My Acratech Ultimate Ballhead review is a follow up to a previous article. A while back, I wrote about my tripod choices, and mentioned that the tripod heads I use would be covered separately. Since many of the products we review are provided by the manufacturer, I’ll point out up front that the Acratech Ultimate Ballhead was purchased by me, and not provided for review. Of course, when you buy a $300 ballhead, you have certain expectations, which is why I have chosen to share this review.
Unlike other ballheads, the Acratech Ultimate has an open design. Rather than the ball being closed in, it’s mostly exposed to the elements. While this might seem like a bad idea, it works very well. There is nothing to clean, and nothing to lube. It is not affected by dirt, sand, water, mud, snow, or any mixture of these usual enemies of your photo gear. This design also helps keep the weight under one pound (0.45kg). Controls are just as simple. There are three knobs in two different sizes, all made of hard rubber that is easy to grip, even with gloves on. The small one on the base is for the pan lock, a larger one is for the ball, and another small one for the quick release plate. I prefer a locking lever over a knob, since there is always the chance you will twist the wrong knob, and release your camera by accident, but that hasn’t happened yet. The locking plate is a $50 upgrade at time of purchase, or $149.95 if you decide to upgrade later. Oops. Of course, the locking lever works best when every tripod plate is the exact same size, and I have a few plates that are off by a tiny bit. So really, it’s more secure this way, I just have to pay attention.
At first glance, the 45 degree angle of the Acratech Ultimate might lead you to think that it is limited in the range of motion. But this works great for macro shots where you want to point the camera down, as well as for shots straight ahead. When shooting into the sky, either for birds, planes, or the moon, just loosen the pan knob, and spin the head 180 degrees. Now it’s pointing up. Simple enough. No matter which way you point it, the Acratech Ultimate easily holds up to 25 pounds. Well, that’s what they claim. My heaviest body and lens combo does not get close to half that weight, and it is rock solid, so I have no doubt it could hold more glass than I can afford.
I bought this ballhead for outdoor photos, and it’s been great in the studio as well, since most of my shots are taken of a product below the camera. I have not had a need to use the pan feature, but it is the one area where I feel the action could be smoother. It’s perfectly acceptable, just not what I would want if I decided to pan during video. Of course, I never actually shoot video, so really, it’s not an issue for me.
Having used this head with both the Canon 100-400 and Sigma 150-600 lenses, I found it helps keep my camera steady, for sharp images. Back in the studio, I can shoot products under continuous lighting, with exposures close to a second, knowing there will be no camera shake. And I really like the open design, as it’s nice to know that if I do venture out in bad weather, it’s not going to fail on me, and will take more abuse than my cameras and lenses can. Best of all, Acratech makes the Ultimate ballhead and the rest of their products at a machine shop located in Pomona, California. When you buy from them, not only are you getting some of the highest quality photo gear on the market, but you are also keeping jobs and tax dollars local. acratech.net