are the key ingredient when even the widest of wide-angle lenses isn't enough. Sometimes, the view in front of us is just so wide and majestic that we need to capture all of it, and the best panoramic tripod heads are the way to do it. With these movable heads, you can create a multi-shot panorama comprising multiple stitched-together images, to produce a wide vista in high resolution.

This isn't really an effect that's possible to achieve handheld; nobody's hands are that steady! While standard ball heads and video heads will include a panning base, panoramic heads give you absolute precision with click-stops at pre-set intervals. Using this, you'll get consistent image overlaps, making the final edit a breeze. Some are also battery powered, and can pan themselves over a set time period. This is especially good for timelapse!

You don't have to limit your imagination to just wide shots. The best panoramic tripod heads also allow you to create multi-row and 360x180-degree spherical panoramas, producing a wraparound virtual reality effect. These are quite advanced techniques, and do require a head that lets you precisely position your camera horizontally and vertically, some of which we've included in our guide.

If you're really interested in 360-degree imaging then check out our guide to 360 cameras like the GoPro Max. However, these can't match the resolution possible by using multiple stitched images snapped by a conventional camera, so for best results, break out one of the panoramic heads in our guide!

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Five things to look out for in a panoramic tripod head

Which camera? There are plenty of panoramic heads out there, but many will be too small to accommodate a large DSLR with a full-frame lens. 

On the go: Go for a compact folding head if you've got a small DSLR or mirrorless camera and it can stow in kit bag ready for spontaneous opportunities.

Select software: Even the most trick panoramic head needs to be accompanied by stitching software. There are plenty of powerful options, and some are even free. 

The nodal point: Shooting spherical panoramas requires a head that lets you rotate your lens’s entrance pupil - known as the nodal point - so you don't end up with troublesome parallax problems.

Going handheld: Gone out without your panoramic head? You can shoot a single-row panorama handheld - just pan flat and level, ensuring each consecutive shot has a decent overlap with the last. Stitching software will do the rest.

Five tips for choosing and using tripod heads

Best panoramic heads in 2021

Editor's Choice

(Image credit: Future)

1. Manfrotto 300N

Highly-portable panoramic head

Specifications
Weight: 609g
Payload capacity: up to 14kg
Reasons to buy
+Beautifully engineered +Satisfying to use for single-row pans
Reasons to avoid
-Needs to be used with existing a tripod head

The 300N may not look like much, but it’s a precision device. The holes around the main body accept a selector screw, so when you pan the head, it clicks into place at anywhere between 5- and 90-degree intervals. The setting depends on your lens’ field of view and focal length. Don’t forget to add an overlap between shots to help your stitching software.

The 300N’s quality build is reflected in its premium price tag, and you’ll need to top it off with a conventional head or mounting plate. It’s also possible to get similar panoramic results with a regular pan head if you’re careful, but don’t discount the 300N: it has plenty to offer.

Recommended

2. Nodal Ninja 3 MK3

Compact and convenient, yet versatile and well made: this head’s just right

Specifications
Weight: 475g
Payload capacity: up to 3.5kg
Reasons to buy
+Travel-friendly+Precise, quality build+Relatively accessible price
Reasons to avoid
-Not designed for full-frame DSLRs-Not ideal for huge gigapixel panoramas-Hard to find

The Nodal Ninja doesn’t look like much, but this pared-down head is ideal for shooting spherical or multi-row panoramas. Featuring only essential adjustment, the design is kept compact and collapsible and weighs just 475g.

Thankfully build quality hasn’t been compromised, as everything’s precisely machined with no slack between components, while locking clamps hold securely and are very grippy. The diminutive base has been designed so it can be loaded with optional detent rings for incremental click panning. Choose from huge 120-degree stops if you’re using a fisheye lens, right down to a finely-tuned 10-degree detent ring for making zoomed-in panoramas with a telephoto lens.

Improvements over the previous Mark 2 version of the head include a special surface treatment in upper rotator to enable a higher load capacity, up to 3.5kg if you spec the head with the optional Rotator D10 base. Just remember that this is still a small head, so best suited to mirrorless or APS-C DSLR cameras fitted with a compact lens.

3. Rollei Panoramic Head 200 Mark II

Offers even better value than the Nodal Ninja 3

Specifications
Weight: 1.2kg
Payload capacity: 3kg
Reasons to buy
+Versatile size+Solid build and precise operation+Handy rotating vertical arm
Reasons to avoid
-Limited availability-Locking knobs have very little grip

Rollei’s entry isn’t far off the size of the mighty Manfrotto 303SPH, but with fewer components and a lighter build, it’s half the weight at 1.2kg. The tall vertical arm gives you room to rotate a longer lens, and the 3kg payload capacity is enough for a full-frame DSLR setup.

The pan base has selectable click-stops at 15, 24, 60 and 90-degree increments, and it locks positively into these stops when rotating. The upper, vertical pan motion is just as precise and has click stops every 15 degrees, making it much more useful than the Andoer head when using a longer lens to capture a multi-row panorama. Another nice touch is the bracket linking the horizontal base plate with the main vertical arm. Loosen the clamp under the bracket and the arm can rotate, swinging your camera out so it can shoot straight down to capture the nadir image with less tripod visible in the frame.

