monopod and tripod ball heads
(comparison - which is better, ballhead or pan/tilt head?)

Monopod-tripod ball head-pan tilt photo

Which is a better fit for you,  tripod ball heads or pan and tilt heads?

There is a lot of internet chatter centering around which is a better accessory. These two camera support systems are both popular, but they're really quite different when you use them.

Why does this matter? The tripod head you use really makes or breaks the performance of your tripod. Don't focus just on the importance of tripod legs. Both the tripod legs and the heads count as equal parts of the equation.

This article will help you decide what's best for you.


The Good and the Bad Facts Will Help You Decide

ball heads

Ballheads don't have those long screwdriver-type handles sticking out so the head is a little

Ballhead and camera direction can be adjusted with one knob instead of three. That one knob controls all three directional adjustments at once: vertical, horizontal and rotational.

Tripods and monopods with ball heads are lighter and easier for you to carry than those that have pan-tilt heads.

Well-built ball headOne single control knob
does all the movement locking.

If well-built with the best quality materials, ball heads can support heavy loads without sag and the need to reposition.

The best ones use variable tension to maintain just the right amount of resistance for you to make quick minor adjustments to your camera's exact position.


Gitzo GH-3780qr Tripod-Monopod ball Head

The ball-head has a more compact design and has fewer parts; theoretically giving you less potential to vibrate. Ball heads work both on your monopod and tripod.


pan-tilt-swivel heads

Some photographers prefer three separate adjustments. The pan, tilt and tilt heads give you the ability to adjust your photo's composition by having independent control of each axis

A good pan/tilt head generally cost you less than a good ball head. In my own experiences, pan/tilt heads have the best durability. Particularly with cheaper models, ball heads don't last as long.

There are some pan-tilt heads that have gears that give your precise, small, measured movement control.

This is definitely a very useful feature in macro photography where minute changes in composition are often needed. I always use a pan-tilt-swivel head when taking macro photos inside and stationary.

When walking or hiking outside and looking for good macro photography ideas I prefer the compact and light-weight ball head.

When you are working at big magnifications, those small movements make a big change in your macro photograph.

Three way Pan -Tilt Tripod Head

Here is a short video showing how a quick release option for you monopod or tripod works with a small ball head.


When using a large heavier camera-lens combination, it may be difficult to hold your camera with one hand and make adjustments to your camera's position. The handles on the pan and tilt head make adjustments to monopods and tripods easier.

Pan-tilt heads make no sense at all to use with a monopod except when used for shooting video. A long handle makes panning much smoother.

So in this photographer's humble opinion, for 95% of photographers, monopod and tripod ball heads are a better choice. When you need rock-solid steadiness and minute adjustments in your camera position, nothing beats a heavy duty pan/tilt head.


alternatives to Traditional tripod ball heads

Fluid Heads are another choice to think about when it comes to considering what to mount on top of your tripod or monopod.  These accessories give you smoother motion when panning with a subject or when tracking it.

Here is more about evaluating Fluid Heads.

Pistol-grip and Joystick Heads. The ultimate in quickness for adjusting position. With a quick squeeze of the trigger you can adjust the position of your camera and with an equally release of the trigger your camera is set.

Not quite as rock solid as with using a locking knob, these accessories handle smaller camera/lens combinations quite well. I used a Manfrotto pistol grip for shooting portraits for 15 years.


Where to Buy Monopod and Tripod Heads

The better heads are sold at camera specialty stores. The biggest variety can be found at dedicated photography retailers or of course the big Kahuna of online shopping, Amazon.

I am biased toward toward Adorama and B+HPhoto because they are so close to me and toward Amazon for its large number and depth of reviews.

Specific Monopod Reviews

Monopod Vs Tripod Battle. Another fun topic of late has been the debate of monopod vs tripod. Low light capabilities of modern digital camera sensors are changing the way some photographers are using tripods and monopods.

Similar to the tripod ball heads vs pan-tilt heads battle, sometimes the answer lies in the type of photography you do.

Opteka Monopod Reviews. The features of Opteka monopods, advantages and disadvantages.

Manfrotto-Bogen Monopods - Reviews. Manfrotto and Bogen Monopods are known for having a steeper price tag, but also a supreme quality.

Slik Monopods - Reviews. You gotta love a company with a name like "Slik," a company that has several awards for its designs. Competitors of Slik have copied their designs for a reason.

Gitzo Monopods. Gitzo is synonymous with the word "best." Precision workmanship during manufacturing of all their photographic equipment.

Best Tripod Head. When choosing the best tripod ball head, it is vital first think about how you are going to use it. Useful tips on what to consider before buying a monopod or tripod head.

Best Monopods. Choosing the your best monopod involves knowing what kind of photography you do. Your specific needs are just as important as the tripod and monopod reviews that other buyers have given.

How to Use a Monopod. Find out the best techniques to use.

Using a monopod should be easy, but many people make don't know a few simple tips to get the best photographic results.

Monopod Tips. Watch this video with three reasons why using a monopod is important. Also, four more tips on how to get the best results.

One more thought on this topic. When shooting close-up or macro photography, the pan-tilt tripod heads are much easier to work with. The handles allow you to move your camera angle ever so slightly which is magnified dramatically at such close distances to your subject.

Such minute, controlled movements are very challenging with tripod ball heads.


In addition to these useful gadgets, there are other basic and unique camera tripod accessories that may be very valuable to your photography, depending on your interests.


Enjoy the new world of digital photography and Happy Shooting!
Bruce

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