First impressions review of Acratech GP-s Ballhead vs Benro J0..
As a backpacking adventure travel photography enthusiast, i've realized over the years that having the right equipment matters, especially in extreme conditions i frequently find myself in.
Take my tripod setup for example. For the past few years, i've been using a Benro Travel Angel tripod and a Benro J0 ballhead. This light setup was perfect for me during the initial days. But the moment i stepped out of my 'normal' environment and went somewhere a bit extreme, like a night out on the Great wall in late November for instance, the equipment began showing its shortcomings. And these shortcomings were only amplified as time went on.
I'll highlight some of the complaints with the Benro J0 ballhead here. The shortcomings listed here will apply to similar ballheads like the Markins Q3 as well.
- Exhibits the tiniest bit of creep immediately after locking the ballhead. The camera shifts by a millimeter or so after tightening the knobs and then stay put. This might be due to my technique but i'am not quite sure how to avoid it. Just to be clear though, after the initial movement the camera stays locked in place and there is no subsequent creep.
- The tiny friction knob can be operated only by pressing the naked finger against it and using the pressure to turn it either way. As a result the friction knob cannot be operated while wearing gloves.
- All the knobs have sharp rubber grooves on them, which is great for traction in normal climates. But in the cold they cut against your numb fingers even while wearing gloves.
- The main knob cannot be loosed when the friction knob is tightened.
Because of the reasons stated above, i sometimes end up preferring not to go through the trouble of setting up the ballhead and instead use the camera handheld. This defeats the whole purpose of carrying my tripod with me in the first place.
So my ideal tripod and ballhead setup would be one which i can use in any climatic conditions (while wearing gloves), sturdy without exhibiting any creep, lightweight and most of all quick and easy to operate.
Acratech GP-s Design and Ergonomics :
My search for the ultimate travel tripod head ends with the Acratech GP-s ballhead. This is without doubt the most impressive addition to my photography kit this year, even the legendary Zeiss 21mm ZE had to take a backseat in the impressiveness meter.
On opening the box, i was immediately struck by the design and the finish of the ballhead. Made of aircraft grade aluminium (whatever that is) the ballhead is light for its size (weighs about 400g). Infact the weight difference between the Benro J0 and the Acratech GP-s is less than 50g (although the GP-s looks like its almost double the size). Its exciting to have this much additional functionality without any significant increase in weight.
Its large rubber knobs easily address the complaint i had with my older ballhead. Its Gimbal feature can easily support loads upto 25lbs (11.4kg) and lenses of upto 400mm focal length. This alone would've convinced me to buy this ballhead but as a bonus it also works as a panoramic head (when turned upside down) thus eliminating the need to carry a separate expensive panoramic leveling head.
I was also impressed by its open ball design (the ball is not placed inside a cup) which allows dirt and moisture to fall through and not get caught like the other ball heads. Less care and maintenance requirement is always a good sign for me.
The Acratech GP-s ballhead was designed considering the travel tripods in mind. Its reduced base diameter (compared to theÂ AcratechÂ GP ballhead) allows the legs of the travel tripod to snugly fold around it.Â
So the question is..Â Will it snugly fit between the legs of my Benro 1-series Travel Angel tripod ?. Well... the short answer is 'almost'. Even with its thinning down, the GP-sÂ ballhead is still a bit bulky for the compact tripod's legs to get around and it bulges a bit. While it comes as a slight disappointment to me, i have to admit that i was kind of expecting it and its definitely not a deal breaker for me.
However i have no doubts that the ballhead would be a better fit for heftier 2-series travel tripods.
Use as a Panoramic Head:
One of the features i love about this ballhead is that it can be used as a panoramic head to shoot stitched panoramas. Check out this article for more details on why a panoramic head (or a leveling base) is required to shoot stitched panoramas.
It takes about a couple of minutes to switch this ballhead into the panoramic mode. First you need to unscrew it from the tripod, remove the clamp from the ball and attach it to the base of the ballhead and then screw the ballhead back on to the tripod in the reverse position.
For vertical stitched panoramas, place the ballhead in the Gimbal mode and you can easily pan up and down without the need for any special attachments.