Designed for Precision Control of Camera Movement
Review by Fernando Santos
For almost 20 years I’ve been happy with the different ball heads I’ve been using…until recently! I wanted to photograph the sun and none of my ball heads were helping me with that task, not even the good, expensive ones from major reputable brands. Warning: Don’t attempt to photograph the sun without the proper equipment, filters, and knowledge. You can seriously hurt your eyes and damage your camera.
When you use a long focal length for the sun to fill your frame, the sun goes out of frame quickly due to the earth’s rotation. Using a ball head to adjust the camera constantly is difficult and time-consuming. This happens with the sun and with the moon (yes, you can safely photograph the moon). So how can a geared head help, and why would you want to have one?
Enter the Benko GD3WH 3-Way Geared Head. This tripod head has three separate knobs, one for each axis: You can pan left or right; you can tilt up or down; and you can side-tilt left or right. Each precision knob allows you to slowly move back-and-forth as you need; and each also has a large release wheel so that you can move faster if needed. All you do is turn the release wheel, move quickly to the position you want, and then do any minor adjustments with the precision knobs—effective and well designed.
There are other geared heads on the market, but they usually have a proprietary clamp and camera plate. If you use Arca-style plates and L-brackets (like I do), having to use a proprietary plate isn’t a good thing. The Benro GD3WH uses an Arca-style clamp and even includes a good quality 70mm Arca plate (PU70). The Arca clamp has a great safety feature: When you unlock it, it only goes so far, enough for you to move the plate, but not to remove it; thus keeping your camera secure. To fully release your camera you’d have to pull out the clamp knob, then keep turning it. I liked that feature.
Each axis has a scale so that you know how many degrees you’re moving, which is good for panoramas. You also have three bubble levels in case, if needed. The knobs are large enough for use even with gloves.
The GD3WH 3-Way Geared Head is made from magnesium alloy, with parts made of carbon steel and bronze to ensure smooth operation and longevity of movement precision. Weighing just 1.91 lb (0.74 kg), it supports a payload of up to 13.22 lb (6.0 kg), according to Benro.
The precise movement this geared 3-way head provides has a price to pay (and no, I’m not referring to the $224.95 list price): it’s just that precise movements will slow you down. That may be a good thing, because you’ll be more careful with your compositions. When you need minor adjustments, that’s when this Benro head shines. I mentioned photographing the sun and the moon, but you can use this head for macro shooting, product shots, architecture, and landscapes. In fact, you can use it for anything; however, a ball head will be faster and more convenient, unless you need precise movement control.
Important Note: If your tripod base is large, you may not be able to move and adjust the lower of the three knobs of this 3-way geared head. Benro has thought about that and made available an optional spacer, the GDHAD1, for $31.95, which solves the problem. If your tripod has a center column, you’ll probably be fine without the spacer. If you’re considering using this head with a Platypod, you’ll need the spacer.
Overall, this is a good product that solves a specific problem in a good affordable way. If you need precise movement control, I recommend you look at the Benro GD3WH 3-Way Geared Head. ■