Turning the Ballhead on Its Head
Review by Dave Williams
Platypod has always been an innovative company that has stood out from the crowd. The foundation of the brand is to solve genuine problems in photography that have been overlooked because the status quo just hasn’t been tampered with. Platypod appears to have the underlying theory that “good enough isn’t good enough,” and the problems they highlight with their solutions are a testament to this. After the creation of the Platypod Max and Platypod Ultra, both of which overcame hurdles we find in day-to-day photography with regard to space and height, the newest addition to their lineup, the Platyball, solves another problem we had previously just come to accept as the norm.
Platypod has literally turned the ballhead upside down and, in doing so, flattened things out. The upside-down design isn’t unheard of in the market, but Platypod has achieved its aim of simplifying things better than other products out there. With the Platyball, it’s easy to rotate the camera through the vertical axis, but here’s the magic part: the mounted camera will remain level through a full 360° turn. Because the ball is below the panning turntable, rather than on top, once the Platyball is locked into position, the camera will remain completely level as you spin the panning turntable.
The Platyball comes in two variants: the crimson red Platyball Elite and the cool gray Platyball Ergo. The primary difference between the Elite and the Ergo is the electronics offered by the Elite. The rear of the Elite features a screen that displays a digital level that indicates the horizontal and vertical alignment of the Platyball, and it even works when it’s tilted 90° sideways. The brightness of the display can be changed to suit different ambient lighting, too.
These electronic components are powered by a removable A23 battery, and the power consumption is very low, so that the battery will last a long time. The tradeoff of the electronics in the Elite vs. the Ergo, in terms of size and weight, is minimal. The Elite is 1 lb 6 oz (624 g), whereas the Ergo is 1 lb 5 oz (595 g), and the dimensions for the Elite are 5.1×3.2×2″ (130x82x50mm) vs. the Ergo’s 5.1×2.9×2″ (130x75x50mm).
Diving deeper into the construction of the Platyball, both models are made of weather-sealed aluminum, which is one piece containing internal steel components and grip pads for holding the polymer ball. I tested the Platyball in –40°F in Finnish Lapland and, because of the build quality and the grease used, I had no issues at all. Both models are capable of supporting a load up to 22 lb (10 kg), which is usually more than enough.
The ergonomics of the Platyball is something with which I’m very impressed. The controls are mostly buttons, with a large wheel used to lock the panning plate. These large, chunky controls make it easy to operate the Platyball when wearing gloves in cold weather, as well as for those who have mobility issues in their hands.
The movement of the Platyball around the ball mechanism is controlled by pumping the bottom large unlocking button to loosen the grip on the 35mm ball, and then pumping the top large locking button to tighten it. Using a Platyball quickly becomes second nature, and it can be operated with one hand. Once you learn the location of each control, you’ll be able to manipulate the Platyball’s position without even looking. The applications of the Platyball are almost limitless. Anything for which you’d use a ballhead can be done with a Platyball, with the Platyball offering a simpler and more effective way to do it. It can be mounted on a Platypod or on a regular tripod, thanks to the standard 3/8″-16 UNC thread female screw, and the Arca-Swiss compatible mounting plate keeps it in line with existing L-brackets and Arca plates; however, it’s designed specifically for Platypod’s revolutionary Disc, which is a circular Arca plate included with both the Platyball Elite and Ergo, and also available in the updated Platypod Multi-Accessory Kit.
Overall, the Platyball Elite and Ergo are beautifully designed, modern, and strong, and they prioritize convenience and functionality. ■