The nice thing about any quality tripod is that you can swap out the head that came with it. It stands to reason that this is a more prudent step when you just buy a set of legs sans head to begin with. But we don’t always think ahead, pardon the pun.
So I went on a quest for the ultimate head that would not break the bank. Well, let me start by saying that any good head will likely cost more than most aluminum tripods and will come with a reasonable expectation of doubling the cost of even a modest carbon fiber, or certainly adding substantially to the overall expense. Coming in at just under $300, the Nomad is no exception.
The real beauty of the Nomad is its dual functionality. It can also be used as a gimbal head with long lenses for wildlife photography.
Ever since owning the Giottos, I’ve principally relied on Acratech heads. So when Acratech introduced the new Nomad, I was curious to see how this head differed from earlier models, and if it would appreciatively affect how I’d work with my tripod, while providing the same level of confidence and stability.
One key difference between an Acratech ballhead and ballheads from other manufacturers is the open architecture of the Acratech. What does that mean? The ball on an Acratech ballhead is exposed to the air, unlike other heads which enclose the ball inside the housing.
Translation: there’s no way for moisture, rain, and debris to get caught in the mechanism and gum up the works. This construction is also largely responsible for the lighter weight of these heads compared with heads of comparable size.
The lighter weight is in no way due to cheap construction or materials. Quite the contrary. Acratech heads reflect American know-how, craftsmanship, and quality control.
The Nomad vs. the GV2
If you’ve worked with Acratech ballheads before, you will notice a stark resemblance of the Nomad to existing heads, specifically the GV2. If you already own that head, then you probably won’t really need this one.
Acratech’s Scott Dordick had this to say about the new head: “The Nomad head has the same features as our GV2 head. The main difference is that the Nomad ballhead was designed to be machined on our (new) multi-axis machining centers. This has enabled us to perform more machining operations, faster and without having to handle the part between operations. We are actually able to do the turning (round work) and much of the milling (contour work) on a single setup. This has lowered our costs and we are able to sell the Nomad for $299.95, which is $70.00 less than the GV2.
“When you see the Nomad and GV2 together there are some differences in the shape of the body and there are some steel locating pins in the sliding mechanism of the Nomad quick-release clamp. The steel pins in the clamp have sped up our manufacturing of the clamps and although it looks a little different than the GV2 clamp, the performance is almost identical. The Nomad weighs 40 grams less than the GV2. The Nomad is only available with a knob-type quick release clamp, whereas the GV2 does have a (quick-release locking) lever option.”
In order to use my BlackRapid sling strap with a tripod without first having to unscrew the connector from the camera, I opted to connect one of BlackRapid’s QR plates as a permanent fixture on my Nikon D610. Owing to the design of the head that came with my Giottos tripod, this BlackRapid QR plate and the Giottos head were incompatible. Hence my need for a more workable solution. That and the fact that the Giottos kit head couldn’t adequately handle unbalanced loads without undergoing the tripod head equivalent of lens creep. Specifically, the head I refer to is the Tamron 70-300mm on the Nikon.
With any QR plate, you have to make sure that the locking pin on a tripod head will provide a secure hold on the plate, preventing it from slipping off, taking the camera in tow. The pin on the Nomad is spring-loaded, so if the QR plate is solid, rather than hollowed out, it will simply be pushed down and out of the way. With the BlackRapid and several other plates at my disposal, including Acratech’s own Arca-compatible QR plates, the underside of the plate is hollowed out, allowing for the pin to do its thing.
That said, this won’t do anything for you if the QR plate is not properly and securely seated in the first place. Once the camera is seated, use the locking knob to secure it. Jiggle the camera side to side to make sure there’s no give. And do a visual inspection to check that the QR plate is correctly seated and fully level. If you’re not careful, it’s possible to tighten the knob and give yourself a false sense of security, but a visual inspection will quickly confirm your error, even if the camera appears firmly seated.
Be careful when using a Giottos QR plate. At least in the case of the one I own, the underside will prevent slippage off the head in only one direction.
Many of Acratech’s own QR plates are designed around different camera models, with versions for lenses with tripod collars. The benefit to these is a raised back lip that prevents the camera/lens from twisting around. Universal plates are also available from Acratech.
So far, I haven’t found any Arca-compatible QR plate to be incompatible with the Nomad. However, I should point out that when a manufacturer, distributor, or reseller claims the plate is universal and Arca-compatible, that does not necessarily make it so.
