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.
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.
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.
Related: Ball head monopods
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.
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.
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.
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.
- CONVENIENT: From 19’’ to 77’’ Flexible Adjustment.4-section column legs with quick release flip-locks allows you to adjust the working height from 19’’ to 77’ in seconds.Winner in height!
- FLEXIBLE: 360°PANORAMA AND BALL JOINT: The specially designed ball-head can rotate 360° and get free angles, allowing you to get the perfect shot and amazing panorama every time.
- TRAVEL/OUTDOOR: 19’’ compact storage size and easily carried with bag. Tripod legs can be adjusted in three levels of opening angle to stabilize on varying grounds and incline levels. Suitable for travel or outdoor shooting.
- TRANSFORM: This tripod can be quickly disassembled with the central axis screw and transform into a monopod, providing an alternative way of shooting with ease.
- PORTABLE：3.37lbs / 1.53kg tripod weight and 17.6lbs / 8kg maximum load weight. 77'' in height and easy-carried. This tripod can make it the best companion of your DSLR cameras and withstand heavier load compared to similar products yet remain stable.
- ULTRA STABILITY - Based on the concept of stability and portability, INSTAFOTO camera tripod leg built with thick aluminum tube (max. dia. 26mm), lightweight but sturdy; full aluminum ball head with large dia. 1.2''/30mm ball holds your device stably and securely; counterweight hook, non-slip rubber feet help increase more stability. Max load: 17.6 lbs/ 8 kg.
- 360° PANORAMIC FULL ALUMINUM BALL HEAD - Superior Aluminum-Alloy Construction, CNC Precision Finishing, Anodized Surface. 3 independent ergonomic knobs allow for horizontal/ vertical/ side adjustment smoothly and quickly. More precise - 2 bubble levels to accommodate landscape or portrait orientations and make sure you are on target.
- EASY TO CARRY - 2021 upgraded dslr tripod, extended from 20'' to 74''. Weighs only 3.1 lbs. Compact, sturdy and lightweight design is ideal for travelers, adventurers, and outdoor explorers with the durable carry bag.
- VERSATILE TALL TRIPOD for CAMERA PHONE TABLET - Universal 1/4" screw of quick-release plate fits for most Canon Nikon dslr camera, projector, spotting scope etc. It's also your in-home entertainment stand for phone and tablet.
- BUY WITH CONFIDENCE - INSTAFOTO is committed to providing high-quality services to every customer. Any issue will be responded within 24 hours. Package included: 1 x ball head tripod, 1 x holder for phone/ tablet, 1 x carry bag, 1 x user manual.
- Premium Italian design
- Adjustable aluminum Leg Locks
- Robust aluminum construction
- Shoulder bag included
- 4 leg angles
- 【Compact and Portable】SmallRig Selection CH10 is a compact fluid video head. This fluid head weighs only 279g, features 70mm in height and a 36mm-diameter in base
- 【Pan and Tilt Adjustment】This fluid head features fixed damping for a smooth operation experience. With the handle, this tripod head can be tilted +90°/-55° and swiveled 360° for multi-angle shooting
- 【Wide Compatibility】SmallRig Selection Fluid Head CH10 is fully compatible with SLRs, mirrorless cameras, pocket cinema cameras, etc. The safety payload of this tripod head is 3 kg
- 【Quick Release Plate】This fluid head comes with an quick release plate for Arca-Swiss, enables you to switch between handheld and tripod quickly
- 【Allen Wrench】There is an Allen wrench held on by a magnet tucked away but easily accessible, it can bet used for removing the handle
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.