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I'm thinking of buying a new head for a tripod. I have been using a ball head and I am happy with it, but I am curious about the pistol grip. When I bought my tripod this type of grip didn't exist, so I am afraid that I am clueless. Supposedly, it makes maneuvering very easy, but are there any annoyances? For example, I can see that a large grip can be more difficult to carry or fit in a backpack. Any other thing? Is the grip strong? Does it get loose after some use?

In summary, can anyone tell me about the annoyances and benefits in practice?

EDIT: I guess that I didn't emphasize that I am looking for the "small details". For example, if someone is considering buying a ball head I would tell him/her that the head tilts a bit down if the weight is close to the weight limit of the head, no matter how much you screw it. I would like to have that type of comments for the pistol grip, please. For the theoretical advantages (true or not) I already have google :)

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Comparison of tripod heads here - photo.stackexchange.com/questions/778/… - but does not include pistol grips. Surprised this hasn't been asked before –  MikeW Feb 16 '13 at 22:53

7 Answers 7

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I've used a couple of older pistol grip heads (Slik 2100 and Manfrotto 3265), and I really like the idea behind them. Squeezing a handle to free the head for positioning seems like a great idea. The problem I kept running into, however, is that I needed three hands: right hand on the shutter, left hand on the lens zoom ring, and third hand on the pistol grip. (You need to squeeze the handle to free the head, as opposed to a ball head that can simply be unlocked and move.) When using a prime this isn't a problem, and it's easy to zoom to a roughly-correct range to make positioning easier. Another problem was that those heads are pretty tall, and compared to a lower-profile ball head they did have a tendency to flop around more easily. Anyway, needing three hands was a problem I encountered regularly enough that I switched to a ball head, which I do prefer.

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Thanks! This is the info that I needed. I'll buy another ball head then. –  Javier Feb 18 '13 at 0:08
    
You can adjust the tightness of most pistol grips heads to give a little when you push them. Most of them require a small allen wrench, though, so it is just one more small item to worry about losing. Of course you have to tighten it back down if you want to leave the camera on it as you would when using a wired shutter release. –  Michael Clark Feb 18 '13 at 2:11

Using a ball head with a pistol grip is tricky - I have a Manfrotto monopod with a pistol grip, and that isn't exactly easy to use. Pistol grips, no matter what they cost, will eventually start to slip, according to all that have use them professionally - so eventually they go for a video head, and a tripod, but as the tripod must be level to work with a video head, or your pictures will start to lean, this way, or that way.

One solution is to become an expert on regulating the length of the tripod's legs (not as easy as it sounds), another is to add a leveling head between the tripods top and your video head. Those leveling heads don't come cheap.

The best combo, in my world, is a tripod with a built-in leveling head (Berlebach Student 3032 comes to mind, as a basic, rigid, no thrills, tripod with just that function - costing about as much as a separate leveling head costs), and a video head on top of that. Quick-change plate system is essential for quick change of cameras, et cetera. All video heads from Manfrotto I know of has one built in!

I came into this conclusion after having owned, and still owning, a lot of various tripods (mostly classic, and modern carbon, Gitzo's plus a few monopods, and a huge variation of heads (ball & video), from very expensive to very cheap, some soon 50 years old! One thing that many forgets is that tripods with a center column induces shake, no matter if they are Gitzo's top model, or a shaky Velbron. And thin legs vibrate, so sturdy is better, so my monopods are thick-legged, that is, very sturdy indeed!

Manfrotto makes fairly cheap, but eminently functional, video heads, but there are other makers as well, as Fotopro, Benro, Wimberley and a lot others.

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Why would you need any kind of a ball head for a monopod? You move left to right by rotating the leg. I use a Manfrotto 234RC monopod head which allows adjusting the up/down tilt. Most of the lenses I use with a monopod have collars that allow for rotating from portrait to landscape. –  Michael Clark Jul 8 '13 at 5:37

I used to have a Manfrotto pistol grip and found it difficult to work with. I could never get it to 'settle' quite where I wanted it.

I switched to a ball head and have never looked back. The freedom to be able to move it without needing to keep one hand squeezed on the trigger is worth its weight in gold alone. This comes in especially handy if you're trying to follow a moving target. You just can't follow a target and operate the camera at the same time with a pistol grip...

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I find most ball heads tend to drift due to camera weight & the securing knob failing to grip tightly enough. I have arthritis in my fingers, which makes it difficult to get the required tension on the ball head. With the pistol grip, it is a lot easier. For moving subjects a ballhead will probably be better, but for composition of a landscape etc, I find the pistol grip works better for me.

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This is a problem with the quality of the ball head and/or too much weight for the head, not with all ball heads. –  Dan Wolfgang Feb 18 '13 at 13:31

Using a pistol grip is an acquired taste. I think a lot of people try them but don't spend enough time to get comfortable with them before going back to a regular ball head. They definitely have a different feel to them. Technically, a pistol grip is a specialized type of ball head.

I use my pistol grip for night sky work. I find it easier to move around when the camera is pointed up at a steep angle. When the grip is squeezed I can also rotate the side cutout without having to loosen the center shaft of the tripod.

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add me as another person who was intrigued by the concept of the pistol grip, found them awkward and unwieldy in practice, and am now happily and probably permanently a ballhead user again.

I talked to one of the guys at the local camera store about them as I was shopping for a replacement ballhead, and his comment was that he sold them to people when they asked for the pistol grips, but a lot of folks seemed to later buy a different tripod head again. Hopefully he wasn't just saying that because I was talking about how I didn't like the pistol grip and wanted to buy a ballhead...

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I have both the Manfrotto 496RC2 and the 322RC2 "Joystick Head".

I had the grip one 322RC2 first, but I've since moved almost entirely to the regular ball head. Originally for the size and weight, but I haven't noticed any significant difference is speed or ease of use between the two. However, I'm sure that will vary person to person.

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Agree on that one. I think it depends from person and his habits. –  Evaldas Dzimanavicius Feb 16 '13 at 22:56

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