Without question, I definitely gave the Acratech Long Lens Head a thorough review. Since August of last year, I have used (and abused) it with a variety of lenses, and even loaded it up with a jib for some video work. Through it all, it was clear that it’s a tough and reliable piece of gear.
Before I get into the review, I need to point out that this is a somewhat specialized tripod head. Its primary design is for the photographer who mostly shoots with big glass. But unlike a dedicated gimbal, it can be used for smaller lenses too. While it lacks the ease of use a standard ballhead allows, it plays both roles fairly well. Of course, it takes standard Arca-Swiss plates, as well as Kirk and similar plates.
CNC (Computer Numeric Control) machined, with engraved markings, Acratech heads are beautiful to behold. Rated for a 600mm f/4 lens, the Long Lens Head is beefy, but cutouts keep the weight to just .89 pounds. A quick check online revealed that the latest Canon 600mm weighs just over 8 pounds. Nikon has two, one which is in the 8 pound range, the other more than 12 pounds. I used a Canon 100-400, Sigma 150-600, and my 12.9 pound Sigma 300-800 f/5.6 lens. If you’ve got bigger, heavier glass, then carrying a second tripod head is the least of your concerns.
Before heading out, I got familiar with the Long Lens Head in my front yard. To date, I haven’t dropped a lens, but I would prefer my lush lawn over hard dirt. A tension knob opposite the tilt lock let me fine tune the head according to the weight of the lens. I just snugged it down, attached my camera and lens, then loosened it until I got smooth movements. Once that is set, you can leave it and just use the lock, unless you swap lenses. With the pan unlocked, it was easy to track moving animals. Locked, long exposures of the moon were plenty sharp.
In addition to using those long lenses, I tried it out with a 16-35 and 24-70, for some landscape shots. Although not an ideal setup, it worked. Leveling is accomplished by adjusting your tripod leg height. Again, not as convenient as a ballhead, but neither is switching out a gimbal for a ballhead in the field. To put things into perspective, the most popular gimbals weigh about three times as much, and cost around $600. Suddenly, the little extra work makes sense for your back and/or your wallet.
With the itch to shoot video as well as stills, I’ve added some new gear to my kit. One of those items is an 8 foot jib. Coupled with a 120mm Arca-Swiss plate, I mounted it to the Long Lens Head. That’s a 12 pound aluminum jib, camera with lens, and sandbags for counterweight. Again, that 20 pounds or so is probably more than most DSLR rigs will ever come close to. But it held up fine, and actually works well. Not that Acratech considered this, but really, it would save me from bringing my heavy video tripod on some shoots. Equally important, it demonstrates just how solid this head is.
When I purchased my Acratech Ultimate ballhead, I did so based on reviews I had read. Now that Acratech has given me access to their Long Lens Head, I think it will find a home in my camera bag. For someone who just spent all their budget on a big lens, the $329.95 Long Lens Head gets them a dual purpose head for less than most gimbals, or even Acratech’s own highly-rated ballheads. As an added bonus, they’re also made in America. Check them out at Acratech.net.
I’d like to thank Acratech for (patiently) loaning me yet another great piece of gear to test out.