Acratech Leveling Base
A Quick Take Review
In photography, and especially with regard to photographic gear, it's sometime the little things that make the biggest difference.
Most photographers have come to know the benefits of using ballheads. Several years ago a small company called Acratech introduced a lightweight head that was the antitheses of most available until that time. It was small, beautifully made, and an ideal choice for use with a light weight carbon fibre tripod, for hiking and similar applications.
Acratech has now produced Hit #2, a small, light weight and superbly made tripod head leveling base. It weights less than half a pound, can support a camera / lens combination up to 15 lbs, and has a very low profile. It sells for $150. I've been using the Gitzo Leveling Base for the past few years, and though it's comparably priced, it is quite heavy and bulky. Linhof also has a very nice leveling base, but it's larger and quite a bit more expensive.
What's It Do Again?
If you know what a leveling base is and does, or have and use one, you've probably already jumped over to the Acratech site to place your order (or at least find out more). If the concept of a leveling base eludes you, read on.
When a photographer switches from any other type of tripod head to a ballhead they are filled with smiles. Wow – it's now so easy and quick to position the camera any way I want. The same is true when one switches to Arca style mounting plates and a quick release mounts. Gosh – why have I been using anything else all these years.
But the benefits of a leveling base, though no less real, are not quite so obvious or easily explainable.
At its most basic a leveling base allows you to not have to worry about getting the legs of your tripod extended to exactly the same length. With 10 degrees of tilt, and a large built in bubble level, even when standing on an uneven surface, like the side of a hill, it's easy to extend the legs for a solid hold and then achieve a level platform for your tripod head in an instant.
Anyone shooting panoramas for stitching will also find a leveling base to be a worthwhile accessory, since even the slightest shift in level between shots can make stitching problematic.
Anyone with a ballhead will be asking themselves what a leveling base adds for them, since they already have the ability to compensate for uneven ground or unequal tripod leg extension. The answer is for when shooting with a ballhead (and without an L bracket) and when switching to a vertical framing. Dropping the head into its vertical notch almost inevitably produces a non-level orientation. With a leveling base this is easily and quickly compensated for.
That's it. A simple and useful device, beautifully made, light weight, and reasonably priced. What more can one ask?
Acratech V2 Ballhead
Few outdoor photographers need to be convinced of the merits of using a ballhead. For most the only real question is, how much does it cost (they're not cheap) and how heavy does it have to be.
The Acratech V2 Ballhead does not replace the original Acratech head – the one that started the revolution in small and light weight heads some five years ago. Like its predicessor the V2 is beautifully machined, with a black anodized finish and comfortable rubber clad knobs. It weighs less than 1lb and can hold up to 25lb (11Kg).
The main difference between the original and the V2 is the range of motion available, including a seperate friction control knob for the head. In other words, it's more mainstream than the minimalist design of the original. This difference in freedom of motion is described as follows by Acratech...
"Our original Ultimate ballhead has a greater range and freedom of motion
on the front area of the ballhead, this is often desirable for close-up
photography and other types of photography where the camera angle
required would normally necessitate that the ball be dropped into the
slot in a conventional ballhead to achieve the desired angle. It also
works in a similar fashion when doing vertical shots you simply rotate
the ballhead to the side, and then the camera has unparalleled freedom
of movement around the vertical position. Unfortunately the increased
freedom of movement in some directions means that to use the range of
motion in other directions the ballhead will need to be rotated (by
loosing the pan knob) to provide the same freedom the of motion in
other directions. Our original Ultimate ballhead also provides a more
useable range of motion when compared to conventional ballheads on
tripods where the ballhead is supported on a horizontal arm."
I've now been working with the V2, along with the Acratech Level Base for over a month, with both mounted on a Gitzo 1228 CF tripod. This combination is light weight, robust ,and ideal for hiking. I've used it with my 35mm gear and lenses up to 300mm, and with my medium format Hasselblad H2 system as well.
My only real complaint is that while the V2 is described as having a quick release system, it really doesn't provide what most people consider to be such, namely, a lever clamp. Instead its quick release capability consists of a traditional knob that is on a fast pitched screw – just two turns from open to closed. What it gains in speed though it lacks in the reassurance that a lever system offers, which is the knowledge that it's either open or closed, not some in between state.
This aspect aside, for my uses I find the V2 to be an upgrade from the original and a new strong competitor in the ballhead arena.