Photography is an art that requires the right tools to achieve great results. While a tripod is an essential accessory in every photographer’s arsenal, choosing the right head type to go with it can be quite confusing. Many photographers often make the mistake of assuming that any tripod head will suffice, not realizing that different heads serve specific purposes.

In this post, we’ll be discussing two of the most popular tripod head types – ball head and pan head. But before we dive into that, it’s worth noting that there are several other types of heads, including fluid heads, panoramic heads, video pan heads, gimbal heads, and geared heads. Each of these heads has its unique features and advantages, but for now, we’ll be focusing on the ball head and pan head.

We’ll give you a roundup of each head type, including their pros and cons, and what they’re good at doing. You’ll learn the differences between the two and the scenarios in which one is better than the other.

It’s important to note that your tripod legs also play a crucial role in determining the head that’s best for you. But, since we’re only discussing the heads today, we’ll leave that for another day.

Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a newbie in photography, this post will provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision on which head type to choose for your photography needs. So, let’s get started!

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Key Takeaways

  • A ball head is a small device with an adjustable ball that sits on a tripod and provides a platform for the camera.
  • It allows photographers to tilt the camera or move it around in 360-degrees steadily and smoothly.
  • Ball heads are straightforward to understand and use and are lightweight, easily locking the camera into position.
  • They are easy to use, making them suitable for new photographers.
  • However, one drawback is stability, especially when setting the camera in a portrait position.
  • Accuracy issues may also arise, making it demanding to make adjustments.

What does a ball head do?

Before we answer this question – what’s a ball head in photography anyway? It would be inappropriate to explain the work of something that you don’t know what it is in the first place. It is a small tool or device that’s a ball in a socket. That might not make sense.

Let’s put it this way; it is a device with an adjustable ball hence its name. It sits on your tripod and provides a platform for the camera. While the tripod offers a stable platform for the ball head – it ensures that you get precise shots. In other words, the head makes it easier for you to tilt the camera or move it around in 360-degrees steadily and smoothly.

In most cases, while shooting, you’d interact with the tripod heads more often than you’d do with the tripod. The tripod head is a small device that photographers mount on top of the tripod and to the bottom of their camera.

So, what can a ball head do best? As we said earlier, there are different tripod heads each for a specific purpose. It might be relevant or irrelevant, depending on the kind of photography you do. When it comes to flexibility and popularity, ball heads carry the day.

They’re straightforward to understand and use. Besides, some of the latest versions allow panning. Have you ever seen a sharp photo with a blurry background? They’re mostly photos of vehicles or sports. Well, that’s now panning photography. It’s a technique that allows you to capture a sharp image of a moving object.

You can achieve this by combining a slow shutter speed with the camera motion. Note that this device swivels along the vertical and horizontal axis and there’s only one tension knob to control it.

Apart from them being easy to use, they’re lightweight and easily lock the camera into position. You’ll also find ball heads with a quick-release system – which is a small plate of metal that locks into place on your ball head and holds the camera at the touch of a lever. What the plate does is to maintain and release the camera very fast in a convenient way.

Pros of a ball head

Straightforward to use: If you’re still learning how to use a camera with a tripod or you’re new to photography, the head ball will never disappoint.

They boast a simple design featuring a tension adjustment to quickly move the head around or lock it down to one place. Also, there is a screw to tighten the head to hold your camera if there’s no quick-release mechanism. Its simplicity gives the user full control of the camera during action.

Smooth Operation: The movement of this device is sleek, making its operation smooth as well. You have nothing to worry about if there’s a lot of action to capture. It’s also easy to shot a static object like a landscape or a portrait but not precisely.


Not Stable: Stability is one drawback that you’ll likely face when using a ball head, especially when setting the camera in a portrait position. Leveling the camera tends to be a load of work if you’ll spend time doing that.

Accuracy Issues: Making adjustments here is demanding. When you loosen the screw to level your camera, you’ll be moving everything hence spending considerable time to ensure that you get it right. That can be disappointing especially if you want to take a quick shot.

Related: Ball head monopods

What is a Pan and Tilt Head?

Unlike ball heads, pan tilt heads are quite complicated to use. Why is it called a pan and tilt head? When you mount a camera on it, you can rotate the camera in a horizontal plane, hence pan. Also, you can move the camera in a vertical plane, thus tilt.

A tilt head features three different control knobs or adjustments, as seen in the image above. These adjustment levers are designed to control each axis independently.

Pan tilt head is often referred to as a three-way-heads because of the ability to handle specific tasks. For example, you can fix one axis and at the same time, move the other freely. Also, you can pan horizontally or tilt up and down. You’ll realize a pan and tilt head can be a good bet for panoramas.

