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Recommended Tripod and Tripod Heads for Real Estate Photography

Published: 20/03/2018

Brad in Idaho asks:

I am looking for an awesome tripod at a great price. I bought a Dolica tripod and it didn't even last a year (150+ shoots). Manfrotto is highly recommended, but I've read some reviews and the legs seem to have issues (at least the lower end models). Weight doesn't matter that much to me but a ball head is a must. I was wondering what the readers recommend.

We have a new page (click here) on the PFRE blog that gives a summary of tripods and tripod heads that PFRE readers have recommended in the past.

The tripod head you pick is also a big deal - read out tripod ball head recommendations to find a good option for your budget and needs. The fluid head  tripod is a geared heads that can be leveled in all three dimensions. This allows you to get verticals and horizontals level in the camera.

Larry Lohrman

23 comments on “Recommended Tripod and Tripod Heads for Real Estate Photography”

  1. I don't own one, but many people say Really Right Stuff is amongst the very best for stills. If I were to get another tripod, it would be RRS. I own Sachtler for video, which is also top quality for video. Sachtler costs from $750-$5000. A nice RRS is about $1,000+ I think.

    Getting a high-end tripod pays off. Plus, if you sell it in 5 years, it retains much of its value.

  2. Tripods and heads are a really good place to buy top dollar product. If you take care of them, they will last decades.

    A geared head is a big time saver for RE work. You can use another type, but getting the camera level and true is much harder with a ball head. A good heavy set of legs gives the camera a nice stable platform that isn't prone to moving without knocking into it.

    Visit a real camera store and test drive some real gear. Do the legs extend and retract quickly? Will it go low and high enough to cover your needs? Can the legs splay out so you can get the tripod into weird positions? Keep in mind that you are going to trust whatever you buy to securely hold up several thousand dollars worth of camera and lens. If you also need a small and light tripod for travel, buy another one that fits those criteria.

  3. I am done with the ball heads...can anyone recommend a head that can swing from landscape to portrait on both sides and get you in a 90 degree position at once to avoid chasing level positions?!?!. Lots of them swings to one side but not the other. Even the one suggested appears to be only swinging over to one side. Am I mistaken?

  4. So for a very long time I have been using the Manfrotto 410, around $250 and have been very happy with them. durable and of the four we have, never had a problem with any of them. For a long time I read on this and other blogs about the Manfrotto 405, around $400 and how it was so much better, accurate, etc., so I picked one up and was disappointed. Yep, nice and tight, but honestly did not see the value of spending an extra $150 over the 410.
    So I would suggest getting the 410

  5. Taking the opposite point - I tried geared heads and returned them as found the adjustment on the individual vertical and horizontal planes time consuming with each setup impacting workflow. What is so hard about ball head, loosen the tension with less than 1/4 turn, swing across horizontal and vertical planes to center the bubble and tighten the ball. It seems that geared heads just over-engineer the process. Glad I did return it as would have been stuck with an 'obsolete' expensive head, as a couple months ago dumped the RC-2 mount system for Arca-Swiss and no longer have to change the baseplate on the camera from tripod to gimbal to pano or other head. Did consider the 410PL baseplate, but that would have limited me to Manfrotto heads where Arca-Swiss is far more universal, however, you have to be aware of proprietary variations within that system that are not compatible.

    While Really Right Stuff makes some great gear, find nothing wrong with my Manfrotto tripods and like the lever releases.

  6. I used an Arca Swiss P0 head for several years and it (IMO) is the fastest, quality ballhead available.
    However I recently switched to a Manfrotto 405 geared head and I have to say what I lose in speed I make up in accuracy. My PP has sped up significantly as I almost never have to tweak perspective in post.
    As for legs, I recommend quality Manfrotto or RRS or ProMedia gear legs. There are other brands available but I am not familiar with them. Get large diameter legs robust enough for heavy gear. This will ensure stability. The other recommendation I would make is get legs that extend to at least 65" preferably with a center post for even more elevation.

