ARCA-SWISS P0 MONOBALL REVIEW
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SOMETIMES, A GENIUS IDEA IS ENOUGH TO REVOLUTIONISE WHAT SEEMS A PROVEN AND UNCHANGEABLE CONCEPT: ARCA-SWISS P0 MONOBALL REVIEW
Before delving into this Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball review, a bit of history, to see where I am coming from. As I mentioned in my article on support (click on THE IMPORTANCE OF EQUIPMENT SUPPORT FOR LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY to read it), in my quest for the perfect tripod head I used regular ballheads from Markins, Kirk and Arca-Swiss, up to the famed Arca-Swiss Cube and the unique Acratech Ultimate. All of these heads were working well, but they all had some quirks, features or lack thereof, that made me want to keep looking. Finally, about a year ago I got intrigued by the Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball and its design, and I decided to give it a try. I never looked back.
Disclaimer: At the time of writing, I am not affiliated with Arca-Swiss or any other brand mentioned in this review in any way. I am a professional photographer looking for the best equipment for my work, I buy all my gear with my hard-earned cash and I don’t get paid by anyone to write articles for my blog.
THE GENIUS DESIGN OF THE ARCA-SWISS P0 MONOBALL
Let’s start this Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball review from the feature that makes it unique. In designing the P0, Arca-Swiss did something both genius and extremely simple at the same time: they reversed the traditional ballhead design, putting the stem under the ball and connecting the camera directly on top of the ball itself. More, they devised a single locking ring, controlling both tension and lock through a three-geared planetary system.
Of course, they retained their trademark aspherical ball, which ensures that the more the weight is off-centre, the stronger the lock becomes, at equal tensioning of the ring. To eliminate problems caused by grease and dirt, the ball doesn’t need lubrication; thanks to its reversed shape, it is very difficult for dirt to get into the ball itself.
THE QUICK RELEASE
The Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball comes in four different flavours as far as camera plates. Compatible with any Arca-Swiss compatible L-Brackets and plates, the Classic model uses a tightening knob to fix your camera plate to the head, and the Fliplock Quick Set model uses a quick lever instead.
The Slidefix model, on the other hand, is only compatible with the new and not-so-standard Arca-Swiss Slidefix brackets and plates, which I cannot recommend at the moment due to its non-existent range of non-OEM accessories.
Finally, you can get your head without any plate, which is handy if you have an old plate lying around, or if you prefer to use a third-party solution (i.e., from Really Right Stuff or Kirk).
For this Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball review, and for my own work, I went for the Classic model. The reason for that is simple: I find the two seconds necessary to tighten a knob worth the advantage of knowing for sure that my L-Bracket is securely attached to the head, and I prefer the ease of use of the knob when wearing gloves, in the cold, and so on.
BUILD AND EASE OF USE
The Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball is built to the level of excellence that you’d expect from any Arca-Swiss product. Both head and quick release feel incredibly solid, without any play or wobbling whatsoever. The head comes with a 3/8” – 16 tripod mount thread size, which is standard on most professional tripods; just screw the P0 Monoball on your tripod and you are ready to go. Connecting any of my camera’s L-Bracket to the Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball takes just a second: just slide the bracket’s dovetail into the head’s quick release system and tighten the knob – done.
The Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball is the fastest head I ever used, period. Release the locking ring, and the ball will move freely around; get your camera into position, and lock the ring with one hand, while the other still holds the camera. That’s it. The beauty of the Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball’s locking ring system is that you’ll not have to find the right knob on the right side of your head, as you do with a regular ballhead; no need to adjust friction; you can reach the ring from each side of the head, and it will take care both of locking your camera and fine tune its position. To lock the head in place, you just need to tighten the ring until you feel enough resistance, without applying lot of force. The system works no matter the weight of your camera + lens combination, and without having to constantly adjust the friction control when you change cameras or lenses. Perfect ergonomics, amazing ease of use.
Once the ring is locked, there is no way your camera will move. Camera creep or micro-movements, often plaguing lesser quality ballheads, are non-existent with the Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball once the ring has been tightened. I used the Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball with gear ranging from heavy Medium Format cameras such as the Pentax 645z with lenses, to the feather-light Leica M: the Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball performed flawlessly with all of them. Now I am using it with my Leica SL and Leica S systems, and the Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball didn’t flinch: it keeps doing what it needs to do with great poise and no problems whatsoever.
Panning with the Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball is a breeze: thanks to its reversed design, the panning base is sitting above the head, allowing you to pan 360 degrees without any change in your camera’s levelling.
SIZE AND WEIGHT
For this Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball review I used the Classic version that I prefer. The Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball Classic is 2.9” or 7.4cm tall, 2.36” or 6cm across, and weighs 0.88 lbs. or 0.397 kg, carrying 20 kg.
To give you an idea, the Arca-Swiss Z1 with panoramic base is 4.7” or 12cm tall and weighs 71.6 lb. or 725 gr (but can carry up to 59 kg); the Really Right Stuff BH-55 is 2.9” or 7.4cm tall, 2.2” or 5.5cm across but weighs 2.3 lbs. or 1.042 kg (carrying 23 kg).
Without listing every possible ballheads here, the Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball is among the lowest and lightest of all heads with similar specs. A low center of gravity increases the head’s stability, and lightness is a very important quality when you need to carry it around for miles on the field.
I don’t babysit my gear. I need it to perform under all conditions: cold, hot, humid, dry, rainy, snowy weather are the norm for me. When in the field, I try and handle my equipment with care; however, during the year I used my Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball day in day out, it happened that my tripod tipped over and the P0 hit ground or rocks.
I used it near the sea and in deserts: salty air and spray, sand, scorching heat and freezing temperatures did nothing to it.
As you can see from the pictures, it has some little battle scars, but except for the small scratches and dents I gave her, the Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball’s finish looks as good as new. What’s most important, it still performs flawlessly like it did on day one.
VERSIONS: P1 OR P0?
The P series Monoballs come in two versions: the one examined in this Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball review, for loads up to 20 kg or 44 lbs.; and the larger Arca-Swiss P1 Monoball for loads up to 30 kg or 66 lbs. In my opinion, the Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball is more than enough for most photographers; the Arca-Swiss P1 Monoball might be better if you shoot Large Format, or perhaps if you use very long and heavy lenses. Arca-Swiss products notoriously aren’t cheap; however, the Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball is very well priced for what it does.
As a result of this Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball review, I can definitely say that this is a great head in a very small and light package. The Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball ergonomics are perfect for my way of working, the head it comes with a built-in panning base and is very well priced compared to similarly specified alternatives.
What I liked:
1. Reverse ballhead: put the camera weight directly on the ball, not on the stem;
2. Single locking ring all around the head’s body: no tension controls, no knobs, no left-handed / right-handed issues, no issues when turning the tripod around;
3. Aspherical ball: carries more weight and the more the weight is off-center, the stronger the locking action is;
4. Built-in panorama: a single panning base right under the camera mount allows you to rotate the camera while keeping it levelled;
5. High load capacity, low weight: the head can hold 20 kg (44 lbs) while weighing only 397 gr (14 oz);
6. Low gravity center increases the system’s stability;
7. Extremely fast and practical in use: the single locking ring makes this ballhead a breeze to use and without a doubt the fastest head I ever worked with;
8. No creep, no wobbling and no movement: once you tighten your Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball, your camera will stay where you placed it.
What I didn’t like:
Nothing. The Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball is as close as my ideal head as it gets today. Get one; you’ll not regret it.
Thanks for reading this Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball review, I hope you enjoyed it! Why don’t you share it with your friends, or drop me a comment to let me know how you feel about this?
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