Manfrotto 405 Pro Geared Head Review

During the last few weeks, I have been trying to come up with a good solution for testing lenses that did not require constant movement when dealing with slightly de-centered lenses. The idea was to build a setup similar to macro rails, but one that is bigger in size and very stable at the same time. Stability is extremely important, because even a slight vibration can negatively affect lab results. Using an Arca-Swiss quick release setup was a no-brainer, because it allows moving the setup without having to deal with mounting and dismounting anything, while being rock solid when tightly secured. While my BH-55 Pro tripod head from Really Right Stuff has been serving me well for a while now, it was hard to use for minute adjustments that are often necessary when testing lenses. Therefore, I decided to replace it with a geared head that would allow very precise vertical and horizontal tilt adjustments, along with the ability to pan, when needed. My quick search revealed that unlike the army of pan/tilt heads and ballheads, which are made by a myriad of companies, there are only a few options available for geared heads today. One of them is the Manfrotto 405 Pro Geared head, which I am reviewing today.

Manfrotto 405 Geared Head

The Manfrotto 405 Pro seemed like a great solution for my needs. It is a very large and heavy head that is capable of handling a lot of load, and its three large knobs looked like a great way to make quick and precise adjustments, which is exactly what I needed. Compared to a ballhead, it will not immediately drop to the heavy side when loosened, because you physically hold each knob with your hand to control panning or tilting movements. In addition, you don’t have to lock or tighten anything – the tripod head is always in a locked state. The knobs are used for making adjustments, but once you are done, you simply release the knob(s) and you are done. A very simple and a straightforward approach that works really well. You are in control of the heavy and often expensive setup and there is no chance to damage the equipment just because something got too loose. The Manfrotto 405 Pro is a popular tripod head among medium format photographers for these reasons.

1) Specifications

Here is a quick rundown of the specifications:

Maximum Camera Supported: All medium format systems
Load Capacity: 16.5 lb (7.5 kg)
Height: 6.3″ (16.0 cm)
Quick Release: Yes
Spirit Level: Yes
Tension Control: No
Tripod Mount Thread Size: 3/8″-16
Weight: 3.53 lb (1.6 kg)

Its load capacity of 7.5 kg is quite impressive – you would be able to support pretty much any setup on it.

2) Quick Release Plate

When I received the tripod head, I knew that the plate that comes with the head would not work – my Arca-Swiss quick release rails would not fit on it. I still played with the plate a little to see how practical it would be for using it on cameras. The good news is, the plate is large and comes with two screws of different sizes, so you can mount pretty much any size camera or lens on it. The bad news is, mounting the plate requires a screwdriver, since it is impossible to hold the little screw with fingers and tighten it well. So I would not want to quickly swap the plate between cameras when working on the field. If you are planning to use the plate, I would suggest to buy a plate for each camera you own. Thankfully, the plate only costs $15, so you can buy it for all of your cameras without breaking the bank. When it comes to function, the quick release plate might require some time to get used to initially. Just remember that the flip-locking mechanism engages when some pressure is applied to the plate. Once locked, you use your index finger on the flip-lock to loosen the plate. The plate itself is protected from falling down (which is good) until you press the little silver piece on the flip-lock and twist it further down – that’s when the plate can be removed. If you tighten it well, the plate sits firmly without any wiggling like on some cheap tripod heads, so there are no issues with stability.

Manfrotto 405 Geared Head and Plate

3) Manfrotto 405 Pro Arca-Swiss Conversion

As I have mentioned above, the quick release plate that comes with the head would not work for my Arca-Swiss setup, so it required a conversion. As I have written in my Hejnar Photo Accessory review, I was able to quickly convert the plate to Arca-Swiss type using this conversion plate and it turned out to be a superb solution – extremely stable. Hejnar Photos’s F63 quick release clamp was as big as the original plate and my custom rails fit perfectly on it. Here is how my setup looked like after the conversion:

Manfrotto 405 Arca Swiss Hejnar Photo

So if you are planning to convert your 405 Pro head to Arca-Swiss, look no further.

