The Uniqball- 3 years on

May 31, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

It's nearly 3 years since I first purchased a Uniqball tripod head. Three years ago I wrote a blog about my search for a single head solution. In the blog I listed all of my requirements, and what I wanted from a single head for both wildlife and landscapes.  At the time the UniqBall looked like it was the head I was looking for. I thought it's about time I wrote a follow up blog about how I've found it and my thoughts 3 years on. 

How the Uniqball works

One aspect that I often have to explain to others is how it works as it doesn't work like other heads on the market. The uniqball is kind of like a ball head, gimbal head and a levelling base all rolled into one. Its actually two ball heads in one, an outer and inner ball. Each ball provides a separate function as described below.

Outer Ball- Levelling

The levelling function of the outer ball is very important to enable the uniqball pan and tilt function to provide level images. It's easy to undo the outer ball lever, level by centring the spirit bubble level and lock up the lever again. Once the outer ball is level the inner ball will give perfectly level panning and tilting, no more unloved images!

At first it felt like a disadvantage to have to level the outer ball each time I moved the tripod, but I soon found it easier and quicker to level with practice. The real advantage of the levelling outer ball is knowing you are perfectly level and not needing to adjust the individual tripod legs or using the tripod collar to give a third plane of movement (rotation of the lens). 

Inner Ball- Pan and Tilt

The inner ball is tightened and released using the red twist knob. The red twist knob is easy to lock up all movement or loosen to allow pan/tilt movement, it's also possible to set some friction if needed. The red knob is well placed and easy to reach with you left hand whilst holding the camera with your right hand. The UniqBall provides excellent support of the camera/lens weight.

The only downside I've found is a slight upwards movement of the framing when locking up. It is only slight but does change the framing slightly. In time I have managed to adjust my framing to take into account the slight upwards movement when locking up. Whilst it shouldn't be there especially at this price bracket its something I've easily overcome and the only downside I've really encountered. 

Connecting a camera and lens

The uniqball uses the arca swiss plates which are suitable for both camera and lens tripod foot mounting. The longer arca swiss plates are great for balancing longer heavier telephoto lenses. The first thing thats noticeably is the need for the clamp direction to be different for camera or lens foot mounting. This isn't any different to other heads as its dictated by the direction of the arca swiss plates attach to the camera and lens foot, but the different the plate direction makes to the function of the uniqball compared to a normal ball head is huge.

The key point to remember is the red knob has to face the same direction as the lens. This means the clamp direction has to be different by 90 degrees for lens foot and camera base plate mounting. The reason for needing to change the clamp direction is because of the way the uniqball inner ball allows a level pan and tilt.

Connecting a lens that uses a tripod collar

The arca swiss plate has to be in the same the direction the red knob is facing to allow the uniqball to pan and tilt properly. 

Connecting a camera base plate mount.

The arca swiss plate has to be 90 degrees to the direction the red knob is facing to allow the uniqball to pan and tilt properly. 

 

The problem the different clamp direction poses is changing the clamp direction. There are 4 ways to do this, use the:

  • X-Adapter Clamp 
  • Bidirectional Clamp 
  • X-Cross Clamp
  • PanoClamp

Each of these clamps does the same function but in a slightly different way.

The X-adapter is an additional clamp that is put between the uniqball and camera to enable the camera to be mounted with the lens inline with the red knob. Whilst this is an easy solution its easy to forget or lose this clamp, and it's another clamp that needs to be tightly secured otherwise the camera make fall off the head. 

The Bidirectional clamp is turned by unscrewing the centre screw using an allen key and repositioning the bidirectional clamp. This does mean no additional clamp is needed but does need an allen key to do this and isn't a quick method of changing the clamp direction.

The X-Cross clamp is a clamp that can accept the arca swiss plates at 90 degrees and is tightened by the twist knob on the corner. This is a neat solution and is a quick way to change between camera and lens foot mounting.

The PanoClamp can be turned a full 360 degrees and allows quick changing between camera and lens foot mounting. The PanoClamp is an optional extra, and is expensive for what it is. The pano function allows the camera to be pan horizontally without changing the framing height that would likely occur if panning was done using the inner ball.

I feel the best solution is the PanoClamp or the X-Cross clamp as they need no additional tools and are the quickest trouble free methods to alter the clamp direction. Its worth noting the X-cross clamp is only available on the larger 45, whereas the PanoClamp fits both the smaller 35 and larger 45. There is a new version of the smaller 35 that has a smaller PanoClamp.

Portrait Orientation- The need for a L Bracket

Unlike other ball heads/pan and tilt heads where the camera can be turned sideways to enable a portrait orientation the uniqball can't do this (note: the uniqball can turn into portrait like a ball head but you lose the levelling function which is one of the main benefits of the uniqball). This means a L Bracket has to be used for portrait orientation photos.

This is an added expense but does make it easier to go between landscape and portrait orientations. Whilst this could be argued its an added expense, many users who are considering the uniqball are likely to already to use L brackets for landscape photography. If you are looking for a L bracket I can recommend Sunwayfoto L brackets. They do a range of dedicated L Brackets for various cameras, the dedicated L brackets ensure access to all ports and the battery without the need to remove it. The build quality of the L Brackets are excellent and a little cheaper than other makes available. 

Using the L bracket with a cable release attached to the side port on the Nikon D750 is possible in portrait orientation, the only difference the camera has to sit slightly to one side due to the side accessed port. If you have a camera like a D800 or similar the front port cable release won't have this problem.

