Tripod heads come in many sizes and formats. There are heads that enable you to position your camera very accurately, in small degrees and in each of the three dimensions individually, while others allow you to freely move the camera in any direction or angle you want by simply releasing a lever or screw. The latter category includes ball heads. Usually and because they’re made to freely move your camera in all directions, ball heads are not suitable for anything but keeping your camera still when shooting with long exposure times or with heavy lenses mounted. In theory, ball heads would be great for videographers — free movement in all directions is what we think about when shooting a movie. However, ball heads don’t restrict movement at all, meaning you can’t easily keep them level with the horizon either. Unless you’re using a special one, the Uniqball.
The Uniqball is a unique ball head and TiPA Award winner. There is no other like it on the market. The head is made of CNC aluminium and there are two versions: one that holds 10kg and the bigger one that holds up to 40kg. Both have a rotating base with which you can set the head’s drop-notch to line up with the position that suits you best on the tripod. The head has a freely moving ball (the traditional ball head ball, so to speak), which in this case has the shape of a bowl and acts as the receptacle for the inner ball. The inner ball does not move freely but is a panning and tilt ball. You can only move it along the horizontal and vertical axes.
The outer ball has a spirit level, while the inner has white marking stripes on two sides that allow you to use the head as a basic panorama base using the outer ball’s degree marks as guides. The pan / tilt ball is fixed with a rotating knob that allows for a fine, granular adjustment of the friction applied to it. The outer ball is held using a lever that can be repositioned for comfortable handling. This lever fixes the outer ball independently from the inner and also firmly fixes the rotating base in place.
Because the outer ball is hollow and independently moving from the inner one, you can set it to level with the horizon — no matter how your tripod is positioned — and have the inner one pan and tilt while keeping the camera horizon-levelled. For video shooters, this is great as the device also delivers a nicely fluid ride.
My test unit was the Uniqball UBH 45XC. This model is the most expensive one at €529. It comes with an X-cross clamp, which allows the plate to be inline with the optical axis but also perpendicular to it.
Experiences with the Uniqball
Using the Uniqball for plain photography is more of a joy than with my Novoflex ClassicBall 5. The head has been made to the highest specs and behaves accordingly. When used as a traditional ball head, only the outer ball and the locking lever have a role to play. The Uniqball’s lever gave me a little bit more control than I enjoy with the ClassicBall 5 because you can set it to somewhat control friction, enabling a smooth “glide” of the camera in real-time. With the Novoflex you have to set a fixing strength first and then you can only unlock the ball to fully frictionless.
I tried using the Uniqball as a panoramic head. In this scenario, I fixed the outer ball with the horizon levelled and only used the inner pan / tilt ball. The marker stripes on the two sides opposite of each other let me accurately position the lens by lining up the markers with the 30-degree incremental markings on the outer ball. That should be enough control for most photographers who only occasionally shoot panoramas. For more demanding panorama shooters, there’s the Uniqball PanoClamp, an optional fully rotating (360°) clamp that allows for precision panning.
Other use cases where I found the restricted mode to offer a superior shooting experience included architectural photography and follow-focus of birds and aeroplanes in flight. These too require you to have a level head at all times.
I didn’t have any trouble operating the pan / tilt ball locking knob that is advised to sit under the lens. I can imagine, though, the location of this knob to be a bit awkward for handling a long tele-lens. In that case, there’s nothing preventing you from mounting the camera in the opposite direction.
The last scenario I tried the Uniqball with as a photographer, was when I couldn’t find a more or less level plane to set up my tripod. Even when I had to place the tripod at a steep angle with one leg up against a small rock for stability, the system allowed for perfectly level images.
The next thing I concentrated on was video shooting. For that purpose, I used a long camera plate and the Manfrotto 500HLV pan bar. With a relatively lightweight camera and 70mm lens (3.5kg) mounted on the Uniqball, it was very easy to unlock the pan / tilt ball to a position that balanced the camera when it wasn’t touched, while allowing for a nice smooth panning and tilting motion when putting mild pressure on the pan bar.
It was a bit less simple to find the sweet spot for balancing with a heavier rig (8kg), but once I found that spot the Uniqball allowed for fluid motion. The Uniqball does have some slight locking drift, but that’s also the case with my much heavier Novoflex, so nothing to complain about.
Finally, I found a use for the Uniqball that is a bit out of the ordinary. Oftentimes, I want to mount my camera on a 1 metre Rhino Camera EVO slider and mount the whole thing on two tripods. Using the Uniqball on the first tripod and the second ball head on the other one, I spent much less time keeping the whole installation in balance. Usually, I lock one of the two heads so that the slider can’t get out of balance, but that often means I need to adjust and re-adjust both tripods and their heads a couple of times before the slider is mounted perfectly horizontal. With the Uniqball, I could first set the friction to a high level so that the slider/camera combination could still move but only with some force applied to it.
That gave me the freedom to set up the other side more quickly, because I didn’t have to worry about tilting the whole too much out of balance. The only thing I then needed to do was lock the outer ball in horizon-level position and adjust the other side accordingly — and presto, in two moves, my setup was ready.
The Uniqball is an innovative and very efficient tripod head. It’s innovative and professional photographers as well as video shooters do well to seriously consider it as it really is a 3-axis per-axis controllable tripod head and a traditional ball head in one.
The finish is brilliant and smooth. The balls fit perfectly into one another, without any free play, yet the whole system moves buttery smooth. The unit weighs less than my Novoflex, but is just as solid and has been rated at a higher maximum load. Friction for the inner ball can be controlled easily and in such fine increments that you can always achieve a good balance and fluid movement.
After having spent three weeks with it, I love the Uniqball and I don’t hesitate to recommend this tripod head without thinking twice.