What is a ball head tripod?
A ball head mount is a lighter weight tripod mount that consists of a metal or plastic ball within a socket. With fewer parts than other tripod heads, such as pan-and-tilt heads, they are simpler to use.
Because the ball head allows for free motion, photographers can rotate their camera and compose more accurately and precisely than with other heads. A locking mechanism and friction controls also provide greater stability.
Ball heads are one of the more popular tripod mounts because of their simplicity and versatility. Typically they’ll have three knobs: one secures the quick release plate, another locks the ball head in place and a third adjusts the tension. Many ball heads now include a fourth knob that enables you to pan along the horizontal axis.
How much should a ball head cost?
You can find ball heads for tripods priced under £100/$100, but I would be wary of these. Many budget ball heads keep their cost down by compromising on materials.
If the ball and socket mechanism isn’t robust, the weight of your camera will cause it to drift. This will throw your framing off, and will also introduce shake to your images.
You probably want to spend around £150/$150 or more on a ball head to be certain you can trust it to perform when you need it.
Below we’ve rounded up what we believe are the best ball heads for tripods on the market today. These recommendations come from our own experience using these ball heads in the field.
The best ball heads you can buy for your tripod
3 Legged Thing Airhed Switch
The AirHed Switch is lightweight ball head made from aircraft grade ADC12 Alloy which weighs just 236g yet can support a top-down payload of 160kg (350lb). And being 3 Legged Thing, there are lots of nice little design touches.
For starters there is an integrated detachable circular clamp, as well as a spirit level in the base plate. The AirHed Switch is also Arca Swiss and Peak Design Capture compatible.
The AirHed Switch might be the best ball head for enthusiasts on our list. Visit 3 Legged Thing for more information.
Manfrotto XPro Magnesium Ball head with top lock plate
One of the sturdiest options on this list of best ball heads, the Manfrotto XPro features a novel triple locking system that eliminates drift. Manfrotto’s locking system employs three wedges that enclose and block the ball when you want absolute rigidity.
Another nice feature is that the plate slides into the head from the top and is secured by a clamp. When the clamp grasps the plate, it then releases a safety mechanism that prevents the plate (and thus your camera) from sliding off the head when making adjustments.
There’s also a friction control and dual spirit bubbles for making precise adjustments. See Manfrotto for more information.
Gitzo GH1382TQD Series 1
Gitzo is known for quality and high precision, and its Center Ball Heads are no exception. Designed to fit between the folded legs of Gitzo’s Series 0 and Series 1 Traveler tripods, the Gitzo GH1382TQD Series 1 brings robust internal and external components.
On the base plate is a removable safety pin that acts as a safety catch to prevent the plate and camera from sliding off. The plate is also Arca-Swiss compatible.
You’ll also find an independent pan lock and spirit bubbles to guide your framing. Visit Manfrotto for more information.
Benro’s B2 is one of the best value for money options on our list of best ball heads for your tripod. Made of magnesium alloy, the B2 is lightweight at 0.45kg yet strong enough to stay locked in place with a heavy kit. In fact, it can support a maximum payload of 44lbs, which is second only to the 3LT ball head.
Aimed at professionals, it offers separate drag adjustment and lock knobs. Its base plate is Arca-Swiss compatible, and it measures just 3.9 inches in height when folded. Visit Benro for more information.
The budget option on our best ball heads list is actually one of our favourites. Vanguard has packed a lot into this lightweight, aluminium head. You’ll find four independent locking knobs for the main ball, pan, hot shoe and a friction control.
The Arca-Swiss compatible base plate also uses a safety pin to prevent your camera from sliding off. And there are dual spirit levels for easy framing.
Best of all, the BH-300 can support a 30kg payload, meaning you can use it with your heavy 70-200mm or 400mm lenses. Visit Vanguard for more information.