The Differences Between Tripod Heads

Nature photographer Al Haley and his 600mm Nikkor on a gimble head

It’s no exaggeration to say I could write a book on tripod heads. If you can think of a specific need to have any kind of camera put in any imaginable position, there is someone who has designed a tripod head specifically for that job. It doesn’t matter if that camera is the size of a Subaru or a pocket-size point and shoot, the number of tripod head options is mind boggling.

Instead of trying to cover the universe of tripod heads, it might be better just to cover the broad general categories and let you search that sub-group for the particular model that suits your need.

The one key piece of information you will need is how much weight the head will need to support.

Ball Heads

Ball head with spirit level and quick release plate

Ball head tripod mounts have been around since the beginning of photographic time. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with and without quick release plates. Basically these are a ball-shaped swivel mechanism in a base that can be clamped into position.

The advantage to a ball head is they allow the camera to be set at any angle. The disadvantage to ball heads is…they allow the camera to be set at any angle. Sometimes it can be hard to get the camera back to level, especially in a low light situation.

Some models, like the one pictured, has a spirit level built in, just remember to take a flashlight.

Video and Combo Pan/Tilt Heads

Video pan heads and fluid heads

Video fluid heads are made to provide a more fluid motion for panning, not necessarily because they have any kind of fluid in the head itself, although, just to confuse the topic, some of them actually do have oil or some other type of dampening fluid in the head.

Others have two handles instead of one and are kind of a hybrid between a video head and a ball head.

Video heads are not made to cant over at odd angles, since there are few instances when a video DP would want to do that. I use a fluid head video tripod because the majority of the time when I have my camera on a tripod, it’s because I’m shooting video. And I very seldom want to shoot at odd angles and if I do, I’d just pop it off the tripod anyway.

Gear Heads

Geared tripod head

Gear heads are like ball heads expect they have a gearing mechanism that lets you tilt and pitch your camera at very precise angles. Most often you’ll see gear heads in the bag of architectural photographers and other who need fine control over the pitch and angle of their camera set.

The advantage to gear heads is if your sticks are level and the gears set on 0,0 your camera is level.

Gimble Heads

Gimble heads are for big glass

Gimble heads are for nature and sports photographers and the way they work is you mount your big lens on the pivot point and let your camera hang off the back of the lens.

You thought paying $10,000 for that zoom lens was your only expense? Not so, my friend, gimble heads can be really expensive.

The bonus about a gimble tripod head is it gives you very smooth control over moving that big glass around its center of gravity.

Lytro Announces Pre-Orders On Shoot First, Focus Later Camera

Lytro camera
Lytro's shoot first, focus later light field camera - by Lytro

Apple users will get yet another reason to be happy about as the first Lytro shoot first, focus later cameras go on pre-order for $399-$499. The first models out the door will only work with Mac’s, the Windows version of the software won’t be available until later.

I’ve said before that I think this is an interesting concept that may, eventually make changes in the field of photography, but if the selective focus is the only advantage, I don’t think it’s all that. It will really depend on what other advances the technology brings to photography.  I’m not listing my Canon 7D on Craigslist just yet.

The camera itself is only 4.41 inches long and has a dinky 1.61 inch display on the back.

The models come in two flavors and three colors. A gray or blue 8 GB model for $399 or a red 16 GB model for $499. The 8 GB camera will be able to hold about 350 images, the 16 GB camera around 450.

Try as they might Lytro is going to miss the holiday season as the cameras won’t be shipping until next year. As mentioned above, Mac users only for right now and only those living in North America.

If you don’t have a Mac, you can still sign up to be notified when the Windows version becomes available.

While light field technology may have a big impact down the road, right now it’s an interesting novelty with limited applications.

Canon Announces Powerhouse EOS 1D X

The Canon 1D X
The Canon 1D X is jammed with new features - by Canon

For Canon a big X marks the spot for the new king of the EOS line, the Canon EOS 1D X, which merges the 1D and 1Ds lines into one model. Offering a new combination of speed, resolution and image quality, Canon claims the 1D X is the most advanced EOS model it has ever produced and, from the specs, it’s hard to argue with that assessment.

The 1D X features a newly-developed 18.1-megapixel full frame sensor with 16-channel read-out and a sensitivity rating of ISO 100-51200, expandable to an eye-popping ISO 204,800. With ISO numbers like that you have to be approaching the ability to take pictures in the dark.

Backing up new sensor will be not one, but two Digic 5+ image processors. Canon claims speeds up to three times faster than the standard Digic 5 processor. The dual processors allow for full-resolution continuous shooting at up to 12 fps with 14-bit A/D conversion, which can be pushed to 14 fps in JPEG only mode.

