Manfrotto XPRO Ball Head – Review

Hot on the heels of my new tripod purchase was the purchase of a new ball head for the aforementioned tripod. The base-plate diameter of the Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 is 60mm which is larger than any of my existing tripod heads except for my Manfrotto 496RC2 head which was one of the first ball heads I purchased.

The Manfrotto 496RC2 uses a proprietary tripod plate, the RC2 plate (also referred to as the 200PL), which is only compatible with other Manfrotto tripod heads. Since purchasing that ball head, I have switched over to the Arca Swiss compatible tripod heads to give me more choice and flexibility when looking for additional accessories. I do not like the thought of being tied to a single manufacturer either.

When I was researching ball heads, several articles I read online rated the Manfrotto XPRO ball head as one of the best ball heads available in the sub £250 price range. There are better heads out there, like the really right stuff or the Arca Swiss but you need to take out a bank loan to buy them. For your average enthusiast photographer like myself, it’s hard to justify the cost. If you’re making money from your photography, then it’s less difficult.

The XPRO ball head comes in two variants. As you would expect, you can choose from the RC2 (200PL) plate, or what Manfrotto calls the Top Lock Plate. The Top Lock Plate is referred to on the Manfrotto website as an Arca Swiss compatible quick release plate. Given my preference for Arca Swiss tripod plates and that most of my other accessories use these plates, I opted to purchase the Top Lock variant of the XPRO ball head.

Manfrotto XPRO ball head with Top Lock Plate

The Manfrotto XPRO ball head doesn’t break any new ground in terms of design and functionality. The controls are exactly what you’d expect to find on a ball head, friction control, locking lever and an independent panning lock. There is also a safety mechanism on the top plate of the tripod to stop equipment accidentally slipping from the ball-head if the clamp is not fully tightened.

Quick Specs

  • Weight: 520g
  • Payload Weight: 10Kg
  • Height : 11.5cm
  • Base Diameter: 60mm
  • Ball Size: 45mm
  • Controls : Pan Lock, Friction Control

From the minute you open the box, you get the impression that this is a well designed and precision-engineered piece of kit. It feels substantial in your hand as if it were hewn from a single piece of metal and sculpted to perfection. Mounted on top of my MT055CXPRO3 tripod, it also looks good.

The supplied tripod plate comes with a standard 1/4 inch screw that has an attached D ring which makes tightening the simpler and possible without an additional tool. The plate itself as I already mentioned is Arca Swiss compatible and quite sizeable, measuring in at 70mm by 55mm. This sits nicely on the base of my D850 but I can see it being a little oversized for a smaller crop sensor body like the Nikon D3000 series, although I haven’t tested this.

Usage

I’ve tested this ball-head on my 055 series Manfrotto tripod and it is impressively solid. When loaded with a D850 and 100-400mm F5.6 lens fully extended there is a very minor amount of slippage after locking it down even at a forty-five-degree angle. I don’t own a 70-200 f2.8 lens, so I couldn’t test it with anything much heavier other than my 150-600mm Sigma, but it’s unlikely I would use anything other than my gimbal head for that so the test was pointless for me.

Ergonomically, there are a few things about the XPRO I didn’t like. I found when trying to re-adjust the position of the ball head while looking through the viewfinder, I often caught and moved the friction control before realising what I was doing. For me, the friction control needs to be smaller or on the opposite side of the head, rather than next to the locking control. As can be seen from the images above, they are distinctly different in shape and so maybe over time I would get used to which control is which and no longer do this. Initially, however, it was an annoyance.

My major issue with this tripod is the Arca Swiss compatibility and the safety mechanism used in the top plate of the tripod. As I said above, I use a lot of different Arca Swiss compatible tripod plates from a range of different manufacturers including Black Rapid, 3 Legged Thing and peak design. This ball-head seems to be very specific with regard to Arca Swiss compatibility and has very little tolerance for anything that isn’t manufactured exactly to the Arca Swiss specification. I found in particular that Black Rapid Arca Swiss compatible tripod plates would not snap in to place on the top lock plate. The issue seems to be with the clip of the safety mechanism. If the plate you’re attaching is slightly thicker than the Arca Swiss specification, the clip cannot snap in to place and secure the plate.

XPRO Ball Head Safety Mechanism
XPRO Ball Head Safety Mechanism

As you can see from the images above, there is very little tolerance in the top plate for tripod plates that are deeper or thicker that the supplied Manfrotto plate.

Verdict

If you aren’t going to use any third party tripod plates or L-brackets or other accessories that come with their own Arca Swiss compatible plates with this ball-head, you’ll have to go a long way to find something as good without spending a lot more money. Paired with a good set of tripod legs, this ball-head is rock solid.

If like me, you use a variety of tripod plates and l-brackets then you need to make sure they will fit on to this top lock plate before you decide to purchase this ball-head. That will be difficult if you intend to purchase online. My advice would be to look for an alternative with a more tolerant top plate.

I’ve since purchased another ball-head to pair with my 055 tripod legs. Look out for a review of that coming soon.

Thanks for stopping by, I hope you found this article useful.

Have a good one.

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