During the Spring of 2017 I undertook a massive research project to review and test ball heads and tripods. Throughout my search I tested ball heads from:
3 Legged Thing
Really Right Stuff
I will go through and offer some thoughts on each of the ball heads. I'll just state at the outset that there are a LOT of fantastic products on the market in terms of ball heads. Having tested a more than a dozen different models from ten different manufacturers, I am generally extremely impressed by the quality and caliber of the products in the marketplace today. There really aren't any ball heads in the list that I would say: "Avoid this one!" That's actually pretty impressive given the price range that is covered. What I will say, though, is that in general, you are getting what you pay for. The products that are in the $400 or $500 price range truly are a vastly better product than those that are in the $120 price range. With that in mind, I would strongly suggest leaning toward the upper end of your budget limit when considering the purchase of a ball head. This is a tool that will be holding thousands of dollars worth of photography equipment. If it fails, your camera falls. It is positively worth an extra couple hundred dollars to be completely confident in the product that is holding your very expensive gear. With that, here are the ball heads, and my thoughts on them...
3 Legged Thing - Air Hed
The Air Hed is a $200 ball head that is incredibly funky looking! This ball head is incredibly well built, and my biggest positive comment about the Air Hed is that it is a double panning head at a very modest price. By double panning, I mean that it has two different panning devices. Every ball head in this review has a panning head at the base of the ball head. There is a little knob that you loosen/tighten to enable the head to spin horizontally, 360 degrees. However with the Air Hed, there is a second panning head right at the very top of the device, where your quick release plate attaches. The main advantage to that second panning head would be if you were to drop the top into portrait mode, you would then have a vertical panning option, as well as horizontal. The two panning heads in conjunction with each other almost give you a gimbal effect.
The down side to this head is the absence of friction control. Friction control is a pretty valuable feature, in that it puts some resistance on the ball itself. When you loosen the main control knob, this particular head will go from completely tight to very "floppy" all at once. Most of the other heads in the review have a friction control, so that if you have very heavy equipment, you can increase the resistance on that boll, making it more rigid under a heavy set-up.
While I don't have a discount code for 3 Legged Thing, I do have an affiliate link. Hopefully you will get some added benefits from using that link!
The Acratech GP retails for $429, including the lever release, which is pictured to the right. There is a twist release option which is $399. If you had read the initial comments I had written about the GP, you would have seen an extremely different set of opinions. Initially I was obsessively in love with the lever release. At this point, I have moved 180 degrees in the opposite direction, and can only recommend the Lever release. Why? Because the lever release dropped my camera - twice. The first time I thought that somehow, just in some bizarre way, I had mis-aligned the arca-swiss plate. I actually fashioned a tether for my camera, and kept using it. Sure enough, about 2 weeks later, it happened again. I had been so obsessively careful about mounting the camera to the lever release plate since that drop, I am 100% certain it was a defect in the lever release.
I'm still a great fan of Acratch, and the GP overall, but I no longer would use the lever release. The thing that I still love about the Acratech GP is the open ball design. While most of the other ball heads encase the ball inside a metal casing, this design keeps it almost completely exposed, except for a ring that extends around the 'equator' of the ball. That ring allows you to set both your friction control, and it allows the main control knob to lock down the ball in place.
The GP also has a reversible feature which I honestly have never tried, but you can take the bottom plate off and mount it upside down, in a different manner, which is primarily for panorama photography. I don't realistically see myself ever doing that. I could envision adding another panning surface to the top of the hea