It’s clear that Canon is aiming the 1D X at filmmakers, who have been generally opting for the Canon 5D MKII instead of the 1D or 1Ds. Canon claims the new Digic 5+ will reduce artifacts from moire and provide longer continuous shooting times by automatically creating a new file once it reaches the 4 GB file limit. Canon claims the continuous shooting time can be extended to nearly 30 minutes, up from 12 minutes in the 5D and 7D.

The 1D X also features twin CF cards which can be set to either write from one card to the next or duplicate photos on both cards.

In another nod to professionals using their Canon cameras primarily for video, the 1D X includes the ability to manually adjust the sound levels which are displayed on the LCD screen. You can almost hear millions of video shooters saying, “Finally!” at the same time.

Integrated into the camera is a gigabit ethernet port, but no word yet on whether video shooters will be able to get a raw data feed out of the data port. Right now that seems unlikely, but stay tuned.

The 1D X has added a second joystick on the back for controlling camera functions along with a 3.2 inch Clear View II LCD screen with 1040k dot resolution and anti-reflective coating. If you’ve ever noticed your pictures seem to look better in the LCD screen than on your computer, expect that to be even more noticeable with the 1D X.

back of Canon 1D X
On the back the 1D X sports another joystick controller - by Canon

As you would expect from any top of the line camera, the 1D X sports a high-grade magnesium alloy, advanced weather seals, and a new sensor cleaning system that uses wave-based vibrations to shake dust and dirt from the sensor.

Canon has some add-on features available that include the GP-E1 GPS receiver and the new WFT-E6 wifi transmitter.

In an unusual move Canon has announced the availability of the 1D X in March 2012, apparently trying to get some of their customers to postpone holiday purchases. U.S. pricing is expected to be in the range of $6,800 for the body only.

Video from Canon:

Will The New iPhone 4s Kill The Point And Shoot Camera?

iPhone 4S
Apple's iPhone 4S boasts impressive camera features - by Apple

Apple affectionados were disappointed that the new iPhone announced last week was the iPhone 4S and not the much anticipated iPhone 5, but the upgrade to the iPhone 4 included some interesting changes to the internal camera.

The improved camera in the iPhone 4S has an 8-megapixel sensor, up from the 5-megapixel in the 4, along with an improved f/2.4 aperture lens for better low-light performance. The lens also has an advanced hybrid infrared filter promising more accurate color rendition.

Backing up the camera is the new A5 chip and iOS 5, and Apple brags that the image processing is just as good as those found in bigger DSLRs. Unlikely, though it does give the iPhone 4S features like tap focus and from-the-screen focus control. Apple also claims virtually zero shutter lag and the camera app accessible right from the lock screen.

We’ll wait to see more pictures before commenting on their boasts about the comparison to DSLRs, but the sample photos on Apple’s UK site are impressive.

The iPhone also borrowed face detection capability from digital cameras which detects whether you’re shooting a portrait or group shot and can automatically balance exposure for up to 10 faces.

Like the 4, the 4S also has the LED flash, which kicks in automatically in low light situations.

Despite Apple’s boast on the image quality, the iPhone 4S is not going to threaten DSLR shooters, but it may impact sales of compact cameras. As cell phone cameras improve, there is less incentive to carry a point-and-shoot. The more often those stay at home, the less likely consumers will be to replace them.

Will Film Follow Kodak To The Grave?

Is filmed doomed to the same fate as Kodak?

It’s been a rough month for film. Kodak had to shush rumors about a possible bankruptcy and offer a red-faced explanation about why they’re hiring a law firm specializing in helping big corporations going out of business.

Added to that was CreativeCow pointing out that ARRI, Panavision and Aaton have all ceased production of film movie cameras, shifting their design and production focus to digital. Those companies will still produce special orders for film cameras, but will no longer manufacture production film cameras.

Following the trend away from film in Hollywood, FilmCraft, a commercial film photo lab in Detroit, closed their doors, leaving Astro in Chicago as the sole film lab in the entire midwest. With theaters switching over to digital projection as fast as the screens can be converted, even the market for distributing film prints to theaters is on death watch.

The moves in the film world could have a roll up effect on photography, as movie production and distribution are the last big corporate markets for film. What’s left in the photography film market? Disposable plastic film cameras at the drug store, an ever decreasing handful of hobbyists still shooting film, and certain specialty markets like x-ray film. You even have to hunt at big box retail stores like Walmart to find a display of roll film.

We’re now in the long trailing tail of film. How long Fuji and AgfaPhoto will continue to make photographic film is anyone’s guess. Every year that ticks by sees their market diminish.  Economics will win out in the end.

It may still be a hobby for a handful of photographers, but it may not be a hobby you’ll be able to indulge in much longer.