4. Andoer PH-720B

A bargain head if your camera is small and you keep your focal length wide

Specifications
Weight: 825g
Payload capacity: 10kg (claimed)
Reasons to buy
+Very competitive price+Sturdy build+Compact when packed
Reasons to avoid
-Doesn't work well with longer lenses-Limited appeal for high-res spherical pans

Dropping big bucks on a head you may only use occasionally can be painful, so this keenly-priced option is tempting. First impressions are good, as the components feel rigid and lock in place positively. There isn’t a great deal of travel along each slider, but it’s enough to centralise a camera up to the size of a small DSLR. Andoer claims a 10kg max load, but this seems optimistic.

The compact rotating base has five click-stop increments at 15, 30, 45, 60 and 90 degrees, though the click action isn’t particularly precise. Rotation is at least smooth, and there’s no excess movement in the bearings. The same precision benefits the vertical arm’s rotation, and this has click-stop points every 30-degrees. Trouble is, that’s easily too much vertical panning distance to allow for overlapping shots when using a lens focal length any longer than about 40 degrees, and the arm can’t be securely clamped at positions other than 30-degree increments.

This head is a pleasure to use and very good value, but only if you’ll be using a wide-angle lens.

Best panoramic heads: Movo Photo MTP-20

(Image credit: Movo)

5. Movo Photo MTP-20

Ideal for panoramic timelapses – but not with too much kit

Specifications
Weight: 0.41kg
Payload capacity: 2kg
Reasons to buy
+Programmable +Excellent for time-lapse
Reasons to avoid
-Only supports light setups-Batteries not included

Extremely lightweight, the Movo Photo MTP-20 is the kind of panoramic head you can throw into a bag on a whim if the mood to shoot just strikes you. It's designed specifically to allow you to create time-lapse panoramas, and can be programmed to rotate through its 360° range range over a set time period. This means you can really get creative with your sequences, and produce panoramic images and videos that really wow viewers. All this also comes at a pleasingly low cost.

Downsides? Well, the 2kg payload is a little brutal, and counts out larger DSLR setups. Though it'll take DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, the head is clearly more designed for action cameras and smartphones (you can tell by the way a smartphone holder comes in the package), so do bear that in mind. 

(Image credit: Neewer)

6. Neewer Electric Panoramic Tripod Head

A simple but affordable panoramic head, with useful Bluetooth interfacing

Specifications
Weight: 626g
Payload capacity: 3kg (horizontal shooting; 1.5kg (vertical/tilted shooting)
Reasons to buy
+Large 1800 mAh battery+Very affordable
Reasons to avoid
-Remote also requires smartphone-Lower payload than others

As you've seen so far, panoramic heads can and do run up quite a high price tag. That's why we rate the Neewer Electric Panoramic Tripod Head; it's not the most advanced or sophisticated of the panoramic heads around, but it's available at a great price, and it works well. With the 1/4-inch screw, you can mount basically any type of camera on the head, and it offers three rotation settings (90°/180°/360°) over three timing settings (15 min/30 min/60 min). 

The head has a generous 1800 mAh battery that's rechargeable and provides up to four hours continuous run-time, so you should be able to experiment to your heart's content. There's also a handy handheld remote, though be aware that this needs to interface with your smartphone in order to work, and can't trigger the shutter directly. Make sure your phone is charged as well as the head!

(Image credit: Benro)

7. Benro GH2

An immensely sturdy head – worth it if you use hefty lenses

Specifications
Weight: 1.44kg
Payload capacity: 22kg
Reasons to buy
+Seriously impressive capacity+Very lightweight, considering
Reasons to avoid
-Very expensive

Though it's cheaper now than it was at launch, the Benro GH2 is still an expensive prospect, especially when compared to the other candidates on this list. So what's it got going for it?

Well, if you're using a hefty DSLR setup with a long telephoto lens and are worried that a standard panoramic head might not be able to support it, then this gimbal tripod head is your buy. The Benro GH2 supports a whopping 22kg, absolutely more than enough for pretty much any photographic setup you could think of. You'd have to actively try to craft a photographic setup this head couldn't handle, and it would probably involve hanging a medieval cannonball off the zoom ring.

The panning action is smooth and fluid, even when using lenses with focal lengths of 600mm or greater, so if you're aiming to create telephoto panoramas then you're more than covered. If you're not though, this head probably doesn't quite justify its asking price, so check out the rest of the list for heads that are more budget-appropriate.

(Image credit: Future)

8. Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head

There’s a lot to like here, but it's not the best value

Specifications
Weight: 1220g
Payload capacity: 5kg
Reasons to buy
+Supreme quality +A real pleasure to use+Great for compositional control
Reasons to avoid
-Not ideally suited to close-range panoramas

Geared tripod heads are great for panoramas, but are also good for any shot requiring compositional control. The 410 has three knobs that will wind your camera precisely around a 360-degree pan, as well as tilting it vertically and laterally. 

The substantial aluminum construction oozes quality and contributes to the head’s 1.22kg bulk, although it’s well up to handling a full-frame camera with a serious lens. You don’t get any nodal point adjustment, so close-range panoramas may not stitch together correctly. Unlike the 300N, the 410 can’t be configured to click into place at set intervals.

Read more:
The best 360 cameras

The best ball heads

The best pan and tilt heads

How to merge photos for great panoramas

Autopano Giga 4 by Kolor: The only image-stitching program you need?

Ben Andrews

Ben is the Imaging labs manager, responsible for all of the testing on Digital Camera World and across the entire photography portfolio at Future. Whether he's in the lab testing the sharpness of new lenses, the resolution of the latest image sensor, the zoom range of monster bridge cameras or even the latest smartphones, Ben is our go-to guy for technical insight. He's also the team's man-at-arms when it comes to bags, filters and all manner of accessories – his lab is a bit like the Batcave of photography!