New 055XPROB tripod and MH1300-657 ballhead comments
I have just purchased my first descent tripod/head set up. I settled on a Manfrotto 055XPROB with a Giottos MH1300-657 ball head. Just a few comments in case there is someone out there like me who doesn't want to(or can't)spend a small fortune on a tripod.
I know there is a lot of talk on the forums about how loose the Pro version of the tripod is, or will become after using it for a while. I had the opportunity to talk to the Manfrotto rep at a local camera store. Yes, I know he might be a little biased, but I got the feeling he was being straight up with me. I asked him how long this 'design' has been in service and he said 2 years. That should be enough time to see a trend of 'loose' tripods if it is going to be a problem. He told me that he has never heard of any worn out or loose parts on the tripod from the 7 states he covers. The store owner hasn't either. I asked him several more questions about how the mechanism is built and how it 'locks' and sometimes asked the same questions in different ways but in the end I came away feeling pretty confident that it won't be a problem. I finally got him to say that he only knows of an occasional broken knob that tightens the center column. That could happen on the fixed head version too.
So what about the Giottos ball head? The only 2 brands I looked at were Manfrotto and Giottos. I almost bought the Manfrotto 488RC4. The main reason I didn't was because it doesn't have any friction control. That steered me over to the Giottos display since they have friction control on most of their heads. I soon as I started to 'play around' with the MH1300, I could immediately tell that it was much smoother than the Manfrotto. The Manfrotto uses a 'resin' ball which I think is cast because I saw a parting line right across the center of the ball. I had to hold it in just the right light to see it. It felt like the resin ball was grabbing the nylon or whatever material locks the ball in place. The Giottos has an aluminum ball which simply glides across the locking material effortlessly. Plus the MH1300 has twice the holding power of the 488RC4, and I got it for what Adorama sells them for.
The Markins and other high end heads probably are nicer. I can't really say since I have never seen one. But if you want to purchase a complete set up for the cost of one of those expensive heads, I can recommend this combination.