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Gear Review: Acratech Ultimate Ballhead

March 3, 2010

I’ve owned and used the Acratech Ultimate Ballhead for almost 5 years.  I think I’ve probably got enough experience with it now to write a fairly qualified and informed product review.  Here goes…

The simple fact that I’m still using the Acratech Ultimate Ballhead after 5 years probably says more than anything I’m about to write.  I’m a gear junkie and I’m very hard on every piece of equipment I own.  That my Acratech Ultimate Ballhead is still going strong is either a fluke or it’s just one hell of a solid piece of equipment.  I’m of the firm belief that it’s the latter.

What I like:

  • The open ball design requires no lubrication or cleaning.  Get it sandy, wet or muddy and it still operates smoothly.
  • Made of CNC aluminum, the Ultimate Ballhead weighs less than a pound.  Mated to my carbon fiber tripod, the whole thing weighs in just under 4 pounds.  My back likes that a whole lot.
  • Despite the flyweight, it’s about as durable as anything on the market.  Mine has clawed it’s way through slot canyons, been dropped on granite and dunked in lakes, rivers and creeks.  It’s beat to hell, but it just keeps working.
  • Super easy to use.  No complicated mechanisms – just a couple knobs covered in a pliable rubber that don’t hurt your fingers when it’s cold. 
  • Even with a pro camera and 100-400mm lens attached, the ballhead locks down tight and won’t budge until you need it to.
  • Top notch customer service.  This is huge to me, since most companies couldn’t care less about your business.  Acratech likes their customers and have always treated me well.  I have several friends who use Acratech products and they’ve all consistently received fantastic customer service.  Sooooo refreshing. 

What I don’t like:

  • The quick release mechanism is comprised of two tiny springs that push the clamp open as you loosen the knob.  If the clamp isn’t kept closed when not in use it is possible for the springs to pop out.  The ballhead still works, but requires a little extra effort to open the clamp.  When this happens Acratech will send you new springs at no charge.  I know this because in 5 years I’ve had to replace the springs 5 times.
  • The main knob is larger than the other two.  This is good.  What isn’t good is that the other two knobs are the same size.  One operates the quick release while the other controls the horizontal axis movement.  If you aren’t careful it is possible to loosen the QR when you intend to turn the other knob, which could result in your camera going skydiving.

As you can see, there isn’t much about the Acratech Ultimate Ballhead I don’t like.  It’s just a good piece of kit that I highly recommend for nature photography.  If and when mine ever dies I will replace it with another Ultimate Ballhead.

Do you use the Acratech Ultimate Ballhead?  What are your thought on it?  Leave a comment with your likes and dislikes.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2010 9:19 am

    I also use an Aratech brand ballhead. Dropped it as I was climbing Mt. Agassiz in the Sierra it fell with the tripod about 40ft while cold onto the hard granite… . Merely a scratch and works fine.

  2. Jim Casteel permalink
    March 3, 2010 9:24 am

    I have the Acratech V2. I have to say it is the best, most solid performing ball head I have ever used! Mine is also well used and still keeps working through dust, dirt, water and any other abuse I can put it through. My previous ballhead was a 488RC2 which I purchased from some guy named Bret in Utah a couple years ago. 😉 Several times my camera with a 70-200 attached flopped over and hit the tripod at full spped because there was no tension knob and I would loosen the main knob too much. Ever since I got the Acratech I have never even come close to dropping any of my equipment.

    As far as I am concerned it doesn’t matter how much an Acratech ball head costs you it is worth is price!

  3. March 3, 2010 12:06 pm

    After working with Bret a couple of seasons ago, I replaced my ball head with the new Acratech GP. So far I’ve been fortunate not to drop the head, so I’ll take everyone else’s word on that part of the durability.