 

Which size- UBH-35 or UBH-45?

The biggest decision is which size to get, the smaller 35 or the larger 45. The least likely consideration will be weight. The weight difference between the smaller 35 and larger 45 is only 200g, the tripod would add much more weight. Lens size is a big consideration although it can make the decision too. If you have or plan to have lenses around the size of the 300mm f2.8 or larger you really need to go with the larger 45. If you have lenses smaller than a 300mm f2.8 the smaller 35 would be fine. Another big considerations will be price. The smaller UBH-35 is currently £269 whilst the UBH-45 is currently £395. This price difference is a big consideration if you don't have currently have long lenses that really need the larger 45. If you plan to get long lenses the larger 45 would be worth considering to future proof yourself. 

 

How have I got on?

Three years is probably enough time to really get out and use the Uniqball in a variety of photography situations, find out if it fits my needs and if it's something I'm going to keep using. My previous blog showed my initial thoughts and that it potentially met the requirements I had listed as a single head solution for wildlife and landscapes.

Three years on my views of the UniqBall pro's and con's are:

UniqBall Pro's

  • Lightweight (half the weight of a gimbal head)
  • Small
  • Easy to level
  • Straight images once levelled properly
  • Stable base especially with a good stable tripod
  • Tripod legs can be at any angle/don't have to worry if they give a level base
  • Uses Acra Swiss plates
  • Only one mutli purpose tripod head to carry for both wildlife and landscapes
  • Can be used with all of my lenses from 24mm to 400mm 
  • No need to leave the tripod foot loose to allow to lens to rotate to straighten the image

UniqBall Con's

  • Does not stay put like a gimbal head at all angles but does not move when it is straight and level
  • Framing creep when locking up the inner ball.
  • Need a L Bracket for the camera for portrait orientation images of landscapes.
  • Additional cost to add the PanoClamp for panorama function

Looking at the list of con's I can say none of these bother too much. The framing creep when locking up is maybe is the biggest disappointment as it shouldn't really happen in this price bracket, but it's not enough to put me off as I feel the pro's outweigh this one main con. The additional cost of a L Bracket is a pain but its probably something I would have added in the future for landscape use. 

My two main uses are wildlife and landscapes, sometimes on trips away I often do both wildlife and landscapes, and having only one tripod and head really helps reduce the amount of equipment I have to take with me. Previously I used to carry two head, a gimbal head weighing 1.5kg and a ball head weighing 0.6kg. The uniqball reduces this to only 0.7kg, a weight saving of 1.4kg! 

So how have I found the uniqball for my wildlife and landscape use? 

Landscape use

The biggest advantage of the uniqball is the levelling function, for landscapes the levelling function comes into it's own. Once the uniqball has been levelled changing framing is easy, allowing you to worry about framing rather than worry if the horizon is straight. Whilst its true you can crop and straighten an image in post processing I prefer to get the framing right in camera if its possible. Having a small, light head helps to reduce the weight I'm carrying, some landscape trips I can be walking several miles each day so weight can be an issue. Any weight saving is beneficial in this respect. Since having the uniqball it's also lead me to upgrade my tripod to reduce the amount of weight whilst trying to increase the stability of the camera support. The tripod and head now weigh a combined 2.6kg, which is probably as lightweight I can get whilst still maintaining stability, closed length and maximum working height. 

Wildlife use

What I often hear from others is the Uniqball can't replace a Gimbal Head. Whilst its true the Uniqball can't balance at any angle like a gimbal head does it can balance the camera/lens when left horizontal if the camera/lens combination centre of gravity is correctly balanced. The ease of panning and tilting to follow action is similar to using a gimbal head but without the weight to carry. Whilst I previously used a gimbal head and found them to be very good, since moving to the Uniqball I've not found I have not used a gimbal head as the Uniqball easily covered my long lens needs. The uniqball has met all of my wildlife needs over the last three years, I don't have any reservations putting my long heavy lens on it as its always gives a nice stable support whilst panning and following wildlife. 

Looking to the future

Over the last three years the uniqball has met all of my landscape and wildlife needs and it means I always have the right head with me for all of lenses from 24mm to 400mm. Having only one head and tripod has worked well for me, so well that I've sold the gimbal head I previously used for wildlife (the ball head was sold as soon as I got the Uniqball three years ago as I knew it would be needed again). I can now truly say I have only one head for both wildlife and landscape. The UniqBall is a great single solution where you would normally have to carry two different heads, if you only have a need for a landscape head or wildlife long lens head. There are other head possibilities to consider. If I didn't want a single head for two different types of photography I would probably be looking at other heads, like a geared head for landscapes and a gimbal head for wildlife.  The problem there is a gimbal head isn't very useful for landscapes and a geared head isn't very useful for wildlife. The UniqBall bridges the gap between the two and allows a smaller, lighter possible solution. Like everything there is sometimes a compromise, the size of the compromise depends on the individual and their needs. Maybe my needs for a single solution head for both wildlife and landscape is bit of a niche that perhaps others may not need, for me its worked well over the last three years. So far I haven't regretted buying the UniqBall, or selling the gimbal head for that matter, my only regret being I hadn't first purchased the larger UBH-45 as I later changed to a larger heavier telephoto lens. I can see the uniqball meeting my one head needs for many years to come. 


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