A clever ball head that can be accurately adjusted and locked in place in an instant using just one hand, the Manfrotto 322RC2 is an excellent alternative to standard heads. Its range of motion limitation is relatively easy to live with, but its ease of use is hard to live without once you’re used to it.
If you’re going to use a tripod in the pursuit of the perfect photo, you should pick the tripod head that works best under the conditions where you do most of your shooting. A macro enthusiast will need a different head (and even a different tripod) to an urban night photographer, and a landscape photographer may need an entirely different setup.
See our Beginner’s Guide to Tripod Heads elsewhere on Witchdoctor, but one of the most versatile tripod heads, and indeed the one that I’ve adopted for my own photography is Manfrotto’s 322RC2 Horizontal Grip Action Ball Head.
Features and Operation
The 322RC2’s unique design gives the freedom of movement found in ball heads and adds in the ability to unlock, move and lock an attached camera with one hand. The secret is in the locking lever contained in the pistol grip – squeeze and the ball is unlocked and the camera can be shifted in any direction, let go and it locks up rock-solid. The 322RC2 can be shifted into portrait orientation in seconds, again just by squeezing the lever.
It’s so simple that it’s basically foolproof. The ease with which compositions can be shifted is remarkable compared to other heads – keep one hand on the shutter release or remote, your eye to the viewfinder or LCD and adjust with the other hand on the grip. When you’re happy with the scene, you can shoot instantly. An optional remote shutter release trigger can be placed on the grip, so you can shoot without letting go, which is ideal for panning shots.
There’s a friction wheel in the hand grip and with a little bit of tweaking, the 322RC2 can be adjusted so that the locking lever’s operation becomes quite subtle. A light squeeze then allows for small, very controlled camera movements, which is perfect for the final adjustments to a photo.
The physical orientation of the 322RC2 can be switched from right-handed to left handed. This involves loosening a few allen head screws but it’s not complicated. The head can actually be changed to a vertical grip (where it resembles a joystick) by unbolting the camera plate and remounting it at the end of the grip. Also an easy process.
The 322 RC2 is finished in matt black, and weighs in at a minimal 700 grams thanks to its magnesium construction. It has a camera weight capacity of 5Kg, which is more than adequate for a DSLR and big (but not giant) lens.
It’s got a built in spirit level and features Manfrotto’s RC2 quick release plate, which is attached to the camera and clips into the head. There’s an easy to use safety pin that can be set to make sure the quick release can’t be accidentally activated, thus avoiding a disastrous drop. The RC2 plate is available in a number of other Manfrotto heads, including monopod heads, which is handy because a single camera plate can be left on the camera permanently and used across multiple applications.
Durability is excellent, with drops onto concrete and road tar (by other photographers of course) only scuffing the surface finish. Being soaked in the rising tide and filled with fine black beach sand should be a disaster for this type of product, but a thorough rinsing in warm fresh water has left the unit unmarked and unaffected in any way.
The negatives are that it’s bulkier than a conventional ball-head, which is something to bear in mind if you’re a frequent flyer. The range of motion is also limited to the right by the grip – you can go all the way to the vertical towards the left but no more than 15-20 degrees to the right. I’ve found these issues to be more than made up for by the 322RC2’s speed and ease of use. The 322RC2 is more expensive than basic ball head or pan and tilt heads using the same RC2 quick release plate, but it’s not that pricey in the grand scheme of tripod heads. In any event, it’s so much faster and more versatile than other options.
Manfrotto’s 322RC2 may be overkill for many users, who will be content with a smaller ball head or a pan and tilt model, but for those who like clever designs where considered ergonomics translates into ease of use and freedom to create, it’s a very good option. ASHLEY KRAMER