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Review - Manfrotto Ball Head Camera Mount

Posted: 5 September 2016


496 Compact Ball Head

When I decided to get a dovetail plate and mounting rings to mount one of my ETX telescopes on my 13+ year old Meade LXD55 German Equatorial Mount (GEM), I decided to also get a camera mount to attach to the dovetail plate for long exposure sky imaging. I have done that in the past using a homemade camera mount on the LXD55, but it was not a very secure installation.

I checked the published weights of my D7200 DSLR and lenses:
  Camera body = 1.7 lbs
  8mm lens = 0.9 lbs
  18-140mm lens = 1.1 lbs
  70-300mm lens = 1.6 lbs
  150-600mm lens = 4.3 lbs

After discussions with OPT I decided to get the Manfrotto 496 Compact Ball Head. It holds up to 13.23 lbs, which is more than adequate for my D7200 DSLR and my lenses.

The Manfrotto ball head came in this box:


Unfortunately, the ball head was received with a 3/8"-to-1/4" bushing missing. The bushing is needed to mount the ball head on the ADM dovetail, which only has 1/4" holes. OPT immediately sent a replacement. With the bushing inserted into the base of the ball head it was attached to the dovetail plate:

photo photo

The lock knob is seen in the photo on the left and the friction adjustment knob is seen in the photo on the right. Using these two knobs, which apply to both axes, you can orient the camera as desired for best object framing regardless of where the GEM is pointing.

Here are my four DSLR lenses mounted on the LXD55 using the Manfrotto Ball Head:


The iPhone can be mounted as well for long exposure sky astrophotography using the iOS app NightCap Pro. Here is the iPhone mounted using the SteadyPix:


The LXD55 counterweight was needed to balance the DSLR with all of the lenses, but not with the iPhone.

I initially did some tests with the DSLR using the 150-600mm lens. Once the LXD55 was polar and star aligned, it was very nice having tracking with the long telephoto lens.

This is a cropped photo of the waxing gibbous Moon, f/6.3, 1/400sec, ISO 200, FL 600mm:


This cropped image, f/6.3, 1/30sec, ISO 200, FL 600mm, shows Saturn and the ring system pretty nicely:


Although the sky was bright from the Moon, these full-frame tracked photos, f/6.3, 20 seconds (M57) and 10 seconds (M13), ISO 1600, FL 600mm, show what can be done with a securely mounted DSLR on a tracking mount:

M57 (Ring Nebula)
M13 (Great Globular Cluster in Hercules)

I also did some imaging using the 18-140mm, 70-300mm, and fisheye 8mm lenses. This wide angle photo, taken on a Moonlit night at f/3.5, 30 seconds, ISO 1600, FL 18mm, shows the Summer Triangle, the Milky Way, and a faint satellite:


M31 (Andromeda Galaxy) and its two companion galaxies M32 and M110, f/4.8, 1 minute, ISO 12800, FL 135mm:


The Milky Way overhead along with the observatory dome, f/4.5, 2 minutes, ISO 3200, Fisheye 8mm:



The Manfrotto Compact Ball Head worked well in my testing. It was certainly better than my homemade mount. The Ball Head securely held the camera even when using a long heavy lens like the Tamron 150-600mm at all orientations on the LXD55 GEM.

The only difficulty I had with the Ball Head was when attaching and removing the camera. With the Ball Head mounted on the dovetail plate it was always necessary to loosen the lock and friction knobs and turn rotate the top portion of the Ball Head to attach/remove the camera. Once the camera was attached the camera orientation would have to be set and the knobs tightened again. This mounting technique was only a minor nuisance considering the security provided by the Ball Head when holding expensive and heavy lenses. Of course, it was also necessary to ensure that the camera was securely tightened down onto the camera mounting plate of the Ball Head.

I will be using the Manfrotto Compact Ball Head for more sky photography with both the DSLR and iPhone.

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