Please read this article with confidence, knowing that the information given to you is accurate. I am a photographer and have shot real estate photography for years before moving out to San Diego.
I say this because I don't want you thinking that these recommendations were pulled out of a hat. If they're being recommended, I have either used it myself or I know someone personally who uses it on a daily basis. So read with confidence knowing that what I'm telling you is true and you can make an educated decision based on what you read in this article.
I just want to warn you now that if you're looking for tripod heads that are inexpensive or you want a geared head that's cheap, you are reading the wrong article.
Generally speaking, the best of anything relates to quality and reliability. The best quality and reliability comes with a price tag. That price tag is usually much higher than something made with budgetary concerns in mind.
I want you to not worry about the cost while reading this article. Instead, you need to consider the cost as an investment and then how that investment will improve your workflow and ultimately make you more money.
Trust me; a cheap gearhead can cost you far more time and money in the long run than the upfront cost of a geared tripod head.
Stick around to hear about those who chose the cheaper inexpensive route.
I'm not questioning your intelligence regarding gear tripod heads, but I thought it would be only fitting to include this section for those who might not know as much as you do.
Geared tripod heads offer the most control in terms of precision. Through the use of knobs that control gears along rails, you were able to control the X, Y, and the rotational axis of your camera, all independently.
This allows you to work with one axis, lock in that axis, and then move on to the next. Or even better, you may only need to adjust one axis and this allows you to do that independently from the other two.
This is very different from the traditional pan and ball head - where you can get the ball head aligned relatively easily but just as easily lose that position while tightening it down.
This is a major problem when verticals are critical in architectural work or compositions such as landscapes.
There are some types of photography that require very repetitive and very similar results.
Let's take product photography for instance. You were photographing couches for a client. This client produces many couches of different shapes sizes and colors - but they want six images taken from the same position and angle on every couch. While each couch is different, this keeps the catalog of their inventory very uniform.
Now, you can get all six images with the same lens. A geared head would allow you to lock in the position of the camera in relation to the angle, and now you never need to move that position going forward.
If you did need to move it you can easily record your original position with the markings on the head, move precisely to the new position, and then back.
While RE photography is just one type of photography that benefits from it, here are a few other types that benefit just as much ( if not more). These types include:
I feel the need to explain the incredible benefits of using a geared head when shooting macro photography.
As most of y'all know, macro photography is a magnified version of photography. It can literally make the tiniest things look absolutely ginormous - or better yet, to see things we would never see with the naked eye.
Along with that, I'm sure you all know how difficult it is to achieve focus using a macro lens. It gets increasingly harder the higher the magnification. There are some manual focus macro lenses with a ratio of five to one. That's essentially a 5X magnification. The amount of light required and razor-thin depth of field makes it one of the most difficult types of photography to get sharp focus.
Focus stacking aside, a geared head is an excellent way to combat the focusing difficulty. Seeing as the depth of field is so shallow even the most minute movement can throw your subject completely out of focus. That's where the geared head comes in seeing as you can make very precise and minute changes in position.
You can set the magnification and then get the lens "around" where it needs to be. Then, using the gears, you can slowly and imprecisely lean the lens forward or backward to achieve perfect focus. Of course, the same can be achieved on a slider, but it's not nearly as precise.
The Arca Swiss D4 is the pinnacle of geared tripod heads.
It is regarded as one of the best-geared heads made at its price point. However, its appeal to the general public comes down to the build quality and the size.
Coming in at about 5 inches tall, weighing 2.6 pounds, and accepting a quick release plate at only 40 millimeters... This thing is a perfect fit for those wanting to keep a minimal footprint.
One of the other main reasons photographers swear by the Arca Swiss D4 is how damn reliable it is. Arca places a five-year full warranty on the D4. That's how confident they are about their product. This alone should be a driving factor for your decision as well.
I know real estate photographers have been using the same D4 head for over five years without any issues at all. These are real estate photographers who photograph five homes per day minimum with peaks of 8-10 with an average of 800 homes per year.
I asked them (before I purchased one myself) - was there anything that they would change about the head at all. They just wish they had gotten it sooner.
As we all know, there's nothing perfect in this world. That would include the Arca Swiss D4.
There are two main negatives that I wanted to touch on. Those include:
I know I stated at the beginning of the article that you need to pay for quality, which is entirely true in this case. Coming in at just shy of $1200, you are definitely going to be paying for quality. I did list this as a con - seeing as most photographers, regardless of type, wouldn't be OK spending this kind of money for a geared head.
Rest assured though while it is expensive and again, you will be paying for quality, it is worth every single penny.
A negative in my book, especially at this price point, is that it does not contain a plate. That's right; you will have to purchase the plate separately. I'll put money on the fact that you don't have the right size either. Not only that, if you weren't reading up to this point in the article, you'd have no idea what size plate you need. Don't worry; I got you covered.
