Manfrotto used new design ideas and new technology to produce the XPRO ball head. Its body is made of magnesium alloy and has a triple locking system with three wedges that lock the ball in place. Grease-free polymer rings are also used to ensure smooth movements.
There are three controls on the XPRO ball head, one to control panning, ball lock and ball friction.
Manfrotto supplies the head with the same MSQ6 quick release plate as supplied with the Gitzo Series 4 center ball head, but with a different badge on the front. This means the XPRO clamp is Arca-Swiss compatible rather than using one of Manfrotto’s own designs.
According to the manufacturer, the head can withstand weights of up to 15 kg. Although this is lower than some other heads, it’s still well within what a photographer would normally use. It is also important to remember that it is the weight distribution that is important. A front-heavy front-facing camera and lens setup is much more unstable than a balanced top-of-the-head setup.
Quite generously there are three spirit levels on the head which work in two planes. Also, unlike the spirit levels of the Gitzo Center Ball Head Series 4, Benro GX35 and Vanguard Veo BH-160S, the levels remain visible when a camera is mounted.
Base diameter: 60mm
Controls: ball lock, friction, panoramic
Plate compatibility: Arca-Switzerland
Maximum charge: 15kg
Build and manipulate
Although it doesn’t look as beefy or as high-end as the Gitzo 4-series ball head, the XPRO ball head actually has the same 6cm base diameter. This helps ensure a more stable platform, but also means that it is better suited for use with heavier tripods with a fairly large canopy. The ball is also reasonably large, which helps when moving a heavy camera and lens combination into position.
While the main body of the head is made of magnesium alloy, it looks rather plasticky. Meanwhile, the control knobs are plastic, which is a little disappointing, but probably helps keep the weight down. Where the control buttons score however is with their shape. Instead of being round and ridged or knurled, they’re shaped like an ergonomic paddle to help you apply maximum force without your fingers slipping. Plus, the lockout and pan controls can be removed and rotated freely so you can always set them to the optimum position for use. This is especially useful if the head is on a tripod like the 3 Legged Thing Nicky with a very large canopy (or mounting plate) as they extend past the base of the head and would hook over the top of the tripod.
The ball lock and friction controls are a bit close together, which can be a problem for people with really big thumbs, but it does mean it’s easy to switch back and forth back while looking through the camera viewfinder.
As the quick release plate is quite long, it may prevent the camera battery compartment from opening, but it adds stability.
Mounting the quick release plate in the head is quite simple, you just lower the camera onto the head and you will hear a slight click and it snaps into place. Then you have to tighten the clamp using the knob under the lens, which can be a bit awkward depending on the diameter of the lens. To remove the camera and quick release plate from the head, you need to loosen the clamp a bit using the knob, then press the red button on the side to release it completely. It’s a handy safety mechanism, but its operation isn’t as smooth as the Benro GX35 head.
As the XPRO head uses the same quick release plate as the Gitzo Series 4 head it suffers from the same problem, the hex socket in the bolt is not deep enough to give as secure a fit for an Allen key. This means you have to be careful when tightening the camera bolt.
While the correct mix of friction control and ball lock has to be found for every combination of camera and lens, I found this very easy to achieve with the XPRO ball head – easier than with the ball head Gitzo series 4. So even when I had a 1.57kg lens mounted on a camera attached directly to my head rather than via the lens collar, I was able to adjust the composition smoothly before I locking everything in place with minimal sag when I let go of the camera and lens.
Rearranging the setup so that the lens is supported by its collar improves balance and there is no sign of sag.
It doesn’t look as impressive as the Gitzo 4-Series Ball Head, but the Manfrotto XPRO Ball Head with Top Lock is a great tripod head at a very attractive price. It doesn’t take long to find the right balance between ball friction and lockup and the well-formed controls make it easy to get a tight lockout. Meanwhile, the safety catch prevents your camera from falling if you don’t tighten the quick release enough. It’s a great all-rounder.