4) Operation and Adjustments

As I have already stated above, the Manfrotto 405 Pro head is always in a locked, tightened state. In order to make tilt adjustments, you use the vertical or horizontal knobs. There are two ways to adjust the tilt: you can either use “Quick Set” rubber part of the knob, which completely disengages the gear mechanism, or the soft tip of the knob for fine adjustment. When using the Quick Set part, you look at the arrows that point to which direction you need to twist the knob. Horizontal tilt and panning knobs are twisted counter-clockwise, while the horizontal tilt is twisted clockwise. Each tilting side has stickers that show -30 to 90 degrees of tilting capability. While -30 degrees might sound limiting for adjustments, you can simply rotate the camera the other way and move it to 90 degrees to point the camera straight up or down. Hence, it is certainly a versatile head that can be used in different configuration. Just watch out for your fingers when twisting the rubber Quick Set, as your fingers could get squeezed by the metal parts of the head at certain angles.

The head comes with three bubble levels on each side. While the panning and horizontal tilt bubble levels seemed to be fairly accurate, the vertical tilt bubble level on my head was off by quite a bit. This was clearly visible when using rails with bubble levels on them. So I would not trust those bubbles completely, since there seem to be precision issues there (which probably varies from sample to sample).

Overall, operating the unit is a breeze. I love the ability to make quick and precise adjustments on the Manfrotto 405 Pro head.

5) Weight and Size

The Manfrotto 405 Pro Geared Head is clearly not for those that like to travel, because of its huge size and really heavy weight. At 1.6 kg (3.53 lb), this sucker is much heavier than any other head I have used to date. Due to its enormous size, it also does not fit in any normal camera bag or backpack. If you have a medium format camera, you will probably need a separate case for this head alone when travelling.

6) Problems

As with most products out there, the Manfrotto 405 Pro has its issues, which turned out to be problematic for my particular case / use. The biggest problem with the head is some “play” on each axis. Without mounting anything, it did not seem that I would have such problems. However, the moment I put my custom rig on the tripod and tested it for stability, the play was quite obvious. When the panning base was fully locked, there was about 1-2mm of angle shift when I tried to rotate it. Those 1-2 millimeters translated to very noticeable shifts on a long arca-swiss rail, which was not good news for me. Most people would probably never notice this problem, but it could negatively impact sharpness due to vibrations when using high resolution cameras such as the Nikon D800E with heavy lenses or other high-resolution medium format cameras that weigh a ton. And on my sample, the same play is seen on all three axes! Now imagine what it would do to an image at certain shutter speeds, where a slight vibration frequency could affect the image and potentially blur it.

Please note that the above issue is not the “drifting” problem that is often reported by the Manfrotto 405 Pro head users. At first, I thought that it had to do with the base being a little loose, so I removed the sticker on the panning base and tried to tighten the screw. It was already very tight. I applied even more force and tightened the screw as much as I could, but the play issue did not go away. I then realized that the gears inside each axis were to blame for this, so it is basically a design issue.

The second problem with the head is the distance between the base of the unit and the plate. Because it is a very large head with huge knobs, there is plenty of space in-between the two – about 165mm. This basically translates to the same issue when using a center column on a tripod – vibrations amplify as you move away from the base.

Lastly, due to the design of the head, the top plate where you mount the camera is not perfectly centered with the base of the head. Again, this means that the head will be potentially more prone to vibrations – simple physics come into play here.

