Head for Backpacking Tripod

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Hello all,

I have decided to lighten my 4x5 travel kit with a change to a carbon fibre tripod. I am considering two models right now, the Gitzo 1227 and the 1325. Both of which are lighter than my Bogen 2021. I have looked at the other offerings, and consider these two to be the best available for my needs.

My question is: What heads are people out there using with these lightweight tripods? It doesn't seem to make sense to save the weight, and then put it all back on top in the form of a ballhead or heavy tilt/pan head.

The equipment I intend to use on this tripod consists of a Canham DLC, and lenses from 75mm through 450mm, and my primary use is landscape photography in the backcountry. If I'm near a car, I'll be using my Gitzo 410 or another largeish tripod.

I have thought about the Bogen 440 geared head, but have concerns about it's ability to hold the camera when the load is unbalanced. I was thinking about the new Bogen magnesium head, but the load rating is only 6 pounds, seemingly too lightweight for the anticipated loading. Comments on these heads, and suggestions on differents heads are appreciated.


-- Michael Mutmansky (psu4ever@ix.netcom.com), May 03, 2000


Sorry, just caught a typo, the Bogen 410 geared head and the Bogen 460MG magnesium head were considered, but I have concerns about both...

-- Michael Mutmansky (psu4ever@ix.netcom.com), May 03, 2000.

Arca Swiss B1.

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@insync.net), May 03, 2000.

I recently wrote a thread (less than two weeks ago) in favor of the Bogen Magnesium head. I suspect, despite its 6 lb rating, it would be fine for the Canham DLC as long as you did not use too long of lenses. Try it and see if it works; if not return it. The other lightweight great, and expensive, choice is the Linhof 3 way levelling head.

-- Howard Slavitt (info@naturelandscape.com), May 03, 2000.

I use my Linhof TK45S with a Gitzo 1349 tripod and Bogen 410 head. My longest lens is a 400mm. I find that this combination of tripod/head is both light and very stable. Enen with strong breezes (which really can be described as moderate winds) I do not notice anything but a stable image.

-- Harvey Berman (HarveyBerman@yahoo.com), May 03, 2000.

Michael, you are right. No point in robbing Peter to Pay Paul. A thing I value in heads in addition to rigidity and weight is smoothness. I like to be able to position the camera with precision and jerkiness prevents that. Look for heads that have teflon inserts -NOT just teflon coatings. Coatings wear off and are an indication of cost-cutting. Additionally, I do not think they are coated generally as smooth. Manfrotto heads I am told teflon-coated. I believe that Arca and Foba use teflon inserts. These heads are very smooth. The Arca B1e puts you at between 600 and 750 grams. The Arca B1g and B2 are tanks, at 1500 to 1600 grams. The new Gitzo magnesium center balls are -by memory about 900 grams, seem strong but I do not find them as smooth. Then there is the Foba miniball, at 550-650 grams. This is a very smooth, strong head. The Studioball is very smooth but it is 1400 g. The Kirk has a good reputation, but it is heavy. Linhof has balls in the 500-750 range. I tried what I think is one of these but did not find it smooth. I think that your choice may be between the Foba miniball and the Arca B1e. -Foba has another the Super ball at 1290 grams, a little heavy but a great ball, very smooth and sturdy.

-- Julio Fernandez (gluemax@ora.auracom.com), May 03, 2000.

Gitzo 1325 + Arca B1

-- Mark Windom (mwphoto@nwlink.com), May 03, 2000.

Dear Michael,

I have been using the Manfrotto #410 for more than two years now. I'm quite happy with it but noy completely. I'ts quite light, smooth, and small and it's great when new. But after using it for some months you will find it's getting looser and looser.

I keep on using it but I'm not so happy with it than I was when I bought it. My LF pictures are still sharp but I don't have long lenses. When I use it with a 600mm lens in 35mmm cameras I get sharp pictures but, you know, with a large format camera, when wind blows.... you need a strong support.

I cannot advise you about any head. I just wanted to warn you about the diference between a new Manfrotto #410 and a two years old one.


-- Francesc Muntada (sincronia@drac.com), May 04, 2000.

