Product Review: Acratech GP Ballhead, Lever Clamp and Swift Release

Photo of Acratech GP Ballhead and Lever Clamp right out of the box and setup on tripod by Marla Meier.

Acratech GP Ballhead and Lever Clamp

Acratech

is known for quality, innovative and precision products and they have proven that with their line of photography ballheads and accessories. Scott Dordick, founder and CEO of this family run business, photographer and machinists, could never find a ballhead to meet his needs, so he designed and manufactured the original Ultimate Ballhead prototype. And that was just the start to the present product line that is made in this Pomona, California, U.S. facility.

So what important features does a photographer want in a ballhead and quick release plate? Let’s find out and see if the Acratech GP Ballhead, Lever Clamp and Swift Release meet all of the needed requirements.

1.) High Quality and Lightweight.

You’re going to notice the difference from many other ballheads right out to the box. First, you’ll notice the sleek, atypical design with its open ball structure. Then you’ll feel the weight, or should I say, “Lack of…”, when you lift it out of the box – it is just under 1 lb. (.45 kg). That’s important when one is lugging around a lot of camera gear for hours.

It not only looks and feels well made, but on closer inspection, you’ll see the quality and learn that its mechanics are computer numerically controlled and made from aircraft quality aluminum and corrosion resistant steel hardware with laser engraved markings. This ballhead is solid and built to last. Excellent!

Physical specifications – the compact size is an extra bonus:

Height – 4 3/16” (106 mm)
Base diameter – 2 1/16” (53mm) 
Ball diameter – 1 1/2” (38mm)

Fits all standard 3/8”x16 tripod studs (comes with reducer for 1/4”x20 studs)

2.) Load Capacity

Acratech made sure that this ballhead would be able to carry the weight of a camera and lens weighing 25 lbs. But it’s not just about holding up that weight – it’s being certain that it can support it at all angles. And it does just that – it’s a small “work horse”!

Photo of Acratech GP Ballhead - view of adjustment knobs and open concept ball by Marla Meier.

View of adjustment knobs and open concept ball.

3.)Independent Adjustment Knobs with Friction Control

There are 3 separate control knobs: one for the ball position, one for panning and one for tension to adjust the desired amount of friction on the ball when the main control knob for the ball is loose – just enough tension set so the camera doesn’t just drop to the side. All knobs are set so they cannot be screwed off.

The first thing you’ll see is that all of the knobs are conveniently located on the same side of the head and each are different sizes, so making quick changes is a snap – easy no-eyes grab, twist and turn without worrying about releasing the ballhead instead of the panning base.

Second, you’ll enjoy the comfortable feel and no-slip grip of their rubber coating. This is also a great feature if your hands are damp or the outside temperatures are very cold.

4.) Secure

I happen to enjoy macro photography, so if the camera starts to slide the least little bit, the subject is either going to be out of the desired frame or blurry. I can tell you, that once the ball and panning positions have been set and the knobs tightened down the camera does not move at all, making the camera very secure and stable.

5.) Smooth Motion

This ballhead’s movement and panning rotation are as smooth as silk. Since “bearing surfaces are machined from a special copolymer similar to Teflon, a durable engineering thermoplastic”, one can understand why it is moisture-resistant, needs no lubrication and has a low amount of friction.

It’s a joy with which to work and you know you are working with a precision piece of equipment.

6.) Multi-positioning

It has the standard groove to get the camera into a vertical position, but because of the construction of ballhead, the entire range of motion is greater than standard ballheads.

7.) Ease of Cleaning

Since most ballheads have a contained ball that can collect moisture and debris over time and impede smooth motion, the Acratech open ball concept makes the GP ballhead very easy to keep clean. There will be no concerns of it loosing that silky smooth motion.

Close-up image of the Acratech Quick Release Locking Lever Clamp by Marla Meier.

Quick Release Locking Lever Clamp

8.) Quick Release

Moving the camera on and off the tripod quickly is a must have feature. And being able to move it from the tripod to a sling strap is essential for me. Acratech handles it all with ease, with their Quick Release Plate, Quick Release Locking Lever Clamp and Swift Release Clamp.