    There other features such as the ability to turn the center post horizontally or to invert it but I do not need them for architectural work generally.

    If you want a great ballhead the Arca P0 is a startlingly robust head that supports a heavy load despite its small size and works very quickly. But for accuracy a geared head really makes life better.

  7. I went through two Manfrotto 410's before finally getting the Manfrotto 405. The 410 always had a little movement and play in it. I've been happy with the upgrade to the 405. Almost a must have for tilt shift lenses which is what I use most of the time. For real estate I almost never bother with fixing verticals in post since they are pretty darn close using the geared head and TS lenses. Not sure I would use a geared head if I was using regular zoom lenses.

  8. I am a Manfrotto guy, I have never had issues with my tripods. The more you spend the better the tripod, I have several for different purposes or travel. As far as tripod heads have can't not say enough about the Arca Swiss D4, it is pricey but worth it in my opinion.

    Here is a list of the tripods and heads I use.

    Manfrotto MT057C3-G 057 Carbon Fiber Tripod with Geared Center Column $840 (This tripod is so solid and very adaptable. The geared center column is so helpful!!)
    Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 Carbon Fiber Tripod $450
    Kirk BH-3 Ball Head with Quick Release - Supports 15 lb $285
    Arca Swiss D4 $1141


  9. I've been using Manfrotto gear since day one and see no reason to change. Years ago I was using the Manfrotto 468MG Hydrostatic ball head. I loved that I could give it a quarter turn to loosen it and another quarter turn to tighten down... but it was a pain to get it level, even with the in-camera level. So a couple years back I bought the 410 and loved the simplicity of it. I can easily set my level with the micro adjustments. However, the head has always had some bit of play in it. If you tighten the locking gears down, it will fix the problem but then the micro knobs become very stiff. Over the years, I learned to compensate and get the job done. I have considered the getting the 405... assuming the increased cost would resolve the issues of the 410, but much like Jerry said, I can't see spending another $150 for it. I'd have to know for certain that issues of the 410 (which I can live with in most cases) would be completely eliminated in the 405.

  10. I had a new Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 and after around 18 months, and within a 6 week period, it had two breakages - first one made it annoying to use and the second made it impossible to use. I thought I'd keep it as a back up as I lost faith in it, so bought a Gitzo GT3542L for way more money. The Gitzo so far has been excellent, but I wished I'd either spent a few hundred more quid and got a real big boy model or spent less on something like a Benro.

    I've used a 410 head for several years now and have had no problems. It can get a bit stiff but that's all. I have no idea how someone could complain it adds any significant time to their workflow.

    @ Mike Nilsson - yes, the 410 only swings to the left, but I would recommend getting an Arca-Swiss compatible base plate and an L-bracket for the purpose of switching to vertical shots.

  11. After ten years using a Really Right Stuff ball head (these things just don’t wear out) on my Manfroto Tripp’s I sprang for the Manfroto geared heat you feature at the top of this post based on a recommendation by Mark Weismann in his Luxury Real Estate Photo class. It’s been a revelation. Don’t look back. Get one. Period.

  12. Like Whit, i went through a couple manfrotto 410 jr gear heads, always ended up with a little slop, even after learning how to adjust it, ended up with a 405, never looked back, heavy and solid. I have two manfrotto 3021's, I keep a video head on one and a 405 on the other. Aluminum and maybe on the heavier side but easy to adjust the leg clamps and pivot points. I know the 3021's are a little old school but the big plus they can be found in excellent condition for about $100 +/-, Zput a 405 on top and concentrate on your work.

  13. When going into business I knew I would need backup everything, so I have two of EVERYTHING except a tripod and head. I wanted one that lasts, so overkill seemed logical.
    Carbon fiber and extra stout was a must.
    I went with the Induro Ct-314 and have only had one issue with it. One leg would not tighten and flooped. Induro sent me a new spider and the problem was fixed.
    As for the head, I went with the Really Right Stuff BH-40 (their second best).
    I use a spirit level on my hot shoe to keep things close.