I backpack with a Wista field camera and use Bogen 3001 legs with the Bogen 3028 super 3D head. This head is a fair bit lighter than an Arca-Swiss B1 with associated quick release and plates, is very quick to attach a camera to and is rock solid. It takes a little getting used to as compared with either a tradiational pan/tilt head or a ball, but for backpacking every ounce counts. Hence don't even consider the Bogen geared heads.

-- Richard Ross (ross@hrl.com), May 04, 2000.

1325 plus Linhof 3-way levelling head at about 900g. If you want a bit less weight and don't mind a ball head, the Arca B1 is the ticket.

-- Glenn C. Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), May 04, 2000.

What style of tripod head do you prefer for LF use? Some of us are ball head advocates and others would only consider using a pan/tilt style head.

For ball head preference, the Arca Swiss B1 is hard to beat. For pan/tilt the choices are less clear. I know a bunch of folks here love the Bogen 410 head, and believe it's a relatively light weight head. A previous post described the Arca Swiss B2 as a "tank" (i.e. "heavy"). Take a look at the spec sheets - the 410 weighs 3.25 lbs and the B2 is 3.4 lbs. I tried out a 410 about a year ago, and had my reservations regarding it's long term stability. Even when new, the joints flex a little bit. I didn't see this situation improving with age. I picked up a used B2 about a year ago, and it truely is a "tank" in the best sense. Solid beyond belief (no play in the joints here), and a nice design where you get the benefits of pan/tilt control without the long unwieldy handles. If you get either Arca Swiss head (or compatible), get the A-S compatible plate from RRS for the Canham DLC.

-- Larry Huppert (Larry.Huppert@mail.com), May 04, 2000.

I have a Linhof Profi II. Not as rigid as a B1, but certainly usable with my Canham 5x7, and lighter than the B1.

-- Quang-Tuan Luong (luong@ai.sri.com), May 04, 2000.

I went throught this very thing about a year ago. If you compare the weight of the 410 to an Arca Swiss B1, you'll see a big difference. You've got a super light camera, and a super light tripod. Why lug around a heavy head? I have both heads. The B1 on a Gitzo 1325 and the 410 on a Bogen 3236. One for the field, the other for indoors.

Get a 1325 and a B1.


-- Ben Diss (ben@benodee.com), May 04, 2000.

The 1227 is adequate for 4x5, but will cause pain and distress with long lenses unless you add extra bracing. The 13** series tripods are much stiffer, and you can always strip them down if you need to reduce weight further: when I want to travel light I remove the centre column and the two bottom leg sections from my 1349. I have to stoop a little, but the weight savings are significant.

Another advantage of the 13** series is the wide top platform and the ease with which it can be replaced/adjusted. Most of the head suggestions here have been for luxury solutions, but the simplest and lightest way to get where you are going is to buy or make one of the old-style tilting plate mounts and attach it directly to the a 13**'s flat top plate. You then adjust the tilt with the plate and the azimuth buy rotating the tripod's top plate (a ratching handle on the collar lock helps). It's a bit more of a pain, but about the only way you can match the stiffness of heads like the B1 in anything significantly lighter.

An in-between solution is the cheap Manfrotto 128RC (Bogen 3130) video head. This only weighs a kilo but is stiff enough to hold a 4x5 properly and pans and tilts very smoothly using the included arm.

-- Struan Gray (struan.gray@sljus.lu.se), May 05, 2000.

I used with a DLC45 the 1227 with an Arca Swiss B1. But I don't like how the ball head works with this camera. Now I have an old Gitzo pan/tilt head, (I think is an older version of the 1172, but lighter, I look for the really lightest system) and works better for me. I'm reading now about the Manfrotto 410 head with its geared mechanism, the idea sounds very good. I love how the Arca Swiss B1 works with my 35mm macro system and MF.

-- jose angel (acquatek@teleline.es), May 05, 2000.

Thanks for answers! There is definately a group of you that like the A-S B-1. BUT, we're talking about a 1.75 pound ballhead here. I'm wondering if there is anything lighter than that option that people consider capable of holding a lightweight 4x5?

