A tripod head is probably the most underrated piece of photography equipment out there. When you’ve found the shot and the tripod legs are set up, your tripod head becomes the most important piece of gear for fine-tuning composition. Few people realise that it plays such a critical role in their photography and thus it is usually neglected.
At some point in time, most photographers have had the immense displeasure of owning the infamous three-way head; those with three levers to control three different axes of movement. Why do so many people buy it? Because it’s cheap and easy to manufacture! All beginners are bound to end up with one as no one can justify paying 15k for a tripod setup when their camera cost less. It is unfortunately a learning curve that we all have to go through. The three-way design is horribly flawed unless you have four arms. When adjusting your composition, you need one hand to compose with, which leaves you with only one hand free to tighten or loosen the movement of the tripod head. So if there are three levers that have to be loosened and tightened to release or lock the free movement of the camera, then you’re going to get frustrated, to say the least. My opinion is that whoever designed the three-way head should be shot and burned at the stake…just kidding…well perhaps not. I’ve been teaching landscape photography for years now and I can say from personal experience that a bad tripod head can have a devastating effect on someone’s compositional abilities. Photographers tend to neglect their composition, because it is just too much trouble to adjust the tripod head.
The simple, yet functional design of a ball-and-socket tripod head allows you to lock or release the movement of the head with a single knob. This leaves you relaxed and free to focus on what matters; the composition. As with any popular product, there are cheap imitations made by inexperienced manufacturers and you should steer clear of those. The leader in this field is an American company by the Name of Kirk Enterprise Solutions and I have been using their products, trouble-free, for years.
The Kirk tripod accessories are so simple, rugged and well designed that LANDSCAPEGEAR.CO.ZA only offers three different products. There are no small-, long- and light versions; just a one size fits all that will satisfy the requirements of 95% of photographers. This means that there is no difficult decision for you to make. Simply add it to your cart and check out.
This head offers simple, strong and precise functioning in a compact and tough design that can handle serious knocks. It is rated to carry 6.8kg, which is sufficient for anything up to a 500mm lens, yet weighs only 540g. One large and easily adjustable knob controls all motion, making it simple and easy to change your composition. Two smaller knobs control a panning base and the amount of friction applied to the ball. This means that 95% of the time, you will only need to make use of a single knob to change your composition.
Kirk makes use of the Arca-Swiss system, which is the worldwide favorite for all of the top brands of tripod heads, plates and accessories. This means that your head is compatible with an endless variety of plates and accessories from various manufacturers.
*Note on load rating – Kirk also makes a larger BH1 head, which is rated to carry an impressive 22.7kg, but it is much larger and heavier than the BH3. I had the BH1 for two years and found it totally excessive for anything that doesn’t involve super-telephoto lenses. This, combined with the fact that photographers use their large telephotos with a gimbal head, brought LANDSCAPEGEAR.CO.ZA to the decision not to stock the BH1. The supplier usually carries stock of it, so if you want one please get in touch via the contact page.
The Problem With Portraits
No matter how well any tripod head is designed, there is just no practical way to allow convenient shooting in both landscape and portrait mode, using a normal camera/tripod plate. Most ball heads have a gap in the wall of the socket (as shown above) to allow portrait compositions, but this is still very unpractical for two reasons; The first is that it puts the ball at the limit of it’s movement range, often necessitating moving the tripod legs to level the horizon. The second is that a heavy camera hanging to the side will leave your tripod dangerously unbalanced and begging for disaster.
These specialised tripod plates are one of the greatest accessories on the market. They are specifically made to fit snugly around the bottom and left side of your camera, without blocking access to the ports. This allows quick and easy mounting of the camera in a landscape or portrait position. No more struggling with the head or changing your tripod position. Simply release the plate, turn the camera 90 degrees and tighten it again; it couldn’t be easier. This also means that the weight of the camera is directly above the tripod, ensuring optimal balance.
These plates are made to fit perfectly on a specific camera model, meaning they’re not interchangeable between models. It is usually interchangeable between different generations of the same model, like the D800, D800e and D810.
Most tripods have a tough life, even with careful owners. They get knocked and bumped in transit and are inevitably dropped a few times during their lifespan. This simple, purpose built pouch will help prolong the life of your Kirk BH3 head by protecting it from unpredicted bumps, Kalahari sand and corrosive coastal air.
Whether travelling or in storage, a plush interior keeps it scratch free while a weatherproof polyurethane coating ensures that it stays dry in the rain. A snug fit and drawstring around the base ensures that it never comes off when it’s not supposed to.
If you have any questions regarding LANDSCAPEGEAR.CO.ZA’s Kirk products, please get in touch via the contact page.