I just replaced an old tripod and bought a new Induro CT114 tripod. I’m using the old head for now but I should get a new one. Which type should I buy? It should be convenient to operate and suitable for use with a Nikon D300s and the large/heavy 80-400mm zoom lens.
Well, Frank, pan-tilt heads are the most common and they allow for modifying the camera position in increments of a few millimeters in any direction to fine-tune a critical composition. The process is a bit slow but the great precision is a real benefit in serious macro and landscape photography. If you’ll be doing wildlife or sports photography you’ll probably prefer a ball-and-socket head because it’s quicker to operate. Instead of working with two or three handles to control the various axes, a single knob allows infinite adjustment with a quick twist. Some ball heads are equipped with two separate locks, for friction (or drag) control and for the panning function. With these, you can generally forgo tightening the latter in order to maintain the greatest ease of use.
A high-grade ballhead like the magnesium Velbon QHD-61Q is not inexpensive but it offers excellent value for the serious photographer who uses expensive equipment. Some other impressive ball head series include the compact Giottos 8KG, the Acratech GP series as well as the Benro KJ-2 and the Induro BHD series. Since you’re buying an Induro tripod, a full-featured magnesium alloy BHD head, with a quick release system, would make sense.
Regardless of the type of head anyone prefers, I always recommend a built-in quick-release mechanism. This assembly consists of a bracket on the tripod head and a mounting plate which attaches to the tripod socket of a camera or a telephoto lens. The plate simply pops or slides into the bracket which is equipped with some type of quick-release locking mechanism. There’s no need to waste time unscrewing the equipment from the head and then screwing on a different camera or lens.