The P0 Monoball; Manfrotto 394 RC4 QR plate is for me to standardize my connectors across heads, and also because the QR version of this head costs nearly 50% more than the standard one – you can buy the adaptor AND a lot of spare plates for the difference. I’ve since replaced it with an Arca-style clamp I found on eBay for about $25 – surprisingly well made, and cost-efficient, too.
Today’s conclusion of the two-part review (part one covering the Arca-Swiss C1 Cube is here) covers the much simpler, cheaper, but no less well built P0 Monoball. They aren’t direct competitors or replacements for each other; to be honest, there’s ample room in a gear bag for both since they fulfil very different photographic needs.
Starting at about $230, the P0 is one of the cheapest Arca-Swiss products you can buy; it isn’t compromised in any way. Unlike the conventional ball heads where the ball is mounted to the camera and the locking mechanism is in the base, the P0’s base is the ball, and the locking mechanism is in the head. This has two advantages – the camera can rotate much closer to the ball, improving precision of positioning, and the locking mechanism can be made more robust. The shorter moment also means that there’s less ‘droop’ on locking – especially important if the head is to be used with long lenses or for macro work. The cup (underneath the camera) contains a set of planetary gears that grasp the ball from all directions and provide a very secure hold indeed. Partially unscrewing the ring controls tension. There’s a wide-diameter grooved collar that runs around the outside of the cup that makes it easy to apply a significant amount of torque to firmly lock the head down; once locked down, the head doesn’t move at all. Immediately underneath the camera mount position is a locking pan base. Finally, a notch in the cup permits tilting the camera over 90 degrees.
The P0 comes in two versions – one with the QR clamp built in (but no plates) and one with a regular screw; simply because my other heads use the RC4 plate, I went for the version with the regular screw and purchased an additional adaptor to go on top. Regardless of whichever version, the head is surprisingly small – 60mm in diameter and about 300g in weight – yet load capacity is rated at 20kg – given how securely it locks down, I’m inclined to believe this. It makes the perfect companion to a lightweight tripod for travel, like the Gitzo GT1542 Traveller. In fact, this happens to be the exact same combination I’m using now. So far, it’s been tested under a wide variety of conditions from the studio to by the beach with surf spray, in the rain, and with sand blowing about; the head has performed flawlessly. It’s become an indispensable part of my travel kit, especially when shooting with medium format.
There’s really not that much to say about the P0: possibly the best kind of review. It works, and works very well. It is a piece of equipment that does its job flawlessly and doesn’t get in the way.
Let’s start with the easy stuff: the P0 Monoball is a no-brainer. It’s one of the very few unqualified recommendations I feel happy making; I’d get the version without the QR adaptor so you can attach whichever one you happen to prefer. It’s solid, has zero play, supports a lot of weight, is built like a tank, and is light and small. If you need a ball head of any kind, buy one; at ~$230 it isn’t much more expensive than comparably specced traditional ball heads, either.
The trickier question is whether the C1 Cube is a worthwhile purchase or not; the very stiff price puts it out of consideration for most unless you are a very, very serious photographer. It’s one of those pieces of equipment you tend to know you need before you buy one. It is, unquestionably, a fine piece of equipment; one that is both beautifully made and completely functional. It moves with precision and confidence, and absolutely zero slop anywhere. The only thing that lets it down is the poor QR clamp design – frankly, if it were mine, I’d replace it with something sturdier and more decisive.
I suppose that’s the real question, isn’t it: if a photographer who specializes in the kinds of things I shoot, almost all of which require very precise positioning – watches, architecture, still life – can’t justify it in an imaging chain geared (excuse the pun) towards producing the highest output quality possible, then it’s going to be a tough sell to anybody else. My hesitation comes around the price. It unquestionably does a better job than the Manfrotto 410 I’ve been using up til now, but then again, it should – at more than five times the cost. Combined with an equally well-designed macro rail (I see an RRS in my future), this allows secure and precise positioning in almost any axis you can think of. In my couple of weeks using it, I’ve gotten so used to the way it functions – transparently, doing the job and not getting in the way or needing me to think consciously about it – that the problem is I can’t send it back.
The scary thing is that I can quite easily see a justification for having both items in your arsenal – the P0 is lightweight, fast to use, locks down solidly, and can hold a lot of weight – it’s the perfect thing to use when you don’t need millimetrically precise positioning and you’re on the go. I pair it with my Gitzo GT1542 Traveller without the centre column for the ultimate travel tripod; more than capable of supporting a Hasselblad and not weighing too heavily on your shoulders. The Cube would be for slower, more deliberate photography; the kind where the lighting setup alone takes you an hour, and the list of deliverable shots is just a few lines long. Work where precision absolutely counts. Hey wait, that’s right up my neck of the woods…
Excuse me while I go dig around behind my sofa in the hope of finding a few Benjamins. MT
The Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball is available here from B&H and Amazon.
The Arca-Swiss C1 Cube is available here from B&H.
The Arca-Swiss universal L bracket to fit both Cube and Monoball (and any other compatible rail) is available here from B&H.
The Manfrotto 394 low-profile RC4 adaptor is available here from B&H and Amazon.
Enter the 2013 Maybank Photo Awards here – there’s US$35,000 worth of prizes up for grabs, it’s open to all ASEAN residents, and I’m the head judge! Entries close 31 October 2013.
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