The absolute sharpness of the landscapes and architectural images we admire has a lot to do with the rock steadiness of the camera while shooting. To obtain it, a sturdy tripod and an unmovable tripod head are a must. Having a ball head therefore meant to be at least halfway towards the professionals level in terms of camera support, adding to vibration reduction, ease of use in the field and equipment safety. However, these most ingenious devices came not in comfortable sizes, nor weights and definitively not prices.
So while I upgraded tripods, kept on using various 3-way heads, but dedicated long hours to study the structural, mechanical and operational characteristics of the top ball heads ... and to yearning.
It soon became very evident the superiority and ease of use of the top brands. One single partial twist of a knob (or none!) and the camera could be tilted, inclined, in fact rotated. And most made panning a cinch. Locking capacity was comparatively huge, making the camera almost impossible to move after setting.
The questions "Do I really need one?", "Can it really make my images better?", "Can I justify it?", had different answers depending on the mood and the budget at the time. One good night, very late, after reading John Shaw's "Close ups in Nature" and "Landscape Photography" for the nth time, the answers to the three questions above were simply: "Yes", "Yes" and "I don't have to" respectively. I must have been running a fever since I also remember the thought: "Ok, I have the F4 and the 24mm f/2.8 AF like he does, all I need now is the ball head". Yeah, right!
Anyway, I took upon serious consideration Shaw's recommendation for a Bogen 3038 (Manfrotto 268) and decided against their lever design. These are now discontinued so the market has spoken. But the decision to go into a ball head was made.
After the good experience with Manfrotto tripods (then Bogen in the USA) and John Shaw's admonition "Generally speaking, the larger the ball, the sturdier the head", I kept on looking into their products and bought the knob design Manfrotto 468RC (later updated as a 468MGRC2 Hydrostatic). The then existing 469RC just seemed unnecessarily massive.
Well, my camera was finally rock steady, it never vibrated, slipped or twist, once I had the 200PLARCH-14 (then Bogen 3157NR) "architectural" plates on and the ball head fully locked before shooting.
So I was in ball head heaven for no less than three years, until I started to buy fast lenses and do serious macro work. Creeping was a malady present on all the ball heads I tried. That was also the collective experience of many Nikonians members.
Then, Nikonian BJ Nicholls posted a message to say: "Have you seen the Markins ball head?" I've seen it and it had caught my attention but couldn't get my hands on one, so I went back for a fourth and fifth closer look.
That was the beginning of the end of the intensity of my love affair with the 3435QR. Deep affection and gratefulness remain. No regrets. But as soon as I saw the Markins, read its specs, made an objective comparative analysis over its metrics and listen to the impressions of its users, I knew what I wanted now.
Interestingly, Markins was the only one publishing its rated torque. With Its revolutionary design, demolishing the rigidity principles of a vise under which most ball heads are built to this date, I just had to have one.