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Author Topic: Tripod 101  (Read 3343 times)
Big Mike
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« on: January 04, 2012, 02:13:50 PM »
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I would like to expand my knowledge in the area of tripods (heads, mounts etc.) especially as it pertains to landscape photography.
Can anyone point me the the direction of some good sites/articles etc? 

I'm not starting at level zero here, I have a pretty good knowledge of basic tripod set ups.  I own probably 10 or more tripods, my main one is an old Manfrotto 190Pro with a cheap(ish) Cameron ball head. I also have a 'studio' tripod, it's a Manfrotto (065 I think).  It's very large and heavy, so I'm unlikely to use it for landscapes unless I decide to break out my old Mamiya RB67.  The rest are cheap 'garage sale' tripods, for the most part.

I look at all these parts & plates on the various websites, but I don't really understand when & where they would be used...and my goodness, the prices seem astronomical for most of this stuff. 

I have a pretty good idea about 3-way heads, ball heads, pan & tilt heads etc.  But I'd like to learn more about the more advanced heads like Gimbals, panos etc. 

I do like to shoot panos and I have had trouble stitching them, so do I need a pano head etc?  What about leveling bases/heads?

Lastly, it would be great to hear some recommendations in the vein of 'Best bang for you buck' kit under $250, under $500, under $1000 etc. 
I do realize that different people will have different needs and preferences, but any advice would be appreciated.   

f.y.i. I'm shooting with a 5DII and my heaviest lens is a 70-200 F2.8. 
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Gary Brown
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« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2012, 02:53:43 PM »
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These might be more basic than what you're looking for, but you might check out Tripods & Heads on this site and Serious Support by Thom Hogan.
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leuallen
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« Reply #2 on: January 04, 2012, 05:09:59 PM »
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I like the Manfrotto 410 geared head, Acratech (best, I have tried 4 different makes) leveling base, on good sturdy legs. Heavy, yes, but I generally use it when I am close to the car. I have a lighter setup when needed. Opps, forgot to include an L-bracket which is essential. Basically you often want your camera in vertical orientation as it increases the vertical view and increased the final resolution. Almost any head is awkward when you try to use it with camera vertical without a bracket.

The geared head setup works great for single row panos - no pano rig required. You must adapt the quick release plated to bring the lens mount centered over the center of rotation. This was not difficult or expensive. If you want to get into multiple row panos, then it is a different story of which I have no experience.

It is easy to get the camera precisely leveled with this set up. Don't rely on the bubble level on the tripod. Use an external level, a three-way level on the camera, or if your camera has grid lines and a straight horizon is available, line up to that.

I use about a 1/3 overlap between images. Since I am using a GH2 and it has a grid broken into thirds, I view the LCD and pick something in the image which is on or near a vertical grid line. Take the exposure and the rotate so that the chosen feature is in approximately the same position on the next vertical guide line. Much easier to do than explain, quite simple and effective.

Another way I overlap is to pick a feature and then test how many turns of the rotation knob it takes to move for a 1/3 overlap. I practice this a couple of times to get the feel for rotating the knob the same amount each time - not really super critical. I use a remote release in my left hand and rotate with right. Take first exposure, rotate, pause a second to let vibrations die, expose, rotate, etc. This way I can shoot off a sequence very rapidly, very important if you have fast moving clouds or such. This technique is more useful with long lenses since the number of turns is two or so. With shorter lenses you have to crank the knob more so it gets tiring.

Another advantage of the geared head and why I got it is for macros. Ball heads and normal 3-way heads are just not precise enough for very careful composition. With a ball head say you have the left-right position correct but you have to move the composition up-down. When you do so you find that the process of moving up-down also changes the left-right so you basically have to start all over. In other words the motion is not constrained to one axis and it free wheels when adjusting. A three-way pan head solves this but I find that it is very difficult to make small, very precise adjustments. Hence the geared head-just turn the knob a little and you are in business. This counts when doing flowers outdoors and there is slight movement due to wind. The flower is moving, the breeze stops, the flower is not in the same position as you started, but you can take an exposure now because the subject is still enough for the slow shutter speed you are using. If you take too long readjusting the composition, the breeze starts up again and you are screwed. This happens over and over and you get quite frustrated. But with the geared head and remote release you can fix the composition very quickly and fire while the breeze is still low. Note that I am using the LCD which is articulated so I can see it from a comfortable position, so I can work very fast when needed. Other cameras may not work as well as this setup but their are points that can be adapted to any setup.

