Acratech’s unique style of made-in-the-USA ball heads and other types of tripod heads have been on the market for many years, but they often fly under people’s radar and I’m not sure why. Perhaps the skeletonized look of the heads is a visually polarizing one (I think it looks badass!), but there’s good reason for it: The heads have an almost unsurpassed capacity to weight ratio.
Taking a look at the Acratech ball head specifications table below, you’ll see there isn’t a head on there that weighs more than 1lb, yet the capacity of them extends all the way up to 50lbs! To put that into perspective, the RRS BH-55, one of the most popular professional ball heads on the market, also has a capacity of 50lbs, but it weighs twice as much as Acratech’s top-of-the-line head. If you’re a wandering, traveling landscape photographer with an already heavy pack and a big tripod, cutting the weight of your ball head by half would be huge! I own the big beefy BH-55 myself so I can attest to that.
So, the unique skeleton design has a purpose and on top of that many of the ball heads have a 3-in-1 design that also allows them to be used as a panoramic head and a gimbal head. Again this is a huge weight saving feature that can mitigate the need to carry additional specific tripod heads in your bag. I’ll go into these features in more detail below, but hopefully I now have your attention and you’re ready to learn more about Acratech’s range of ball heads and tripod heads. Let’s get to it!
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Acratech Ball Head Specifications
Note that in recent years Acratech has simplified their product offering because there used to be several confusingly similar models. The models in the table below are those that are now available. If you’re looking for anything else, such as the GV, GV-2, GP-s, these models are no longer available.
|Model Name||Capacity||Weight||Height||Length||Width||Base Diameter|
|Acratech GXP||50lbs (22.6kg)||1 lbs. (.45kg)||4.2" (106mm)||3.62" (92mm)||3.17" (81mm)||2.375" (60mm)|
|Acratech GP||25lbs (11.4kg)||.95 lbs (.43kg)||4.14" (105mm)||3.47" (88mm)||3.20" (81mm)||2.375" (60mm)|
|Acratech GPSS||25lbs (11.4kg)||0.85lbs (0.38kg)||3.71" (94mm)||3.52" (89mm)||2.9" (73mm)||2.08" (53mm)|
|Acratech Nomad||25lbs (11.4kg)||.90 lbs. (.40kg)||3.74" (95mm)||3.62" (92mm)||3.17" (81mm)||2.375" (60mm)|
|Acratech Ultimate||25lbs (11.4kg)||.89 lbs (.40kg)||4.1" (104mm)||3.1" (79mm)||3.06" (78mm)||2.375" (60mm)|
|Acratech Panoramic Head||25lbs (11.4kg)||0.94 lbs (.42kg)||3.60" (91.5 mm)||Unknown||4.57" (116.2 mm)||2.375" (60mm)|
|Acratech Long Lens Head||25lbs (11.4kg)||.89 lbs (.40kg)||3.63" (92mm)||Unknown||4.5" (114.3mm)||2.375" (60mm)|
|Acratech Spherical Panoramic Head||25lbs (11.4kg)||1.0 lb (454 g)||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||2.0" (50 mm)|
The 3-in-1 Head Design
Several of the heads I’m going to talk about have a common 3-in-1 design, so I thought I would address that as a whole before I get into the individual models. The 3-in-1 design refers to the ability to use the head as a ball head, a panoramic head and a gimbal. Thereby significantly lightening your load if you’re someone that would usually travel with multiple heads. Or, as it probably more likely, giving a photographer more features that they otherwise would not have had because they would never have bothered to carry more than one head in the first place.
The first mode, ball head mode, needs no explanation, but I will point out that all the GP models have an individually controlled panning base and a ball friction control knob as well as a locking knob. Now let’s take a look at the other two more unique modes of these heads:
Acratech Panoramic Head Mode
To take perfectly level panoramic images, simply levelling the ball on your tripod head isn’t enough to ensure a straight horizon, you also need to have a perfectly level rotation platform. Without a panoramic head, this means you need to perfectly level your tripod, and that’s a pain in the ass when you are dealing with three sets of extending legs.
