Uniqball tripod head keeps all your shots on the level
posted Thursday, November 6, 2014 at 10:56 AM EDT
I recently discovered a type of ballhead I had never seen before in the weekly newsletter from B&H. It's called Uniqball, and the maker claims it combines the features of a leveling base, a pan-tilt head, and a gimbal into one small, light head.
I got a test sample, and my first reaction on seeing it was "how pretty!" The machining is all very nice, and the black and red anodizing is very attractive. I asked the folks at Uniqball, "How does it work?". I got this reply from one of the designers: "We clearly don't know. Must be very tricky." Well, it may be their secret, but I soon found it does exactly what they claim.
Setup is quick and easy. The first step is to level the outer ball using a very accurate bubble level. One knob locks that into place, and from that point, the inner ball and clamp are held precisely level. The inner ball can pan a full circle, and tilt forward and rearward through about 40 degrees each way, but it remains level side-to-side. In other words, your photos will always be level.
The tension on the inner ball is easily modulated through a large range with the second knob, or it can be locked completely. With the tension set to a level appropriate for the camera/lens on top, the whole rig handles very much like a gimbal, moving freely to track moving subjects. Internal Teflon surfaces allow very smooth movements with no excess slop or play. A lens collar foot can be balanced in the Arca-spec clamp on top so that the camera and lens remain in place when let go, almost like a true gimbal.
Yes, almost. If you tilt it too far forward without readjusting the tension, it will just flop. There are also physical limits on the range of the usable angle while the unit is leveled. To use the head with the full range of motion of any normal ballhead, just lock the inner ball and let the outer ball move. A cutout in the side of the outer cup, typical of most ballheads, allows movement slightly beyond 90 degrees.
The clamp is oriented in the direction of tilt, so that a camera/lens collar moves in the proper direction, while a typical Arca-style camera base plate or L-plate is oriented perpendicular to the clamp. Uniqball supplies with each head a simple fix: an additional clamp with an integrated plate turned 90 degrees. Add this unit in between camera and head, and the proper tilt direction is restored.
One small quirk: as it is being clamped down tightly, the inner ball tilts a little vertically, more than a good simple ballhead would.
I'm accustomed to using either a geared head or a hefty traditional ball. The Uniqball immediately gave me a sense of freedom a normal ball could not, keeping all my shots level like a carefully aligned tripod and pan-tilt head, with only a tiny fraction of the setup time. I tested the smaller of Uniqball's two heads. My biggest lens is a 70-200 f/4, so I didn't even begin to stress it. Their larger unit, the UBH 45, is claimed to hold up to 90 pounds.
The finish is lovely. The machining is very precise and the whole unit feels very solid. The tension control is very easy to modulate for good balance and movement. It weighs a hair under 500g, less than a gimbal, or even a good ballhead. It sets up level very quickly on a tripod on uneven ground (meaning: everywhere!). It moves freely and balances nicely, and can provide a full range of motion if needed. It's not cheap, but less expensive than a leveling base and a separate head of similar quality.
Yes, there are a few limitations, but for 97% of my tripod shots, this is all the head I need.
You can see a short video describing its features and use on their website at Uniqball.com.
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