Pan tripod heads work pretty well for photographers who do not make a lot of adjustments. Just like its counterpart, a pan-tilt head sits on your tripod and provides a platform for the camera. It also has a screw to hold the camera. Regardless of a tilt head being demanding when using it, it delivers precise captures.


Accuracy: The design of pan heads gives you precise control due to having a handle that controls each plane independently. It allows you to adjust each of them without disturbing the others – so, you can adjust vertically, horizontally, or tilt one at a time while others remain intact.

Budget-friendly: When we say budget-friendly, we do not necessarily mean that you’ll spend way little money to buy one. What we’re saying is that if you compare the load capacity of a till head with a ball head that can handle the same – you’ll realize that a ball head will cost more.

Stable: This thing is stable, and you’ll rarely hear cases of it toppling over or some weird movements once you’ve locked it into position.


Not Straightforward: Due to three different levers, a pan and tilt head is not straightforward and will take you some time to master how to operate it. It is also slow to adjust – have in mind that three different handles need independent adjustment. Although the process is time-consuming, it still gives precise control.

Bulky: Let’s face it; this device is bulky when compared with a ball head. Yes, and the fact that the handles stick out, they become a hindrance when moving around.


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What type of tripod head is best?

Chances are you’re here because you want the answer to this question. If you’re still undecided even after reading through the information above, don’t worry. We’ll help you make the right decision so that the next time you go shopping, you can shop like a pro. What type of tripod head is the best? The answer to this question is pretty straightforward. Y

ou probably know the answer already – what makes a tripod head best is the work you indent to do with it. Let’s explain with examples. We will start with the ball heads. As we had mentioned above, a ball head is easy to use and adjust. Meaning, if you want to capture objects that are on the move, it comes in handy.

For example, sports and action photographers find a ball head very instrumental. Why? Because the device is suitable when your interest is to follow the action as you can adjust quickly.

A pan and tilt head on the other side is good for portraits and landscapes photographers. While a ball head is easy to use, it’s hard to get pin-point exactness with it. That’s where a pan head kicks in.

Although a pan/tilt head is slow to adjust, you’ll always get accurate results. You can also achieve great panning with a pan head whereby you lock all axis except one. Such happens in the case of video shooting. If you do actions – consider using a pistol grip head.

With a pistol grip head, you’ll have a smooth, fast, and single-handed operation of the camera. Note that if you decide to acquire a pan head, you should get a geared head because it offers more precise positioning. Well, you now understand that every head is useful when it comes to specific activities. Each of them has advantages and disadvantages.

Bestseller No. 1
SmallRig 71" Camera Tripod, Foldable Aluminum Tripod & Monopod, 360°Ball Head Detachable, Payload 33lb, Adjustable Height from 16" to 71" for Camera, Phone-3935
  • Wide Compatibility: This camera tripod is universally compatible with cameras and devices with 1/4"-20 and 3/8"-16 threaded holes, such as DSLR cameras, action cameras and mirrorless cameras, etc. It can also be used with cell phones and projectors. 【Note】For cameras with telephoto zoom lens, you need to purchase additional tripod mount ring or telephoto lens mount for better balance.
  • 2 in 1 Tripod &Monopod: You can easily turn the aluminum tripod into a monopod according to your needs, this tripod is a good companion for your hiking or traveling.
  • Angle Adjustable:The specially designed 36mm metal ball-head can rotate 360 degree allowing you to take photos at any angle with horizontally and vertically. And the central pole can be inverted to allow for low angle shooting and macro photography.
  • Height Adjustable: 4-section column legs with 3 quick release flip-locks allows you to adjust the working height from 16" to 71" in seconds. 16.6" folden size is easily took to anywhere for outdoor photography.
  • Load Bearing and Innovative Design: The dslr tripod offers high level of stability using great quality level of magnesium aluminum alloy. It can withstand up to 33 lbs (15 kg). Different from other tripods, this tripod has Three 1/4" threaded holes added to the bracket, which can meet the needs of external magic arms, mobile phones, monitors, etc.
Bestseller No. 2
NEEWER Low Profile Camera Tripod Ball Head, 36mm Metal Panorama Ball Head Compatible with Arca 1/4” Quick Release Plate for Tripod Monopod Slider DSLR Camera Camcorder, Load Capacity: 33lb/15kg -GM36
  • 【Low Profile Ball Head】 Featuring a lower center of gravity, this camera head is more stable and able to support a load up to 33lb (15kg). The 3/8” bottom thread with the 3/8” to 1/4” screw adapter fits most tripods, Monopod, Slider
  • 【Arca-Swiss Compatible QR Plate】 The 38mm Arca-type quick release plate ensures safe and rapid camera mounting, and the 1/4” mounting screw is compatible with a broad range of DSLR cameras, mirrorless cameras, and camcorders. Rubber pads protect your pricey device against scratches
  • 【360° Rotation & 90° Tilt Motion】 Swivel the 36mm ball head at 360° or tilt it at 90° in the U-shaped notch for flexible camera positioning. The panning base with a 360° scale enables precise and fluid panorama photography. And a bubble level helps you easily keep the horizon straight
  • 【CNC-Machined Aluminum Alloy】 Engineered with premium CNC-machined aluminum alloy, the tripod head guarantees durability and high performance under different circumstances, indoor or outdoor. Weighing only 10.9oz (310g), it offers convenient portability for photographers on the go
  • 【Easy Operation with Lock Knobs】 Three lock knob ensures an effortless setup and reliable security. Loosen the knobs to freely adjust ball head angles, smoothly rotate the camera for panoramic shots, and release the quick release plate. Tighten them to secure everything firmly in place

