A good tripod is an essential piece of equipment for the budding photographer. However, like the cameras themselves, tripods come in many different styles, each with the goal of helping photographers personalise their setup. One common decision that buyers need to make is whether to get a ball head or pan head tripod. With distinctly different functions and looks, there are clear benefits to each design, which speak to different photographers' needs.
Ball and socket head tripods explained
Ball head tripods are also known as ball and socket head tripods since that is the clearest description of their physical construction. These tripods require users to attach the camera to a metal ball set into a plate using a vise mechanism. Theoretically, the construction of the ball allows users to position their camera in a full 360-degree circle. Users manually tighten and release the tripod head in order to position it at the proper angle.
The major advantage of a ball head tripod lies in its theoretical ability to move it 360 degrees, thus leading to infinite adjustment possibilities. In addition, the simple mechanical lock and unlock feature is quick and easy to operate when trying to reposition the unit.
Pan and tilt head tripods explained
A pan head tripod, also known as pan and tilt head tripod, uses two or three separate hinged knobs to position the camera along vertical, horizontal, or a 360-degree circular axis. Users must twist each handle in order to loosen and tighten the head into the desired position.
The main advantage of using a pan head tripod is the level of control it gives to users. At minimum, the horizontal and vertical axes are adjusted separately, allowing photographers to lock the camera at one plane and then "pan" across the other. This is especially helpful when shooting panoramic scenes or video.
Important tripod head features
Regardless of the type of tripod head photographers choose, there are important features that directly impact the tripod's usability, regardless of its design. Namely, the load capacity of the tripod head and overall weight and size of the unit are essential features to assess.
Tripod load capacity
Each tripod itself as well as the tripod head has specific guidelines for how much weight they can safely carry. In order to ensure that the camera remains in position as well as safely secured, it is important that users assess the tripod and tripod head to make sure that it is sufficient to carry the weight of their heaviest camera, including the lens.
Tripod size and weight
Tripod size impacts one's ability to take specific photographs regardless of the head type on top. For example, tabletop tripods only extend to about 30 cm. It is also important to note how small the tripod and its head are when folded for portability and travel purposes. Photographers who frequently work in nature, for example, need a tripod and tripod head that is easy to store in a carry bag.
Alternative tripod heads
By far, ball head and pan head tripods are the most popular and widely used amongst amateur and professional photographers alike. However, there are alternatives to these options that work well in specific photographic situations, which are worth noting.
Using a more secure "L" shape, gimbal head tripods are the best option for safely securing heavier cameras and lenses. They balance cameras at their natural centre of gravity. Users position gimbal heads by rotating the base.
Fluid head tripods are actually a sub-classification of pan head tripods. However, instead of a simple hinged tilting mechanism, fluid heads use a hydraulic damping system to help users better position their camera and do so in a smoother, steadier manner.
Also known as a joystick head, pistol grip tripod heads are even faster to operate than ball head tripods. They use a simple squeeze handle to reposition the camera a full 360 degrees and raise the camera 7 to 12 cm.
How to buy tripods on eBay
Sellers on eBay offer a variety of tripod options, which include several styles and sizes of tripods with both ball and pan heads. To view the extensive inventory of photography equipment, begin a general search from any page of the eBay site. Type terms such as "ball head tripod" into the search bar and use the filters provided to limit choices according to brand, size, price, and more. Alternately, just browse the options presented for more ideas and information on particular products.