Battle of the titans: Top ball heads tested
Comparing 10 ball heads is very different from comparing just two (like the one bundled with a tripod, and the big upgrade) or reviewing just one head by itself. Subjective comparisons on the feel and handling of the heads is suddenly possible, and putting them all into side-by-side, practical use highlights their differences well beyond any spec sheets. However, carrying this many heads into into the field (with cameras and long lenses) should be reserved for military boot camp, not some daily photographic wanderings.
Not all of us are going to knock our gear around Antarctica or the Sahara, but we want to know there is something capable and special holding up our even more special cameras and lenses. While the functional goal of all ball heads is the same, there are many ways to get there, and some compromises need to be made along the way. In the end, picking "the best head" is really a matter of judging these variables, and the information you can glean from each review, against your personal needs. That said, here are three that stand out from the others.
Best Value: Sirui K-40x
The easiest distinction from the group is which head represents the best value. While it may not break any new ground, the Sirui K-40x rises above the group by never feeling like the low-price option, despite its retail price. The silky ball motion and very good build and handling qualities make this head highly recommended, regardless of any budget considerations.
Most Innovative: Novoflex Classic Ball 5
In the cookie-cutter world of ball heads, any new feature adds its own set of challenges for the manufacturer. With the CB5, Novoflex has totally rethought the controls of the classic ball head, and done this without compromising build quality or functionality. There is a price to be paid for this level of engineering artistry, but some things are well worth it.
Most Stable: FLM Centerball 58 FTR
A ball head should be a solid, yet flexible platform for camera equipment on a tripod, but when the gear gets really heavy, few heads are as stable as the 58mm FLM. At this level, either a geared head or concrete pylon might be the only better ways to stabilize a camera, but the Centerball 58 is much easier to maneuver. Add in precise friction control and some nice optional features, and this giant FLM head stands out even more.