Ball Head vs Pan Head Tripods | How are they different?

Ball head tripods have a ball and socket mechanism that controls the movement of a mounted camera. The camera can be mounted to a plate just above the head for neat control. Most common designs have 3 knobs to control the friction, panning, and locking. A pan head does a similar job but with more precision and control. Pan Head tripods have a complex structure and longer levers that let you control the position as you want it to be. Let’s compare ball head vs pan head tripods and see how they’re different.

Ball Head vs Pan Head Tripods

What are Ball Head Tripods and why do you need one?

Ball head tripods are widely used in fast-action photography. These tripods are portable and lighter in weight. Ball heads are placed above the tripod and the camera is fixed on the mounting plate in the head. The head usually consists of 3 control points/knobs: friction control, pan control, and lock mechanism.

Friction control or tension control makes sure that your camera is not wobbly when it is not locked. The pan control, however, lets you pan around left to right without tilting the camera. Lastly, the Lock knob locks the camera once you are done with composing a frame stopping the movement of any kind.

Ball head tripods provide vertical and horizontal coverages, but they are not as sturdy as pan head tripods. However, this will not affect you if you are trying to find a good tripod for photography. Due to the simplicity in the mechanism, the ball head lets you track the subject and shoot a picture quickly. Be sure to choose a light-weight model if you are a traveler. A ball head tripod is handy in sports or bird photography.

Advantages

  • Ball head tripods are usually light-weight and are best suited for fast-action photography.
  • Lets you track moving objects easily.
  • You can easily switch to portrait from landscape mode by tilting the camera.
  • The quick-release plate in the ball head lets you easily switch from hand-held to tripod without wasting time.

Disadvantages

  • You have to pan the camera by directly holding it in your arms and turning it. This is an efficient method as it can introduce a sudden shake.
  • Shooting videos with a ball head tripod could become nasty with the shakes and uneven panning even if it has a smooth motion.
  • The camera base does not have any leveling mechanism and hence you have to adjust the level using the tripod legs. Think about the time you will spend with its legs to adjust the level!

Now, what’s the deal with Pan Head Tripods?

Unlike ball head, pan head tripods are more complex. This complexity allows a precise mechanism to control the camera while mounted on the tripod. Similar to the ball head, pan heads also offer friction control, pan control, and lock. A nice pan-head tripod provides you smooth control over the panning and is much sturdier than a normal ball head.

All control knobs in a ball head are replaced with levers in a pan-head tripod. The additional levers allow for smooth and precise control in all aspects. Now, you don’t have to worry about the jitter when panning. Tweaking the friction to the right amount will provide you incredible control over the pan-movements. Unfortunately, a pan head cannot move vertically, this will be a problem if you are shooting photos with a pan head tripod. So instead of a pan-head, you can rather go for a “pan & tilt” head tripod for eg: Manfrotto 509HD.

Pan heads are very useful in shooting videos. They are very stable and additional levers allow turning the camera smoothly with the very controlled tension.

Advantages

  • Pan heads are best for video recording.
  • Offers precision control.
  • A ball joint allows the leveling of base irrespective of the tripod leg position, this saves you a lot of time.
  • They are more affordable.

Disadvantages

  • Pan heads are complex, and setting it up for a shoot can take time. Plan ahead.
  • The complexity in design limits the speed of operation. If you are planning to capture flying birds or athletes, things will be difficult with a pan head.
  • A pan head is very bulky and heavy making it difficult in travel and transport.

Conclusion

Ball head tripods are very useful in fast-action photography like sports or animal photography. The flexible movement of the ball head allows easy movement of the camera. This will suit you best if you are a photographer in need of a stable platform. In contrast, pan head tripods are made for video recording. The distinctive control mechanism allows the user precise control over the mounted camera. A pan head tripod is what you need if you are a vlogger or a short term movie maker. If you are a professional a gimbal or a fluid head tripods will be your best bet.

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Adarsh R

A blend of a photographer, a movie lover, and now a writer.