Manfrotto 486RC2 Ball Head

Review of the Manfrotto/Boken 486 RC2 ball head

Manfrotto also known as Bogen in the US is very well known for their tripods and support equipment.  I had been using a Manfrotto tripod and ball head for the past while, but it was time to upgrade to something a little heavier duty to support my camera equipment.  The 486 Ball head was an excellent size for me, and it’s from a company I trust.  If you have never tried a ball head for photography, you should read on to find out why most serious photographers use a ball head.

Using a ball head on a tripod is one of those things you will have to experience for yourself. Traditional 3 way pan-tilt heads are for camcorders, and not cameras.  I never understood what the big deal was until I tried one myself.  It lets you frame your shot quickly and easily. It lets your tripod do what it was meant to do; support your camera.  With a 3 way pan and tilt head that most people are accustomed to, especially if you bought your tripod at an electronics retailer or small photo printing store in the mall is actually like putting hand cuffs on your camera.  It lets you move around somewhat, and you can look it in place, but you don’t have real freedom.

A ball head attaches to your camera and lets you move it around freely while on a tripod. The best feeling in the world is having your camera attached and following action around at like a baseball game. You get excellent control so you can follow a batter swinging, and while he’s running around the bases.

So I was in the market for another ball head.  The biggest concern when shopping for tripod equipment should be, well this support my equipment? There is no point in getting a tripod, or head that can’t hold your camera, lenses, and accessories properly.  When looking at a brand like Manfrotto you know you can trust their ratings for max weight. With some other cheap manufacturers around I wouldn’t go anywhere near their max load ratings.

The 486 was a good size for me as it would be able to hold not only my camera, but my camera when fully loaded.  Don’t forget macro adapters, flash heads, camera grips, or anything else you might have when shopping.

The price is excellent on these ball heads as well.  A good ball head can be in the several hundred dollar range.  While I’m not going to say this is better than a $450 Markins Ball head it is excellent quality for less than 1/4 the cost.

The ball head is pictured on the left, with the quick release plate on the right. You can see the locking mechanism as well as the safety pin on top of the head.

The 486 has a single lever which locks the ball in place.  This same lever also locks the base from panning as well. So if you do a lot of panning type shots (at a race track for example) you probably will want to opt for the 488 which has separate locks for the panning and ball movements.  There is no spirit level on this head either, unless you opt for one of the other quick release plates.  I have never felt a spirit level totally necessary, although it would be useful for panoramic shots.

The 486 adds 10cm of height onto your tripod, and is rated to hold up to 6kg of equipment.  The ball movement is pretty smooth, and the locking mechanism is strong.

The Manfrotto quick release plate is actually fairly nice to work with.  It is easy to screw on to your camera, and the extra clip to help you really tighten it is very useful.  It takes all of 1 sec to release and snap back in place.  A lot of people will recommend going with Arca Swiss style release plates and L clamps, but that is another $200 I could be spending on lenses and lighting so it’s an option I did not go for.  If funds became unlimited it is something I would look into. But for now the Manfrotto release system is more than adequate.

This is a ball head I would recommend if budget is of concern. If you have a little more to spend, get the 488 for the separate locks.  And if your budget is unlimited, look into the RRS, and Markins heads.   The Manfrotto 486 RC2  is a head that will suit your needs and get the job done.