Out in the field, I rely on the dual-axis Arca Swiss Cube geared tripod head to level the camera and to achieve the desired angle of tilt. But often the angular range of 28° is insufficient and while the head can be unhinged for 62° more (90° total), this is less stable, and an operational hassle. And in sub-freezing cold the gearing mechanism can become hard to operate, requiring much more force.
I never really considered a leveling base because I thought the geared head was sufficient—as it is—but it is relatively slow for large adjustments. As a further argument against a leveling base, it adds significant weight, so for extended hikes I’d still prefer the Really Right Stuff TVC-24L without a leveling base, to keep the weight down.
An allen wrench gets the TA-3 installed in a few minutes.
I am now 'sold' on having a leveling base for two key reasons:
- A leveling base saves me time: gearing on the 'Cube' is relatively slow, particularly if the angle is more than a little. The leveling base gets me 15° very quickly in any direction without needing any rotation of the 'Cube' to correspond with the gearing. I can then fine-tune the leveling and angle of tilt with the Cube’s gearing.
- The RRS TA-3 leveling base adds 15° in any direction, which can be a big help when working at steep angles or slopes, where the inclination of the Arca Swiss Cube head is insufficient. So instead of 28° with the gearing alone, I get 28° + 15° = 43° — quite a lot more range.
The above points don’t matter if working on flat ground, but I’m almost always working on uneven and sometimes extremely steep ground, where leveling is a constant requirement.
Really Right Stuff also offers the TA-2 leveling base for 2-series tripods. It’s a tighter fit, and thus may be a bit less operationally convenient, but my logic was this: a leveling base on the already beefier TVC-34L, and keep the TVC-24L light for long hikes.
By the way, the B2-Pro-II screw knob clamp is one awesome clamp. I finally upgraded to the new beauty, with its laser engraved markings—the old one operated flawlessly after 10 years of encounters with rocks, but I wanted those laser engraved marks.
Jason W writes:
One of the limitations with the TA-3 and similar leveling bases is that the original handle limits your minimum tripod height, making it in impossible to achieve true ground level shots.
However, while I haven't tested myself, RRS has the TA-3-LGBP low profile knob that seems to mitigate this issue.
DIGLLOYD: I’ll see if I can obtain one to try.
If I were shooting that low, I’d be using the Really Right Stuff TFA-01 ULTRA Pocket pod. —much faster and easier; a full size tripod often cannot fit in many spaces (rocks and such) at such a low position anyway.
Roy P writes:
You really need the RRS leveling base for a gimbal head. Otherwise, if you’re on uneven ground, there’s no good way to level your camera and lens, and the longer the focal length, the bigger this problem.
The leveling base adds more movement to the ARCA cube, and this is very handy for quickly making coarse adjustments, and then using the knobs on the cube for more precise adjustments. As you pointed out, it also extends the range of movement for the cube.
But unless you really need a geared head like the ARCA cube for very precise adjustments, a regular ball head is much easier to use, and far less expensive too, and you don’t need the leveling base with it at all. The RRS BH-55 can pretty much do it all – I love this ball head.
I also have an ARCA cube, which I use mostly for product or macro photos.
DIGLLOYD: good point on the gimbal head. See Reader Comments: Really Right Stuff TFA-01 Ultra, Gimbal Head.
As for a ballhead, yes the BH-55 is excellent: I own 4 or 5 Really Right Stuff ballheads including the BH-55 as well as the Burzynksi (superb but only 45° tilt). All are superbly built and excellent for what they are best at: making rapid, if not very precise compositions. I use them only under conditions where the Cube is too large. It is error prone with a ballhead to make very small compositional or angle adjustments without altering the other axis (tilt or framing); one cannot operate in just one axis for starters. Next, add gloves and cold hands and steep slopes where I can’t even stand in a good position to manipulate the head. Next, add a heavy camera and ballhead flop becomes an issue regardless of tension. Since I make such adjustments constantly, choosing my compositions precisely, any ballhead is a frustrating thing to work with, particularly so on uneven ground where I can’t have ideal grip on it. Next, try tightening the head (or loosening) without having any change happen to the positioning. And it is always faster to get to perfect leveling with the Cube than with any ballhead with a small geared adjustment. I will never go back to ballhead; experience proves it out for my work.
On the other hand, a ballhead is terrific for quick setup and fast shooting. But that’s just not the way I work most of the time.
John D writes:
What’s up with RRS? Every tripod they make is listed on the website as out of stock.
I have three tripods and a couple of dozen machined bits and pieces ($$$) and I have sometimes seen a few items out of stock but never anything like this. A stock situation like this is usually really good news or really bad news. I trust it’s the former.
Really Right Stuff replies:
Our current “out of stock” situation on many tripods is due to 2 fantastic months in a row (Nov and Dec) that far exceeded any of our projections. Actually, we had so many tripod sales in November that our inventory was decimated (despite planning ahead and stocking up) leaving us with very little to work with in December.
Another problem is it takes more time than we’d like to get all the materials in to make new tripods and each one is hand assembled. In the last few days we are almost doubling our amazing assembly team to help keep up with demand, but it will still be a while before we are caught up. Orders placed now will hopefully ship within 3 weeks to a month from the date of the order and we hope to be fully caught up by the end of February.
DIGLLOYD: nice to see a USA business doing so well.
Barton T writes:
I know you love the cube but have you looked at (or tried) the newer D4? Then there is the just released P0 hybrid, a P0 with a ± 10° geared platform on top: I’m not sure how much weight it can take?
The ballhead has full movement so the idea is composition/rough levelling is achieved on the ballhead and then the geared platform on top makes the fine adjustment (not totally dissimilar to having the levelling head and then Cube on top) so I’m not sure if it’s useless. I thought it looked quite interesting but I’ve never used the P0 so I don’t know if it would have enough grunt. I had the RRS BH-55 and loved it but found for my (architecture/interior) work it was to inaccurate and slow compared to a geared head and had a very slight bit of movement after setting the camera position, locking down and then releasing the camera — and there was no way to readjust to the desired position after the fact. When I say movement it was just a very slight sag with the weight of the camera after locking down. I loved the size, weight and speed of using a ballhead system otherwise.
I use a Manfrotto 405 geared head at present but it is cheap and has numerous issues (it does fortunately hold position solidly except with a Sinar P/F where it is a bit bendy) so have been searching for a suitable replacement. I’ve tried Cube and it is awesome but way too slow.
D4 looks like a nice middle ground. I figured you would have tried one since it has a speed/weight advantage over the Cube.
DIGLLOYD: The Arca Swiss D4 looks promising in several ways, but I’d have to get a solid clamp onto it (compatibility at the least, forgetting inferior ergonomics), and that can’t happen easily with a loaner. I don’t even know if the clamp is easily replaced. I like what I have and like most people, my budget is tight so I’m standing pat for now. It’s 1.5 lbs vs 2 pounds for my 'Cube', which is worth something.
Note: the Really Right Stuff clamp is offered in 1/4" or Metric 6 screw. My original-version takes the Really Right Stuff B2-Pro-II Screw Knob Clamp with M6 Screw. AFAIK, the newer ones do also.