As part of my current phase of equipment upgrades, I bought a new ball head for my tripod. After a lengthy search, I came to choose the Arca-Swiss Monoball P0.
The vast majority of ball-and-socket style tripod heads (“ballheads”) have the socket for the ball in the bottom of the head; the stem rises up from the ball and terminates in the release clamp for the camera. Panning rotation is located at the base of the head where it meets the tripod. The Arca-Swiss Monoball P0 completely inverts this design: the stem attaches to the tripod, the ball is on the top of the stem, the socket rests on top of the ball, and the panning system is on the top of the socket.
Most ballheads have a release knob, a tension knob, and a knob for panning. The Monoball P0 does away with the release and tension knobs, replacing them with a single ridged ring near the top of the ballhead. This is because internally, the ring controls three “planetary gears” which apply pressure directly to the ball. The ball is also aspherical: as the head pivots vertically, it meets greater resistance which prevents the head from simply flopping over (which, I can attest, can hurt like hell if your finger is in the wrong spot). The panning rotator on the P0 simply rotates the quick-release clamp. It has little marks for degrees but, unlike the larger Monoball P1, it doesn’t actually
The P0 can come with a quick-release clamp or without. Since, for reasons that boggle the mind, Arca-Swiss decided to come up with a new quick-release system for clamps and plates that is narrower than their previous system (and a de facto industry standard) and thus incompatible with it, I bought the version without the clamp. It is shown here with the Sunwayfoto DDY-64iL quick release clamp that I got with the ballhead from B&H Photo.
The Monoball P0 is also fairly small and lightweight. Without the clamp, it is only 74mm (~ 3 inches) tall and 281 grams (~ 10 oz). Yet it is rated for holding up to 20 kg (~ 44 lbs). Not that I have anything nearly that heavy.
So, how well does it all work? So far, very nicely. Although a little jerky at first, the pivoting of the head became very smooth, and the panning was smooth from the start. It fared quite well in the cold during this morning’s shoot (it was -10C while I was out shooting); my previous ballhead (the Benro B0) would have tension issues in similar temperatures. Also, there has been no creeping downward of the camera after tightening (again, unlike the Benro B0): once locked into place, it stays locked. The adjustment ring takes a bit of getting used to, as it is a very different motion from the release knob on the typical ballhead. However, while going through various pivots and pans you don’t have to search for the ring like you would for the release and tension knobs on most ballheads. Finally, having the panning system in the top of the tripod head rather than the bottom means that you don’t have to fiddle endlessly with the tripod legs in order to get a level panorama – or cave in and buy a levelling base (ka-ching! – decent photo gear is all expensive).
In short, the Arca-Swiss Monoball P0 is a bit different, but in a good way. If you’re looking for a lightweight, compact, and sturdy tripod head, this is definitely one to consider. The price is also pretty good – without the clamp, it sells for a mere $280 USD at B&H Photo, a veritable steal.