Acratech Long Lens Tripod Head: The lightest way to use a long lens in the field

Acratech Long Lens Tripod Head: The lightest way to use a long lens in the field

There is no substitute for the image quality from a pro-quality long lens when shooting wildlife or sports. Their high-quality images and fast focus speed come at a high cost in both dollars and weight, unfortunately. Adding to the weight is the need for specialized tripod heads. Conventional ballheads are seriously painful to use with long lenses, falling off to one side or the other just at the wrong time. Until now, replacement solutions have been both expensive and heavy. Whether you like the traditional , the newer Mongoose, the nerdy Really Right Stuff offering, or even the cut down , you’re looking at a minimum of 2 pounds and several hundred dollars (the Sidekick is the cheapest and lightest, but requires that you also bring and use a sturdy ballhead). Enter the new Acratech Long Lens Head.

I took an with me to Alaska to use with the excellent new , that I . It weighs in at less than a pound, and the version I tested is available for . After two weeks, I was impressed enough to purchase the Acratech, although I’m not giving up either my or , for reasons I’ll explain.

My and Sigma 120-300mm lens set up on an Acratech Long Lens & Gitzo carbon fiber legset.
Photo by Rick Collins

There are three really great things about the Acratech, and one not so great thing:


  • The Acratech is tiny. It barely takes any room in my camera bag, or could easily be thrown in with my clothes in my duffel.
  • The Acratech is light, at under a pound.
  • The Acratech model I recommend has an “indexed” plate, so it can be rotated for use with a camera body plate as a substitute for a ballhead. I don’t recommend it for extended use this way (I wouldn’t take it instead of my ballhead on a trip where I’d be doing a lot of shooting that way – but it was perfect for switching to that mode to do scenics in Alaska)


  • Unlike a true “gimballed” head (one which allows the lens and camera to have their center of mass at or below the pivot point), the Acratech still has the weight of the camera above the head. As a result, even if you balance the lens and adjust the tension knob, as you move the lens up or down the torque on the head increases and the lens will start to want to move on its own. That’ll leave you either needing to over-tighten the tension knob, or carefully manage the balance on your lens with your hand once it is away from the horizontal position. It’s for this reason that I’ll keep my for use when I don’t have a weight issue, and my Sidekick for times when I don’t need the full Wimberley but still want a true gimbal solution.


I fully expect the Acractech to be my tripod head of choice for Africa. Since most of my shooting there is hand-held, beanbag, or clamp-based, saving the extra pounds by having a light solution for when we do set up at a waterhole or for sunrise or sunset scenics is a no-brainer. Similarly, for my or other safaris where we move around in the field, having a couple less pounds to carry makes a difference. I don’t expect to use it for “all-day” tripod shoots like with the birds in the or the . There I’ll still use one of my Wimberleys since weight isn’t an issue. Similarly for my “travel” trips like to , I’ll defer to my RRS ballhead since shorter lenses are far more important there.

In short, if you want to round out your long lens support kit with a lightweight solution that won’t break the bank, the is a great choice. I strongly recommend getting the version with the Indexed plate (it is only $30 more) so that you can use it with your camera body and a short lens when needed.