Ball head vs Pan head Tripods: Which is better?

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Whether you’re a professional photographer or a newbie, a tripod only is not enough to help you accomplish some of your photography needs. Most of us thought buying a nice tripod is all we needed and ready to go. When it comes to heads, there are different types and brands – each serving a specific purpose. Well, ball head vs. pan head, which one should you choose?

For us to answer this question more satisfyingly, we’ll give a roundup of each head type including their pros and cons. Also, we’ll let you know what each head is good at doing.

But before we jump into the details, there are a few other things worth mentioning. The first thing to note is that there are different heads apart from the ball and pan heads.

These heads include fluid heads, panoramic heads, video pan heads, gimbal head, and geared heads. Understand that tripod legs also matter, meaning you must get the head that matches with your tripod legs. Since we’re not discussing tripod legs, we’ll leave it at that and focus on the two heads.

MACTREM Professional Camera Tripod DSLR Tripod for Travel, Super Lightweight and Reliable Sturdy, Ball Head Tripod Detachable Monopod with Phone Mount Carry Bag, 21.5' to 62.5', 33lb Load

What does a ball head do?

Before we answer this question – what’s a ball head in photography anyway? It would be inappropriate to explain the work of something that you don’t know what it is in the first place. It is a small tool or device that’s a ball in a socket. That might not make sense.

Let’s put it this way; it is a device with an adjustable ball hence its name. It sits on your tripod and provides a platform for the camera. While the tripod offers a stable platform for the ball head – it ensures that you get precise shots. In other words, the head makes it easier for you to tilt the camera or move it around in 360-degrees steadily and smoothly.

In most cases, while shooting, you’d interact with the tripod heads more often than you’d do with the tripod. The tripod head is a small device that photographers mount on top of the tripod and to the bottom of their camera.

So, what can a ball head do best? As we said earlier, there are different tripod heads each for a specific purpose. It might be relevant or irrelevant, depending on the kind of photography you do. When it comes to flexibility and popularity, ball heads carry the day.

They’re straightforward to understand and use. Besides, some of the latest versions allow panning. Have you ever seen a sharp photo with a blurry background? They’re mostly photos of vehicles or sports. Well, that’s now panning photography. It’s a technique that allows you to capture a sharp image of a moving object.

You can achieve this by combining a slow shutter speed with the camera motion. Note that this device swivels along the vertical and horizontal axis and there’s only one tension knob to control it.

Apart from them being easy to use, they’re lightweight and easily lock the camera into position. You’ll also find ball heads with a quick-release system – which is a small plate of metal that locks into place on your ball head and holds the camera at the touch of a lever. What the plate does is to maintain and release the camera very fast in a convenient way.

Pros of a ball head

Straightforward to use: If you’re still learning how to use a camera with a tripod or you’re new to photography, the head ball will never disappoint.

They boast a simple design featuring a tension adjustment to quickly move the head around or lock it down to one place. Also, there is a screw to tighten the head to hold your camera if there’s no quick-release mechanism. Its simplicity gives the user full control of the camera during action.

Smooth Operation: The movement of this device is sleek, making its operation smooth as well. You have nothing to worry about if there’s a lot of action to capture. It’s also easy to shot a static object like a landscape or a portrait but not precisely.

Cons

Not Stable: Stability is one drawback that you’ll likely face when using a ball head, especially when setting the camera in a portrait position. Leveling the camera tends to be a load of work if you’ll spend time doing that.

Accuracy Issues: Making adjustments here is demanding. When you loosen the screw to level your camera, you’ll be moving everything hence spending considerable time to ensure that you get it right. That can be disappointing especially if you want to take a quick shot.

What is a Pan and Tilt Head?

Unlike ball heads, pan tilt heads are quite complicated to use. Why is it called a pan and tilt head? When you mount a camera on it, you can rotate the camera in a horizontal plane, hence pan. Also, you can move the camera in a vertical plane, thus tilt.