7) Summary

As much as I liked the Manfrotto 405 Pro Geared Head for its amazing versatility and precision, I had to return it and move on to a different solution. I really wanted to avoid paying over $500 for a head, but it seems like I have no other choice at this point. The play and stability issues with the head are just unacceptable for my lens testing lab and I will have to find a different solution. Like I have pointed out above, there aren’t that many choices out there. Manfrotto has a “junior” version of the same head, the Manfrotto 410, but it works the same way and is even smaller, which is not going to work for me. The bigger Manfrotto 400 Deluxe is operated with foldaway cranks and that’s just not something I see myself doing. Plus, I am afraid it will have similar “play” issues as the 405 Pro. So I am basically left with the Arca-Swiss d4 and the Arca-Swiss C1 Cube, both of which are on their way for further testing. At their current prices of $1,142 (d4) and $1,699 (C1), one of them is going to leave a large hole in my wallet. But having already invested close to $10K in lens testing equipment, it might be something I will have to do.

Does it mean that I do not recommend the Manfrotto 405 Pro to our readers? No, of course not. While it does not work for me for the above-mentioned reasons, it works very well for many photographers. A number of medium format and DSLR shooters rely on this head for their photography needs and are quite happy with their choice. The versatility of the head is very impressive and the fact that it is always locked and does not fall to the side like ballheads do when loose is very important in keeping gear protected and safe. Those features alone are worth the money for many. Lastly, not everyone needs the absolute rock solid stability that I require for my setup.

8) Where to Buy

The Manfrotto 405 Pro Geared Head can be bought from our partner, B&H Photo Video for $499 (as of 01/25/2014 it is on sale for $464.90).

Manfrotto 405 Pro Geared Head Review4.125Nasim Mansurov2014-01-26 00:16:07During the last few weeks, I have been trying to come up with a good solution for testing lenses that did not require constant movement when dealing w…
Build Quality
Handling
Value
Features
Size and Weight
Packaging and Manual
Ease of Use
Stability
Photography Life Overall Rating

Comments

  1. January 26, 2014 at 4:02 am

    I have been using the Manfrotto 410 Junior (though not by any means of the word) for about a year now, shooting mostly food and interiors for commercial clients. It’s not perfect (slow to adjust, heavy, bulky, and with an awfully large Manfrotto-only plate) but a geared head is absolutely invaluable to me now. I can’t see myself ever going back to my Photoclam PC-40NS after using such a precise framing tool. Next up: buy a macro focusing rail and don’t look back – though I would dearly love to be able to afford an Arca-Swiss C1 Cube in future.

    Btw, don’t forget Photoclam also has a geared head which essentially looks to be a close approximation of the C1 though I have no idea how good it is.

    http://photoclam.en.ec21.com/MultiFlex_Geared_Cube_Tripod_Head–4530072_4521844.html

    • 2
      ) Global
      January 26, 2014 at 5:01 am

      I was also about to recommended the Korean made Photoclam Multiflex, which supposedly has a Version II that is geared and set up quite excellent & is about $300+ less than the Arca-Swiss Cube. One note about the Arca-Swiss is that the version you buy may be important to you — they have modified newer versions in not-entirely desirable ways, depending on your needs:

      http://diglloyd.com/articles/Recommended/tripod-head-ArcaSwissCube.html

      Luminous has an article on the Multiflex (which has a video on their website as well/youtube):

      The Arca-Swiss and the Multiflex are slightly different from each other.
      http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/accessories/magic-box.shtml

      • January 26, 2014 at 5:23 am

        Global, thanks for the info. Read both articles and got disappointed that Arca-Swiss now glues the head. I use RRS plates and as far as I know, those are incompatible with the original Arca-Swiss flip-lock clamps. So if I cannot get the clamp replaced, the Cube would be useless for me.

        Multiflex sounds like a great head, but I need to find someone that sells it. Also, wonder if it is safe to order from Korea. And what happens if there is a problem? Arca-Swiss can at least repair it if I send it to them, but would these guys provide after sales support?

