Last But Not Least, There's Kirk
Having taken this ballhead thing this far, it would simply be perverse to exclude Kirk, whose BH-3 looks suspiciously like the model for the quite similar (save for the lack of the Kirk's separate tensioning knob) Markins. Which came first, Markins or Kirk? I know I heard of Kirk way before I ever heard of Markins, but that's not proof. Whichever, the Kirk BH-3, which is a smaller, lighter copy of its flagship BH-1 used by several renowned nature photographers (the knobs are the exact same size), looks even better built (all of these products—with the exception of the next one, which is only adequate—seem very well built) and is made in Indiana, my native State. A Hoosier head...now that's gotta count for something.
And as to the several emails asking which head I use myself, almost eerily I received at the same time this email from Andy Frazer:
I'm a big proponent of pistol-grip ballheads, so I have to throw in my vote. I've been using the Slik AF2100 pistol grip ballhead for 17 years! Never had a problem with it, and I can't imagine ever using anything else. The pistol grip lets you control the head with your entire hand. It's not a delicate finger adjustment thingy. And best of all, it's under $100! [$80, actually —MJ] I would take the AF2100 over any of those multi-hundred dollar devices any day.
So why eerie? Because I've been using my own Slik AF2100 for nearly as long, and I'd say about it exactly what Andy said. I'm sure it's not the full-time ballhead for a long-lens nature photographer, but it's easy to use and effective for my occasional use with smaller lenses. Taking into account the price, it may be the most recommendable device of all of 'em (but see Carl's posting above, too).
Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON