Thu 11-Oct-12 09:22 AM | edited Thu 11-Oct-12 09:59 AM by jrp
Jerry: We don't like to bash other brands, so I will stick first to the facts about the three recommended ball heads as top, as a group and then to the rest without mentioning brand names.
A true professional ball head has the following measurable characteristics:
1. Supports at least three (3) times the weight of the user's heaviest camera-lens combination. This ensures smoothness. 2. Easy to use, easy to carry, easy to operate and built for a lifetime. 3. Low in height for the lowest center of gravity, without interfering with the ball head itself or the tripod in all movements. 4. Light weight, because the heavier the tripod head the higher the center of gravity. Most important for stability and more so with the light carbon fiber tripods. 5. Accurate and dependable operation regardless of extreme weather conditions. 6. Have a progressive ball locking mechanism (not just on and off like a vise) with smoothest handling. 7. Have a "sweet spot" friction setting which allows for no-creeping and yet able to smoothly move the gear and stay put without having to touch the controls. This ":sweet spot" mechanism also acts as an anti-flop safety. 8. Provide sturdy support with ultra-high torque and extra-low damping factor. 9. Have a maintenance free system, except for external surfaces cleaning. No need of grease for lubrication, which may contaminate the photographer's hand and even the camera equipment. 10. Have a clamp for industry standard dove tail plates, Arca Swiss style.
Only the three above mentioned ball heads meet all of these requirements.
Why is the Markins in first place? Well, because in addition to the above: a) It has the best damping factor due to its internal floating elements, absorbing almost all disturbances that transmit vibration, the main killer of sharpness. b) It is the only ball head in the industry that publishes its torque, torque that can be tested and repeated with the same results, over and over again. c) Several other 'nuances' like a bi-axial locking system, titanium center bolt, etc.
The next or second tier of ball heads sacrifice some of these characteristics. Typically they work as a vise or have a "drag" instead of a sweet spot, are heavier, fatter and or taller and don't have the torque that yields a high load capacity for smooth operation.
The third tier, in addition, even when acting as a vise, still creep. They lack an efficient unmovable locking mechanism and cannot prevent an accidental flop.
The fourth tier also don't use high grade materials, cutting corners to make them less expensive. We've seen ball heads break apart when attempting to dismount them from a tripod with bare hands.
The fifth tier and further down are not worthy of mention. They include defects such as moving/twisting plates on a locked clamp.
In summary, the first and second tier ball heads will make you happy and surely come home with a good number of keepers, more the first than the second. Not the others that guarantee miserably feeling photographers, more so as soon as they move closer and beyond 180-200mm focal lengths or 1:1 magnifications in macro.