Acratech solves this problem in their GP model heads by allowing you to quickly remove the clamp from the ball head and flip the whole thing upside down. Then you screw the clamp onto what was the base of the head. Now the rotation platform is above the ball, and this means that levelling the ball will give you a perfectly level rotation for your panoramas.
Now you might think “well I could do that with any ball head!” but you’d be wrong. Sure you can often remove the clamp on a ball head, but the key here is that when you do so on the Acratech GP heads, you have a wide flat platform beneath it with a 3/8″ female hole. Both things that are necessary for this to work, and both things that are generally not found there on other heads. For example if you were to remove the clamp on an RRS BH-55 or BH-40, you’ll find a 1/4″ 20 female hole on a thin neck that has an anti-rotation notch cut into. So it’s not flat, it’s not a wide platform and the female hole is 1/4″20, not the necessary 3/8″. And that’s the story for most ball heads out there.
The downside of this feature is that it requires you to carry a small hex key with you to remove the platform, but the change can be done in less than a minute. It’s also worth remembering that in this inverted panoramic mode, the head is perfectly capable of being used for non-panoramic images. So you don’t need to be constantly switching the platform back and forth between shots if you aren’t always creating panos.
Acratech Gimbal Mode
To use any of the GP model heads in Gimbal Mode, simply flip the quick-release clamp 90 degrees into the drop-notch. When you do this, it locates a small pin that’s on the base of the ball into a notch on the opposite side of the drop notch. You’ll also notice a step in the neck of the head that mates with a groove in the drop-notch. Both of these small tweaks to a regular ball head design ensure a smooth and stable rotation of the ball, with the lens weight even distributed to both sides of the head. You’ll need to be using a larger lens with a lens foot and an Arca plate on the foot, of course.
Whilst this doesn’t deliver quite the same feeling as you might get when using one of the more tradition styles of gimbal from our gimbal head guide, it gets you a lot of the way there without having to buy (or carry) a second head. It’s definitely a nice feature to have if you want to lighten your load!
Acratech say that this feature is good for lenses up to 400mm f/4, but that recommendation is quite vague, and also one that they have been using for many years. In more recent years the big players have significantly decreased the weight of their larger lenses, to the point where many 400mm f/2.8 lenses are several pounds lighter than they used to be, and I suspect with these newer lens designs you can push that recommendation to include larger and longer lenses. Most certainly the gimbal feature can be used with popular lenses like a 100-400, Nikon 200-500, Sony 200-600, Tamron/Sigma 150-600, but I’d also include newer 400mm f/2.8 designs, and some newer 500mm and 600mm lenses.
Much like the panoramic head feature you might at first say “I could do that with any ball head” but the key here is the patented pin design on the bottom of the ball that helps to spread the weight of the lens to the opposite side of the ball head’s frame. This significantly reduces the friction of the neck in the drop-notch and results in a much smoother tilting motion that you would get from using any other ball head in this same way. Also, because the head has really been designed with this feature in mind, the movement and friction of the neck in the notch has been optimized by having a nice smooth U-shape in the bottom of the notch, with that step in the neck. The whole function of the head in this gimbal mode is much better than using any other ball head in the same way because the whole thing was designed with this in mind.
The GXP ball head is the newest of the Acratech heads, having been released in 2019. It takes the tried and true design of the regular GP, and doubles the capacity to a whopping 50lbs, whilst only weighing 1lb. This 50:1 capacity to weight ratio is something you really won’t find anywhere else on the market.
What I also find impressive about this head is that it’s actually only 0.05lbs heavier than the smaller GP model, yet manages to have twice the capacity! The GXP also sells for $445, which is just a few dollars more than the $439.95 of the GP head.
