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DD's Markins M10 Ballhead Review


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#1 DigitalDarrell

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Posted 11 February 2007 - 10:25 PM

Markins® M10 Ball Head Review
©Darrell Young

A ball head is a ball head -- right? I used to think so! I've always had the attitude that it really doesn't matter what ball head you use, since all it does is clamp the camera in the position you want. I figured any ball head that was big enough to handle the weight was good, and all that really matters is the price.

Attached File  MarkinsMainLogo.jpg   48.7KB   14 downloads

Well, I come before you today with a different attitude. As the old song says, “I've seen the light!” Until I actually used a pro-level ball head I simply didn't know what I was missing. I'm just glad I never wrote any articles about less-than-professional ball heads, because I'd have to take them back...

READ MORE HERE
Best regards,
Darrell Young (Digital Darrell)
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"Better too many words than not enough understanding." - Darrell Young
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Bodies
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#2 mule_patterson

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Posted 12 February 2007 - 07:58 AM

Markins are considered the better of the bunch nowadays. Its superior design is recognized by most online photogs and takes us all up a notch in pro tripod gear for a reasonable price tag. With a 180/2.8 ED Nikkor already in my bag and a 600/8 Sigma Mirror tele coming this week (as well as to accomodate any lenses I will acquire later), the Markins M20 is my choice. I'll be adding an RRS L-plate bracket for my D200 as well for quick vertical>horizontal composition changeups as Neil Rothschild has suggested. At ~$530 for both items, this is a lifetime investment that will really make a difference!
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Support Bogen 3221 w/ Markins M20 & RRS B2 LR II| Bogen 681B Monopod/Gtai Ballhead | Induro C014 CF/Gtai Ballhead | Nodal Ninja 180 Pano Head
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#3 Rick Paul

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Posted 12 February 2007 - 08:31 AM

Good article. Since getting my M20, I am certainly convinced I have captured images I might not have otherwise. I find I enjoy it the most when doing Macro work. Repositioning slightly is effortless.

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#4 Neil Rothschild

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 02:04 AM

Nice review DD! As you know I recently reinlisted, acquiring a 2nd Markins head, so now I have an M10 and M20. I like the thumb screw tension system because it is impossible to accidentally change the tension limiter. Some heads have a separate knob for that function. Me, I would be loosening the tension limiter instead of the pan lock and then later suffer a gear flop when I loosened the main tension. I never have to worry about it because it is impossible to have a gear drop if the tension limiter is set to a reasonable value. Another advantage, I think, is that it is mechanically and intuitively simpler. The thumb screw tension limiter simply limits the travel of the main lock knob such that at it's loosest setting you are at the sweet spot. There is only one knob controlling the tension on the ball, rather than two separate controls, each applying tension and trying to work together. From reports I've seen of users of other heads with separate tenion limiters, some people have trouble getting the limiter and the main lock controls to work together properly. I don't know if it is sample variation or user variation. Interestingly, the M10 and M20 handle almost identically with my macro gear, 300 2.8 AFS II and 500 F/4P. I can't specifically say where the M20 handles those loads better, only that there is a subtle improvement in the feel. The M10 is a very tough little head. The M20 is also nice for macro, where the loads put on the head tend to exceed even my those exerted by my 500P after adding ring lights, focusing rails, and shooting at strange extreme angles. The hard anodized finish on the ball housing is amazing. Anodized aluminum is usually very easy to nick or scratch. Most of my plates and clamps, for example, have a few nicks from normal use showing raw metal underneath. Not the M10, though. After 2 1/2 years it is still pristine and I could probably sell it as "as new" or mint and get away with it. Regards, Neil

