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Recently, I was able to get an Acratech GP ballhead on loan. I had already purchased their Ultimate ballhead. and wanted to try out some of the features of the GP. First and foremost, I was excited to see how the gimbal function worked, as I find myself shooting with long lenses pretty often.
Out of the box, the GP feels solid, like the precision piece of equipment that it is. It’s almost all metal, with the exception of the bearing surfaces, which are machined from a copolymer that is much like Teflon. Crisp engraving on the base stands out – the font is sharp, but small. And every 15 degrees, there is a number, with a line at each 5 degree point as well. A second set of numbers is engraved upside down above the first set. This is handy when using the GP as a leveling base.
All the controls are handled by three rubber knobs, and an aluminum one. The biggest is a large knob with six sides, which is the main control. At the bottom is a similar knob, for the pan control. Up top is a three-sided knob for the clamp. Tucked in a bit, but even with the main control knob, is the aluminum one. This one is smaller, and sets the initial tension on the ball. By making each one different, the GP is a bit more intuitive to use. I never once (thankfully!) loosened the wrong one by accident. Note that for an extra $30, you can get a lever clamp. I have come to prefer the standard one, since not all my plates are the exact same width.
Installing the GP is like any other tripod head. It’s threaded for a 3/8-16 mount, but comes with a brass bushing for 1/4-20 too. I used it on some Manfrotto carbon fiber legs, but didn’t tighten the set screws underneath. Doing so would make it difficult to use the leveling base feature. Once I was sure it was tight enough, I set out to take some photos.
In use, the Acratech GP inspires confidence, even with a heavy camera and lens combination. This ballhead will hold over 25 pounds at any angle, so a full frame camera with battery grip and 70-200 f/2.8 lens, or even my Sigma 150-600 is no trouble at all. When used as a ballhead, it was easy to lock down tight, with no creep. Once you get it where you want it, it stays there. I liked the smooth action, and never felt that there was too much or too little tension.
Thanks to the U-shaped groove cut into one side, you can use the GP as a gimbal. A pin in the base of the ball fits into a small cutout opposite that groove. Together, they allow you to effortlessly move your camera in any direction. All you need to do is mount a lens with a collar, and flop the ball over into the groove. Next, loosen the pan knob, and you have a virtually weightless camera and lens. It’s great for sports, wildlife, or birds in flight. Acratech rates this feature for lenses up to a 400 f/4.0 lens, which I took to mean the 5 pound +/- range. That didn’t stop me from trying a 13 pound lens on it. The GP held fine, but the whole setup was unbalanced. Best to try their long lens head, or similar dedicated setup if you shoot really big glass.
Want more? Acratech packs an allen wrench with the GP, so you can remove the clamp. First, flip the whole ballhead over, and thread it onto your tripod, upside down. Then attach the clamp to the base. Now you have a leveling base for your panoramic photos. Just use the built-in bubble level before you mount your camera again. It’s easier to do than it is to explain, and it works great. I don’t shoot a lot of panoramic photos, but it’s nice to know it’s there when I need it.
I knew going into this review that I would like the Acratech GP ballhead, I just didn’t realize how much I would like it. It weighs just one pound (454 grams), so my field setup (3.6 pound/1.65 kg tripod) weighs a bit over 4.5 pounds. And for that, you get a ballhead that can handle all but the heaviest lenses, which deserve their own head anyway. Plus you have the gimbal and leveling base. With its $399.95 price tag, the GP costs less than a good gimbal. In other words, it can pretty much do everything.
Not everyone is going to spend $400 on their tripod head. I get that. Before you dismiss the price though, consider the alternatives. If you want to shoot moving objects, you need a gimbal. Even my $300 Acratech Ultimate with an add-on micro gimbal cost more than the GP. And a really cheap leveling base adds at least $30 to that. Then you have two extra pieces of gear (more weight) to carry. Don’t do it. At this point, I’m ready to ditch some of my other gear, and add the GP to my kit. It makes more sense to me.
On top of all that, Acratech makes everything they sell in the United States. And they offer a ten year warranty. Its open design requires just about zero maintenance too. Hard to beat that. So I suggest you visit Acratech.net, to see all their heads and other photo gear. Buy the right gear the first time, and you only buy once. Or you could save a few bucks, only to spend more later. It’s your choice. Don’t make the same mistakes I did.
I’d like to thank the folks at Acratech for loaning me their GP ballhead. It’s an outstanding piece of gear, which I’m sure I’ll be upgrading to soon.