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Arca Swiss D4 Geared Tripod Head

Arca Swiss D4 Geared Tripod Head

Arca Swiss D4

Specification (in order of importance to me)

Head type: Geared
Weight: 800g
Capacity: Not specified
Front tilt: -45/+100 degrees
Lateral tilt: -45/+45 degrees
Rotation: 360 degrees (not geared)

It wasn't until I acquired my Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head that I could appreciate just how quickly & accurately a camera could be set up on a tripod.  Previously, having only used pan & tilt heads & ball heads (not much though, I really don't get on with ball heads), it all just seemed so much easier.  Just disengage the gears, roughly set each axis, then make a couple of final adjustments using the geared drives & that's it, job done. No unlocking levers, tapping the head back & forth & locking the levers back up only to find something's moved.  No fuss at all, not even a little bit.

At 420g lighter than the Manfrotto, the Arca Swiss D4 brings a very welcome weight reduction.  It's also quite a bit smaller & very compact.  The axis adjustments have a very precise feel to them with no perceivable backlash, meaning that when you reverse the direction of movement, there's no free play to take up in the gears before the platform starts moving again.  The round knobs make the geared adjustments while the larger teardrop shaped knobs disengage the gears to allow for free movement on each axis. The very small teardrop shaped knobs unlock the base & top camera platform allowing them to rotate, the latter being very useful for taking stitched panoramic shots once the head is leveled.  All of the controls are smooth & precise & work with minimal effort, one of the hallmarks of Arca Swiss products.

The biggest issue I had was trying to justify spending a considerable sum on such a seemingly mundane piece of kit.  After all, it doesn't directly affect image quality & I can do the same job with much cheaper & lighter alternatives.

The head was announced in late 2010 & described as "the world’s smallest, most functional and lightest gearhead", which instantly grabbed my attention.  Looking through the specifications, it seemed like the perfect solution for my way of working...light, fuss-free & compact.  It immediately went to the top of my wish list, the only question being price & availability.  I've been a fan of Arca Swiss gear ever since I owned one of their older large format cameras, the Arca Swiss B 4"x5" monorail.  Very well engineered, lightweight & precise.  Luckily, the company's values haven't changed.  In early 2011 pricing for the D4 head was announced.  Again, my attention was grabbed, only this time I wasn't so enthusiastic.  At half the price of a new tilt/shift lens, I had higher priorities & quickly disregarded it.

In 2011, the weight I was carrying grew by 2kg following my purchase of the Manfrotto head & a 24mm tilt/shift lens & life in the mountains was beginning to be less enjoyable as a result.  I'd also replaced my ageing & slowly disintegrating Manfrotto tripod with a nice new compact Benro model.  The weight of the new tripod is about the same as the old, but it folds flat & is noticeably shorter.  This made the Manfrotto head seem much more bulky by comparison.  So, at this point, the heaviest item I was carrying was the head at 1220g, which led me back to researching for a lighter alternative.  By now, I'd become so attached to using a geared head there was no way back, no way I could return to the frustration of trying to level the camera with a pan & tilt head & as I've said, ball heads & me don't make for a relaxed atmosphere.  I therefore convinced myself it was only a matter of time before the Arca head would be mine, since, at the time of writing, there is no other lightweight alternative available in the world.

The purchase was made in January 2013 & so far I'm totally happy with it.  The weight & bulk difference is very noticeable while hiking & it's an absolute pleasure to use.  It's even nice to look at, considering it's just a tripod head!  Now all I need is some cotton wool to wrap it in...