One important thing to remember when choosing a tripod head is that, as with tripod legs they have a maximum load capacity. You should therefore check whether the kit you are going to use it with falls within that capacity. Again we recommend Manfrotto as it is the brand we know best. That said when it comes to Gimbal heads Manfrotto may not be the best brand to turn to - see below. Generally speaking a good old ball head should be great for your first foray into the world of tripods, albeit a 3 way head may be more stable for heavier kit.
A ball head works on the same principal as the ball and socket joint in your shoulder, giving you a fluid movement in all directions. You can adjust the amount of friction applied to the joint, allowing you easier movement v stability.
Bart's sidekick C S Wimsey owns a Manfrotto 496RC2 (pictured), which has a maximum load capacity of 6kg. It's a great little piece of kit, but due to it's maximum weight-load isn't suitable for use with a large telephoto lens. This head has been used on both CS's tripods and monopods (they are all interchangeable). Manfrotto do a range of ball heads with different maximum load capacities, for example the Manfrotto MH057MO-Q5057 Magnesium ball head which carries a load of up to 15KG.
A ball head is a great piece of kit to start with - as it is probably the easiest to use. If you have particularly heavy kit you might want to look at a 3 way or gimbal head.
The buttons above will take you to the Manfrotto ball head range - just choose one which has the right load capacity for your kit. The sturdier they get the heavier they will get, so we don't recommend going over the top.
3 Way/Pan Tilt Heads
A 3 way head allows a bit more stability than a comparable ball head, but it is more complicated to use. You can lock the head in one direction e.g. up/down, and use it to pan sideways - or vice versa. That functionality gives you more options and more control, once you have mastered how to use it (which really isn't that difficult). We really like the stability and control these heads offer.
Pictured above left is the Manfrotto X PRO 3 way head, and above right the Manfrotto 804RC2 Basic Pan and Tilt Head.
Bart's sidekick C S Wimsey owns (possibly an older edition of) the Manfrotto 460MG pictured right, but freely admits she made a mistake in this purchase. She made the mistake so you don't have to. The problem with this head is tightening the rubber screws. Even CS's tiny hands get in the way which makes it hard to tighten and therefore affects stability. That issue won't happen with the models pictured above because the tightening gets done by twisting a lever - so the mechanism of the head doesn't get in the way of your hands when tightening. We've tried the 804RC2 and it is FAR better. That said the X PRO 3 looks like it has more functionality due to the friction control - this may translate to us buying it. Should that happen we'll update you.
The buttons above take you to the Manfrotto range.
While we love our Manfrotto, their range of traditional gimbal heads is... well... we haven't found one!
Bart's sidekick invested in Manfrotto's heavy Telephoto Lens Support, pictured above left. It is (we believe) misleadingly marketed as a monopod support. We use it on a tripod (albeit never in the position shown). It does basically the same as a gimbal and has worked fantastically. We would never hang the lens from the top of the support (why on earth would you want to do that?) - it is far more stable if you fold the support into a U shape and mount the lens on top (like a u shape gimbal - rather than the traditional L shape). This piece of kit is a great first foray into heavy duty lens kit. You may however find a traditional gimbal will give you better access to the controls on your lens (we haven't found this a problem).
Alternatively there is the more traditional gimbal head (see above right Opteka GH1). A traditional gimbal allows you to move the camera easily and fluidly in any direction. The go to brand here is generally Wimberley, but they are quite high end (see our more advanced options).
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