        • 9
          ) Global
          January 26, 2014 at 7:07 pm

          Can always call/email them and find out — they have inquiry buttons. I would be interested to know as well. In my experience, Korean companies tend to do right by their customers if you get agreement in the beginning. They seem to do several million in sales, operating for almost a decade, and the US and Korea do so much business i wouldnt worry about it if you do get an agreement for service. They have a phone and email:

          photoclam.en.ec21.com/MultiFlex_Geared_Cube_Tripod_Head–4530072_4521844.html

          http://www.gobizkorea.com/catalog/product_list.jsp?blogId=kipc9114&pageNo=1&pageVol=6&listStyle=L&groupCode=63799

    • January 26, 2014 at 5:20 am

      Thank you Jonathan! Been looking at the Photoclam, but there is no option to buy? Who sells these in the US? Is it safe to order/inquire from the website you provided the link for?

      • 10
        ) Global
        January 26, 2014 at 7:11 pm

        Yes, thats safe what he posted, but i posted another link as well. See comment 8 above. Although it says GoBiz, its directly from the manufacturing company website. You might ask them if they operate an eBay site, many Korean manufacturers do.

  2. January 26, 2014 at 5:26 am

    Hi Nasim, no idea who distributes it in the USA but Photoclam has just started to become very popular here in Hong Kong, with several major retailers stocking it. It’s harder to find Markins than Photoclam right now. That said, not quite as difficult as it is to find reasonably (not insanely marked up) Arca-Swiss, Wimberley or Really Right Stuff. Regarding that website Nasim, I’d go with this one: http://www.photoclam.com/

    My PC-40NS has pretty much sat unused for the last 9 months. It’s a shame as it is wonderfully made and easily on par with anything I’ve seen from Markins, Arca-Swiss or Gitzo.

    • January 26, 2014 at 5:28 am

      Thanks again! Looks like the only way is to “inquire” about the Photoclam. Will try contacting to see what happens next…

  3. 7
    ) Steve Stephens
    January 26, 2014 at 11:48 am

    I’d probably spring for the Cube or Clam over the 405/410 (I have both), but they don’t have geared motion in azimuth, only pitch and roll (so to speak); comparisons never seem to mention that. My wife and I actually use the 410 with a spotting scope, and find the geared azimuth motion the most convenient thing about it.

    • January 27, 2014 at 12:51 pm

      Steve, by “geared motion in azimuth”, do you mean panning?

      • 15
        ) Steve Stephens
        January 27, 2014 at 1:04 pm

        Yes, indeed. Sorry for the ponderous terminology, it was just the first thing that came to mind!

        • January 27, 2014 at 1:07 pm

          No worries Steve! These technical terms slip my mind all the time :)

          In regards to panning, almost every modern head has this capability built-in, including the Arca-Swiss C1 Cube and D4 units. Perhaps it is not very evident from images, but that function is certainly there. Some heads will pan from the bottom of the base, while others will pan from both the top and the bottom.

          • 17
            ) Steve Stephens
            January 27, 2014 at 2:27 pm

            Quoting B&H:

            “The C1 Cube has finely calibrated ungeared panning adjustments under and above ±28° x-y geared axes”

            I read that as no geared panning, which was what I had thought.

            Am I nuts? (Some have said…)

            • January 27, 2014 at 2:44 pm

              Steve, you are not nuts, you were reading the technical specification and drawing your conclusions from it, so there is nothing wrong with that. The C1 definitely has panning capabilities. Please see the second link in comment #2 by Global, where Paul Richman talks about it :)

          • 19
            ) Steve Stephens
            January 27, 2014 at 3:09 pm

            The Cube has panning in two places. It does not have ***geared*** panning anywhere. The Manfrotto units have geared panning. That was what I originally tried to say. Apparently geared panning does not matter to a lot of people. The Cube has two geared axes, the Manfrottos have three.

            • January 27, 2014 at 3:10 pm

              Ah, sorry if I misunderstood you then. Yes, you are right, aside from the Manfrotto heads, I do not know of any other head that has geared panning…

  4. 8
    ) James Daniels
    January 26, 2014 at 11:57 am

    Hey Nasim,

    Thanks for this article, you’ll likely save people a lot of money by finding out this issue with the 405!