One thing I should further note. The base, where the head connects to the tripod legs, will fit a full-size leg assembly with a wide mounting plate. Even though this means the head slightly extends beyond the mounting plate on my compact tripod, I didn’t find this to be a problem. (If you’re looking for a more custom fit, then check out Acratech’s GPS or GPSS, each with a smaller-diameter base.)
One of the reasons I especially prefer to use my Giottos tripod when testing heads is the way the Giottos pod locks down the head. There is a tiny retaining hex screw under the base that, when tightened, comes to rest against the base of the head seated on the pod. So when you’re panning, the head won’t come loose, regardless of the direction of movement. What’s more, the Giottos center column has an anti-twist feature that further prevents or minimizes unwanted movement if you leave the column unlocked.
Using the Nomad as Gimbal Head
One of the really cool features of the Acratech Nomad is its dual functionality. The Nomad can also be used as a gimbal head.
To use this feature, attach a long lens to the head via its tripod collar. Make sure camera and lens are fairly well balanced so gravity and inertia don’t take their toll. This is easily enough accomplished with the right-size QR plate or with an Acratech Nodal Rail. Then tighten the drag and locking knobs just enough to allow you to nudge the camera to its resting place, without the camera falling over on its own. Grab hold of the camera as you make these adjustments. It doesn’t take long to achieve the right balance. Note: the drag, or friction, knob is the smaller circular knob. The main locking knob is larger, rubberized, and shaped like a flower. Below these two is the panning knob, and at the very top, the QR locking knob.
Is this head as effective as a true gimbal head? Not having used a gimbal head myself, I can’t say with any certainty, but I doubt it would compete one on one. Still, this does beat having to carry around that bulkier head if you only use this function occasionally.
Unlike the GP head, the Nomad can’t be used as a leveling head. I misread the instructions and spent countless moments trying to figure out what I did with the hex wrench, only later to be made aware this function was not available and that the QR base could not be removed. The same goes for using the Nomad as a leveling base. It may be easier and preferable to use a dedicated leveling base (also available from Acratech). But if you only shoot panos occasionally, then why carry the added weight, and take up valuable space in your camera bag.
To use the head as a leveling head (and keep in mind, it’s still a head, not a leveling base to which another head is attached), simply remove the QR clamp at the top of the head. Use the supplied hex (Allen) wrench for this purpose.
As with Acratech’s other ballheads, I found the Nomad a pleasure to use. Other than not being usable as a leveling head, I found no practical difference. All the knobs locked securely. The camera didn’t drift even with an unbalanced load on top.
Yes, the base was a bit wider than the optimum for my Giottos carbon fiber pod. What that meant was that I couldn’t invert the legs and collapse the tripod fully. Was that a problem? No, because I often find myself carrying the pod with the legs down but fully retracted to speed setup, and it makes it easier to carry the pod in one of my Think Tank or MindShift Gear photo backpacks.
Whatever the situation, the Nomad came through with flying colors. If you need the leveling feature, then either get a GP head or add a separate leveling base. And while I didn’t test the gimbal feature fully, a quick test did show this head to be capable in that regard.
So, would I hesitate to recommend this new head? Not in the least. You and a good carbon fiber tripod will go a long way with the Acratech Nomad ballhead. It’s a long-term investment. I’ve never found an Acratech head to falter or fail. More to the point, they always deliver. And the Nomad is no exception.
Who Should Use This?
Wildlife and nature photographers, landscape photographers, travel photographers, and essentially any photographer working with a DSLR or mirrorless camera.
Very easy to use; lightweight; durable and easy to maintain; also usable as gimbal head; priced right.
Matching a Ballhead to a Tripod
Aside from the overall quality and build of the head, you have to consider the relative weight of the tripod. A lightweight tripod must be matched up with a head that will not make the tripod unduly heavy and especially not top-heavy, or make it unbalanced while carrying the pod.
When toting my Giottos tripod, I generally grab one leg—they’re all sheathed in foam for a more comfy grip. I don’t use the bag that came with the pod to avoid the extra strap on my shoulder or around my neck. A heavy head, I’ve found, puts undue strain on the arm holding the tripod.
Constructed of aircraft-quality aluminum and stainless steel
Weighs less than 1 lb.
Max. load: 25 lb.
Ball diameter: 1.5”
Arca-Swiss compatible QR clamp/base
Control knobs: QR, main, tension/drag, panning
Built-in spirit level (bullseye type)
Open-air architecture does not retain moisture
Oilless/greaseless ball does not attract dirt or dust
Knobs do not vibrate loose or fall off if you over-loosen them
Can be used as gimbal head
Made in U.S.A.
Where can I get more info/order this product?
How much is it?