When my original tripod head started getting a bit loose and wobbly, the decision had to be made to replace it. But what was I going to get for a new head?
There are many brands and choices and after doing a lot of research and reading reviews, the most important parameters (for me) were narrowed down to these:
- It must be as light as possible
- There must be a lever clamp
- Panorama leveling included
After much careful consideration, I opted to go with the Acratech Ball Head with Lever Clamp option. For those interested, the other serious contender was from Really Right Stuff. Pricing was similar but the Acratech was a lot lighter.
When it finally arrived (it takes a long time for things to travel to NZ affordably) the first thing that surprised me was how small it was. The second thing was how hefty, solid and well made it was. It is almost a work of art in its own right, how sculptured it looks.
Up close and personal with the Acratech GP Ball Head
There are three knobs on the base of the Acratech GP. The largest one with the notches is the ball head release – this is the one that gets used all the time to position the head.
On the same level is a smaller round knob which is responsible for adjusting the tension. When you loosen the main knob it can go completely loose and floppy really quickly, or you can tension it to have a bit more resistance.
There is a small notched knob on the panorama ring. It allows the whole head to swivel around from side to side – a necessary requirement when panning across for panorama images.
There is one notch that allows you to drop the camera over 90 degrees (to a vertical position) and be held firmly in place there.
At the top is the camera mount plate which has a lever clamp with a safety release. This has to be held down for the lever to let go. It’s easy to get a shirt cuff caught in the lever so this is a very important feature.
On the front of the camera mount, is a high friction adjustment knob so you can close the lever tightly around the tripod plate on the camera.
Finally, there is a bubble level on the camera mount plate.
Here are the specifications on the Acratech GP Ball Head from the manufacturer’s website:
- Will hold up to 25lbs (11.4kg)
- Height 4.14″ (105mm)
- Length 3.47″ (88mm)
- Wide 3.20″ (81mm)
- Base Diameter 2.375″ (60mm)
- Weight 0.95 lbs (.43kg)
NOTE: It also comes with a 10-year warranty.
Setting up the Acratech GP Ballhead
Step 0 is to screw the head to the top of your tripod legs.
Step 1 is to sort out your appropriate level of tension needed for the ball head when you release the main locking knob.
- Too loose and the camera will instantly flop over to one side if you don’t have a hand supporting it.
- Too tight and it can be stiff and difficult to position, which slows you down and is quite tiring after a while.
- My preferred option is set so that it’s tight enough to loosen off slowly initially but has enough play to move about easily.
Step 2 is to put the camera on the mounting plate (with the ball locked shut) and the adjustment knob on the mounting plate loosened.
This allows you to seat the camera firmly and holding tightly with one hand, screw the adjustment knob as tight as you possibly can.
Step 3 is to figure out how it all works together with the camera mounted. You may want to change the tensioning once the camera adds its weight to the arrangement.
There is a full set up video on the manufacturer’s website, or you can watch it below:
One of the benefits of the Acratech GP ball head is it offers three key features in one mount:
- Standard ball head with lever clamp option
- Gimbal head
- Panorama head
1. The standard ball head allows you full rotation around the top of the head and a drop notch to allow a 90-degree supported camera position.
2. Gimbal head utilizes the drop notch and by having both the main knob and the panorama knobs loosened, you can swing the camera around and swivel up and down freely. This works best when you have it mounted on a longer lens with a locking collar.
3. The panorama head is a unique feature where you unscrew the head from the legs, also unscrewing the camera mounting plate from the top of the tripod.
You then screw the camera mounting plate on the bottom of the head and screw the reassembled head back onto the tripod legs.
(See the video above which fully explains all these features.)
The User Experience
I have had my Acratech GP Ballhead for several years now and in general, I really like it though there are some design features I find quite irritating.
- The main locking knob has a really short shank (the distance between it and the body of the head). My hands aren’t huge but I often scrape my knuckles on the side of the head when tightening the locking knob.
- The main locking knob is quite small which means you need to turn it a lot because it lacks the leverage a wider knob would give. As a result, I have the tensioning set quite high.
- When the tensioning is set towards the higher end (i.e. quite resistant), it can sometimes seem that the camera is locked in place. However, if the locking knob is not fully engaged, the camera can suddenly drop or slump especially if you have a heavy lens. Or if you are really unlucky and you didn’t check the friction knob was tight, your camera literally falls out of the head and smashes onto a concrete floor!
- Check that the lever clamp high friction knob is tight as it can loosen over time.
- It may be the age of my head but I notice it droops down a bit when the camera settles into position. Not a huge amount but it’s noticeable when working with macro and tightly framed compositions. It’s manageable by setting it a tad higher than usual and letting it drop into the correct position.
- For panoramas I have never bothered to muck around with unscrewing it as its designed to be, I just set everything up and then loosen the pano base knob and swing it around happily.
- I have never used the gimbal feature so I cannot comment here.
I shoot with a Canon 7D Mark II and my heaviest/longest lenses are Canon 24-70 II F2.8 IS, Canon 100mm F2.8 IS L macro and Canon 70-200 F4 IS L with a locking collar.
I got an RRS L-plate for the camera and a lens plate for the 70-200mm lens.
My tripod gets used a lot. I always use it for landscapes, as I do a fair amount of long exposures. Any macro photography is always done using the tripod and most of my food and still life shots are done on a tripod as well.
This is only the second tripod head I have owned in 10 years of doing photography and in general, I am very happy with it.
It is tiny in comparison to other options, so the lighter weight is appreciated when traveling or carrying the tripod. Despite the size, it does provide a good firm base and allows me to get solid sharp images.
There are a few quirks to get used to in regards to setting up and using the head. I am sure this is pretty common no matter what brand or option you get.
My one main niggle is the design of the main locking knob. The shank is too short and I have scraped my knuckles bloody on more than one occasion. It can be avoided by careful positioning of my hand in relation to the knob, but in my opinion, it is a design flaw that should be improved upon.
Overall, based on the range of features it offers a run of the mill photographer (i.e. you don’t have big heavy lenses), the lighter weight, quality of workmanship and design, I give the Acratech GP Ball Head 8 out of 10.