SaleBestseller No. 1
NEEWER Video Tripod Head Upgraded Vertical/Horizontal Switch, Compact Metal Pan Tilt Fluid Head with Arca Type QR Plate, Telescopic Handle, Scaled Base (⌀43mm) for Camcorder/DSLR, Max Load 3kg, GM26
  • 【Smooth & Flexible Camera Pan/Tilt】With fixed damping level, the fluid tripod head provides proper tension for fluent camera pitch and pan movement. Supports 360° panoramic pan and -55° to 90° tilt to easily realize multiple angle photography and facilitate smooth video filming. A bubble level helps keep horizon straight
  • 【Vertical/Horizontal Position Switch】The camera fluid head is equipped with a vertical lock. Rotate the lock to release, then lift up the QR plate from the side to position your camera vertically. Easily realize horizontal and vertical shooting switches without removing the camera
  • 【Easy Operation with Detachable Handle】The detachable telescopic handle is included for easy and smooth operation. Loosen the handle knob to easily adjust the handle to a desired angle or remove and reinstall on the side. The 2 sections telescopic design allows you to extend the handle with ease
  • 【Standard 1/4” Arca Style QR Plate】The quick release plate is compatible with Arca Swiss system and comes with standard 1/4” screw, widely applicable for camcorders, video cameras, DSLR cameras, and spotting scopes. Equipped with a larger area of nonslip rubber pad and two fall prevention screws on either side to ensure your equipment is mounted securely. The plate can also slide back and forth to balance larger/heavier/longer devices
  • 【Compact yet Study Build】The all metal tripod head is robustly built with 6.6 lbs/3kg maximum load capacity. With compact design, measuring 7.16" x 3.6" x 3.07" / 182 x 92 x 78mm without handle, the camera head weighs only 13.4oz / 380g, friendly for outdoor travel photography
Bestseller No. 2
SmallRig Selection Tripod Fluid Head Pan Tilt Head with Quick Release Plate for Arca Swiss for Compact Video Cameras and DSLR Cameras -3259
  • 【Compact and Portable】SmallRig Selection CH10 is a compact fluid video head that weighs only 279g. It features a 70mm height and a 36mm base diameter, making it incredibly portable.
  • 【Pan and Tilt Adjustment】This fluid head features fixed damping for a smooth operation experience. With the handle, this tripod head can tilt +90°/-55° and swivel 360° for multi-angle shooting.
  • 【Wide Compatibility】SmallRig Selection Fluid Head CH10 is fully compatible with SLRS, mirrorless cameras, pocket cinema cameras, etc. The safety payload of this tripod head is 3 kg. The bottom 3/8"-16 & 1/4"-20 with screw adapter,compatible with most tripods and monopods.
  • 【Quick Release Plate】This fluid head comes with a quick release plate for Arca-Swiss, allowing you to switch between handheld and tripod quickly.
  • 【Allen Wrench】There is an Allen wrench held on by a magnet tucked away but easily accessible, it can be used for removing the handle, the lenth of the handle detachable is about 20cm.


As we come to the end of this discussion, it’s clear that choosing between a ball head and a pan head depends on the type of photography you do. Each photographer may have a different opinion on which is best, but both heads have their unique advantages.

One thing we can all agree on is the importance of the quick release mechanism. It saves time and ensures you never miss a shot due to unnecessary setup time.

Remember, investing in high-quality gear is essential to achieving professional-level results in photography. As with any gear purchase, it’s crucial to do your homework and understand what you’re buying before making a decision.

Whether you’re a seasoned professional or just starting, your equipment can make or break your photography experience. So, choose wisely and invest in the best gear you can afford. And don’t forget to have fun and experiment with your new equipment. Who knows what kind of amazing shots you’ll capture!