The width of the plate is 40 mm. The recommended length is 60 mm, but this is totally up to you - seeing as the length can extend past the head itself. Although it's not recommended to use anything over 70 mm, you do you.
You know we all have our own responsibilities in this world. Some of us have a large family, while others have other obligations. Not everyone out here is going to have the best of the best. Believe me; I get it.
If it weren't for the fact that I've had to replace so many things that were subpar just to save initial money, I wouldn't have purchased something like this myself. I definitely could have saved the money.
Again, don't worry, I've got you covered. I have four more recommendations, each of them have their pros and cons, yet one of them may work better for you in terms of cost than the Arca Swiss D4.
The goal here today is to give you an idea of what you need, why you need it, and how much you're going to have to spend to get it. So, stick around; we're moving on to the next one.
Now the Benro GD3WH is closer to the other end of the spectrum.
It's much more affordable, relatively reliable, and is a great entry-level geared head for someone looking to try out a geared head in their workflow.
The welcomed differences between the Benroand Arca Swiss are weight and cost.
This trade-off comes at a price. And while that price is not actual dollars, there is a reliability cost involved. Let's discuss the features of the Benro geared head and what makes it such a good product.
Much like the other geared heads on this list, you have a three-way independent movement. This movement, of course, is controlled by knobs for precise movement. You could also release the individual sections for larger camera movements for average positioning and then use the knobs for more precise positioning after that. There are also bubble levels for each section. Also, weighing in at only 1.9 pounds is one of the lighter geared heads on this list. The obvious benefit of a lighter loadout is a plus.
You get all of this with an average cost just north of $200. Not bad right?...
Well let's talk about the negatives of the benro geared head and see if that tradeoff is worth it to you.
The biggest complaint is the reliability after extended use. From the information that I've gathered and from personal experience from those that I know, the lifespan of this geared head is about one year or 1000 homes.
The problem that presents itself after about 1000 homes is the sloppy play in the gears. You'll notice over time that the gears aren't nearly as precise or hold their position nearly as well. This is an obvious problem seeing as the only reason I have a geared head is for that very reason. This leads to two major issues those being not being able to maintain verticals or a static position of the camera - in not being able to keep the camera level.
Another issue that presents itself to some and not to others... This leads me to believe that the quality control between two different geared heads is very questionable. This issue is that the bubbles for leveling never actually level the camera correctly. There's nothing worse than not being able to trust your equipment. Now, as I said before it it's an issue for some and not for others. This could come down to bad luck, damage while shipping, or just terrible quality control.
To combat the issue just mentioned, it's highly recommended to purchase a separate quick-release clamp with its own bubble. This will ensure that at least the plane that your camera is sitting on is level. I know it's another investment; I mean, this was supposed to save you money, right? Keep in mind this isn't needed for everybody but for those having the issue either initially or a few months down the road when the return policy or warranty expires.
So, all in all, this is still a pretty solid geared head, especially for those who wanna try it out and see if it's gonna work for them. Yeah, you can get a year two or three out of it depending on how many homes or properties you shoot every year (or anything else for that matter). Just know that later down the road, you will most likely have to replace this or upgrade to something better, depending on how frequent that may be.
You may have never heard of this brand before, but don't allow that to discourage you from considering it.
This is a very professional level geared head at a fraction of the price.
Coming in just north of $200 ($225), you get quite a few awesome features for the price range.
For starters, the entire thing is metal, including the knobs. No need to worry about cheap plastic knobs on this one. Also, those knobs have a little flip-out handle.
They become a crank-style handle which is a plus if you'd rather have that than turn the knobs with your fingers. Also, a nice bag along with a plate and other tools included. This is a nice touch for something at this price point. Those I've talked to who have used it continue to use it even years later after purchasing.
The negatives at this price point I'm sure, are expected. While the entire design may be metal (aluminum) - the actual gears themselves aren't as precisely machined as something at a higher price. Meaning, you'll get more precise movements out of a geared head of higher quality because of the throw of the knobs or less. The more teeth in the shorter the throw, the more precise your turns can be.
Also, there is no geared panning. Meaning, there are no gear adjustments when panning from left to right. While there are two separate panning plates (very bottom and very top), these aren't geared and are free-spinning. This can be a con for some while others don't care - personally, I could care less about panning since I'm not taking panoramic shots.
The price difference between this and the Benro is about $20 with this model being more expensive. The $20 added expense will give you full metal construction along with nearly zero durability and longevity complaints.
Coupled with great tripod legs, you could have a beast of a setup that could last you for years to come.
Manfrotto is an absolute tyrant in the film and photography accessory department.
I don't think anyone has been in the photography scene for any more than six months that hasn't heard of the brand.
Needless to say, they have huge brand awareness and, with that, trust.
But much like other brands, the ones at the top seem to forget where they came from...
