rc2
The 322RC2 Ball Head and rapid connect plate,used in combination with a decent set of tripod legs (for example, Bogen Manfrotto 190XPROB) are a profound step up from the all-in-one tripods you may be used to. Even more importantly, they are a step up from most other ball heads by virtue of the immense improvement in both speed and ease of aiming your camera once actually mounted to the ball head. I can’t emphasize this enough: This product actually changes how you use your camera, because repositioning the camera on all axis at once is a one hand, fraction of a second operation.

I know that’s hard to visualize, so let me describe the process. The head has a handle sticking out the side, quite substantial and comfortable, that fits in your hand (right or left, your choice.) On this handle is a very large “trigger” that fits beneath all of your fingers as they wrap around the handle. When you pull this trigger, the ball head releases your camera and you can move it, using the handle as a precise and ergonomic lever, to any new position you like in no more time than it takes to adjust your wrist and arm – essentially immediately. Then you simply let go of the trigger and the ball head locks the camera right where you have it pointed.

The process I just described applies equally to large pans and tilts as it does to tiny pointing adjustments. If you find that difficult to believe, I’m with you – so did I – but having used the head extensively, trust me, it really works as advertised.

There is almost no post-lock sag; that’s the effect where you point the camera, tighten the locks, and then when you look, the camera has drooped below the actual point of aim you intended. There is a tiny bit; I don’t think it will affect most users. For example, I often shoot images of the moon using a 500mm or 600mm lens. My cameras, EOS 40D and 50D’s, have a “live view” mode that allow me to magnify the center of the view until the LCD screen has a 1:1 group of pixels from the center of the 10 megapixel sensor, effectively magnifying the view many times. With this on, I can see only a fraction of the day/night terminator on the moon, and can watch the moon move steadily and visibly across my point of aim. With this ball head, when I point the camera in this state, letting go of the trigger results in “droop” that amounts to about 10% of the view height, which is perhaps a 2% droop of the total image height. I know that when I fire the shot, I’m going to find my original aiming point pretty much dead center in the photo, which of course is what we’re all looking for. Without the live view magnification on, there is no visible droop at all.

The quick release plate functions very well. There is a safety catch that must be released in order to remove your camera; with it set correctly, the camera can be removed with one easy flip of a lever. With it in the safety position, you can’t remove the camera. Once the camera has been removed, the camera locking lever is in the unlocked position; a really nice feature is that when you put the camera back on the head, there is a brass pressure-trigger that automatically snaps the locking lever (but not the safety) into place as you put the quick-release plate into the mounted position. The camera goes from off-head to on-head in a one-handed motion that involves no more than accurately reaching for the head and turning your wrist, then “click”, and the camera is secure. Now turn the safety catch, and no worries about accidentally popping the camera off the head. Another nice feature on the quick release plate is the mounting system to the camera provides for a drop-down handle to tighten and release the screw that goes into the camera body. There will be no searching for coins or tearing up your fingernails with this design.

That 11 pound capacity means that for almost any reasonable lens combination, this head has considerably more capacity than it requires to hold your SLR or DSLR with great authority. This extra capacity translates into great stability for lighter loads; my camera and a Canon 85mm f/1.2L lens together weigh just a few pounds, and the head and tripod have what feels like a “death-grip” on them, the stability is so evident. No unreasonable trembling in the wind (and I live on the plains in eastern Montana… I shoot in 10 to 30 mph winds as often as not), no tweaking of the aim as I fiddle with the many controls on the camera, no drooping when I reach out and manually focus the camera. Just a wonderfully stable and usable design.

The head has its own ball level you can use, and it is very easy to see while aiming using the trigger, but of course if you’re looking at the level, you’re not looking at what the camera sees; I never had a great deal of use for such things. If your camera can provide horizontal and/or vertical guides in-picture, that’s a better choice for framing things by a long shot. Still, the level is there if you need it. The tripod legs I mention above also have their own level, and I do tend to use that when I set the legs up. The reason for that is if the tripod is vertical and you have the legs all the way out, you’ve made certain that the weight of the head and the ball are centered above the tripod’s feet, and so the odds of overbalancing the system are much lower. So just a word to the wise: align a tripod leg in the direction you point the camera, always level your tripod, and don’t fret too much about the head.

The head has a tension control that you can set to a lighter grip on the ball if your gear isn’t as heavy as the weight limit for the head. However, I suggest this is left in the maximum tension position; the reason for that is that the firmer the lock to the ball, the less droop you get in aiming, and the less vibration you’ll get when adjusting things like your lenses focus ring or other camera controls.

There is a threaded mount-point for an accessory that holds your camera’s remote shutter release; the idea of this is to move the camera shutter control right down by the same hand that is adjusting the camera. That’s one way to do it; another is to set the head up for left-handed use and keep your right hand on the camera. Given the choice, I go for the latter because there is a lot more to do than just control the shutter these days; we have exposure lock, focus lock, and various knobs and wheels affecting other settings as well. But you do have the choice, and this shows that the manufacturer was thinking about how we might actually use the head, not just about how to hold a camera tightly.

The head will adjust upwards until the handle is pointed directly up and away from your tripod; this makes the tripod easier to pack, but adds about eight inches to the tripod’s collapsed length. Keep that in mind if you’re thinking about a companion bag for the system. Unmounting the head is a simple matter of twisting it about and it will unscrew from the tripod in a reasonable number of turns – not a problem at all. Detached, the head fits in large camera bags without too much difficulty; I use a Tamrac 5612 Pro 12 bag, and the head slips into one of the full-height compartments just fine. Don’t expect to fit the head into a purse-sized bag, that’s just not going to happen.

Bogen Manfrotto provide a good warranty, but I don’t expect you’ll ever get to use it. You’ll see why when you get this thing in your hand. It is built tough. Really, really tough.

Photo pros are fond of making very sweeping statements about tripods and heads in general; one you hear constantly is that a good tripod system is worth more than a new lens in many situations. Let me echo that sentiment here, and let me say that because of the amazing convenience and speed that the triggered ball release provides, taken together with the great stability and lack of droop the high-load magnesium ball lock brings to your tripod system, I give the 322RC2 my absolute highest recommendation. I can’t see how it could be improved. It is built like a battleship and I can’t see how you could damage it barring running over it with a bulldozer. It has *significantly* increased my enjoyment of my camera and if it were to be stolen or lost, I would replace it instantly without even bothering to research what other heads might be available. It is really that good.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s no way to go wrong recommending the purchase of this head, and that goes for those who already have considerably more expensive heads, too. It isn’t often that something comes along that significantly and broadly improves the actual way we take pictures. Try this gem; I just know you’re going to like it.