As photographers we all have items of kit that are indispensable.
Oddly, for all their headline stealing capabilities, it’s often not cameras but something that will stay with you for many years, long after your latest piece of technological hardware has been put on Ebay. For me it would have to be my Gitzo tripods and the Manfrotto 410 geared head, which is nigh on perfect for landscape photography, especially seascapes.
There are very few things in life that need little improvement but I think this is one of them. A good quality, stable tripod is essential for landscape work but is worthless without an equally good head. I have tried several over the years but always come back to this one for one major reason, it is so quick and simple to use. I admit that speed of use is not high on the list of priorities for a landscape photographer but ease of use certainly is.
Like most landscape photographers I go to great lengths to ensure that all my images are captured on a level platform and consequently all my horizons are straight. I have seen many potentially stunning images ruined by “wonky horizons”. The beauty of this head is that you can make minute adjustments to all three axis, pan, tilt and side tilt, without unlocking or releasing any position already set. This is achieved by having a clutch system to make big movements possible and then once the position is locked the adjustment knob allows small movements to be achieved on any of the axis, a full turn representing just over 7 degrees. This means that should you be composing an image with an obvious horizon, it can be levelled with ease, especially when using a hot shoe mounted spirit level. With cameras now incorporating electronic levels this has become even simpler.
Another less obvious benefit is that I find capture of panoramic images fairly simple with the 410 because I can pan in small stages and adjust the levels easily with each movement. I also find it aids me with composing images whilst using a fixed focal length prime lens. Even though there is no zoom facility available, when I need to move the tripod to fine tune my viewpoint I can easily adjust the head without having to unlock and re-lock the whole mechanism. A simple turn of the adjusting knobs not only corrects the levels but also helps me judge the ratio of land and sky I want in the image. I am also a great advocate of checking around the edges of the viewfinder to decide which elements of the image I wish to include or exclude and find the head makes this simpler. A few minor twists of the knobs and I can make the adjustments with ease.
Weight is always an issue and at 1.2 KG this is not the lightest head on the market but is still very portable when mounted on a 055 series Manfrotto tripod, especially a carbon fibre version.
Build quality is superb, as the smooth rotation of the adjustment knobs will testify, and the attachment of the camera via the 410PL quick release plate, again, makes for ease of use. This also incorporates a secondary safety system in the release mechanism to ensure the camera doesn’t become detached accidentally.
All in all a classic that should be part of every landscape photographer’s kit, once you start using it you’ll find it very difficult to use any other head.