I'm going to dabble a bit into what a geared head is - but if you'd like a more in-depth explanation and examples - be sure to checkout, The Best Geared Tripod Head, where we go over everything about them!
Anyway, geared heads are really popular with professional photographers and very experienced hobbyist. As we said in the 'what is a geared head' article, they're best for Real Estate/Architectural work because they make it easy to lock into place while maintaining verticals. They're perfect for making very minute changes and achieving perfect compositions.
You're able to achieve this using a series of knobs. These knobs are attached to gears, which grab and move along a rail. Generally speaking there is an X,Y, and rotational axis. All of which can be controlled independently from one another.
The biggest downside about these heads is their price tag! Because they're so specialized and geared towards professional work - they can cost quite a bit more than something like a ball head.
Now, I can pretty much guarantee you've heard, seen, and/or used a ball head before. It's the most common head and used among millions of photographers... it's common practice for hunters to use a ball head if they want to mount it to a tripod.
A ball head works very simply. It has a dial that you use to tighten the head in place and keep your camera secured. Unscrewing the knob lets you loosen (or release) the tension so you can reposition it or fine tune your composition.
It's common amongst beginners because it's really easy to use. You literally just need to loosen and tighten the knob until it fits how you want. No gears, no fuss, just camera positioning!
Not only that - they're much more affordable compared to a geared head or a pan tilt head.
You may have a pretty good idea what the differences are between the two - but lets go a little more in-depth in those differences.
The major difference between the both of them is movement.
A geared head moves by rotating the gear along a single axis. Depending on the geared head there may be 2 to 4 separate gears on separate axis. These axis' are controlled by separate knobs.
This makes it easier to work with verticals (because you can focus on each axis one by one) and take very fine/precise adjustments. It's also a lot more stable than a ball head because all of the weight is in the gear instead of at your fingertips - which may lead to accidental movements.
A ball head on the other hand adjusts a bit simpler using a simple tightening and loosening dial. Rotating it lets you move the camera on an independent axis. This means that the X, Y, and rotational axis are controlled at the same time.
The downside to this is that any adjustments made will be a lot more loosey goosey than with a geared head (because of how the weight is distributed).
In theory, a ball head can work just as well or even better than a geared head - but only if used correctly and in the right circumstances.
This debate depends entirely on what you're using the head for, and what you want to get out of it.
For instance, you can use a ball head or a geared head in Real estate photography - and either one can give you the same result. But, your workflow will be very different depending on which one you choose to use.
In this case - a geared tripod head would allow you to get perfect (or as close to) verticals and perfect compositions every time. While a ball head would be much more difficult to achieve the same thing.
On the other hand - you can setup and take your photos faster with a ball head (assuming you aren't as concerned about getting everything 'perfect'). This means you can take more photos of more homes, more often. While a geared head can take longer to do the same thing (especially if you're new). This could make the ball head seem better, in this case...
But... If you aren't worried too much about perfect composition and verticals while on site - you'll have to worry about and fix that later in post processing (lightroom or photoshop). This will add time to your editing process and just another thing you'll have to do after the shoot.
So, the moral of this comparison is, it depends entirely on your style and which one you would rather have. Would you rather have the 'ease-of-use' of a ball head, or do you need the precision of a geared head. That decision yours to make.
There are many brands on the market - and as time moves forward - there will obviously be more. The problem with that is knowing which ones to trust. The worst thing you would want is to spend you hard earned money on something that will fail you shortly after purchase while you're on a job.
What we always recommend is to stick with the brands that have been doing this for years. The benefits to this I'm sure is obvious - that being they have the experience, and with that experience they know what works and what doesn't. These brands are the ones you're going to want to stick with.
These brands include:
Regarded as the pinnacle of tripod heads - Arca swiss is about as solid and quality as you can get. With a standard 5 year full warranty (some of their products are 10 year warranties). While their heads are expensive - there isn't a better option for an investment. If taken care of - Arca Swiss heads can last an entire career of heavy use. You don't find this kind of quality and reliability very often.
If you're a hobbyist - Arca Swiss heads might not be the best choice for you.
RRS or 'Really Right Stuff' (I'm not making it up) makes some of the best tripod legs, quick release plate, and ball heads for tripods. Designed and built entirely in California, each item is meticulously inspected to ensure their quality standards are met on every item. This is something rare in the world we live in.
While Manfrotto's quality has gone down-hill a bit over the last 10 years - their heads are still of great quality and will last a professional 5 years or more. The Manfrotto 410, for example, lasts many photographers 5+ years of heavy Real Estate photography use. While quality on other products (such as light stands and tripods) have decreased, the brand itself is still very successful so you don't have to worry about their warranties falling through anytime soon.
Benro has built a solid relationship with photographers and videographers over the years with their geared, ball, and tilt heads. A great example is the benro gd3wh. They also build solid tripods and monopods.
Benro is geared towards those wanting products with the same functionality as something like an Arca D4 - but at a fraction of the price. With this price cut, quality is also cut along with it. Benro has the lowest quality of any of the recommendations on this list - but still heaps higher than other lower-end brands on the market.
Think of this section as a conclusion. We will cover whether a ball heads are better for you or geared heads.
You can achieve the exact same look in any photo with either head. It's much easier to get exact precise angles/positioning with the geared head - while a ball head is much easier to adjust overall. Decide which one is more important for you - and you'll be set.
As far as brand/models - it depends on how much you shoot.
'Higher end' brands differ from the lower end by functionality and durability. Generally speaking, a more expensive head will last you longer than an inexpensive one.
This isn't always the case - but when comparing something like an Arca to a Benro - this is entirely true.
Use this measurement to make your decision of brand - With Arca being the top and Benro being at the bottom. All of which can be used for any type of photography - but how long it will last depends on the rate of use, and the Benro will need to be replaced much sooner than an Arca or RSS.
We hope this article has helped you get the information and advice you need to make an informed decision about which tripod head is best for your needs. With so many options available, it can be difficult to figure out what's right for your specific situation. But with these tips in mind, we're confident that you'll know whether a geared head or ball head is better suited for any upcoming shoots!
If you have any specific questions, concerns, or requests - feel free to leave them below and I will respond as soon as possible!
So until next time, be safe and keep creating!