Markins Q3 Ball Head
Thailand, my adopted home, is a great vacation destination for many activities, particularly photography. It's easy to get around and hotels are cheap. Using Agoda to book a hotel on-line will give you a great selection of hotels and the best deals. I always use Agoda to book my own hotels.
Choosing A Ball Head
The same comments I made about false economies when writing about my Gitzo GT2541 Tripod apply to ball head selection.
Choosing cameras and lenses is easy. Most of choose between Nikon and Canon, and within each range there is a fairly limited selection that will meet our own personal requirements. When it comes to tripods and ball heads, however, we are not tied into a manufacturer and there is a bewildering choice on the market.
In recent years, lots of new companies (mainly based in Asia) have entered the market. What they seem to do is copy well-known brands but at a lower price. They are able to do this because their labour costs are lower, but maybe they also cut some corners in design and manufacturing?
A cheap brand may give you years of good service. On the other hand, you might just end up buying what you should have bought in the first place, in which case your initial purchase was a waste of money.
I've never been much of a gambler, and also I've had my fingers burnt several times trying to buy cheap. Another factor is my location in southern Thailand. Lucky Americans have easy access to all sorts of good brands (and they also pay the lowest prices).
Here in Thailand it is very difficult to get certain brands. Of the brands that I've seen very favourable reviews for, Markins is one brand that is available. That was the final reason for my choice.
I didn't have the opportunity to test ball heads in the field but I looked at a lot in shops. Many of the cheaper models (even from respectable manufacturers) didn't feel good. Actions were jerky and sticky, instead of being smooth.
When you handle the Q3, you know you have a precision instrument in your hands. The feel and the finish inspire confidence.
In The Field
In conjunction with the Gitzo GT2541 Tripod, the Markins Q3 is a delight to use. For its size, it can support a phenomenal load. My heaviest lens is a Canon 300mm f/4.0L IS and the Q3 handles this with ease.
I don't bother with the small friction adjustment, but just use the large locking knob to adjust tension and lock the ball head in position. It works very well. It is smooth and gradual. While adjusting the tension, you don't suddenly find that the whole thing has come loose (which could be a disaster).
There's actually very little to write because it is so easy and straightforward to use. You can pay less, but exactly the same with tripods, you pays your money and you takes your choice. Just like my Gitzo tripod, I'm pretty sure that the Markins Q3 ball head will give many years of reliable service.
Locking And Creep
Unless you are using a very light lens, after you set the position and lock the ballhead there will be a slight degree of downward creep.
Depending on the lens you are using this may not be very noticeable. Macro photography is the biggest test for equipment, especially ball heads.
When doing macro work I use 'Live View' to focus manually, and the creep is always noticeable - especially at 10x magnification. The good news is that it is consistent. It is easy to gauge the amount of creep, and then position the camera the same amount above the subject. After the creep takes place the camera should be in the right position.
Using the main ball head lock is fine. However, if you are doing macro work and have the tripod centre column horizontal in such a way that there is rotational force on the ball head, the small screw to lock the panning action isn't strong enough to lock the ballhead.
In such a situation, try to position the the ball head cut-out in such a way to get the ballhead vertical and use the main lock to lock position.
Apparently, Markins doesn't make a general use plate that can be used on a variety of equipment. Depending on your equipment, a specially designed plate is available for each different lens and camera body. The plate I have for my camera body has a flange to stop it twisting. It works fine, but Markins plates are quite expensive.
The plate for my Canon 300mm f/4.0L IS wasn't available in the shop where I bought the ball head. I ended up buying a plate made by KangRinPoche, which does seem to be a general plate. Compatibility is based on the Arca-Swiss mount, and both manufacturers adhere to the Arca-Swiss specification so there are no problems.