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I'm looking at Manfrotto 468MGRC2 Magnesium Hydrostatic Ballhead which justifies that "using a hydraulic system" is better because it locks better the camera+lens (according to the manufacturer).

How significant is this difference (compared with a good mechanical ballhead) in the real world?

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468MGRC2 Marketing blurb: Using hydraulics instead of a mechanical system .... What? A Hydraulic system is a mechanical system. – Fake Name Nov 3 '12 at 12:24
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Between the 468MGRC4 and 488RC4, the difference is notable. The tightening of the Hydrostatic head is very smooth and applies even pressure which makes the camera stay in the same exact position.

With the standard head, there is a slight drift in the order of one or two degrees as you tighten. When I purchased my ballhead I got the standard and eventually learned to adjust by slightly overshooting the vertical angle of the camera. I do it instinctively now but I wish I bought the hyrdrostatic head which I was unable to afford at the time.

As with everything, this matters only if it is important to you. Personally I am a maniac about composition and use my 100% coverage viewfinder to its fullest with rarely room for a shift (fill the frame I was told :) of even one degree. My primary cameras can also correct this by shifting their sensor, so if I end up not perfectly aligned, I can fix it without moving the head.

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What camera shifts the sensor to adjust framing? – dpollitt Nov 3 '12 at 14:50
@dpollitt The Pentax K-5, K-5 II, K-5 IIs, K-7. It can shift horizontally, vertically and tilt. There is a remarkable leeway in shift and 2 degrees of tilt in 1/4 degree increments either way. It's quite enough to adjust for imperfect camera placement. – Itai Nov 3 '12 at 16:06
That is nuts. No idea that technology for that existed. – dpollitt Nov 3 '12 at 18:33
@dpollitt - Digital cameras are awesome, that's why I spend so much time with them :) and sometimes I miss obscure features which companies are not good at advertising or work only in certain combinations of circumstances. With the more sophisticated models, I often run out of time to try all the features. I have a D4 here now and I hope I'll get to try the built-in HTTP server (!!!) before having to return it. – Itai Nov 3 '12 at 20:43

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