Photo packs have come a long way in the past decade, especially those that are targeted toward outdoor and adventure photographers. Alaska-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey takes a closer look...
If you’re shooting with a digital SLR, you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a quality ballhead for your tripod or monopod. While a tripod or monopod is the main support for your camera and lens, the ballhead is the critical connection between the two.
How It Works
Acratech’s GP, released in the latter part of 2009, is an excellent example of what a ballhead should be—a well-constructed, fine-tuned piece of equipment that meets a variety of needs. Whether you’re shooting horizontal, vertical (left or right), straight up or straight down, or at an angle, the GP ballhead can handle it with ease and strength. It’s not a full-fledged Gimbal, but it is capable of perfectly balancing up to a 400mm f/4.0 lens.
Unique to the Acratech GP is that it does double-duty as a leveling base for shooting panoramas. There are a few steps involved, but essentially you turn the ballhead upside down and mount it on a tripod or monopod and you’ll be able to keep the horizons level. At a little less than a pound, including the leveling base, the GP cuts down on the weight in your camera bag—an important consideration if you’re hiking to your shooting location. Perfectionists may want to bring along a nodal rail (available from Acratech for $199.95) but the GP’s leveling base works pretty well on its own.
The GP’s open design is important to all photographers, but particularly those who shoot in the field or in dusty conditions. Since an open space surrounds the ball and no grease or oil is needed to keep it moving smoothly, there’s no build-up of grease or debris. Maintenance consists only of wiping down the ballhead with a cloth dampened with water or Isopropyl alcohol. Any pieces of debris that might find their way under the ball can easily be brushed away without taking the device apart.
Acratech started out as a job shop machining parts for clients such as aerospace companies. The company moved into manufacturing photo gear after photographers wanted to know where they could buy the ballhead that Scott Dordick, the founder and CEO of Acratech, originally built for his personal use for hiking and travel. With its background in machining, it’s no surprise that the GP is so beautifully constructed.
The Acratech GP ballhead is, by far, the best ballhead I’ve ever used. It has gotten me through two NY Fashion Weeks and countless other shoots, but has been most vital during Fashion Week.
I didn’t come close to loading the Acratech GP to its capacity of handling up to 25 pounds but I tested it with a Nikon D3, a Nikon D3s and a Nikon D700, with Nikon’s 70-200mm VR/VRII and 24-70mm lenses. Shooting runway shows, I easily flipped the camera into vertical mode and was ready to shoot. Of course, it was most convenient with the D3 and D3s and their vertical grips. The built-in bubble level came in handy to avoid off-kilter shots. It was often necessary to tilt the camera down or up, depending on the ever-changing position of the models and whether I was shooting the full look, a beauty shot or wanted to capture an image of the model’s shoes or accessories. Leaving the lock knob slightly loose, and adjusting the lens to find the center of gravity, the GP’s Gimbal-like mechanism proved fluid—but stable—whenever I needed to adjust the lens angle.
Using other ballheads, I’ve had problems tightening and loosening the locking knobs. With only a couple of easy twists, those on the GP lock securely and unlock seamlessly. They’re permanently attached so even when they’re unscrewed all the way, they won’t fall off.
I use an Acratech quick release clamp (included in the price), but the GP is also compatible with Kirk, Arca, R.R.S. quick release plates, to name just a few. If I’m shooting backstage before or after the runway show, removing and re-attaching the camera is fast and easy. I’ve used plates that required so much effort that the term “quick release” did not apply, so I’m really happy with Acratech’s design.
When shooting landscapes outdoors, switching the ballhead to an upside down position using the bundled Allen key took only a couple of minutes. With the leveling base in place, I was able to keep the horizon level when shooting images for a panorama. The leveling base worked well so it was simple to stitch the photos together in Photoshop.
Since it fits all standard tripods, it’s the only ballhead in my gearbag. Even if you have no plans to shoot panoramas, the Acratech GP is definitely worth checking out.
The Acratech GP ballhead is beautifully and solidly constructed, easy to maintain and provides versatility that other ballheads do not.
Priced at $399.95, this ballhead is probably one of the more expensive models on the market.