Gear: Heads

Choosing a head that fits with your workflow is a balance between size, precision, speed of use and plate style.

Manfrotto 405 Gear Head

We prefer gear heads rather than ball heads though we do have both types, gear heads provides fine control of the camera position sacrificing speed. There is little need for rapid changes in our style of photography it tends to be a more precise workflow levelling the camera and adjusting out tilt shift lenses to perfect the composition.

Manfrotto 405 vs 410

We have both, our main tripod has the 405 its a large heavy tall tripod with a geared column this is used in almost every shoot. We also have the lighter tripods that are smaller and easier to use in confined spaces we tend to use the smaller 410 head.

There are advantages in using the much larger 405, it’s a substantial build quality designed for larger camera systems. The 410 is smaller but we’ve experienced play in the heads after quite light use and after you replace 3-4 heads you soon realise the 405 is a better investment. However the 410 plays a vital role when we need a more compact and lighter system.

Tip: rather than leaving the head gears in the same position, we change these every shoot by releasing the lock and repositioning we are avoiding causing wear patterns on the gears in the same position speeding the wear.


Stability is the most important aspect of architectural photography, the last thing we want is the camera moving between shots or during long exposures. The 4PL plates are standard on our 405 and 410 heads these large plates are designed for larger format cameras but are perfect for or 5D and 5Ds bodies.

The much larger 4PL plates which we tend to use rather than the smaller 2PL or swiss-arca plates its really a matter of preference.


When we need both landscape and portrait formats of a scene we don’t always want to alter the lens axis by tilting the head we occasionally need to maintaining the same axis. A bracket like the Manfrotto 455 gives us the capability to quickly alter the format without disturbing the tripod or head positions.

When shooting architecture and when working in the field and you are switching between horizontal and vertical shooting on a regular basis it makes sense to have a method of working that reduces the effort, time and complexity of setting up for the next shot. I have the Manfrotto 410 gear head which has the PL10 a RC4 plate which allows for a fast switch between the two the main issue is the shift in the centre of gravity when shooting vertically. the camera is overhanging which isn’t an issue with a sturdy support but it does make the set up prone to vibration and wind movement.

Manfrotto gear head 410

Rotating the gear head alters the centre of gravity

Manfrotto L bracket

Axis alignment and maintaining the centre of gravity

I have looked at a few L Brackets before deciding on the Manfrotto, I was concerned about weight, I walk a lot when on a shoot I need to carry everything between viewpoints so I want sturdy but not so heavy I need to dissemble the rig every time. Another issue is I use a grip this adds height and there needs to be a degree of adjustment to align the axis correctly.

Combined with the Manfrotto gear head you have the ability to adjust the levels accurately something a ball head can’t do well.

It adds bulk to the setup which adds potential movement but the 4PL plates ensure the load is evenly placed and through the tripod centre of gravity even with a heavy lens like the 70-200. Using the head to orientate the camera especially with a large lens places the centre of gravities away from the tripod centre risking instability or even falling over which isn’t a good risk. ps yes we leaned this many years ago it great expense.