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Photography Question 
Janet Detota
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/4/2004

Tripod Heads and Tripods

Do you prefer pan/tilt heads or ball heads for your tripod? Please explain why you feel this way. I'm trying to decide which type to get. And what kind of tripod do you use? I want one that is not really heavy, but sturdy enough for my digital SLR and 300mm lens. And money is a factor. Thank you for any help you can offer!

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3/31/2005 5:54:04 PM

Karma Wilson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/27/2004
  I use and like dynatran tripods/monopod. I haven't used them much. I have a ball head grip and pan/tilt. I understand pan-tilt is necessary for panoramas. For everything else I MUCH prefer ball grip. It's SO easy to maneaver and use and it's really steady. I use dynatran which is a cheapie model sold at They sell entry level to pro style and Dale Gast here also uses and loves their tripods. They are a cheaper but well made alternative to bogen. My tripod is HEAVY. But for my purposes that's not a big deal. They do sell carbon fiber, which is light but also more costly.

Good luck!


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3/31/2005 6:37:18 PM

Michael H. Cothran   Well, I was all set with a great recommendation until I got to your sentence "And money is a factor." Just half kidding - truth be told, money is ALWAYS a factor!
I've responded several times to tripod/head inquiries on this site, all with the same reserve - BUY THE BEST YOU CAN (afford).
A tripod is the absolute most important accessory you can own. DO NOT scimp on it, and do not buy a cheap one. Save until you can afford good quality in this department. You will not regret it, whereas you WILL regret buying a cheaply made tripod. I believe the tripod of the 21st century is the light weight, but sturdy carbon fiber models. Great for field and studio use.
As far as buying a head goes, the same holds true. DO NOT scimp. Don't put a cheap head on a good tripod, or visa versa.
A pan head takes longer to set up, since you've got three levers to deal with each time you move the camera. I often shoot with a large format 4x5 camera, and use a pan head for that, but for medium format and 35mm/digital, I would not waste my shooting time with a pan head. Personally, I prefer a good ball head which takes only ONE lever to lock and unlock. You'll get real frustrated having to mess with all the levers!
If money were no object, I would recommend a Gitzo carbon fiber tripod from their Mountaineer series, and a Kirk Enterprises ( BH-3 ball head. Each are as good as they get, and will easily hold a heavy weight lens and body. They will last you a lifetime, and you will never have to replace either. My two Gitzo's came with a lifetime warranty, and the Kirk head a 5-year warranty.
Bogen/Manfrotto would be an alternate choice, but they do not match the quality (nor does any other brand for that matter) of the Gitzo and Kirk models. Bogen is cheaper in price, and also in build quality as I stated (they use a pot lead substance on their leg joints, which is very brittle in nature, and breaks easily). Their carbon fiber models should be better in quality though. Bogen/Manfrotto is very, very popular. If you buy one, it will serve you well for a while, but, I guarantee you will end up buying another down the road - and then, where's the financial savings? The same may not be true for their carbon fibers, so it is worth checking them out.
Good luck in your decision.
Michael H. Cothran

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3/31/2005 7:00:41 PM

Joseph Finn
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/31/2004
  I just recently purchased the Velbon Ultra lux I sf tripod, its great its made of lightweight aluminum, weighs about 2 lbs and supports my 20D with battery pack. I use the Velbon ph157q pan head which I like because its just easier for me to use while out shooting. I almost never shoot handheld, and I hike with the camera attached to the tripod. The tripod about 130.00us comes with a ballhead.

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3/31/2005 7:08:25 PM

Karma Wilson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/27/2004
  By the way, on both my dynatran models I regularly perch my 20D camera w/ a 1.4 teleconverter and my 70-200mm 2.8 lens (BIG). It holds quite steady. I really think that although this model is "cheap" in comparison to bogen,'s not cheaply made. My ball grip head works flawlessly. I've talked to other photographers who've used this brand and all report favorably. So if money is a factor, consider it. Janet, you know Dale. You can write her for her thoughts on this brand too. Their carbon fiber model is more than half the price of bogen. I'll be getting it eventually.


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3/31/2005 9:36:04 PM

Janet Detota
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/4/2004
  Thank you all for your responses. I'm looking into them all. Now how do you feel about the twist leg releases vs. the flip lever ones? Seems the Gitzo and Dynatran favor the twist, and the Bogen the lever. Which do you prefer and why?

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4/1/2005 4:46:52 AM

Terry  R. Hatfield
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/4/2003
  Hi Janet!The Bogen Flip Release Is A Finger Pincher You Will For Sure Get Your Finger And Or Thumb In It And When Its Cold Outside Is The Worst!LOL!I Use One,I Used The Other Type Too "The Twist Ones"If Your Into Twisting Until H*** Freezes Over"Its Super,But Some Brands Might Not Require Alot Of Twisting The Expensive Carbon Fiber Model Did:-)
In Short I Like Neither, This Area Could Be Improved Upon,If Its Not To Much Twisting That Would Be The Better Of The Two!
Hope That Helps:-)

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4/1/2005 11:55:44 AM

Janet Detota
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/4/2004
  Thanks, Terry. The woman at the camera store said they all come with a tool so you can adjust the tension on those levers. Maybe yours needs to be loosened up? I don't like the twisting kind, but it seems to be a popular style.