A tilt head features three different control knobs or adjustments, as seen in the image above. These adjustment levers are designed to control each axis independently.

Pan tilt head is often referred to as a three-way-heads because of the ability to handle specific tasks. For example, you can fix one axis and at the same time, move the other freely. Also, you can pan horizontally or tilt up and down. You’ll realize a pan and tilt head can be a good bet for panoramas.

Pan tripod heads work pretty well for photographers who do not make a lot of adjustments. Just like its counterpart, a pan-tilt head sits on your tripod and provides a platform for the camera. It also has a screw to hold the camera. Regardless of a tilt head being demanding when using it, it delivers precise captures.

Pros

Accuracy: The design of pan heads gives you precise control due to having a handle that controls each plane independently. It allows you to adjust each of them without disturbing the others – so, you can adjust vertically, horizontally, or tilt one at a time while others remain intact.

Budget-friendly: When we say budget-friendly, we do not necessarily mean that you’ll spend way little money to buy one. What we’re saying is that if you compare the load capacity of a till head with a ball head that can handle the same – you’ll realize that a ball head will cost more.

Stable: This thing is stable, and you’ll rarely hear cases of it toppling over or some weird movements once you’ve locked it into position.

Cons

Not Straightforward: Due to three different levers, a pan and tilt head is not straightforward and will take you some time to master how to operate it. It is also slow to adjust – have in mind that three different handles need independent adjustment. Although the process is time-consuming, it still gives precise control.

Bulky: Let’s face it; this device is bulky when compared with a ball head. Yes, and the fact that the handles stick out, they become a hindrance when moving around.

Related

Best beginner tripods

Using a ball head on a monopod

What type of tripod head is best?

Chances are you’re here because you want the answer to this question. If you’re still undecided even after reading through the information above, don’t worry. We’ll help you make the right decision so that the next time you go shopping, you can shop like a pro. What type of tripod head is the best? The answer to this question is pretty straightforward. Y

ou probably know the answer already – what makes a tripod head best is the work you indent to do with it. Let’s explain with examples. We will start with the ball heads. As we had mentioned above, a ball head is easy to use and adjust. Meaning, if you want to capture objects that are on the move, it comes in handy.

For example, sports and action photographers find a ball head very instrumental. Why? Because the device is suitable when your interest is to follow the action as you can adjust quickly.

A pan and tilt head on the other side is good for portraits and landscapes photographers. While a ball head is easy to use, it’s hard to get pin-point exactness with it. That’s where a pan head kicks in.

Although a pan/tilt head is slow to adjust, you’ll always get accurate results. You can also achieve great panning with a pan head whereby you lock all axis except one. Such happens in the case of video shooting. If you do actions – consider using a pistol grip head.

With a pistol grip head, you’ll have a smooth, fast, and single-handed operation of the camera. Note that if you decide to acquire a pan head, you should get a geared head because it offers more precise positioning. Well, you now understand that every head is useful when it comes to specific activities. Each of them has advantages and disadvantages.

