Arca Swiss D4 Geared Tripod Head

By | 17/10/2022

In that location are actually only two tripod heads to consider if yous want to use the best of the best: the Arca Swiss D4 and the Arca Swiss C1 Cube. The worst affair nearly them is you’re spending over a g dollars on something that doesn’t actually make you a meliorate photographer, but the best thing about them is that they make information technology and so much easier to take pictures I don’t even know how I’d begin to go back to the cheaper options.

Then before we begin, let’s go into a little background. I’ve been shooting on the road pretty much as long as I tin can remember; travel has just always been a part of my photographic career. When I started photographing architecture I was using a cheap Manfrotto ballhead which, if anyone has tried, you know is pretty much impossible to compose with.

I quickly realized the demand for a geared head for precise, controlled adjustments and did what basically every aspiring architecture, existent estate, and interiors photographer does at some point: bought a Manfrotto 410 junior geared head. In fact, I call back I bought 4 of them, considering they kept breaking over and over. The fact is that while they become the job done, they simply don’t really concur up to abuse for more than than a year or two, particularly if you are packing and unpacking them and they’re getting banged around by luggage handlers day in and twenty-four hours out. In add-on if you want to shoot vertically without finagling the head into some weird contortionist position, you’ll accept to become Manfrotto’s universal L-bracket. which is a consummate dumpster burn of product design; information technology will substantially double the size of your camera and is quite possibly the most inelegant slice of equipment I’ve e’er purchased.

Look at the size of that Fifty-Subclass – are they messing with u.s.a.? Y’all can too see the Manfrotto geared head beginning to fall apart
Compare that to the Cube with a ProMediaGear L-Bracket… Stop, I tin can simply go so turned on!

There are a few places y’all can get from here: you can go to Manfrotto’southward bigger, beefier 405 caput which is built like a tank but ratherobnoxiously large and heavy, or you can go for some other new options such equally the Manfrotto XPRO, Benro GD3WH, this ridiculous Cambo thing, or a new offering from Leofoto which seems like it might be a decent contender though copies are extremely difficult to come past in the wild and I haven’t seen whatever thorough reviews.

So where does that leave us? Essentially, y’all can go on using the ‘cheap’ standard Manfrottos that, to be honest, get the job done, but fail rather ofttimes, or use one of the same untested models such as LeoFoto (I’thou more than than happy to review these if I tin can go my hands on them) or lastly, you can brand the rather large jump upward to a big boy Arca Swiss head.

At time of writing, the Cube is $1,572 and the D4 is $1,169. Outrageous? Possibly, but not when y’all take into account that they are the single piece of equipment that you are touching every unmarried time you take a movie. I would wager that if you’re going to throw money into equipment, this is i of the things to splurge on.

I get information technology: architectural photography is an expensive genre to be in. Merely nosotros need the correct tools for the right job; information technology is and then important to be able to consistently dial in a neat limerick and these are the tools that volition assist you practice it. You’re going to use them for literally every single picture you brand – yous want it to exist a pleasant experience. Yous want it to exist dependable. Y’all want it to be accurate. The other, cheaper heads aren’t really whatever of these things. I used to get blisters on my hands from using Manfrotto geared heads – I’m not kidding! The levels would fall out of accuracy over time, the gears would skid, the clench would stick, etc.

So I’ve pushed you lot this far, at present let’s talk nigh which model to get. They both accept pros and cons and before you commit to purchasing one, here are my thoughts on each.

The D4 and the Cube are both congenital like tanks, with a very high-quality fit and finish (not that I’d expect anything less from a company that literally hasSwiss in the proper name). Both of them feel overnice, the tactile response is incredible and you know exactly what’southward going to happen when you lot make whatsoever adjustments. There’s no wiggle, the panning heads on both are perfectly tensioned and smooth with no grittiness or elasticity (a big problem with the rubbery Manfrotto models in which the knobs tend to stick and take different tensions) and all controls work all of the time.

I haven’t owned the D4 equally long as I’ve endemic the Cube (and I’ve been much more than careful with it since purchasing it) but my Cube has taken an accented beating and kept on working with some minor repairs. Falls out of automobile trunks, falls onto asphalt, onto rocks, beingness dragged across airdrome floors, you name it. It just keeps on ticking and I bet the D4 is much the aforementioned but time volition tell.

They’re both insanely dependable, both fabricated to final, and both worth the money. Now, let’s get into specifics…

The D4

The get-go major departure between the Cube and the D4 is that the D4 is, well, non a lower-case-c cube. The D4 has asymmetrical controls, meaning that one knob on i side controls the pitch, and another knob on some other side controls the roll, and there are two tear-drop shaped knobs that command the tension of each and allow y’all to motion the head freely in any direction when they are totally loosened.

These asymmetrical controls allow the D4 to do some pretty cool things that you can’t exercise with the Cube, though admittedly those ‘cool things’ are basically fringe cases that aren’t really necessary for photographing architecture. The free movement of pitch and ringlet, for example, is handy for composing at odd angles, but most of the time we’re shooting straight and level, so honestly these controls aren’tactually necessary for me (or for most architectural photographers). One very unfortunate attribute of these teardrop shaped knobs is that I’ve noticed they’re decumbent to unlocking themselves through normal use. On more than one occasion the entire pan caput and clench complete with my camera has fallen over due to the loose lockscrews, and on one occasion caught my hand betwixt the base of the D4 and the weight of my camera. Not very pleasant at all. To exist clear, the photographic camera is firmly attached to the Arca Swiss plate, it’s just the top half of the head that is loosened and tips over – the camera is never in danger, just my fingers sure as hell are.