The geared head is about 200+, leveling base 150, and my legs, Manfrotto 055Pro with horizontal center post capabilities, is about 180 for aluminum, much more for carbon fiber. As to plates, many swear by the Acra system. Me, I prefer the Manfrotto RC-2 system as I have so many of the things an Acra system would cost near a thousand or more. The Manfrotto's work fine for me but I have a small camera and cannot comment as to results with a larger rig.

Larry
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Tony Jay
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« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2012, 07:07:54 PM »
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To continue...

Although one could use a gimbal head for a landscape shot gimbal heads are primarily designed for use with large and heavy lenses
such as those used for bird and wildlife photography ie 300mm f2.8 and up.
I can see a possible use with smaller lenses such as those photographers with physical limitations making even handling small lens/camera combinations difficult since correctly set up a gimbal head can make a lens/camera combination essentially weightless.
Additionally, although the gimbal head is designed to allow allow rapid but smooth panning in any direction (essential for action, sports, wildlife etc)
the head can also be fixed and if required a remote release used for ultimate IQ for more more static scenes.
I would not personally try to use this head to shoot an overlapping series of shots for later panoramic stitching although again almost any head could be used as long as there are no near/far elements in the scene.
The best gimbal head (in my opinion) is the mark II version made by Wimberley. I own other makes of gimbal head but they just don't stack up
in the field. Wimberley heads are expensive but they are the best.

As far as panoramic heads go I only have experience with the Manfrotto kit.
As already alluded to it is possible to shoot panoramas using more conventional heads particularly if all the elements in the scene are roughly
at the same distance or far away anyway.
Where conventional heads fail is with those scenes where there are both near and far elements present in the composition. If the lens is not rotating around the optical axis then the near and far elements will be recorded in different positions relative to each other in sequential overlapping shots. Clearly this poses difficulties for any brand of stitching software.This issue may be the one that you are referring to.

For ultimate image quality as well as ease of stitiching and later cropping a levelling base is (in my opinion) essential. Without a levelling base the required precision will be unattainable and sequential shots will almost certainly exhibit 'stair-stepping' when stitched. If ones composition has large tolerances then cropping may still result in an acceptable panorama. If ones compositional tolerances are limited  (combination of the scene and ones choice of lens) then the levelling base allows for predictable results.

In this sort of photography live view and using a remote release will give the best IQ. Manual focussing is also important using the live view with magnification to check that focussing is correct.

Time to let others fill in the gaps

Regards

Tony Jay
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leuallen
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« Reply #4 on: January 04, 2012, 10:30:53 PM »
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To add to what Tony Jay said above about rotating the camera about the optical axis unless you have near far elements in the scene there is no problem. The problem will arise for example wall lets say 10 feet from the camera and a distant scene and you attempted a panorama. Unless the lens optics are positioned properly relative to the rotation of the camera, you will have problems with the stitch.

Since I rarely run into this problem I don't worry about it. But I am prepared. If needed, I have a focusing rail which snaps on the quick release of the geared head and has a quick release on top to accept the camera. This allow the camera to be move back and forth and obtain the correct position for the lenses optics.

A more useful use if for macros. When you are at near 1:1 magnification it is easier to achieve focus by moving the camera back and forth until focus is achieved. The focusing rail is adjusted by a rack and screw mechanism which allows very precise movements. Even more useful since I rarely do 1:1, is for composition. You have the camera and lens set up nearly perfectly except that you decide you should be a couple of inches closer or farther. Without a rail you have to move the whole rig and reset focus and composition. With the rail you just rack the camera forward or backwards without disturbing the composition. Remember macro lenses are generally not zooms, so you can't use that to solve the problem.

Long rails that fit the Acra system do much that a focusing rail does and have the advantage that they are much lighter. The drawback is that they are not screw adjusted so not good for 1:1 focusing. They work fine for panos though. They are not that much cheaper than a good focusing rail.

I mentioned the leveling base. Not only is it critical for panos but very useful for macros too. I have one on all my tripods. The first thing I do when setting up the tripod is to level the head. It makes subsequent use much easier.

I wanted to mention this in case you got the idea that you had to have a pano head for this functionality.

Larry
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Big Mike
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« Reply #5 on: January 05, 2012, 09:25:19 AM »
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Thanks for the great information guys. 

OK, I'm hearing that a leveling base is a must.  Anyone have an opinion on the Manfrotto 50mm leveling ball system that looks to be built into optional centre column? 

