My only purchase from Focus On Imaging this year was a new Ball Head to replace the 3-way head I have been using for the last 3years. This isn't a thorough review, having only had the new head for 3 days, more of a 'first impressions' post...
- adjustable friction control allows me to very easily set up a 'balance' on the head, allowing it to move without dropping. I've tried with just the camera + 35mm f/1.8 lens (i.e. a light set-up) right up to the D300s with 70-200 f/2.8 attached, and in all cases it's possible to quickly get the friction such that the head stays where you leave it, yet is still loose enough to move easily without jumping.
- The lock is very secure, and certainly handles my heaviest combo (camera + 70-200 + SB900 + Battery grip). There is very little (if any) movement of the camera as you tighten the lock - I know this is a concern for Macro shooters where a tiny movement can spoil composition. I can't see this posing a problem with this head.
- I like the Giottos QR plate system (I use the 642 plates, which marry to the 652 camera mount on this head - the head can also be bought with other mounts as I understand it). It locks quickly, easily and securely, and the release lever has a safety switch so it's hard to release accidentally.
- the addition of a gauge to show the angle of rotation could be handy for panoramas (accepting that this really isn't a panoramic head)
- Price. I paid £69 at Focus on Imaging; typical price is ~£75, and for this price it seemed more robust than similar offerings from Manfrotto...
- It's a really nice size - makes the tripod far easier to carry compared with having a three-way head!
- It's far harder to level the head than it was with my 3way - I guess this is par for the course with a ball head, but it's certainly something that will take practice
- only able to drop to 'portrait' orientation on one side of the head; some I looked at allowed you to rotate by 90degrees each way, and that could be handy depending on how you've aligned the head/controls... Where I'd prefer to align the controls (Lock on the left, rotation lock towards me and friction on the right) would leave the 'portrait' notch on the head directly in front of me, so the camera would point down. A minor niggle that's easily resolved with a quick rotation.
Thanks for the write up - I am in the market for a new tripod and am very interested. Probably a week or two before I make up my mind as to what I actually want
If you can, I'd really recommend visiting a dealer and handling your shortlist. On paper, I had convinced myself that the Giottos MH7001 would meet my needs (and was far cheaper!). Having handled it, I found it less stable and far harder to use as it didn't have the friction lock. I'm very glad I had chance to play, as I'd have bought the wrong thing if I relied solely on my google skills
For what it's worth, my new head is paired with a relatively low end set of legs (Giottos MTL9251b - ~£75), but I find that this combo works very, very well. It's not light, but it's very strong and the legs are capable of bending into positions that I can't! The only thing my legs don't do that I could feasibly see myself wanting to use is the ability for the centre column to be used horizontally (e.g. when needing to shoot 'down' over something). But in 3 years of owning the legs, I've never needed to do that... these legs are often bundled with the MH5001 3-way head for <£100, which is what I'd been using so far. The legs are fine, but I was always frustrated with the head - both bulky to carry and less than ideal for still camera use (3-ways seem more suited to video work, IMHO)
Look forward to reading your thoughts on whatever it is you purchase