Cinematographer & Filmmaker
Corey Steib
How many tripod heads are there?
by Corey Steib on May 17th, 2016

This blog post is a follow up to the one I did the other day on why tripods are just as important then cameras. ​It still comes down to aligning your camera into the exact position you want, repeatedly, with ease, accuracy, and precision. Not a small task. Some tripods are designed to hold a camera rock-steady; others allow fluid movement through a smooth arc. There's at least one that will satisfy your specific needs.
​The vast majority of tripods are sold with a functional and very useful head atop its three legs. It's also possible to purchase a set of legs and center column assembly as a unit, and add a tripod head that exactly matches your personal requirements. Certain applications, especially those involving video production, require very specific types of tripod heads. These are generally fluid heads that are capable of delivering silky-smooth pans and tilts. Other applications have different requirements.

So how many different type of head are there

Ball Head

​Ball heads can be maneuvered into a very wide range of positions, and generally can solve the problem of aiming the camera lens in exactly the right direction without a lot of fuss. Theoretically, a ball joint can move in a 360-degree circle, thus delivering the upper limit of adjustability. However, most ball heads are relatively simple assemblies that do not include true pan or tilt adjustment capabilities.

Pan/Tilt Head

​For most photographers, this type is the best choice. The movements that are typically available from a pan/tilt head provide a very high level of control. They are also the most affordable solution in most cases (although some can be found at prices higher than many digital cameras). Grip-action type heads utilize a one-handed control to provide a new and easier way to make adjustments. This is useful when you're working quickly or when you must make a large number of small adjustments.

Gimbal Head

​If you place a large, heavy camera and lens on a typical ballhead or other kind of tripod head, the laws of gravity take over and the camera will want to tip over. But you want it to stay straight, and a monumental battle against gravity ensues. A gimbal head balances your camera and lens at its natural center of gravity. Designed to work with lenses that have a built-in tripod mount collar, Gimbal heads let you easily pan by rotating the base, and do up/down tilts, without fear of the camera tipping over in its mount. Because of the engineering behind a Gimbal, there's very little friction, so your tilts and pans can be smooth.

Fluid Head (Also called a Video Head)

​Fluid Heads (Video) are generally specialized combination pan/tilt fluid heads that incorporate additional features, such as geared rotation adjustments, heavy-duty load capacity, bubble levels, and greater adjustment lock options. Some models have adjustable counterbalance springs so they can be fine tuned to the exact balance point with a wide range of cameras of various weights. There are fluid heads that allow full adjustment of the fluid drag so that motion can be more precisely controlled, regardless what kind of video equipment is being used.

Camera Rotators 

​Many pan/tilt heads have adjustable platforms that allow digital or 35mm cameras to smoothly shift between horizontal and vertical orientation. Camera rotators perform the same function when used with heavier medium format cameras.

Motorized Tripod Head

Motorized Slider

​Now that DSLRs offer panorama stitching and more time-lapse features, there's a building demand for a more automated approach to moving a camera to match the precise needs of each kind of photography. Theses pan heads attach to the tripod and, using a battery-powered motor will move the camera as needed. Some companies have made automated heads for specific camcorders, while others are highly specialized pro tools.

Pistol Grip Head

​A pistol grip head (also called a Joystick Head) lets a photographer work quickly and efficiently. Squeeze the handle and you can re position the camera. The range of motion is similar to that fro a ball head. Some photographers find a pistol grip awkward when photographing moving subjects, since you can't simultaneously focus, press the pistol grip and the shutter release. A pistol grip tends to be taller than other tripod heads, raising the camera by 3-5 inches.

Dutch Head

​This special tripod head has been conceived to add a 3rd axis to a standard Fluid Head and allow the lateral movement called "Dutch angle", enhancing special effects. ​The dutch Head is designed to make exceptionally smooth side-tilt effects simple and straightforward to execute.

Gear Head

​Geared tripod heads have been around for a long time and are popular in studio settings. They are essentially pan-tilt heads that have one or both axes operated by a crank and worm-gear driven mechanism to move the platform. Because of all the extra metal required for the gear mechanism, they are usually quite heavy. However, they have a few significant advantages which is why they remain the head of choice in a well equipped studio. One advantage is that precise fine adjustments are easily executed with a slight turn of the crank handle. The second is the worm-gear drive is by design essentially self-locking; once positioned with the crank, even excessive force at the platform will not move it. Thus they are superb tools to use for precision work, as they are very solid, fine-tuning is easy and no time is spent locking and unlocking the head for each subsequent adjustment – even with heavy cameras.

Final Thoughts

So with all of theses tripod heads to pick from which is the right one for you? It depends on that type of work you do really. I good percentage of us have a tripod and a slider, but for some just a tripod will do the job. I say try out different types of tripods and find the one that works best for you. 


Posted in General    Tagged with camera tripods, Tripod Heads


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