#5 DigitalDarrell

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 09:01 AM

Excellent mini-review Neil. I was especially interested in your comparison of the M10 and M20, having never used an M20. Under what circumstances do YOU think it would be better to use an M20, instead of the slightly smaller M10?
Best regards,
Darrell Young (Digital Darrell)
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"Better too many words than not enough understanding." - Darrell Young
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bodies
: Nikon D810, D800, D750, D600, D2X, COOLPIX A, D100, F80, FM, EM, Olympus OM-D E-M1, Olympus OM-D E-M10
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lenses
: AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED, AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G, AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Special Edition (for Df), AF-S Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR (x2), AF-S Nikkor DX 16-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR, AF Nikkor 80-400 f/4.5-5.6D ED VR, AF Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8, AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, AF-S Nikkor 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, AF Nikkor 24mm f/2.8D, AI Nikkor 35mm f/2, AI Nikkor 50mm 5/1.8, AI Nikkor 50mm 5/1.8 Series E, AI Nikkor 105mm f/2.5, AI Nikkor 200mm f/4, Non-AI Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4, Sigma 10-20mm EX f/3.5-5.6, M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, M.Zuiko PRO 12-40mm f/2.8 ED
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Accessories:
Nikon SB-910 Speedlight, Nikon SB-900 Speedlight, Nikon GP-1 GPS, Nikon ME-1 Microphone, Eye-Fi Wireless Cards, Atomos Ninja Blade External HDMI Video Recorder, Atomos Ninja-2 External HDMI Video Recorder, Atomos Samurai Blade External Video Recorder, Manfrotto Tripods, Markins M-10 Ballhead, Lots of camera bags, Metz 24 AF-1 Flash, Olympus FL-600R Flash, Olympus HLD-7 Battery Grip
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#6 Neil Rothschild

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 11:44 AM

...I was especially interested in your comparison of the M10 and M20, having never used an M20. Under what circumstances do YOU think it would be better to use an M20, instead of the slightly smaller M10?


Darrell,

Interesting question because the M10/M20 are much closer in physcial specifications than, for example, the Kirk and RRS heads. With smaller lenses, I see it as a last 2% thing. For my 300 2.8 and 500 F/4P I see it as a last 5% thing, but for those lenses I would go with the bigger head just becuz....

For a 400 2.8 or 600 F/5 or equivilent, definitely the M20. Really for the 500 F/4 too. Although I used my M10 with that lens, I did not buy the M10 for that lens. That lens needs all the help it can get.

For use on a Sidekick or other add-on gimbal mount, I would definitely go with the M20 for reasons discusssed below.

I would personally use an M20 for sure on any Gitzo 3 series or larger legs just to get that last 2-5%, not to cure any specific deficiency in the M10 . A G1325/G3530 and either head is a $1000 investment. Why not add $50 to the mix and squeeze every ounce of performance out of it?

I would more strongly consider it for any macro work because of the stresses put on the head. For many people, the prospect of a 600 F/4, where you would definitely want the larger head, is way out there. But anyone shooting macro is very likely to want to add a long focusing rail or other gear that stresses the head. For example, RRS sells 18" and 28" extension rails. I don't have one of those but I can't imagine cantilevering out my camera 12" or more from the clamp! If I were to do that, I would want the beefiest head I could get.

Aside from exotic load configurations, macro often demands extreme angles. Try setting your M10 up with a 105 Micro and try to find a good sweet spot that holds right down to a 90 degree angle (pointed straight down). That is difficult to do with any spherical ballhead. I can do that with the M10, with some difficulty, and maintain reasonable smoothness. It is easier to do, with better smoothness, with the M20.

Since the M20 is only a few more ounces than the M10 and not much larger in diameter, it actually fits a 2 series nicely. Here is my G1228 (with TB20 replacement plate) with the M20:

Posted Image

Compare to the same legs with the M10:

Posted Image

The M20 actually fits quite nicely and I have played with the G1228/M20 with a stressful macro setup. The M10 is certainly fine on an M10 and fits it a little better from a size/weight point of view. The M10 handles more load (except maybe in macro configurations) than the G1228 can handle. Of course, the whole issue of stressing out a 2 series leg set with a difficult macro configuration (or a 300 2.8) is much murkier. John Shaw recommends nothing less than a 3 series for macro work and I think I'm on board with that.

The biggest difference I see in the M20 is the panning base. My M10 is 2 1/2 years old. My M20 is new. I have some reason to believe that new M10's have a better pan base than mine, but I have none to compare. The one thing I would like to see different in my own M10 is a beefier pan base. Unlike the ball, the pan base is intended to be locked down in use. This is problematic when using a sidekick and tracking moving targets because obviously the pan base cannot be locked. It is the nature of the Sidekick that you are using a ballhead in a manner differently than it was designed since you can't lock the pan base when taking your shots.