I'm hearing that a specific Pano head isn't a requirement for panos, but near-far shots may be a problem without one. 
So what exactly makes a pano head?  Is it simply the ability to adjust the camera's position on the plate/head so that you can place the nodal point over the axis of rotation? 

So would adding a sliding plate or base (or rails) to a standard head, make it fully capable for panos?  Or does it have to have 4-way adjustment?
I see that there are 'panoramic rotation units', either built in or separate, that have angle markings and/or detents etc.  A nice feature, but not really necessary as it's easy to just overlap 1/3?

I'm also seeing that an L bracket is a very good idea, because tilting a head for vertical shooting can compromise you stability and adjustability and for shooting panos, vertical is best anyway. 
So it looks to me, that the L bracket acts as the QR plate, so it must have to match the head?...or at least the type of QR system that you have?  Or do you have to add two QR plates to the L bracket (rather than switching just one)?

So would I (or someone) choose a head that has a built in QR system, then buy a matching L bracket...or is it better to buy a head that doesn't have it's own QR, then add a quick release adapter with your choice of system (Arca Swiss for example)? 

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leuallen
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« Reply #6 on: January 05, 2012, 10:26:56 AM »
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The built in leveling base. Have not used one but I would prefer one which I could switch to different tripods in case I got a new one. I have not looked at the item mentioned but I've seen similar in which the tightening mechanism is under the tripod base on the column. This seems more awkward to use rather than a simple knob up top.

Quote
I'm hearing that a specific Pano head isn't a requirement for panos, but near-far shots may be a problem without one.
No see my message above. If you use a focusing rail or long Arca plate you can get the required adjustments with a standard head. You don't need 4 way adjustment if the the normal camera mounted position is over the center of the tripod rotational center. For and aft is all you need. My geared head did not meet this criteria and thus the modification I had to make. It is a one shot deal, once located properly no further adjustment is necessary. The pano heads may have this adjustment but they are designed to be used with a wide variety of cameras and due to the way they are designed, this adjustment is required to fit all the combinations.

Most L-brackets that I have seen have built in mounting plates for the Arca system. Most are also custom fit for a specific camera model but there are universal brackets available. You have to be careful with the Arca system. There may incompatibilities - plate from manufacture A does not fit properly with head of manufacture B. I had the problem that I don't use the Arca sytem and there were no L-brackets available for my camera model. So I had to buy a general purpose plate and spend a couple of hours in the shop to devise something that would work. I succeeded but my bracket is larger and heavier than the commercial offerings. The commercial ones are generally small and light enough that you can leave them on the camera for normal shooting. Not so, mine.

Since I started with the Manfrotto RC-2 system and the cost of changing to the Arca system was prohibitive, that is what I have stuck with. Starting with a clean sheet I would probably go with the Arca system. Using matching parts from the same manufacture is the safest but you can mix and match if you are careful and do a little home work. Mixing and matching allows a wider choice to get the features that you want. Also, it may cost less if chosen properly- there are vendors who sell items at much lower cost than the 'name' vendors for essentially the same thing. Some things with precision moving parts may be safer with the name brands.

I generally buy without the QR if available or if the head is RC-2 compatible go with that. But that is specific to my system using RC-2 system as the built-in QR are usually Arca which does me no good. Many may like a head but not the QR it comes with so they get it without the QR and get the QR that they like. There are usually no problems with this. I got a good ball head that had an Arca QR with no option without. So I got it and fixed a RC-2 mounting to the Arca plate. Works well but is a little more bulky. Bonus was that I fixed the RC-2 to a long Arca plate so I had the fore/aft movement required for near/far panos. Not that I ever use this feature because I have not run into that situation but I am like a boy scout and like to be prepared.
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Big Mike
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« Reply #7 on: January 05, 2012, 10:57:06 AM »
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More great info, thank you.

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Ben Rubinstein
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« Reply #8 on: January 05, 2012, 11:55:45 AM »
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The manfrotto levelling base/column is very nice to use, I miss it on my gitzo, they don't make one for my version.
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kikashi
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« Reply #9 on: January 05, 2012, 03:18:37 PM »
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The manfrotto levelling base/column is very nice to use, I miss it on my gitzo, they don't make one for my version.
The Acratech levelling base is a beautiful piece of kit. It's a pleasure to use. When I first bought it, I just held it in my hands for a long time, marvelling at the quality of the workmanship and the obvious love with which it had been made. My RRS ballhead provokes similar emotions.

