Best tripod head for stills
Which is best, a conventional three-way tripod head or a ball head?
Based on a conventional three-way design, the X-PRO three-way is crafted from aluminium and features locks for tilt, pan and swivel movements, with dual friction dampers. Three built-in spirit levels assist levelling in both landscape and portrait orientation shooting. Adjustments can feel long-winded with the three-way head, as you have to release and tighten three knobs to enable movement in all three axes. There are also two knobs to adjust tilt and swivel friction damping, to suit heavier camera and lens combinations. One of the main advantages of any three-way head is the potential for very precise positional adjustments, particularly for macro and architectural shooting. A bonus is that you can make adjustments in one axis, while keeping the other two axes locked in position. As with any three-way head, this one has a dedicated clamp for the panning axis, so you can leave the tilt and pivot clamps locked and rotate the head in only a lateral direction. It’s useful for panning, and for taking sequential shots to stitch into panoramic images. The three-way head takes up more room than its rival, and this despite the retractable arms for the tilt and swivel clamps, which slide into their grips. The three-way head also weighs twice as much as the ball head, but has a lower maximum load rating. A replacement for the popular Manfrotto 498RC2 ball head, the XPRO has a ball and socket design, with the main body being built from sturdy yet light magnesium alloy. It features a main locking clamp, panning clamp, friction damper and two bubble levels. With a single main locking clamp, adjustments in all axes of movement are quick and intuitive. Similarly, only one adjustable friction damper is needed, instead of the two on the three-way head. Both heads use the same 200PL-14 quick release plate. The ball head can’t beat the three-way head for precision in fine adjustments but performance is still very good. It’s aided by very little sag when releasing the camera after making adjustments, as well as the friction damper and panning clamp (see below). Like many current designs of ball heads from competing manufacturers, this one features a dedicated panning clamp. It therefore gives you the same option as a three-way head, to leave tilt and swivel locked off and enable only lateral movement. The ball head requires comparatively little room in your kit bag, especially if you tilt the ball backwards through 90 degrees. It weighs just 500 grams (versus the one kilogram of the three-way head), yet has a greater maximum load rating of 10 kilograms.