The biggest positive about the junior geared head is the overall look and feel. This thing is friggin solid. It's got that cast iron-looking feel to it, which adds to the overall look being super rugged.
It has three independent axis much like all the other heads mentioned in this article. What you will not see is two independent panning sections like you saw in the head mentioned above. Not a big deal for most but if it is, well, you may want to look elsewhere. Although you do have have bubble levels on each axis that work really well.
A quick-release plate is included in the purchase, so you don't have to worry about purchasing that separately.
What I meant earlier about them forgetting where they came from... Comes down to quality control.
As a company gets larger and more well-known - if they aren't careful, they can assume that their success will continue regardless of the quality of the product. This may just be the case with Manfrotto.
You see, about 15 years ago manfrotto made top of the line camera accessories. There really wasn't much else on the market at the price point and quality. This is the main factor and reason why they're so popular today. But as years have gone on and their demand increased their quality decreased.
This is the main reason I do not recommend or use a single Manfrotto product other than this. Now mind you, I have owned many of their tripods, monopods, light stands, and everything in between. When I first entered photography, I knew I needed good equipment, followed the crowd and price point, and assumed that Manfrotto made top-tier products. This really isn't the case anymore today.
Manfrotto has a great way of presenting you with a great product when you receive it. That product may last you quite some time. But as the product starts to wear and you take note in taking the steps to absorb a return or a warranty claim, you'll find that either has expired.
The main negative about this is between the three and five-year mark. the teeth on the gears will be worn to the point where it's just too sloppy to use. Don't expect to send it in get it fixed and get it back in a timely manner because you won't.
This may lead to you buying a second one, which may lead to that second one being a failure to begin with. This is due to the fact that the quality control of individual geared heads isn't where it should be for a company of this caliber. I currently have two of them which I do not use and have not used in the last year and a half. They were great up to year 3.
With that being said, this is the heaviest geared head on this list, coming in at 2.7 pounds.
I know I was bashing on manfrotto there quite a bit. I apologize if it came over strongly as such.
With that being said it isn't the worst geared head on the market. It will pay itself off very quickly seeing as the price point is slightly north of $300. It isn't a lot to pay for something that should last you no less than three years.
If you're OK with knowing that you'll have to replace it within the next three to five years and that's not a big deal for you I say go for it. The likelihood of you receiving a dud is pretty low compared to other companies and I wouldn't make that a determining factor going forward.
The Leofoto G2 is the most affordable geared head on this list.
Leo photo is a solid brand that makes excellent tripod legs in various other camera accessories. They are pretty well known in the space and deliver excellent products for their age and price.
With that being said, for a geared head priced exactly at $200, you'd expect to have some pros and some cons, so let's go over both of those. When it's all said and done, the Leofoto G2 may be the perfect fit for you.
One of the biggest attractive factors of the G2 is the price. For the build quality in the options on the G2, it really is a great buy for those who don't need all the other bells and whistles that you get on something more expensive like the Arca Swiss D4.
Another great point is the size and weight. Coming in at less than a pound and less than 4 inches tall is definitely for those who want to keep a low profile and footprint.
What keeps it so small, is the weight of the plate shift or left to right depending on your settings, and then come back together when you wanna store it or put it away. You don't have to worry about arms sticking or protruding left or right they all stack flush on top of each other. Again great for low profile.
It also comes with an NP60 plate - so you don't have to worry about purchasing that additionally. Again all of this is just shy of $200.
Now with something so inexpensive that offers so much, there has to be a catch, right? Well, of course!
With that being said, something so small as the G2 isn't as precise as something larger and has larger gears and more teeth for more precision. I tested this geared head in early 2020 before COVID, and I enjoyed it. I've told other real estate photographers that I've had to send theirs back due to the gears being too loose. There was entirely too much play right out of the box, so they had to send it back.
Like the title of this mentioned, there really isn't another geared head that is better at this price point. So if you find yourself just getting started either in real estate architectural work or what have you, and you want to try out a geared tripod head, this would be an excellent place to start.
Damn, that was a long-winded article, right? Yes, indefinitely was, but I really hope that it helped you understand what a geared head is, what you're able to use it for, and how it can make you more money in the long run.
A geared tripod head is an excellent investment for those who can benefit from it. Not every photographer needs one at all - but for those that know they do it's highly recommended to have one to speed up your workflow ultimately making you more money.
To recap - here are the 5 geared tripod heads in order from best to worst (worst meaning least favorable, but still very acceptable).
Suppose you haven't already, be sure to check out the article, Best Tripods For Real Estate Photography, where you'll find all the information you need for deciding on your next tripod purchase. It's very similar to this article. It's just about tripods instead of tripod heads.
If you have any questions, concerns, or requests, please leave those in the comments below, and I will get back to them as soon as I can.
Until next time, stay safe and keep creating!