I find my M20 pan base is much better damped than my M10 and it pans smoother when partially locked down. This is important to me because I use a Sidekick more often than not. Without a sidekick, it is much less of an issue. Therefore, I would also recommend the M20 for use on a Sidekick.

I know I'm waffling a bit here, but it is important to understand that the M10 does such a nice job that it is hard to make specific recommendations to cure specific deficiencies because there aren't any. Part of the difficulty here is that I am becoming more extreme in my thoughts about support. I am more sensitive to the varying conditions I shoot and the fact that no reasonably priced photographic support is "enough" in some situations. Bjorn Rorslett is very extreme in this way, and his recommended basic support system costs over $7,000! He believes nothing less will do the job. Although he is correct in principle, there are limits for most of us. In that context, I like to "over-engineer" things whenever I don't pay a big cost or weight penalty. To me the M20 is a good way to over-engineer one piece of the puzzle for a relative pittance.

Regards,
Neil

Edited by Neil Rothschild, 13 February 2007 - 11:55 AM.


#7 Dave Whiteley

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 02:42 PM

Neil,

"But anyone shooting macro is very likely to want to add a long focusing rail or other gear that stresses the head. For example, RRS sells 18" and 28" extension rails"

Why would anybody want a macro rail that long? The longest macro lenses are only 200mm anyway and only around 200mm long. I have a specialist dual axis macro rail and the slides are only 6" long. A macro rail is simply for fine focusing at set reproduction rates, the camera is supposed to be almost in focus before you use it.

As depth of field is only millimetres close up why would anybody want to move a lens 28" on a rail? Far simpler to move the tripod forward slightly. If you need to move the lens 28" you certainly aren’t working close-up! If you can't get close enough for a short focusing rail it's the tripod at fault, you need a tripod with an inclining centre post or that takes an inclining rail.

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#8 Neil Rothschild

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 03:38 PM

Dave,

I'm not suggesting people go out and put a 28" rail on their ballheads and shoot macro. I'm just suggesting that these rails exist, presumably for a reason, and they are sold as "macro tools", among other things, and if people are going to buy them, they better think about their support and maybe upgrade their prospective ballhead a notch :-). Also consider that a) just because you have a long rail doesn't mean you intend to take it out to the edge and, more importantly, B) having lots of rail hanging behind the head affords you the opportunity to hang a little weight as a counterbalance. I suspect that people use these rails to set up counterbalance.

It suprises me that RRS apparently sells a 6" rail, and 18 and 28" rails, and nothing in between. I was thinking about a copy stand type operation with a tripod, with the rail used for height adjustment. I was looking for about a 12" rail. I guess I would need the 18" rail, or find another rail somewhere.

There are occasions where you are trying to shoot flowers, for example, or the critters on them, and they are buried back behind other vegetation or other obstructions. It has nothing to do with focal length and everything to do with the difficulties of spotting a tripod when you can't get the legs where you need them. To me, macro is an exercise in trying to do impossible things with tripods. Manufacturers make devices like long "boom" rails to try to deal with it, and it causes other issues.

My main point, though, was that even a short 6" rail such as you use will put tremendous torque on the ballhead. More torque than my 9 LB 500 F/4P because the long lens is always at least nearly balanced. A lot of people think big ballheads and big tripods are intended for long heavy lenses and sometimes ignore the physics behind even a short extension out from the tripod's center of gravity.

Now, if you are trying to frame something at 1:1, you need to make very fine movements of the ballhead. Actually as fine or maybe finer than my 500P working at 700mm, or at least that is my experience. All ballheads suffer from a phenomenon often called "stick-slip". This is where there is, for lack of a better term "surface tension" holding the ball in place. It takes more force to get the ball moving than it does to keep it moving. The result is that the ball "jumps" when you get it moving. With macro, or very long lenses, you often need to move just a tiny bit to reframe. The stick-slip frustrates that. It sometimes forces you to back up and get a "running start", in an attempt to stop right where you want it.

The more tension you put on the ball, the more the tendency to stick-slip. When you lever out the camera on a rail, that forces you to increase the tension dramatically, even more than I might use on my 500P. Now you aim your lens 80 degrees down and you add even more tension to keep it from slipping. (All spherical balls need more tension to hold at more extreme angles). Now you might have a stick-slip problem with a ballhead that never gave you any problem, even with large heavy lenses. If you keep adding torque to the ball, you may reach a point where it is impossible to maintain a sweetspot, and now you have to support the camera with your hand, try to compose the shot, and tighten it down without moving the composition.