On the face of those specifications alone, you might be forgiven for thinking that choosing the GXP over the GP is a no-brainer. But the physical dimensions of these two heads are quite different, with the GP being a lot smaller. (see table above) If you value packability then the GXP might not be the head for you, but if your head spends the majority of its time on your tripod, strapped to the outside of your bag, this larger size isn’t likely to make a lot of difference to you, and you won’t notice the paltry 0.05lb weight increase. In that case I would definitely pick the new GXP.
The GXP also has several updated features over the GP. While they are aesthetically similar, the GXP features markings on the knobs which are not present on the GP. The lever-release clamp has also been redesigned to accommodate a larger range of quick-release plates, and also includes a safety zone whereby the first 25% of movement on the lever actually doesn’t open the clamp jaws at all in order to prevent accidental release. The bubble level on the clamp has also been shifted to a position that makes it easier to view when a camera is attached to the head.
There’s no doubt that the new GXP is the king of the Acratech lineup, and I expect it to be the head that most people will choose, based on the new features and the incredible capacity to weight ratio. While it would take up a little more room in a packed duffle or camera bag compared to an Acratech GP head, you do always have the option of removing the large quick-release clamp to help you with this. Personally though, my ball heads stay on a tripod strapped to a bag for 90% of their lives, so added size is of little issue to me when it brings such a minimum (0.05lb) increase in weight.
This is an incredible head with a huge capacity and a ton of features that are backed by a 10 year warranty. Hard to find fault with that!
As you can see from the images, the Acratech GP is very similar to the GXP, but the specifications will show that the capacity of the head is 25lbs instead of the 50lbs of its bigger brother.
The GP has certainly been a popular head over the years, but I can’t help thinking that with the launch of the GXP, few people will choose to buy the GP. The weight of the GP is almost the same as the GXP, but it lacks some of the newer features mentioned above in the GXP write-up, and of course the overall capacity is significantly less. Even if your own kit doesn’t approach a head’s capacity (who has a 50lb camera?!) any added capacity is going to result in a more stable platform overall.
With its smaller physical dimensions you might think that the GP would be a compelling model for travel, or smaller travel tripods, but in fact the GPSS model is far better suited for that purpose. The GPSS has the same 25lb capacity as the GP, but in a significantly smaller package.
All of this leaves the Acratech GP in a rather odd position in the lineup. It’s neither the smallest head, nor the largest capacity, and yet it has a weight similar to the highest capacity head (GXP) and a capacity that is the same as the smallest and lightest head. It really doesn’t “win” in any category and whilst it’s a fantastic ball head when viewed in a vacuum, I’m unlikely to recommend it to anyone when the options of the GPX and GPSS are also on the table.
The Acratech GPSS is the small head with a big (25lb) capacity. While the capacity is less than the GXP head, the whole head is significantly smaller, including the diameter of the base. This makes it an excellent option for travel photography with smaller travel tripods, and the lighter weight, although not that much lighter than the GXP, is still worthy of consideration on longer hikes for the more adventurous landscape photographers out there.
It’s not the smallest travel head on the market, but heads that are smaller than the GPSS forgo the dedicated panning base option and the separate friction control knob for the ball. Not to mention lack panning head and gimbal features of this head.
Born from the design of the older and now discontinued Acratech GV heads, the Acratech Nomad was specifically designed to be produced by a multi-axis milling machine in Acratech’s California factory. Essentially what this means for customers is that it’s easier and faster for them to make a Nomad than any of the GP heads, and that results in a significantly lower cost. At around $330 for the Nomad, compared to $417 for the cheapest GP head, this is not an insignificant difference.
Despite the cheaper price, the Nomad head still weighs less than 1lb and supports up to 25lbs!
While the Nomad does have the gimbal feature of the GP heads, it does not have the ability to work as a panoramic head, so this is a 2-in-1 head instead of the 3-in-1 design of the previous three heads that have been talked about.
If you are constricted by your budget but want to get an Acratech head, this is a great option. If money is less of a priority, the GP series offers better heads with more features, but it’s nice to have a variety of options to suit different budgets.
The Acratech Nomad is only available with a screw-knob clamp and it costs $329.95.