    I can testify to the usability of this head even to the point that it can be used quite successfully as a gimbal head allowing me to track waterfowl. I’ve not yet used this model for pano shots, but it is designed to facilitate the leveling process, which I believe will be important to me in the future. Bret convinced me that customer service would be an asset and they really go out of their way to help me understand just how useful this ball head is. Best of all, they seem willing to engineer more into their head instead of trying to get me to buy several different pieces of equipment. That’s real customer service!

  4. March 3, 2010 1:25 pm

    The Acratech Ultimate ballhead will be the last piece of photo equipment I’ll ever trade. I can trade my camera, lenses, tripod… but not the ballhead! Yes there are maybe a couple of things that could be better about it, but what matters to me is that it’s lightweight but solid and when you lock the ball, it stays locked. And it’s zero maintenance, too – it just works, all the time, every time!

    It’s just too bad that Acratech doesn’t have more presence over here on the other side of the pond. Only one dealer in Europe, but then again in a common market that’s enough. 😀

  5. March 3, 2010 5:29 pm

    I own the Acratech GV2 and I have nothing but praise. I’ve given mine such a beating and it just keeps on going. In October I dropped my tripod down a slick rock slope at Checkerboard Mesa in Zion NP and it tumbled end over end for about 400 feet banging the ballhead again and again. It has a few small scratches but it still works perfectly. I’ve had it in the sand, in the ocean, in streams, in mud, freezing conditions, coated with ice, pulled it through thick brush for days on end. I’ve done just about everything to it and works wonderfully. I’ve never had any problems with the springs in my 4 or 5 years of using it. I don’t think I’d ever consider a different ballhead. I couldn’t recommend this product highly enough.

    Erik Stensland
    Estes Park, CO

  6. March 3, 2010 6:08 pm

    I knew I wasn’t the only one out there with such great success w/ the Acratech products. Great to hear some of these crazy stories about the abuse your Acratechs have taken over the years. Nice to know there are still companies out there who pride themselves on developing the very best products and then standing behind them on the very rare occasions when customer service is needed. Way to go, Acratech!

  7. Jonny permalink
    March 30, 2010 8:27 pm

    I have had the Achratech Ultimate ballhead for a year now and I’ve used it a ton. It gets the job done, but I think it’s pretty inaccurate to say it holds a 100-400 without slipping. Mine slips for sure with that lens. Though you get used to it, the unique tilted clamshell design means you frequently have to use the panning dial and rotate the head, in addition to moving the ball. I think I’d rather have gone with a conventional style head and an L-bracket. Still a good head, but not perfect.

    • March 30, 2010 9:52 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Jonny. If your Acratech Ultimate Ballhead slips with the 100-400mm lens attached you might want to send it back for repair. I’ve had mine for 5+ years and it doesn’t budge at all with a 100-400mm lens attached to either a 1Ds MKII or 5D2 w/ vertical grip. You’re right that it takes a little getting used to using the ballhead w/ the tilted clamshell. I think the minor inconvenience of having to use the pan knob occasionally is a fair trade for a ballhead that never has to be cleaned regardless of the environmental conditions in which it is used. I’m curious what ballhead you would choose to replace your Acratech?

  8. Gordon permalink
    June 26, 2010 8:40 pm

    I have been using the Acratech GP for a bit over a year and a half now. I have not had anything exciting happen to mine – no double dribbling along the trail, nor run ins with the cactus. I use it in the inverted position as a panoramic head extensively. It works perfectly – first time, all the time. I use a Pentax K20, L bracket with a DA 12-24 – not the heaviest load but substantial and never a slip (especially at night). I also use the GP as a leveling base for a Nodal Ninja 3 panoramic head for multiple row stitching using a FA 31 Limited. Again, absolute perfect flawless performance. Acratech’s customer service is absolutely superb. I was looking for some additional parts to help with the Nodal Ninja and Scott (CEO, Chief Engineer, Lead Designer, Master Machinist, chief cook and bottle washer) was kind enough to help me locate them. Absolutely a wonderfully designed and executed product, with customer service that goes above and beyond. I wish all products and companies, performed to these standards!!!


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