Photography can take you to many places.
However, wildlife photography, in particular, birding, is one of the best ways to find peace amid nature while exercising an artistic hobby.
However, nothing can ruin an excursion like blurry photos, especially if you chanced upon a rare encounter only to find that the photos you took were lackluster.
Don’t let that beautiful plumage get away without a memorable photograph to honor it.
Instead, invest in a sturdy, lightweight tripod with an easily adjustable tripod head.
Luckily, a great tripod will allow for swappable heads, meaning you can invest in the right tripod and the right tripod head separately giving your photography even more versatility.
With that said, it’s important to choose the best tripod head for birding, so there are some things to consider first.
Considerations to Make When Choosing the Best Tripod Head for Birding
Birding often requires a lot of movement, be it for a heavy scope or your still and/or film camera.
A cheap tripod head will not only wobble and wear out easily, but it’ll also make your panning and tilting look chunky, often ruining video or making it more challenging to get a bead on your bird.
Pan & Tilt Performance
Ensure you choose a tripod head that supports smooth panning and tilting.
You don’t want to miss the action or ruin your shot or video because your panning ability is lackluster or nonexistent.
Many birds change between a scope (for watching) and a camera (for photography) often, so it goes without saying that your tripod and tripod head should be quick-release so you can easily remove your equipment and swap it out.
However, a tripod head’s quick-release mechanism shouldn’t be so good that you risk dropping your camera.
When panning, a sturdy handle is pivotal to smooth movement.
Keeping your hand away from the body of your camera minimizes vibration, wobbling, and overall jostling of your shot.
Moreover, a handle is much easier for you to operate smoothly.
Ideally, your handle should fold up or unscrew from your tripod head so your setup can remain compact and easy to carry.
Precise control is what you’re looking out for when choosing the best tripod head for birding.
That means you need at least one bubble level if not three.
Remember that we move in three-dimensions.
A good tripod will afford you movement on three separate axes as well, so it goes without saying that you should ideally have a bubble level for each of those axes.
Let’s dive in:
5 Best Tripod Heads for Bird Photography
|#1 Pick - Manfrotto 502 Video Head - $$||(4.5 / 5)|
|Manfrotto MHXPRO-3W 3-Way Head - $||(4.4 / 5)|
|Benro HD1A 3-way Pan Head - $||(4.6 / 5)|
|Induro PHQ1 – 5 Way Panhead - $$$||(3.9 / 5)|
|Gitzo G2272M Magnesium 3-Way 2 Series Head - $$||(3.6 / 5)|
The Best Tripod Heads for Birding
The best tripod head for birding, as I covered, will pan and tilt smoothly, offer you a quick-release mechanism in conjunction with your tripod, and feature a panning handle for smooth movement.
The following tripod heads will work best for these criteria:
This is perhaps the best Manfrotto head for birding from a manufacturer that makes the best tripods for bird watching in general.
While it advertises itself as a “video head”, all this means is that it features smooth panning, which is exactly what you’re looking for in a tripod head for birding.
(4.4 / 5)
- Ball-bearings ensure extra smooth movement
- The built-in counterbalance system means extra movement stability
- A bit on the heavy side
- Some buyers report of “grey market” sellers on Amazon selling a counterfeit or aftermarket version of this model. Be sure you’re buying directly from Manfrotto via Amazon
Two handles are better than one—or, at least, that seems to be the thinking behind Manfrotto’s 3-way tripod head.
One handle controls tilting and another handle controls pivoting.
With built-in bubble levels, you can easily square up your shot with the confidence that it’s straight.
The aluminum build ensures that not much extra weight is added to your gear.
(4.5 / 5)
- Two handles manage pan and tilt very well
- You can expect the precise control that comes with a Manfrotto product
- A lack of ball-bearings means you’ll never pan or tilt as smoothly as some of Manfrotto’s more expensive tripod heads
- Aluminum can be prone to dents and cosmetic damage, especially when you’re out in the woods
Once again—having two handles to control your panning and tilting will always improve your tripod head’s performance.
Benro takes their tripod head a step further with 3 bubble-levels, ensuring you’re level on all three dimensions.
Moreover, this Benro tripod head is quick-release and compatible with most tripods.
(4.6 / 5)
- Two handles and three bubble levels ensure you have precise control over your positioning
- This tripod head features a safety function to ensure the quick release doesn’t accidentally engage
- Making adjustments can be awkward due to the poor placement of control knobs
- Compact size can sometimes work against it—sometimes things are too small to easily adjust
Induro has truly made the Cadillac of tripod heads with its PHQ1 5-way pan head.
The amount of adjustment that can be made on this tripod head may make you dizzy but once you gain an understanding of the controls you’ll appreciate the versatility that such a tripod head can offer.
(3.9 / 5)
- The tripod head is heavy-duty, durable, and thanks to its high-quality craftsmanship, feels great in your hands
- Surprisingly compact for how hardy it is
- The handles, while compact, are a little goofy in their functionality
- There is some slight wobble in the quick release mechanism
Both Gitzo and Manfrotto go hand-in-hand as the best tripod manufacturers in the industry.
While they come at a premium price point you simply can’t beat their performance.
The Gitzo G2272M is no exception. Its exceptionally smooth panning and tilting lend you exacting control over your composition and videography.
Moreover, the low-profile 3-way head lends plenty of compact versatility to your setup.
(4.5 / 5)
- Extremely smooth mechanism
- Build quality is out of this world
- The price certainly matches (or exceeds, depending on your perspective) its performance
- The quick-release mount could function better considering the high price
Tripod Heads Do a Lot of the Work
Don’t get me wrong—your actual tripod is the star of the show when it comes to stabilizing your camera.
However, the tripod head should not be overlooked.
A cheap tripod head on a premium tripod is like having a lawnmower engine in a Ferrari.
To get truly great photos, smooth video, and versatile scoping you need to ensure that your tripod head is up to the task.
Thankfully, the tripod heads in this article are all great in their own right.
Depending on the price point and how you think you’ll be using your tripod you may not want to splurge on the most expensive option.
Instead, do a bit of your own research, read other peoples’ perspectives on each tripod head and make an informed decision when it’s ready for you to buy one for yourself.
If you put care and thought into your decision, then you’ll find satisfaction in knowing you made a knowledgeable and informed choice.
Better yet, you’ll know you picked the tripod head that is perfect for you.
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