Arca Swiss Cube geared head
Looking for a precision tripod head? Look no further than the Arca Swiss Cube (about $1600).
Update March 22, 2013: my recommendation for the 'Cube' must be take with the understanding that the clamp mechanism needs to be replaced for compatibility. This can be done by Precision Camera Works. For details, see Notched Gears: Arca Swiss C1 Cube Geared Tripod Head, Now Repaired.
These notes are on the original mode which I own, the new model reportedly makes some improvements to the clamp, discussed below.
The Arca Swiss Cube is not small, not inexpensive and it’s not a ballhead. Rather, it’s precision equipment that allows geared leveling in two directions, rotation top and bottom and all sorts of orientations. Invest in it, and you won’t regret it.
While at first The Cube seems slower-working than a ballhead, such as my favored Burzynski, in fact it becomes very efficient to use in terms of precise framing and leveling: I love the ability to get the frame “just so” with no frustrating ballhead try-and-try-again-oops-it-moved-slightly nonsense. The cube is also fantastic for making rotational panoramas, because it is so conveniently leveled left/right and up/down.
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Clamp Update August 30, 2012
See clamp info further below.
Reader Campbell C writes:
As you have recommended the Cube with an RRS clamp in the past, I thought you might like to know that Arca Swiss appear to have decided that they no longer will allow customers to use other clamps on their products.
They are now gluing the clamp to the head and are refusing to remove it or sell a head without the clamp. The dealer I was using (Robert White in the UK) was unaware of this and have been exemplary in offering to refund my purchase (in this case of a D4).
For anyone contemplating buying an Arca Swiss ballhead and wishing to use it with an RRS clamp I would suggest checking in advance that the original clamp is still removable prior to purchase.
Rod Klukas of Arca Swiss USA states:
We had many heads of all types returned for warranty repair after users tried to change or modify QR's or other parts, and used the incorrect mounting screws and in particular damaged the ball.
So we are now no longer leaving our heads open to user modification. It does not make sense to us to have to warranty errors in modification and so, just as with your car, if you change a major part, your auto warranty is void. So with us.
In general this sounds defensible to me, but since the 'Cube' has no 'ball' and the claim is that in particular the ball was damaged, I’m not following the logic here.
Philip L writes:
While it is true that Arca Swiss has changed the manner in which they attach their clamps to their heads, the attachment can be undone. I recently installed a RRS Screw Clamp on my D4 Head.
Arca now uses a very strong thread sealant to "lock" the head in place. I wrapped the section of the D4 Head just below the clamp which contains the bubble levels and plastic parts with a very wet rag and then applied an industrial heat gun to the threaded bolt forr one minute in order to soften the sealant. Be very careful not to overheat the lower section - rewet the rag if necessary. Arca has also removed the locking tabs so I used instant glue to prevent the RRS Clamp from rotating on the D4 platform. It is a shame that while Arca Swiss builds such great heads their clamps are junk!
It sure isn’t as straight forward as when I changed out the clamp on the Cube several years ago - it was a very easy move. I really hated the Arca Screw Clamp provided as part of the D4 - the knob was too small to grip and it wasn’t captive so I was very determined to install a RRS Clamp on my D4.
DIGLLOYD: why does a company ship a wonderful head with a clamp that is literally non-functional with all of my camera plates? And literally fell apart on me? Taking away such a critical choice is not serving the customer.
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The clamp (replaced it)
One gotcha: the Arca-supplied clamp is too small, with a tiny lever, and definitely incompatible with the L-brackets from Really Right Stuff. Worse, it is not captive, and can literally fall off if loosened a bit too far, and “boing!” there goes the spring with it. The worst design I’ve yet seen for a clamp, really bizarre given the quality of the rest of the head. You have been warned!
Precision Camera Works can swap clamps for you; it could be difficult due to LocTite.
Remove the Arca-supplied clamp and install a Really Right Stuff B2-Pro II with Metric 6 Screw with a screw knob. Avoid the lever clamps from RRS (or anyone), they are incompatible with some L-brackets and bottom plates. The big knob is super easy to use, especially with gloves. And it won’t snap your half-frozen fingers, like the lever clamps can.
Below is what I ordered from Really Right Stuff, the B2-Pro II with Metric 6 Screw. If in doubt ask for Carla, and tell her you want what Lloyd Chambers of diglloyd.com ordered in Feb 2008. And be sure you have the tool to remove the existing Arca Swiss plate (an 11mm box socket 1/4" drive, according to Carla Geyer of Really Right Stuff).
I use The Cube in preference to all other tripod heads now (and I have the wondrous Burzynski, the RRS BH-55, the Arca Swiss B1 and more). I got my Cube after the price went up, but before it went up even more. Get yours at B&H Photo.
Silky smooth to start, a key weakness of the Cube is the brass gearing: if the head gets knocked even modestly hard, it notches the gears. For example, if the Cube is on a tripod at minimum height (22 inches or so above the ground), knocking over the tripod and having the Cube hit a rock notches the gears. The gears then become sloppy at some point in the arc of rotation. Over time, things steadily go downhill from there, with steadily increasing resistance as the gears wear badly, until at some point the Cube becomes hardly usable.
Up in the mountains in August 2016 on a 3-night backpacking trip, the Cube gearing went awry as can be seen below; the brasses threaded gearing left its internal tracking slot and rendered the Cube inoperable. I was able to put the gearing back into place with some effort (3 or 4 times) and get some more use out of it, but after a while I gave up.
This is the 3rd gearing failure (same Cube), with each repair costing around $290. I wish there were a more durable and robust implementation. because I work with rocky terrain all the time.
Update later in August: Precision Camera replaced the gearing and all that chewedup brass is gone, replaced with brand-new silky-smooth gears.