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What is a geared head and why is it useful?

I recently used a so called ‘geared head’ more and more and noticed that a lot of people actually don’t know these kinds of tripod heads. That’s why I decided to write a small article about it to show the advantages (and disadvantages) of a geared tripod head. So what’s a geared head exactly? A geared tripod head is a head that can carefully and precisely be adjusted through (you guessed it) gears. By using 3 knobs you can control the pan, tilt and yaw.

Using the Benro GD3WH geared head for a timelapse

There are a number of brands that have geared heads but the principe is the same for all of them. They mostly differ in the way you control them and the size and weight. I use the Benro GD3WH. It’s one of the lightest geared heads but it does the job well, for my gear which is based on Mirrorless so the weight is not that heavy. Sunwayfoto also has a nice geared head for a bit of heavier use that I’ll try out another time.

So how exactly does this work and how is it different (or better?) than a ballhead? A geared head can basically be used for any kind of setup but in my case, I love to use it if I am doing precise shots where I have to make minor adjustments. Have you ever used a big zoom lens on a tripod and every time you lock your ballhead, it changes every so slightly? Usually it falls down just a few millimeter which makes a big difference when you’re using a long lens (think of 300mm+). It can be very annoying and basically every time you have to adjust the head you run into the same problem. Basically it takes quite some time to get a long lens into a very precise position using a ballhead. And this is exactly why I use a geared head.

Use of geared head when photographing a moonrise.

I use the geared head if I am shooting things where I need very precise positioning of a long lens. Think of a moonrise or moonset where I am using a 400-600mm lens to photograph an extreme close up. The moon moves quite fast realtime so I constantly have to slightly adjust the setup. For exactly this purpose a geared head is really a must for me. Since I have been using it for these kinds of shots, I can’t live without!

Precise alignment of the moon with the St Nicholas Church in Amsterdam.

Another example is the recent solar eclipse that I shot in Chile. In less than 2 minutes of time I managed to make a lot of different compositions by running around, placing the tripod and quickly being able to adjust the tripod with the knobs/gears on the head.

Solar Eclipse 2019 in Chile.

Being able to quickly adjust the position of your telezoom when doing these kinds of shots is crucial for getting the shot. The sun and the moon move fast when you’re shooting over 600mm so you need to be able to quickly adjust your shot and the geared head is just for this purpose.

So is a geared-head always good to use?

In my opinion: no. I really love the geared head for doing telephoto shots, but normally I do prefer a ballhead. A geared head is much more precise and great for long lenses, but it’s not as fast as a ballhead. Turning the knobs and gears is slow, that’s why it’s so precise. You have the ability to pull out the nobs and adjust your setup much faster, but a ballhead still beats it in speed. This with the fact that with a lot of ballheads you can set up the tension based on your setup (in my case I mostly use wide angle lenses) so that you can move your setup on the ballhead without even releasing a knob, and it will stay in the correct position. Because if these features I still prefer the ballhead for most of my shooting. But the geared-head is just an extra tool, and currently a must-have if I am shooting moonsets, moonrises, eclipses or basically anything in nature that requires precise positioning.

If you have any questions about ballheads or geared-heads, feel free to reply right here!

Geared head used by me: Benro GD3WH



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