  14. I have the Manfrotto MHXPro. I really like it. It's lighter weight, as I do a lot of hiking and carrying a heavier head is not so fun. That said, as business picks up I will get the 405 for real estate work. The MHXPro is terrific and accurate. But it does have some issues with heavier bodies and heavier lens combined. My Nikon 850 with the Nikon 14-24mm is about the upper limit. I shoot a lot of panoramas, and a Nikon 750 with the Nikon 85 1.8, using a Nodal Ninja NN3 panorama head, and the combined weight makes the adjustment on the MHKPro a little wonky. By that I mean it looses a little precision. I can work around it, but it is a limit.

  15. @ Mike Nilsson...I use Manfrotto 410 Geared Head with a Manfrotto L-Bracket for quick changes from landscape to portrait . Works great and very quick. Level once and switch formats. I also use an Manfrotto RC4 Quick Release Adapter for my Manfrotto Carbon tripods, gimbals, sliders, etc.

  16. Surprised nobody's chimed in with this yet: you'd have to pry my Arca C1 Cube out of my cold, dead hands.

    It's a big cash drop to buy one, but it pays for itself quickly on account of how easy it is to level up even if your tripod is crammed in an odd place (which of course is most of the time in the high end RE world)--and because it has both top and bottom rotators on it, if you need to whip off a quick pano, no need to change heads. If you get one, I'd strongly recommend the 'screw' clamp rather than the 'flip-lock' clamp--I have far too many devices with slightly different Arca plate widths for the flip-lock clamp to be anything but frustrating. (I've had the folks at Precision Camera Works change the flip-lock clamp out for an RRS Arca clamp, which is much better).

    It spends most of its time on a Manfrotto 055XPROB, which is still going strong after a decade of having the cr*p kicked out of it on location (or, more accurately, getting to and from location) regularly. The sidearm capability is really nice for shooting down staircases or getting into the back of countertops (without having to pull everything off and switch to the Platypod, which is often the better solution for doing kitchen/bathroom work.) Backup/travel tripod is a Sirui T2205X, which is surprisingly solid for its weight and stature; if I'm having to do architecture work on it, the Cube goes on it, and it will (believe it or not) take the weight of a medium format tech cam if you're just a little bit careful.

    My other 'absolute must have', of all things, is a tripod butler (see -- it's perfect for keeping filters, hoods, flash mods, a speedlight or two, or a lens (careful--I've had speedlights practically jump out when folding the tripod) close at hand as you're moving your rig around on location. Mine stays on the tripod all the time.

  17. I work every day shooting properties, had many tripods and I know one thing, I am done with 'Made In China' honestly! a year ago I've bought my current tripod, spent something around 570 euros and after 6 months I noticed some loose (1mm left/right) in a ballhead, and other issues with tripod.
    Anyway on my list is this beauty, and never again, no matter what, even if it's well know brand but made.... in PRC

  18. I switched from a ballhead to a geared head two 2 years ago and for any Interior/Architecture work it's the best you can do.
    I went for a Sunwayfoto GH-Pro and I am very happy with it. The Arca-Swiss D4 was a bit too expensive to justify the investment.

    Get a L-Bracket for your camera as well in case you shoot a lot of verticals.

  19. When I started I paid 350 for carbon fiber vanguard legs with head. Fell apart of the first year. Invested in ProMediaGear legs and an Acratech ball head and I have never looked back. Shot with this set up every day for a year and it is still like new (only minor wear). No springs in the legs and can completely come apart for cleaning which didn’t seem too important at first but I have really grown to appreciate it. Also the head doesn’t have oil in the ball part so no possiblilty of leakage and the ball is completely exposed too so any dirt or grime can be wiped out. Also have a ProMediaGear L-bracket which can have the side detached which is nice. Highly, HIGHLY, recommend investing in a true “professional” tripod. You will not be sorry.

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