Macro issues being what they are, it is possible that you might have a rail of, say, 12" length (or longer if a 12" rail is unavailable), and you might extend it out, say 6-9", to the point where the setup is stable enough to take a shot, but there is too much torque on the ball to maintain the sweetspot. I think that is a likely scenario with even a modest length rail.

All ballheads have at least some tendency to stick-slip. I have noticed that it changes from time to time, possibly due to humidity and/or the cleanliness of the ball. I think the M20 has less stick-slip than the M10 and less of a tendency to do so, although my ball is now brand new and clean. Now, I think both heads are more than acceptable and my understanding is that the Markins heads are better than most other heads.

The important thing is that if you want to maintain a "sweet spot" while using macro gear, including even short rails (forget my 18-28" example), you want the biggest, meanest ballhead you can find. In the Markins line, that is the M20. The M20 will extend the edge of the envelope, as I've laboriously attempted to describe above.

>> If you can't get close enough for a short focusing rail it's the tripod at fault,
>> you need a tripod with an inclining centre post or that takes an inclining rail.

Here you are talking about something like a Gitzo explorer with it's articulating center column. That is better for macro, but generally less stable than a flat plate or conventional center column. There are trade-offs between focusing rails vs an explorer type articulating column. That's beyond the scope of my interest here. I'm just addressing the stresses that might , repeat might be put on a ballhead. it's up to each user to decide how to trade off those greater and lesser evils and where ballhead selection fits into the picture. The topic here is ballheads, not legs, but I'm willing to get dragged into that too :lol:

Regards,
Neil

Edited by Neil Rothschild, 13 February 2007 - 03:40 PM.


#9 Neil Rothschild

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Posted 14 February 2007 - 09:20 PM

Hi Darrell,

I was testing the performance of the pan lock last night and got some very surprising results. In the specific configuration I used, the M10 actually outperformed the M20! My G1228 outperformed my G1410!Just goes to show that this support stuff can get very murky. Much voodoo. I'm not saying an M10 will outperform an M20 on any given day with any given load, of course.

Here is a link to my gallery. The summary from the gallery comments follows. Click into the gallery and then click the image to see a 100% crop of my composite of test images.

http://www.pbase.com...d/pan_lock_test

(from my gallery comments...)

I was testing a very narrow issue: what is the affect of locking the Markins M10 pan lock verses leaving it set free?

I came up with some surprising and, I think, bizarre results that further reinforces my belief that vibration issues sometimes defy logic.

Basic set up was Nikon D200 + 70-200 F/2.8 AFS/VR + TC14II-E working at 280mm, Exposure 1/8s F/8. Also tested the 70-200VR without a TC and a Nikkor 200mm F/4 Ai.

Technique: Mirror Lockup (MLU) and Single Shot mode (SS) both using an MC-30 remote release.

I shot this package on a Gitzo G1228 with and without 6 pounds of weight attached to the center hook. I then tested the same set up on a Gitzo G1410, without weight because it has no center hook. I then swapped the M10 for an M20 to see if that affected the results.

The composite image is 100% crops, from original JPGs out of the camera. Sharpening was set to High.

Here are my surprising conclusions...

1. With a 200mm F/4 Ai or the 70-200 VR on the G1228, the images were very good and there was no difference between the locked and unlocked state of the pan lock. I did not bother to post any images. The G1228 handles this combination well, even at 1/8s without mirror lockup.

2. The G1228 performed better with the pan base UNlocked. Yes, UNlocked. Surprising.

3. The G1228 performed better with 6 LBs weight on the center hook.

4. Even more bizarre, the G1228 outperformed the much beefier G1410 in either state of the pan lock.

5. The M10 actually appears to slightly outperform the M20, another bizarre result. I did not test the M20 on the G1228.

I am not suggesting the G1228 generally outperforms the G1410, or that a Markins M10 will outperform an M20. Other tests indicate the G1410 outperforms the G1228 with an L bracket in vertical mode, for example. Nor am I suggesting that one might always leave the pan base unlocked for better results.

I am only suggesting that it is very worthwhile to test your own gear and assume nothing, especially the conventional wisdom we all propagate on the net!




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