    I’m curious about your other testing equipment as well. You said you spent 10k WOW. I’d be fascinated to hear more about your new testing setup. DO you think you can do a post about it?

    • January 27, 2014 at 12:21 pm

      James, yes, lens testing is not easy :) Will surely write an article within the next week or two. I will make a very thorough article on lens testing, so that our readers could look into what happens behind the scenes with every Imatest chart.

  5. 11
    ) gregorylent
    January 27, 2014 at 8:49 am

    is it just me, or does the manfrotto plate system seem a bit wobblier than the swiss arca system … ??

    • January 27, 2014 at 12:22 pm

      This one in particular is very stable, but it obviously cannot compete with the versatile Arca-Swiss system :)

  6. 21
    ) Günther
    February 6, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    Dear Nasim,

    I would recommend to have a look at the ‘Linhof 3d-micro’:
    http://www.linhof.com/download_e/Linhof_3D_Micro_2013_engl_i.pdf

    I could imagine that this is the right equipment for your needs:
    precise, very solid, geared in two axis, reliable bubble levels.
    “Two rubber-coated turning knobs allow self-aligning micro movements of 12 degrees to both sides as well as front and rear.”
    “The 3D Micro is designed to be used with precision cameras, such as [the Linhof] Techno [...] and all other cameras up to 10 kg.
    Dimensions with controls: 121x104x101 mm, weight: 1010 g,
    [...]
    The 3D Micro, code 003662, is available with a dovetail-track to accept the quick change plates from Arca, Novoflex a.s.o.”

    As of now I’m very satisfied wit my Linhof had and it is always a pleasue to use it. Certainly an appropriate base for a D800.

    Kind regards
    Günther

    • February 6, 2014 at 3:22 pm

      Günther, wow, that Linhof looks very impressive. But at $2150, that’s a very expensive proposition when compared to the Cube (which I can get for $1700 now). I might request a sample to see how that compares to the Cube. I really like the Arca version of it!

      • 23
        ) Günther
        February 6, 2014 at 3:43 pm

        Wow, in Germany the recommended price 2013 was 965 Euro (+VAT). A big difference!
        The ARCA-SWISS C1 Cube is sold for 1200 Euro (+VAT)

        • February 6, 2014 at 3:44 pm

          Dang! Any chance I can buy it from Germany? Do they ship to the US?

        • February 9, 2014 at 8:46 pm

          Günther, thank you for sending me the contact info! A Linhof 3D Micro is on its way :)

          • 26
            ) Günther
            February 11, 2014 at 2:17 pm

            Your welcome!

            I hope this is what you have been looking for.

            Kind regards
            Günther

  7. March 10, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    Hi ,
    First of all congratulations about your very well designed website and info presentation !
    After reading many reviews on the junior 410 geared head , and unfortunately ,missing your review , I bought a new one from the supplier here in Cyprus. First impressions were top notch , massive and solid build.
    After some shooting of star trails though I noticed that the foreground was not so sharp with my 14-24mm f/2.8 Nikon and I couldn’t pinpoint the reason. After checking the head more closely I found that there was a very slight “play” on the horizontal axis. I was really disappointed and was ready to throw the head in the dustbin , then I saw an article on manfrotto problems and I manage to fox mine.
    All I had to do was to remove the label with the angle degrees (the round black one) on the side of the gears and tighten really good the hexagonal screw under the label.
    Now the junior head is working fine with zero play on all three axis. I intend to get a more stable means of support in the near future and either the Arca or Really right stuff is a candidate.
    Hope that I will really help others that have similar problems with their manfrotto 410 junior geared head .
    Wishing you all the best :)

    Charles

    Hope I helped you

  8. 28
    ) Pansottin
    March 14, 2014 at 5:04 am

    http://www.ground-glass.net/diy/tripod-head-maintenance

    I can only afford (will buy one next week) this head for my macro work. It seems more precise than the best ball head for macro composition.
    Not the best of the best quality, but it is possible to make some adjustments.
    Hope not to be disappointed.
    Cheers

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