I receive invitations to evaluate a lot of camera gear, but due to time constraints, decline many of the offers. However, the UniqBall tripod head intrigued me and I couldn't resist accepting the offer of an evaluation head.
As you likely guessed from its name, this ball head is different. So, let's dive right into a walkthrough.
The main knob loosens the very-substantially strong black outer housing, permitting the housing to rotate around the base and permitting the red outer ball (or, 2/3 of a ball) to function similarly to a normal ball head (see images 1-4 above). Tighten the knob and the ball no longer moves.
This primary/outer ball is very smooth with some slip-stick behavior as it becomes tightened. The last issue is a complaint I have with a lot of ball heads, but ... I didn't really notice the issue with this head until I specifically hunted it down in the studio. The lock rate of the main lock knob is quick and, permitting the head to go from smooth adjustment to completely solidly locked with a very short throw of the lock handle, there is less chance for the slip-stick to be noticed.
The minimum friction on the ball is not adjustable, leaving the main lock knob to this task.
Appearing to be missing is an independent panning base lock knob. However, the main ball locks down tightly before the panning base does. Thus, the ball can be locked into place while the base remains adjustable, ready to capture panoramas and for other panning needs. For this purpose, care is required when unlocking for base rotation only as the locking rate is, again, quite fast, requiring about 1/8 of a turn to go from a freely adjustable ball to a locked panning base (I like it). The rotating base remains very smooth until completely locked down.
While my preference is for a round-shaped main lock knob that can be rolled between fingers, this is a personal preference and a very minor complaint. A lever locking knob can sometimes be more forcefully tightened. The lock knob has play in it when loosened and is not captive, though one would need to be very careless to unintentionally completely remove the knob. The knob is spring loaded and can be pulled outward to allow it to clear the housing and to set the desired locked and unlocked orientation.
The UniqBall UBH 45X Ball Head can be used just like a standard ball head, providing fast setup and great flexibility of camera angle. But, the bubble level on top of the red ball hints toward the specialness of this head.
Far more often than not, I want a horizontally level camera for my photos. Lock the main ball with the air bubble centered in the level and the main ball acts like a leveling base, locking the camera horizontally level. Good of course is that the main ball level and my camera's electronic level are in agreement (not always the case) with my L-plate in the middle.
Once the main ball is leveled and locked, camera adjustments are then made via the red pan-tilt adjustment knob, located just below the clamp. As the name implies, loosening this knob permits the camera to be (only) panned and tilted down/up, rotating in X and Y orientations on the inner black ball. Regardless of the adjustments made via the pan-tilt feature, the camera remains level. Important is that the pan/tilt adjustments remain very smooth until locked and they lock very tightly.
There are many uses for this feature, including video recording. Especially interesting for video use is the UniqBall Panning Arm. This arm clamps onto the plate and provides leverage for smoother camera movement, similar to what is provided by dedicated video heads.
Most recently, I was photographing the city of Philadelphia from the South Street Bridge. The camera's electronic level has been my go-to aid to keep horizons level, but having the tripod head prevented an out-of-level condition in the first place worked much better, making setup adjustments faster and less fiddly. Especially less fiddly after the viewfinder indicator became difficult to see after dark. I simply recomposed without heed for the horizon levelness and all images were straight.
Somewhat fiddly is the optional UniqBall UCX X-Cross Clamp (Arca-Swiss compatible) included on my evaluation head. On a normal ball head, the clamp can simply be rotated 90° to go from holding a camera plate to holding a lens plate mounted to a tripod ring. Because the pan/tilt function requires a specific camera orientation in the clamp (the red knob goes to the front), the standard clamp must be removed and reoriented (wrench included) to accommodate such a lens change. The X-Cross Clamp very conveniently provides both orientations on the same clamp. The downside is that the bi-directional clamp lock, pushing and pulling the opposite corners of the clamp, must travel farther than a conventional clamp to become fully tightened. I found myself sometimes sliding plates (sans safety screws) in and out of the clamp to speed up camera changes.
Note that the white lines on the upper/black ball and stem are not centered, though they are useful to reference the degree marks provided on the red ball. Also note that the red pan-tilt knob will impact some tripod top plates if lowered fully forward into the drop notch. It even impacts the UBH 45X's base if fully positioned into the drop notch. I needed to re-orient the clamp when doing copy work straight down below the camera.
Cold weather is not a problem. I put the UBH 45X in the freezer overnight and ... it still functioned smoothly immediately upon removal.
The color and finish of the UniqBall UBH 45X Ball Head are likely what you noticed at very first glance. I have to admit that gloss is not my favorite tripod head finish and red was not my first color choice. But, the quality of the finish is very good and I quickly got over the personal preference issues upon putting the head to use.
The UBH 45X is rated to hold 88.2 lbs. (40 kg) and it successfully supported at least that much offset pressure. Basically, this head will solidly hold your biggest DSLR rig with ease.
Very minor composition change occurs when locking down the main lock knob, even with a 400mm lens mounted. But, the UBH 45X's biggest weakness is perhaps the upward framing creep that occurs with lockdown of the pan-tilt knob. The movement is very evident even at normal focal lengths. Of course, if actually panning and tilting while shooting/recording, this issue is irrelevant.
I would describe the size and weight of this head to be normal/average when compared to similarly or lesser rated ball heads. Putting the calipers on the head, the diameter at the main knob, with the knob oriented inward, is 4.1" (104.1mm). The max housing diameter (omitting the knob) is 3.2" (81.8mm), the base is 2.9" (73.9mm). The height is 4.3" (109.1mm). The max diameter at the X-Cross clamp, including both knobs, is 4.5" (114.9mm), though the clamp rotated into the drop notch creates a different storage profile.
The scales say that the X-Cross clamp-equipped UBH 45X weighs 1.65 lbs. (748g).
The UniqBall UBH 45X Ball Head comes with a universal plate. The image above shows this plate (bottom) along with optional UniqBall lens plates with their anti-rotation nubs. The quality of these plates is very good.
The UBX45X comes with an also-unique double-opening neoprene pouch as shown below.
The price of the UniqBall UBH 45X Ball Head may seem relatively high until you factor in a leveling base. A quality Gitzo leveling base costs $279 (at review time), adds nearly as much weight as the UBH 45X itself and can impede low-to-the-ground tripod setups. Both a ball head and a pan-tilt head are still required for UBH 45X-equivalent functionality.
Although its price implied otherwise, I was expecting the UniqBall to be at least somewhat gimmicky, but ... this head is the real deal. It is very solidly constructed, provides functionality that is truly "unique" and works excellently in the studio and field.
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