Both the Cube and the D4 have multiple bubble levels built into the head but the D4 only has bubble levels on the side of the panning head, which ways you generally demand to crane your neck around to the left or correct side to encounter if you lot are straight and level. This tin be rather annoying if y’all are backed into a tight infinite or shooting with the camera signifncantly below eye level – I usually level the photographic camera first and and so fine-tune my composition and then having to contort myself to check if I’k level is a rather hard obstacle for me to overcome and is one area where I much adopt the Cube (we’ll go into that later).

Bubble levels are curtained on the side of the D4, rather than the height, like the cube, which is quite annoying for a tall guy like me

The D4 has both a panning base and a panning caput on top of the geared body, which is very handy when you lot’re not shooting with a perfectly leveled tripod base of operations – you can level the D4 and and then pan in 360 degrees without the camera sagging as you pan further off of middle (the Cube also contains this feature but achieves it in a slightly different way) which is a feature lacking in almost every ball head and many cheaper geared heads.

On location with the D4 in Dubai – note the hidden bubble level(s), only 1 is really visible from behind the photographic camera

Another matter I find interesting nigh the D4 is not only does it have asymmetrical controls, it also has an asymmetrical base. I don’t love this for a few reasons, one being it is pretty tricky to line upwards the base of operations of the head when you are doing a one point perspective shot because you don’t have a signal of reference for the back of your camera. The base of the head is a bit trapezoidal and it can be a lilliputian more difficult than it should be to make sure everything is perfectly aligned. A small nitpick, but an interesting one to note if yous are photographing architecture.

The Cube

The Cube, equally its name implies, is actually not a perfect cube but pretty close. Unlike the D4, operation is essentially symmetrical in every fashion. I can adjust pitch and whorl of the camera from either the front of the Cube or the back of the Cube, from the left of the Cube or the right of the Cube. No matter where I have the Cube positioned, I know exactly which knob will control which movement, which is incredibly handy when I’grand backed into a corner or a tub or some other small space that I find myself in far as well often. I actually overlooked how much I enjoyed this aspect of the Cube when I switched to the D4 and actually missed the power to accommodate camera pitch and whorl without having to exist behind it to run into what I’m doing.

By the way, you lot e’er get that weird feeling in your brain when yous type or say a give-and-take too many times and it loses all meaning and information technology ends upwardly in some weird language twilight zone where you completely forget what that word is? Yes, it’south happening to me right now with the word “cube.”

The controls to lock or permit gratis panning are expressionless center on the front end and back of the Cube, rather than get-go like the D4. I don’t recall this really has any issue on usability in either case but is another area where the cube is symmetrical and the D4 is not.  What does have a big bear upon is the fact that the bubble levels on the Cube are both placed on top of the head and are visible from nigh anywhere when you are operating it. This means I don’t accept to contort myself to run across if I’m level before I start panning – I can, in a thing of seconds, identify the tripod on any surface, straight or kleptomaniacal, and without moving my body or head level the photographic camera and know that I’g ready to outset composing. Information technology’s actually fast and really brilliant and I admittedly wish that the D4 had this feature instead of tucking the bubble levels away on the side of the panning clamp.

Rather than having knobs that let you to freely roll and pitch the camera around, the Cube has 2 tension knobs that allow y’all to adjust things slowly or slightly quicker. There’s no “totally free” motion of gears here, but this is never a feature that I’ve wished for when using this head, and I tin can’t say I use it on the D4 either. I by and large just set the tension knobs to the mid-indicate and set and forget. In one case a twelvemonth or and then I’ll notice that the head is interim a little stiff as a result of getting the tension knobs bumped in my baggage or something, and a quick reset fixes information technology.

Adjust the cube from the elevation with symmetrical knobs – no way I’m adjusting a d4 from above while standing on a 20 foot ledge!
Open up the clamshell of the cube to shoot direct up or downward and still have access to the same adjustment knobs and movements

The Cube is slightly heavier and probably a touch more bulky than the D4, but in practice there’s actually not much departure in the bodily size of these 2 heads. One neat characteristic that the cube has that the D4 doesn’t is the ability to open up like a clamshell to permit for vertical shooting without an L bracket or to increment the degree at which you tin pitch and roll the photographic camera. It’due south not something that I use often, only occasionally it is squeamish to open it upward and requite myself some more options when shooting direct upward. A fringe example, to be sure, just worth noting.

The one knock I have on the cube is that with all of the open and exposed gears, information technology is easier for the cube to ingest foreign particles such every bit sand, dirt, and rain. I have shot a few desert projects where sand kicked upwardly by wind got into the cube and required extensive cleaning with a q-tip and some clean clothes to get all of the gunk out. Never had this happen with the D4 as it seems the body is sealed upwardly to the elements much better.

Bottom Line

The Cube is the better head, but it should be since it’s nigh 35% more than expensive. Is it 35% amend? I think so. Both are fantastic, simply if there is one to get and you take the money, just get the Cube.  At that place are enough annoyances that I run into using the D4 that I’ve pretty much relegated information technology to backup use and gone dorsum to full time Cube use. If you tin do your all-time to not utilise it in a sandstorm and non drop it onto concrete, it will advantage y’all with incredible ease of use, authentic compositions, and saved time in mail service product from not having to correct vertical lines that you might miss with other heads.

The Arca Swiss D4 and C1 Cube tin both be purchased at B&H Photo. They both come in flip-lock or classic knob plate versions, I personally use the knobs because they’re cheaper and go the task done only fine. Don’t forget that you lot’ll need an Arca-compatible L-bracket to mountain the camera. I recommend a universal 50-Bracket.

Oh, and before I forget, put these on a nice set of legs, will ya?

Mike Kelley is an architecture and interiors photographer who has photographed projects all over the world. He is a self proclaimed airplane food enthusiast and the founder of the Architectural Photography Almanac.