Ballhead or Panhead?

Basketball Head
Creative Commons License photo credit: auer1816

Since we just talked about tabletop tripods, it got me thinking about tripod heads. Personally, I’m a fan of ballheads, but some people swear by 3-way panheads. So which is it for you? And why do you have that preference? I’m sure there are a few folks out there who are looking to get their first tripod, and having some insights on tripod heads would be helpful.


Also be sure to check the results from last week’s poll having to do with autofocus methods. Almost 50% of us use “Single Shot” autofocus, while 25% use “Auto”. And as always, take a read through the comments for some additional insights from fellow readers.

14 thoughts on “Ballhead or Panhead?

  1. Brian Auer Post author

    I’m right there with you guys. I’ve got a nice panhead, but I’ve completely stopped using it since I got my ballhead. One hand operation that gives full rotational freedom is totally worth the few extra bucks.

  2. the_wolf_brigade

    I’ve never had enough money for a ball head :D

    I do like my panhead though I wish I had gotten the size up. It’s struggling with my bigger medium format cameras.

  3. libeco

    I have a Manfrotto 322RC2 pistolgrip (I believe that’s the word?) ballhead. It replaced a Giottos ballhead with three different scres for all directions. The Manfrotto is so much better, not only with the ease of use, but also much stronger. Two screws broke off he Giottos head in 1 year time…

  4. Dominique

    I’m with you guys, ball heads are more flexible and quicker. I don’t regret buying mine. I have a Manfrotto 486RC2 and a Manfrotto 190 pro tripod.

  5. Susheel Chandradhas

    I’ve always wanted to have a ball head for general photography, but have never been able to splurge on one.The equipment that sits atop my tripod tends to get a bit heavy, and I like the security of the pan/tilt model for that.

    Having said that, I to use the spirit level a lot, and tend to take a lot of panned shots, so the pan head suits me more.

  6. Brian Auer Post author

    Yeah, the thing about ballheads is that they can’t support as much weight unless you get one that’s built for that kind of thing — and those are pretty spendy.

    About panning… I don’t know how other ballheads are, but mine has the ability to pan or lock the pan. Then again, mine’s not a traditional ballhead — it’s one of the pistol grip ballheads.

  7. Susheel Chandradhas

    Well, I cant say that I’ve used a ball head… but from what I’ve seen of them they dont look like they can pan and not tilt at the same time… Need to look into the pistol grip thingie though! Sounds like it could be fun “shooting” with it…

  8. Gregg

    I forget the model number, but I have a ball head from Manfrotto that also has a pan with a degree scale in the base. I tend to use the ball first and then the pan second.

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