The more I consider it, the less I want to carry so massive a head on my backcountry trips. This may end up as a Grail Quest, but I have to believe there is a smaller package out there that will do the job. FWIW, I love the A-S ballheads too, but I am also intrested in getting out of Dodge with less than a 70 pound backpack.

To that effect, I am planning on getting some titanium cookwear, and other weight saving things, because I don't want to compromise too much on the camera, lenses I take, or amount of film I take. But clearly, the tripod is the single most massive piece I will be taking along.

I noticed that John Fielder appears to use the Bogen 3028 head, which comes in at 1.25 pounds.

-- Michael Mutmansky (psu4ever@ix.netcom.com), May 05, 2000.

How about no head at all? Just level the camera using the legs.

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@insync.net), May 05, 2000.


That's a very good idea, in fact, I was at the Bogen website last night, and they announced a new model in their Carbon No. 1 line, a tripod that uses a 75mm video cup. This would allow me to go directly to the camera, and do a certain amount of levelling with the cup. It may eliminate the need for a head under most circumstances, thus saving me 1-2 pounds.

I picture this working similar to the various wood tripods (Berlebach, et.al.) that have a built in ball adjustment at the head. I have one of those, but I use a 3047 head on it for convienance. I may go out and try to see if I can use it that way.


-- Michael Mutmansky (psu4ever@ix.netcom.com), May 05, 2000.

Try the Benbo ball head, simple, functional, but strong (and reasonably light). Save more weight by not getting the revolving base version. Just make sure it's nice and tight wiht those longer lenses.

Tim A

-- Tim Atherton (tim@KairosPhoto.com), May 05, 2000.

My expensive Gitzo ballhead was lost on a recent trip and I purchased a used "cheapie" bogen 3025 three-way head as a temporary replacement. Lo and behold, I loved the thing! It holds my Wista with the 300mm lens steadier than the Gitzo did and has separate controls for pan and vertical and horizontal tilts. It now is my standard field head. Try one out and see if you like it. Regards, ;^D)

-- Doremus Scudder (ScudderLandreth@compuserve.com), May 06, 2000.

"Try the Benbo ball head, simple, functional, but strong (and reasonably light). Save more weight by not getting the revolving base version. Just make sure it's nice and tight wiht those longer lenses. "

The latest ones are the same as the Giottos heads, simply relabled, but 2/3rds more expensive then the identical Giottos head.

-- Bob Salomon (bobsalomon@mindspring.com), May 06, 2000.

> "Try the Benbo ball head, simple, functional, but strong (and > reasonably light). Save more weight by not getting the revolving > base version. Just make sure it's nice and tight wiht those longer > lenses. " > > The latest ones are the same as the Giottos heads, simply > relabled, but 2/3rds more expensive then the identical Giottos > head.

Well ,

I must admit that mine is about 16 years old, so I hadn't checked out recent ones.

I hadn't used it much recently. Got it out and took it apart for it's first cleaning ever - didn't really need it. Yes, it's simple, not the worlds smoothest, but smooth enough, you can field strip it with the right sized hex key, weighs in at about 14oz on my kitchen scale. I just tried it to see how well it held. Tightened it up to a good hand tightness, and basically couldn't shift the head by hand. Put my Super Grafic on folded up and used it to apply some torque to the ball - hard to shift the ball - I was afraid of bending something in the graphic before the head moved.

So maybe if you can find a store with the older models at a good price it would make a good backpacking head. Last time I looked, the same model as mine (now with a coated ball) was about 42.00 UK Pounds

Tim A

-- Tim Atherton (tim@KairosPhoto.com), May 06, 2000.

Once again, I have recieved a bunch of great advice from the everyone on this discussion board. I thank you all. Base on the discussions, I am leaning toward the lightweight Bogen magnesium head on the 1228 (with a short column). I will order soon, and then post some comments on the suitability of the head for 4x5 once I have used it a few times.

I'd love to be using a 13XX Gitzo, but I will be carring about a week's worth of food and clothes, etc. on my back, and I don't see carrying any more weight than is _absolutely_ necessary. Oh, and I can always use the head as a firestarter in a pinch!


-- Michael Mutmansky (psu4ever@ix.netcom.com), May 09, 2000.

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