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Best Value in Pro Quality Ball Heads for Tripods and Mono pods
Different tripods heads available - Ball head is difficult to beat
Ball Heads Best Value - Best Prices
Best Prices - Manfrotto Ball Heads
Top of the Line Balls can cost $300 and up!
Finding value in ball heads
Balls are one of the most useful head designs for tripods. Ball heads allow the photographer to swivel the camera in all directions and then lock the camera down to take the shot. Typically you only need one screw to tighten the head so your other hand can hold the camera. This is superior control to a head I had for my press camera which required moving one part for horizontal and one for vertical. That system takes a lot longer to position the camera than the ball head.
Ball head prices depend on quality, size and weight capability. Ball heads made for point and shoot cameras will be a lot less expensive then ball heads made for a heavy camera and large lens. Ball head prices can vary every where from $12 to hundreds of dollars. Of course you get what you pay for. You wouldn't want to trust your heavy, expensive camera outfit on a cheap ball head that might fail at anytime.
Some of the best brand names among ball head manufacturers are Manfrotto, Arca-Swiss, Markins, Really Right Stuff, Kirk Enterprises, Burzynski, Acratech, Exotic sounding names seem to be a must in the ball head market! The balls offered from these manufacturers can be hard anodized aluminum balls, carbon fiber or titanium. With each price point comes the claim that their balls are harder and tighter.
My Pick for Best Ball Head Value
Looking around and analyzing ball heads for my own purposes I determined that I wanted a certain number of pro features such as bubble levels for getting the camera leveled, panning for taking stitch-able panoramic as well as a high quality build. Of course I didn't want to pay professional prices. I'm an artist on a limited budget so I was happy to find the Vanguard line of tripods and ball heads.
The Vanguard line of ball heads and pro quality tripods are a great value. The ball heads feature build in bubble levels and include quick release plates for fast set up. Quick release plates are rather standard on the quality ball heads but the bubble levels are typically only found on more expensive models.
The Vanguard ball line up includes the lightweight Vanguard SBH-30, 50, 100, 250 and 300. Depending on the weight of your total camera equipment (camera, lens, flash, accessories) you need to pick the appropriate sized ball head to handle the weight. I got a SBH-100 for my rather lightweight Panasonic Lumix G2 Micro Four Thirds setup.
The SBH-100 is constructed of magnesium alloy which make for a very strong but lightweight ball with smooth movement. It includes two quick shoes for two cameras and can hold up to 22 lbs of equipment - a limit which I'll never probably never reach.
Best Deal on Quality Ball Head and Tripod
The best value I've found is purchasing the tripod and head at the same time. Amazon offers is a $70 off deal on the Vanguard Alta Pro 264AT Aluminum Tripod with SBH-100 Ball Head. The whole package is around $200 which would normally cost upwards to $300.
The difference between the 264AT and the 263At is in height and the number of leg extensions - 4 for the 264AT and three for the 263AT. The 263AT is 65 inches fully extended and the 264AT is 61 inches. Collapsed, the 263AT is 24.8 inches and the 264AT is 21 inches.