SaleBestseller No. 1
MACTREM Professional Camera Tripod with Phone Mount, 62" DSLR Tripod for Travel, Super Lightweight and Reliable Stability, Ball Head Tripod Detachable Monopod with Carry Bag (Black)
  • 33LBS Max Load, stable to take sharp picture. Max Stable Load up to 33 lbs (15 kg). The tripod offers high level of stability using great quality level of aluminum material. You can focus on composition and get ready for your photo or video without worrying your hand may be shaky. The quick release plate of ball head has a 1/4" Screw which is suitable for most cameras, camcorder, binocular and projectors.
  • 2.9LBS lightweight and Portable for travel. Only 2.9 lbs weight and 17.5 inch compact folded size, you can easily take it in the included carry bag to anywhere for outdoor shooting. This lightweight tripod is a great companion for your long trip. In addition, the tripod can be detached as a monopod or you can also use it as an alpenstock while hiking
  • Take macro Photography with upside-down center column with simple steps, The center column can be turned upside-down to take macro photography. It allows your camera to get closer shoot to the objects and magnify its textured and quality. Upside-down center column is an excellent function if you want to photograph exquisite items such as jewelry, watch, earrings, necklace. You can also use it to take street photos or anything with a lower angle. Have a try, the world in macro is wonderful!
  • Capture 360 degree landscape with confidence have you ever got a blurry or discontinuous photo using panoramic function of your cell phone? The MACTREM 360 Degree swivel ball head is the solution. Simply attach your cell phone or camera onto the tripod and rotate the ball head to take perfect pictures. You can even DIY your tripod, change the ball head to the model you like!
  • Easy set up and no-hassle promise 4-section column legs with quick release flip-locks allows you to adjust the working height from 17.5”to 62.5” in seconds. Quick-release plate makes fast transitions between shots and quickly moving from spot to spot possible. In addition, we offer QUALITY SUPPORT and 1-year TECHNICAL SUPPORT, totally risk-free for you! If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us. We will get back to you as soon as possible.
Bestseller No. 2
Neewer Alluminum Alloy 62"/158cm Camera Tripod with 360 Degree Ball Head, 1/4" Quick Shoe Plate, Bag for DSLR Camera, Video Camcorder, Load up to 17.6lbs/8kg
  • Quick shoe leg locking, giving a more convenient leg handling
  • It has the rigidity intensity, high-efficiency shock absorption, better heat resistance and corrosion resistance
  • Center column design with hook for goods to increase stability
  • Universal ball head design with 1 locks and 360 degree dial that photographers adjust angle easily and quickly
  • Bubble level indicator

Bestseller No. 1
Orion Tritech II Field Tripod with Fluid Pan Head
  • Provides sturdy and portable support for instrument loads up to 13.2 lbs.
  • Tripod height reaches a generous 68" when fully extended
  • Features 3-section extendable aluminum alloy tripod legs with flip-lock clamps and metal spreader brace for extra stability
  • Extra-long slotted 1/4"-20 captive quick-release shoe allows super-secure attachment of cameras, spotting scopes and L-adapter equipped binoculars with a non-slip grip
  • Weighs just 4.8 lbs., and collapses to 27.25" long for easy portability. Includes zippered carry case.
Bestseller No. 2
Neewer Metal Heavy Duty Video Camera Tripod Fluid Drag Pan Head with 1/4 and 3/8 inches Screws Sliding Plate for DSLR Cameras Video Camcorders Shooting Filming, up to 11 pounds/5 kilograms
  • PLEASE NOTE: Compatible with Manfrotto 501HDV release plates,supports adjustable shooting angle, 360 degree horizontally and -70 to 90 degree vertically, providing a wide range of shooting horizens

  • QUICK SHOE PLATE: Comes with a dual convertible 1/4 - 3/8 inches mounting screws to be fit for most video shooting; Standard 3/8 inches threaded screw hole on the bottom (included with a 3/8 inches to 1/4 inch screw adapter), making it suitable for all tripods, monopods, light stands and camera sliders

  • BUBBLE LEVEL: Security locking knob can well prevent the equipment from falling off accidentally, and professional bubble levels help to keep the stable shooting to adapt to different environments

  • REMOVABLE HANDLE:It comes with a right-sided non-skid handle bar,it can be removed and installed to the left side,according to your request

  • USER FRIENDLY: The side lock system allows the camera and sliding quick shoe plate as the direction of the arrows show quickly

Conclusion

It’s also clear that the kind of photography you do will determine which head to purchase. We would advise having both heads and switch between them whenever possible. One crucial tool never to miss is the quick release mechanism. You don’t want to screw and unscrew the camera on the head all the time. It is time-wasting and very disappointing.

As we wrap up, every photographer may have a different opinion concerning either a ball head or a pan head. Always do your homework before settling for one.