Jeremy
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ljdart
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« Reply #10 on: January 07, 2012, 11:28:07 AM »
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hello Big Mike,

I'm also in the process of gaining tripod-knowledge. I have an old pre-Erlenbacher (realy eastern-german quality) with leveling-head and a very new Markins q20 ballhead. The ballhead is excellent. At this moment I use it with is a nikon d700, a 2.8 180,  a 2.8 105 mm macro, a 1.2 50mm and a 2.8 20mm. In the future I hope to add a f/4 300mm.
I just sold a much to heavy Gitzo explorer -it evoked a lot of ranting in me- and I'm looking around for something carbon-fibre, like the Gitzo gt 3541xls. Large, light, strong and a lowest position from 10cm, very basic. The other  I'm thinking about is the ct 3472LV from feisol http://www.feisol.nl/feisol-elite-tripod-ct3472lv-rapid-incl-leveling-center-kolom-p-67.html?osCsid=9104e22c1d7b03bb2cf703c66495fbe0, also large, strong, light, but with leveling base and also able to do low ground work.
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Scott O.
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« Reply #11 on: January 08, 2012, 01:01:52 PM »
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Big Mike:  I suggest you check out the Really Right Stuff web site.  Not only do they have a large number of specialty products for doing pans, macros, etc., but their 'pods and heads are among the best made.  You are correct in your assumption that you need an L bracket and a quick release head, they will make your life much easier.  A good ball head can be used to level and rotate the camera for pans, and a nodal slide will allow easy adjustment of the lens to achieve set the nodal point, necessary when you have both near and far subjects in the image.  The site also includes tutorials that you will be interested in.  Beware though, their products are top quality and carry prices to match.  But as Thom Hogan has written, avoid cheap and get the absolute best you can possibly afford.  It will avoid buying "up" later and you won't wind up with a closet of unused equipment.  Good stuff also tends to hold value pretty well for later resale if necessary.
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Big Mike
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« Reply #12 on: January 09, 2012, 11:55:54 AM »
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Thanks for all the replies so far.

I've been browsing many sites, looking at the different options (RRS, Arcatech, Gitzo, Manfrotto, Markins, B&H, Adorama etc.) 
Part of the reason that I started this thread, was to help me to make some sense of all it all...find out what I really need and what really want etc. 

I'm pretty sure that at some point, I'll be buying a nice tripod.  Something Carbon fiber that is well over 50" w/o raising the centre column, if it even has one (I'm just under 6' tall).  I see that it's going to cost me $700 plus...and that's OK.  But in the mean time, my old 190Pros (I've got two) are going to be good enough.  So I'm looking at purchasing a new ball head, L-bracket and probably a leveling base. 

I think I'm hearing that the Arcatech leveling base is a favorite.  $150 seems like a decent price (compared to everything else). 
But what is killing me, is that it seams that an L-bracket will cost me more than that.  Does anyone have some suggestions for a cheaper L-bracket.  I know, I know...don't cheap out and make it the weak link in the system...but $160 to $240 seems a bit excessive.  I'm temped to get a couple extra QR plates and just have the guys in my steel shop make a bracket. 

I think there have been some head suggestions above...but can anyone add to that (or just sum it up)?  The Arcatech ball heads look pretty good.  Any opinion on 'Ultimate' vs 'GP'? 

RRS heads look good and seem to have a good reputation as well.  I get that bigger / higher capacity is better...but how much is excessive?  For example, the RRS BH30 is a compact ball head, but it's rated for 15lbs, which is high enough for anything that I own (or will likely ever have). 

What about Gitzo heads?  They look good but maybe don't have the best reputation.  Are their off-centre heads a better choice than the centre type?

And back to the QR plate...I know that several brands use the Arca Swiss style...but I'm still confused on the different sizes/types/styles etc.  Should I get a head that has a built-in QR or not?  Do I need to match the L-bracket to the QR on the head?  I would think so....or do you just put a QR plate on the bracket?

What about level locks vs screw locks?  Is one preferred over the other or is it just personal choice? 

Sorry for all the different questions at once.  Thanks to all who have replied so far. 

