I don’t use my tripod extensively in the same way a landscape shooter does, but I do consider a tripod an essential part of a photographer’s arsenal.
With regard to tripod heads, I have used a ball head for many years and they are extremely versatile. They’re very quick and easy to adjust. The most basic models having a single locking screw or lever; release it and you get a full range of pan, tilt, and swivel adjustments. Once you have the camera in position, you simply tighten the screw/lever to lock the head in place.
I use my tripod essentially in the following ways:
- When the shutter speed is too slow to hand hold my camera, and I want to get a tack sharp image (s), or shooting in low light conditions.
- Framing the shot through the viewfinder and then taking in the scene with my eyes without having to hold my camera, or having it on me. I like to see the shot I want to to take, rather than take the shot that I see through the viewfinder.
- Most simply to act as a perch for the camera, ready to go. I spend most of my time prepping the shot before taking it.
The ball head that I used was the Manfrotto 486RC2 compact ball head which has now been discontinued and replaced by the 496RC2.
Over recent months, I have found this system of loosening the screw/lever on the ball head to make small adjustments frustrating, due to the weight of the camera and lens. I had to hold the camera with one hand and move the lever with the other. This was cumbersome at times, as the lever was sometimes too tight.
This may sound fickle. But I like my gear to work efficiently, and for me not be conscious of it, or thwarted by it. I prefer to concentrate on the shot I am about to take.
It was time for me to purchase a new head but I was undecided over whether to stick with the ball head type, or try a different style head altogether. Recently, I was working on a job in tandem with another photographer. He had the joystick type head on his tripod. I gave it a go, and found it it incredibly intuitive to use.
Talk about being smitten. I just loved it. It turned out to be the Manfrotto 322RC2.
The 322RC2 is made of magnesium, and is designed to keep the weight of your kit as close as possible to the tripod’s centre of gravity, by way of its reduced height. It weighs 1.43 pounds (.70kg), and while it’s not lightweight, it doesn’t feel heavy either, and the accompanying literature states that it can accommodate up to 11 lb. (5kg).
Let’s take a closer look at the key features:
- One single lever for quick control of all movements
- Quick release plate with built-in secondary safety pin
- Built-in bubble spirit level
- Friction control, adjustable for different camera weights
- Customizable for left or right handed use, in a vertical or horizontal position
Straight out of the box, I was able to attach the head to my tripod. It does come assembled for right-hand users, but the 200PL quick release plate assembly can be removed and positioned for left-handed use. Uniquely, it can also be placed on the top of the grip in a vertical position like the traditional 222 design, but when used in this position the maximum load reverts to 2.5 kg capacity.
I was able to adjust the friction wheel by turning it either to the right or left. I then placed my camera and lens onto the quick release plate, and made further adjustments allowing for the weight of both. This friction control wheel lets you regulate the power of the blocking mechanism to match the weight of your camera/lens, which is key to its design.
The built-in bubble spirit level is a nice touch. There wasn’t one on the ball head, so this feature just makes orientating your camera, horizontally or vertically, quick and easy.
I’ve only had this joystick head a mere six weeks, so I can’t really comment on what the cons may be at this point. Obviously, this type of tripod head may not be to your liking, or suit your photography needs.
Although, this tripod head isn’t lightweight, I feel the weight justifies what it will be holding, especially when you combine the weight of a DSLR body and a large zoom lens. That said, from my experience, I only wish I had come across it sooner. The two areas I find it most useful are:
- It is easy and intuitive to use
- It offers very flexible camera positioning, using just one hand
In fact, the more I use it, the more I like it. Maybe over time, I will encounter some negative aspects, one thing I noticed is that it doesn’t fit into my existing tripod case with the head attached. By placing the head in a vertical position, this adds another nine inches to the total length.
I didn’t want to buy another dedicated camera tripod bag, as they can be expensive. So instead, I just bought a Hockey bag ($16.00) to store my tripod away when not in use, or to bring to location shoots. I now use my old tripod case for my small light stands and umbrellas.
There isn’t an independent pan lock. This doesn’t bother me, but I can see this being a necessary feature for some photographers who shoot panoramas, and so forth.
I would definitely recommend this tripod head, but I think the best advice is to test it out first. This type of tripod head is a matter of personal choice. Plus, this head is not new on the market, so check around for deals.
Disclaimer: I was not contacted or sponsored to test the above equipment. Opinions are purely by the author only.
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