First, attach the quick release plate to the camera’s tripod socket. The disadvantage is that this plate will need to be purchased separately, but offsetting that is the advantage of the plate being camera specific – they are made to fit your camera brand. What difference does that make? It means there are no worries about your camera rotating on the plate. And it holds true – after repeated use there has been no camera movement.

The next step… Just easily slip the plate into the ballhead’s Quick Release Locking Lever Clamp, complete with an adjustment knob for other Arca-Swiss compatible quick release plates and a spring loaded dent pin to prevent the plate from accidentally sliding out of the clamp. Now it’s just a quick swing of the action lever and the camera is locked in place. One is always a bit nervous that the camera is going to accidentally release and fall off, but it would take a ‘strange action’ to both push in on the lever and swing it to the side without purpose. Your gear is indeed safe and secure. To release the camera, just push in the lock on the lever and swing it to the side. This clamp is fast and effortless.

Image of the Acratech Swift Release on a sling style camera strap by Marla Meier.

Swift Release for a sling style camera strap.

To attach the camera to the Swift Release Clamp on your sling strap, just do the same process. It’s a super-fast and your camera is secure once again.

9.) Built in Level

The Quick Release Plate features a large built-in bulls-eye bubble level.

10.) Long Lasting Durability

Anytime a photographer spends their hard earned money on a piece of photography equipment, they want to know that it will last – stand up to the hard knocks and drops that can occur. Acratech took action and tested their product repeatedly. I would say, “Yes, it’s going to stand the test of time!” Check it out…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AORibFFNMBk&feature=youtu.be

BUT WAIT, there’s more to the GP Ballhead than just all those important requirements.

Yes, this manufacturer will supply you will a high quality, precision ballhead, but you’re going to get some added features that other ballheads don’t have – a ballhead that multi-tasks.

If you enjoy creating stitched panoramas or need the features of a Gimbal head, then this ballhead can perform those tasks. I may not personally use these added benefits at the moment, but it is always important to look to the future. Just as one should purchase a ballhead and tripod that can carry the weight of a camera and lens that may be on your wish list, it’s always good to take advantage of a product that can offer one the ability to look ahead as one’s photographic needs change.

Stitched Panoramas with an Upside-down Ballhead:

In order to accurately create a stitched panorama you will need a level panning base and nodal rail (was not included for the review, but you can purchase the Acratech nodal rail and then go to their website to view a video tutorial on how to use it).

The setup is easy though. Just unscrew the clamp with a hex key or coin (advantageous, since one may be likely to either forget or loose that hex key), unscrew the ballhead from the tripod, flip it over and screw the upside down ballhead back on the tripod (now the pan scale that is etched both right side up and upside down makes total sense), reattach the clamp, and then add the nodal rail to the clamp. Use the bulls-eye level to level your camera, release the panning base and it will now allow you to rotate the horizon for a full 360 degrees, even if the tripod is on uneven ground.

Gimbal Head

When the photographer is working with lenses that are too heavy to handhold and wants more freedom of movement, as in wildlife or sports photography, a Gimbal head is the way to go, or….. The Acratech GP Ballhead can do the job for you.

Instructions and Help:

Of course you can contact them with any questions, but along with the instructions that come with the products, their website has numerous instructional video tutorials, a FAQS page and instruction manuals that will probably answer all of your questions.


Camera on the Acratech GP Ball head in the vertical position by Marla Meier.

Vertical Position


Conclusions:

I am completely impressed with the first-class quality of construction, full features, lightweight, stability, ease of use, and functionality of the Acratech GP ballhead and clamps.

With the added benefits of panoramic and Gimbal head capabilities, the GP ballhead is truly an innovative and well-designed precision product that I would recommend to all photographers.

Visit the Acratech website and learn more about the GP Ballhead and their array of other ballheads and accessories.

By Marla Meier
Text and photos: © 2014 Marla Meier. All rights reserved.

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