Outside of your camera and your lens, a decent tripod is going to be your next big purchase for architecture photography.
I’m going to go through which type of tripod head is your best choice for architecture photography and also which to avoid to keep that camera nice and steady.
Tripod heads to avoid for architecture photography
When looking for a tripod head for architecture photography it’s important to know what to avoid.
As a rule, try and avoid anything which is cheap.
That’s not to say that cheap can’t be good but if you’re willing to trust thousands of pounds worth of equipment to a head which you spent a tenner on then I would recommend spending what you saved on some good insurance.
Also try and avoid getting a ball head.
They’re usually cheaper than a traditional tripod head and on paper they can seem like a good buy.
Many of the current ball heads, such as the Gitzo GH3382QD holds an impressive 18kg in a really light package and I use it extensively when precision isn’t going to be an issue.
However, for architecture photography precision is one of the aims of the game.
Making minor adjustments with a ball head is almost impossible, even with the Gitzo’s friction control you’re always going to be fighting against the weight of the camera and some resulting sag when you let go of the camera.
That’s why for architectural photography I would recommend looking at a geared tripod head.
Using a geared head for architecture photography
If you’re wanting absolute control of your camera position for your architecture photography a geared tripod head is the way to go.
Before we go on, a warning that you are going to have to dive a little further into the piggy bank but if you buy correctly it will easily last most of your photographic career.
To get a good geared head you’re looking at 2-4x the cost of a ball head and a big increase in weight too.
Let’s start with some of the more budget options:
Manfrotto 410 junior head
The Manfrotto 410 junior head is a great entry level geared head which will last you a couple of years.
It’s a full aluminium construction and comes in fairly heavy at 1.2kg but will hold 5kg of camera equipment without breaking a sweat.
It’s not the most ergonomic design and doesn’t have the most reliable rubber coating on the knobs but if budget is tight it’s definitely worth a look.
The Manfrotto 405 is the bigger brother in the series.
It weighs a little more but can also hold 2.5kg more, so if you’re holding some serious weight it’s worth the upgrade.
The gearing on this is a little more accurate than the junior head and the knobs are a lot more durable.
The downside to both the Manfrotto heads is they only take the Manfrotto plate mounting design which limits you if you have other brand heads and also isn’t the best design for ease of use.
It is possible to get adapter plates to allow you to use the industry standard Arca Swiss plates with a Manfrotto head but you’re adding more weight and spending more money it maybe better to look at one of the native Arca Swiss heads.
Arca Swiss D4
If you’re looking at the Arca Swiss range a great place to begin looking is the D4.
It can hold a whopping 30kg, which is roughly the equivalent of a 10 year old child, for something weighing only 1kg, that’s pretty insane.
The D4 features asymmetric control knob, so one knob on each side controls the pitch, one the roll and then one each for friction.
I really like this design as it makes it easy to know what you’re doing, the Arc Swiss C1 below can feel a little over engineered at time.
As expected, there are a number of bubble levels built into the head to make sure you get everything perfectly level, perhaps not necessary with gyroscopes in most modern cameras but it’s handy if you can’t see the back of the camera for some reason.
The only draw back of this head is if you’re mounting your camera vertically, you’re going to need to pick up an L bracket as it only tilts to 115 degrees.
I use the 3 Legged Thing range of Arca Swiss plates, partly because they look frikkin’ cool but mostly because they are bomb proof and I know I can trust them with £5k worth of gear hanging from them.
Arca Swiss C1
The king of architectural photography heads is probably the Arca Swiss C1, affectionately known as “The Cube”.
You’re going to need a healthy bank balance to pick one up but it’s going to give you the greatest amount of control of any tripod head on the market.
The C1 holds a mammoth 40kg and the build quality is definitely the best of all the heads mentioned here. Just holding this in your hand, you know it is quality.
You won’t need to use an L-bracket to get your camera vertical (although it probably is easier as it can be a bit of a pain)
The cube features control knobs on both sides so if you’re stuck in a tight spot you can control pitch and roll form either side, a small thing which i’ve never found particularly useful though.
For a more in depth comparison of the D4 V the C1, check out Mike Kelley’s blog post here.
Leofoto G4/Sunwayfoto GH-Pro
I’m going to throw a curve ball in for my last choice.
There are a number of cheaper chinese brand clones of the Arca Swiss heads about which, for the price, really punch above their weight.
I’ve owned the Sunwayfoto GH-Pro for the last 3 years and bar having to tighten some of the nuts a couple of times, it’s been absolutely bomb proof.
It’s been dropped in the road, dragged along behind my box and been used in all weather but still fights on.
For the £250 I managed to get hold of it for, it’s been absolutely gold.
The Sunwayfoto GH-PRO in action
It’s worth checking out this video from Rich Baum, he goes through the differences between some of the above heads in more detail here:
As with all your decisions, it is probably going to come down to what you’re comfortable spending.
Do bare in mind a good head is going to last you years so get the best that you can afford and it will pay you back many times over.