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4/1/2005 3:29:24 PM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  I agree with everything Michael mentioned, including the fact that you can have a good tripod or a cheap one, but you can't have a good and cheap pod. My own preference is Gitzo with Linhof ball heads and quick release plates. Plen-ty strong, durable, versatile and the ball heads make framing fast by turning only two small knobs set beneath the camera instead of having handles jamming you in the ribs.
Get a good, solid rig Janet. It's an investment in your photographic abilities. ;>)

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4/2/2005 9:04:53 AM

Karma Wilson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/27/2004
  Both my dynatrans have flip levers on the legs. I like them just fine. They work well. My ball head grip comes with a level and quick release plate with a saftey button (so you don't acidently "quick release" $3000 worth of equpment on the pavement.) I agree with Mark--the ball heads are far more convenient to use. I have used my pan/tilt just to avoid switching my ball head from my mono to my tripod. But the ball is SO much more quick and time saving to use. My pods are all metal in the gearing and plates which I find nice. There are protective pads around the legs.

Despite Dynatran being "cheap" in comparison to the more popular brands it's not cheap when compared to walmart or Ritz specials. It's mid priced. I've found a couple pros on a budget that have discovered this brand and defend it. However there will always be die-hard Bogen lovers out there and being I have not used and compared the two brands I will withhold from saying my brand is just as good. Perhaps it isn't! However I've conversed with many who say it's very close to Bogen and a real bargain.

Someday I would love to upgrade to a carbon fiber tripod body. I've had such a good experience with Dynatran that I'm quite certain I'll purchase one from them.


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4/2/2005 10:14:10 AM

on the use of a pan and tilt vs a ballhead for pano shots. a good ballhead along with a leveling post will be substantially more accurate then any pan/tilt setup a setup. a setup like that allows greater dexterity in manuvering your camera.

for a tripod again versatility is key. as was said get the best one you can afford that will do all you need. a tripod is an extension of you and your camera. one like the manfrotto 3021Pro or its CF counterpart the 055MF3. allow the center post to go lateral and the adjust the legs for intermediate angles. these types will allow you to do things with support you didn't think was possible.

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4/16/2005 7:50:30 PM

Bunny Snow
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/16/2004
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  I have a Manfrotto 3021 with a 3047 head (including levels), which I love for short distances or when a car is available for transportation. It's heavy, but sturdy. The legs come out at various angles and when the middle part which holds the head, is upside down, I can photograph an 1/2 inch wildflower and get greater than a 1:1 ratio plus totally filling the viewfinder of my Nikon FM3A. There are other approaches to photographing wildflowers where one need not be a contortionist, I understand. (I found myself upside down while moving in close to the wildflowers.) I think a right angle for my camera(s) would be a good improvement, IF I would use it enough. But, it's not an essential item and costs add up.

This pod, alike my other Bogen-Manfrottos, all have the flip lever for releasing or setting the legs. And, yes, you do have to watch your fingers.
However, it does come with a special loosening device that can make the tension easier to deal with. Yours may be too tight, as mine was when it was new.

Since I have nerve damage (thanks to VOC's) in my hands, handles that twist is totally out of the question. The pain to my fingers is too severe to handle anything that twists.

I also have a Bogen Manfrotto light weight tripod, which I use for travel and a Bogen Manfrotto monopod that will carry 25 pounds, which I used throughout China on a recent trip.

While I like working better on a tripod, the monopod definitely made traveling easier on the tile surfaces. I have no cartilage in my knees, and the added weight of my heavy tripod would have been unbearable...not to mention that our luggage had to be under 44 pounds including the bag. So light was the way to go.

Likewise, our carry-on luggage was limited to 11 pounds, bag included. That put definite limits I what could be taken and had to be left at home.

In all cases, a have quick releasse plates (which I dearly love) attached to the base of my camera, and medium ball heads on my traveling pods. The ball head took some getting used to, but now I prefer it over the 3047 head. No poking knobs, which is good; but no level, which is bad. I feel a need for that level, especially with closeup work.

It depends for what purpose you need the head. I no longer shoot action shots, so don't need a pan head. I find ball heads easy to get into position for my kind of shooting.

The pod is the most important piece of equipment you own, other than the camera and lenses. It is as important as the value of your equipment for sharpness, steadiness, and dependability. Buy whatever you can afford, but buy good equipment. Don't skimp when it comes to pods.

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6/3/2005 12:07:33 AM

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