« Last Edit: January 09, 2012, 11:58:38 AM by Big Mike » Logged

leuallen
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« Reply #13 on: January 09, 2012, 02:22:08 PM »
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Kirk has a nice l-bracket for about 140. It is Acra mounting. I have the Acratech GV ball head. It is very nice. Don't use it much because I prefer the geared head for landscapes and macros. But when I am doing the ball head thing, it works very good. It comes with a Acra mounting bracket on top. Screw style which some prefer because the lever type does not clamp down tight enough on some Acra plates by some manufactures if you mix and match. The Kirk bracket should fit it just fine. The pound rating thing does not mean too much as there is no standardized way of measuring - it is market speak. The Acratech head is listed at 25#. Is it better than the RRS at 15#. I doubt it.

As for RRS and Gitzo. Sure there stuff is top notch but so is the price. I generally go one price grade below with other reputable manufactures. Works for me but I don't stress the equipment as much as some others.

Larry
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JimAscher
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« Reply #14 on: January 10, 2012, 08:48:57 AM »
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Regarding L brackets, you might want to look at this thread, especially as it discusses what's available from Hejnar, a craftsman that I have had excellent results with.

http://www.mu-43.com/f67/arca-style-l-plates-19369/
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Jim Ascher

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Big Mike
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« Reply #15 on: January 12, 2012, 10:55:45 AM »
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Great info, thanks.
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24x36
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« Reply #16 on: January 29, 2012, 07:20:43 PM »
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Another advantage of the geared head and why I got it is for macros. Ball heads and normal 3-way heads are just not precise enough for very careful composition. With a ball head say you have the left-right position correct but you have to move the composition up-down. When you do so you find that the process of moving up-down also changes the left-right so you basically have to start all over. In other words the motion is not constrained to one axis and it free wheels when adjusting. A three-way pan head solves this but I find that it is very difficult to make small, very precise adjustments. Hence the geared head-just turn the knob a little and you are in business. This counts when doing flowers outdoors and there is slight movement due to wind. The flower is moving, the breeze stops, the flower is not in the same position as you started, but you can take an exposure now because the subject is still enough for the slow shutter speed you are using. If you take too long readjusting the composition, the breeze starts up again and you are screwed. This happens over and over and you get quite frustrated. But with the geared head and remote release you can fix the composition very quickly and fire while the breeze is still low. Note that I am using the LCD which is articulated so I can see it from a comfortable position, so I can work very fast when needed. Other cameras may not work as well as this setup but their are points that can be adapted to any setup.

Larry

Agree 100%, and I wouldn't limit this comment to macro shooting. Personally, I detest ball heads, due to exactly what you have described - essentially, off-axis movement. There is no way to prevent this, since a ball head that is not locked will move not only in the direction that you want to move it in, but also in any other direction. Every attempt to point the camera the way you want and/or to level the camera will more likely than not induce some unwanted movement, which requires you to try again...and again...and again.  Angry

My favorite heads are the Arca-Swiss B2/Z2 (which are not ball heads, even though they call them "monoballs" like their ball heads), and the NPC Pro Head. Both of these move in only fore-aft and side-to-side directions (as well as pan, with a separate control). The Arca-Swiss does it with independent controls for each movement (it is a "ball within a ball" design), the NPC with a single knob that releases the head to move in both directions (but each direction can be moved independently since their are only two motions possible).

For what the OP is using (i.e., nothing bigger than a 70-200 f two point eight (can't stop the eight from being turned into a smiley for some reason)), I'd recommend the NPC Pro Head, but it'll be a treasure hunt, as it's currently out of production. The Arca Swiss Z2 is also tough to find, though currently being (when they feel like it) produced. If you're using big glass, the Arca-Swiss B2/Z2 is the one head that makes you feel like the Gimbal heads can stay home. It's not as quick for moving/erratic subjects, but with the side-to-side movement locked and the fore-aft and pan suitably damped, it can be used in similar fashion to a Gimbal (except you probably want to lock down when you take your hands off). It also is one head that has more than enough capacity for a "Sidekick" type Gimbal, if you decide to go that route.

As for quick releases, I'd go Arca-Swiss "type" all the way, and I'd recommend the knob style clamps over the lever types. If you go with the lever types, then you'll have to stick with one brand (as their specifications all differ slightly, which introduces compatibility issues and potential for malfunction/equipment damage if you mix and match), which limits your choices. I also get the feeling that I could inadvertently catch the lever on the lever style clamp with the cuff of a shirt sleeve, unintentionally opening it and having the whole rig slide out.  Shocked When it's screwed down snug, it's not going to come off without conscious effort, which is as it should be.
« Last Edit: January 29, 2012, 07:23:20 PM by 24x36 » Logged
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