Having photographed wildlife for over 40 years, I have seen a multitude of gadgets and gizmos that each manufacturer touts as being revolutionary and useful. Be that as is may, I was recently contacted by a friend and videographer, Ron VanderHeiden, of vansporting.com. He was pretty excited by a new piece of equipment he had acquired, and was seeking an honest opinion about the functionality as well as practicality of the Acratech ballhead for still photography. What he was really searching for, was an individual who spends the bulk of his time in the field shooting wildlife - a worthy opponent to test the gear. I must say, I was somewhat skeptical since I have my own set preferences when it comes to photographic equipment, but conceded by accepting the challenge.
I have recently been actively working with high-speed photography of leaping frogs and other small organisms, but I must say, this was worth getting me out of the studio for a few days. New gear, wonderful Spring weather, and a challenge to test the endurance of this new ballhead was more than I could refuse. What could be more fun?
At first glance, the Aratech head looks small, and in the hand it was equally light weight. I thought I would begin by using it to support one of my DSLR camera bodies with a wide to medium angle zoom lens. After mounting it, I was surprised by its ability to secure any of my camera bodies very snuggly in place without any perceptible movement in either the vertical or horizontal pane. So far, so good.
The knobs, also small in heft, provided and unexpected amount of leverage to tighten down the ball when necessary. I was initially concerned about this, as most small diameter tensioning knobs require much more aggressive tensioning to prevent some slight creeping of the camera body. This will translate into cold fingers trying to tighten down knobs in cold situations. The knobs on this head tightened and released their grip and friction, both smoothly, and with very little effort.
The Arca style quick release is a nice touch, and all moving parts are very well machined. Locking pins, slides and bearings have a high degree of precision enabling the adjustments to seem almost effortless and smooth, unlike some of the jerky movements from other manufacturers. This adds more pleasure for those who enjoy panorama shooting. Leveling and panning are smooth and efficient.
Having been quite impressed by the high degree of performance with a camera body and short lens attached, I begged to up the ante by using my longer lenses to test the real field versatility one head could provide.
I brought out my Nikon D500 and 400mm Nikkor 2.8 lens and attached them to the quick release mount. This head is not really designed for this particular combo as it is more weight than recommended, and it is also stated by the Acratech manufacturer. I must admit, there was real surprise in my bones as I panned and captured images with little difficulty.
So here is my summary for Acratech ball head in the field. In overall, the head met or exceeded the demands I placed upon it, simple as that. It is small and lightweight which is always useful when shooting wildlife.
Although I was happy with the results from this head, I would stick to the manufacturer’s recommendations for the size and weight constraints placed upon it. It is definitely a winner and the Acratech manufacturers can continue to tout the values of a well thought out design and precisely engineered tool for the photographer in the studio, and the field. A definite “Thumbs Up” for this one.
If you are thinking of acquiring a new ball head, you should not hesitate to place this one on your list of choice. It comes in three models. Below are some of my recent wildlife captures. Feel free to view more of my images by clicking on any of the images below.