Acratech Ultimate Ball Head
The name of the Acratech Ultimate head is misleading, and I wish they would change it to something more representative of its function and place in the lineup.
When you see the word “ultimate” you would imagine this to be the most feature rich head in the lineup, and likely the most expensive. In fact neither of those things are true.
As you can see in the photo, the clamping system that holds the ball on the Ultimate head is tilted forwards 45 degrees. This means that the majority of range of movement for the ball is in the forward direction, while you lose movement in the rearward “up” directions.
For general purpose usage this would not be a good head to own, and I can’t imagine they sell all that many of them, but it does have some merit for those that like to do a lot of flower and macro photography for subjects that are usually in front and below your tripod. With regular ball head, a large downward tilt is only possible when positioning a drop-notch in the right place, and then your movement is limited within the notch unless you are also moving the panning base at the same time. If you find that is an issue with your macro or flower work, this head could be right for you. For everyone else, you’re much better off with any of the other previous four heads discussed in this guide.
Acratech Panoramic Head
The Acratech Panoramic head is what’s called a tilt head, or a 2-way head, not a ball head. It has an individually controlled panning base, but the camera’s range of motion is only in the fore-aft direction.
This is useful for multi-row panoramic images as the range of movement, combined with the laser-etched scale on that axis allows you to quickly shoot repeated panoramic movements with varied forward tilt to create different rows. If using this head, for panoramic purposes, I would definitely recommend using an Acratech levelling platform beneath the head.
This type of head is also useful with super telephoto lenses that have a rotating tripod collar. Movement between the horizontal and vertical is controlled by rotating the lens in the collar, whilst head rotation and fore/aft tilt is handled by the 2-way head. It works well and is a much more compact solution compared to a large, heavy gimbal head, but the downside is that you can’t just let go of the lens, it needs to be locked tightly with the knob every time you want to take your hands away from the system.
This type of head is also useful on a monopod when using a long lens, where a full sized gimbal would be impractical. A knob beneath the clamp allows it to be rotated in 90 degree increments so that the jaws of the clamp can be aligned both parallel or perpendicular to the tilt axis for clamping a camera or a collared long lens.
The Acratech Panoramic Head is available for $417.95 with a screw-knob clamp.
Acratech Long Lens Head
This Acratech Long Lens Head is very similar to the aforementioned Panoramic Head, but if you look closely you’ll see that it lacks the laser-etched scale on the tilt axis. That means that this head would not be ideal for multi-row panoramas, but it has everything you’d need to use it with a long lens.
If you buy the head with the “indexable clamp” option, you can quickly rotate the orientation of the clamp by 90 degrees to swap between mounting a camera via a fore/aft Arca plate on a lens collar’s foot, and a plate mounted horizontally on the bottom of a camera.
As a simpler version of the panoramic head, the Acratech Long Lens Head is cheaper, coming in at $362.95 with the indexable clamp, and $329.95 with a fixed clamp. Note that the “fixed” clamp is not actually fixed, it just requires a hex key to loosen the clamp and rotate it, while the indexable clamp has a knob that can be loosened to facilitate the clamp’s rotation.
In my Really Right Stuff head guide I mentioned a setup featuring their 2-way monopod head mounted to a panning clamp. Essentially this is the same setup as the Acratech Long Lens Head, but the Acratech one is cheaper and simpler by having the panning base built into the bottom of the tilt head.
Acratech Spherical Panoramic Head
This special head was designed to be used by Google Maps with the Sigma 8mm fisheye lens to create 360 degree spherical panoramic images. A niche subject matter, made even more niche by the Sigma-lens-specific design. It’s pretty cool! But it’s probably not for you…
Available for $373.95.
I hope you found this guide helpful for making your tripod head purchasing decisions. My personal pick of the lineup is the new GXP head with its incredible 50:1 capacity to weight ratio, but all of the Acratech models have their pros that make any one of them a good buy for the right usage. Feel free to leave questions in the comments below, or comment to let me know what you think of your own Acratech head.