Review of the Manfrotto 322RC2 Joystick Tripod Head

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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.

Manfrotto-496RC2-Ball-Head-2

Image courtesy of Manfrotto

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.

Build

Manfrotto-322RC2-Joystick-head-in-vertical-position

The Manfrotto 322RC2 is built out of magnesium. It weighs 1.43 lbs (.70kg).

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).

Camera-in-horizontal-mode

I have my Nikon D750 with the 24-120mm f/4G ED VR attached which is roughly 1.510kg (just over 3 lb.).

Key Features

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
Top-view-of-322RC2-joystick-head

Top view of the Manfrotto 322RC2. The trigger is big so that all your fingers rest against in when squeezing it.

Camera-in-vertical-mode

Going from horizontal to vertical mode is so easy using this joystick head.

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.

Where-the-200PL-assembly-plate-sits-on-the-grip-handle

Top view of the end of the grip on the Manfrotto 322RC2, where you can attach the 200PL assembly plate, so that the camera sits on top, similar in deign of the 222 model by Manfrotto.

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.

close-up-of-tension-indicator

The friction wheel scrolls to the right or left. The small red strip is the tension indicator which moves to the left or right as you adjust the friction wheel.

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.

Spirit-bubble

The bubble spirit level is a handy feature, especially if you are adjusting your camera positions between landscape and portrait modes.

Observations

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:

Title-Manfrotto-322RC2-Joystick-head

  • 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.

Conclusion

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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Sarah Hipwell is an independent professional photographer based in Dublin. She specialises in high-quality corporate, stock and portraiture photography. Her background is in Design. She received her BA in Hons Design from the University of Ulster, Belfast. She has many years commercial design experience working as a designer and as a trainer for large multimedia companies. See more of her work at SarahHipwell.com or at 500px.

  • I have their older joystick model. This looks like a great improvement on it.

  • Da

    I’ve had mine for closer to 6 years and it still seems like new. I can’t fault it.

  • FRosario

    I’ve had mine for a few years. I used to put my 70-200 2.8 on it and eventually it started to just droop. I sent it to Manfrotto and when I got it back it was fine for a couple of months, but then it started again – even with lighter lenses. I do love this head though, it’s very quick and easy to switch positions with, I just wish it still worked.

  • Sarah Hipwell

    Hi FRosario, Have you tried tightening this screw? See diagram.

  • FRosario

    No I have not. I will now. Thanks for the tip!

  • Bobby Baker

    Sarah, last year I had a right-hand injury and surgery that kept me from being able to turn the knobs on my BHL-1 ball head with my right hand while shooting. I researched photography shooting-aids for photographers who had injured their right hand and saw that the 322RC2 was often referenced as a workaround. I purchased this head, flipped it over for left-hand use, and was able to maneuver my camera without using my injured right hand. I agree with you that this head is not for everyone; its weight & size often get in the way, but the quick one move adjustment it provides is pretty cool. A noteworthy use of this head is for those that have injured a hand as you can still move your camera/lens into position on your tripod using only one hand – a very important plus!

  • Sarah Hipwell

    Hi Bobby, that’s why I really like this grip too is the unique design and simplicity of just using the one hand. I do hope your right hand has recovered well from your surgery Bobby. Many thanks for you comment.

  • Steve Taylor

    Sarah, I’ve had mine for a couple of years now and I love it. I never knew about mounting the base vertically on the end though. Not sure if I’ll ever need that feature but it sure is nice to know that it’s available.

  • Sarah Hipwell

    That’s what I love about it too Steve, is the versatility and it’s ease of use!

  • Michael in TO

    Sarah,

    Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to prepare this excellent and thorough post.

    I’d like to offer a slightly different perspective in case any of your readers use pro gear. I have had one of these Manfrotto 322 Rc2 heads for years. For me, it is pure junk because I have bigger Nikon pro bodies (D3X, D4, D810) with fast glass. In the overall picture, my stuff is heavy. Move it into position and let go, the weight of my gear makes everything move just enough to not be level or square or framed the way I want and I have to guess at how much it moves and try to let go a bit higher so it settles in the right spot. (Yes, I have tried tightening the hex screw). If you are using a non pro body and kit lenses, you might be fine. For me, it is a time waster and an exercise in frustration.

    The other pure killer for me is no panoramic ability. So if you want to set up your camera and shoot a pano, you can’t. What will you do, swap heads? Carry a 2nd tripod? Of course this is personal preference and in theory, the unit seems like a great idea (and that’s why I bought it!) but in practice, this is a bad idea unless you are using a light, consumer- or point and shoot- rig…and don’t need (or want) to shoot a panorama (ever). Caveat emptor my friends!

  • Steven

    Without being fickle, all the arrows on the diagram are pointing the wrong way.

  • John O’Raidy

    I have this head and used to love it. Then I realised I was getting blurry images when I used it. If there is any wind or other source of vibration, this head amplifies it. It’s due to the design, it’s a spring clamp, and springs are terrible at damping vibrations. It’s never solidly locked in.

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