Dating from 2010, UK-based 3 Legged Thing is a comparative new-comer to the tripod and tripod head market but it has developed a strong reputation for well-thought and precision-made products.
The AirHed Pro is designed for use with larger, heavier camera gear and it comes in two variants, the twist clamp version that I’m testing here and the lever version. The lever locking mechanism is a little quicker to use but the twist lock system gives that added feeling of security that we want when attaching an expensive camera and lens to anything.
Both versions of the AirHed Pro are rated as capable of supporting loads of up to 40Kg and have a small bubble level to help ensure that the camera is straight when you want it to be. Unlike the levels on some other heads, this bubble level remains visible when a camera is mounted.
3 Legged Thing uses aerospace-grade magnesium alloy to make the AirHed Pro and the clamp is compatible with Arca-Swiss type release plates. The included plate has a bolt with a slot and hex socket which means it can be tightened onto a camera with a coin or a hex key as you’re unlikely to be able to fix it securely using just your fingers. Thoughtfully, 3 Legged Thing includes its ‘Toolz’ multi-tool carabiner in the box. This has both a hex tool and a coin key and can be used as a key ring or clipped on your bag, so you’re never without it.
Thanks to a hex bolt in the base of the clamp, the clamp can be removed from the tripod head if you wish and attached to another 3/8-inch threaded support.
There are two knurled-metal knobs on the main body of the AirHed Pro. The larger of the two is the ball release, which also functions as the friction control. Lower down and 90 ° away, there’s the pan control and along the bottom edge of the head, between the two knobs, there’s an arrow that points towards a 360 ° scale to guide any rotation and panorama-shooting.
Base diameter: 38mm
Controls: Pan knob, ball lock / friction, clamp knob
Plate compatibility: Arca-Swiss
Maximum load: 40kg
Build and handling
3 Legged Thing offers two color ways for the AirHed Pro, blue or gray, with both featuring orange accents. The blue makes an attractive splash of color that could be useful in low light while the gray looks very smart.
At 323g, the AirHed Pro is a nice weight in your hand and it feels well-made. The quality of the manufacturing becomes apparent when you mount the head on a tripod, attach a camera and put it to use. Firstly, the ball release knob allows precise control and over the friction and its easy to lock in place. When released, the ball also moves delightfully smoothly with no sticky bits or awkward movements.
Two locating pins in the quick release plate mean that it has to be mounted the correct way round on the camera or lens, with a pin on either side. Then, in order for the bubble level to be visible, the camera has to be mounted with the level sitting under the back of the camera and the plate lock at the front under the lens. This means that you don’t have a great deal of room to access the clamp knob, especially with chunky lenses, but it’s not usually a major issue.
One of the frustrations with using some tripod heads is the drooping that occurs after you’ve locked the camera in position. The AirHed Pro performs well in this respect, but as you’d expect, it pays to ensure that everything is tightened properly. It’s important, for instance, to ensure that the head is properly screwed onto the tripod so that it only rotates when the pan lock is released.
To give the AirHed Pro a bit more of a challenge, I mounted the Nikkor AF-S 80-400mm F4.5-5.6 G ED VR (1.57kg) on the Nikon D7100 (765g) and popped them on the head mounted on the 3 Legged Thing Nicky (a very stable tripod). This lens has a tripod collar and foot and when it’s used to mount the camera and lens on the AirHed Pro, the head does a great job of keeping everything motionless in the position that you want, there’s very little drooping if any.
Switching to mounting this camera and lens combo with the camera directly on the head shows why the tripod collar is there. The balance shifts dramatically with all the weight in front of the head. Consequently, the composition tends to change a little after the head is fixed in position and you release your hold on it. Investigating this reveals that the movement occurs between the camera and the quick release plate, even when the plate was screwed on as tight as I could get it. There’s less drooping with a more robust camera, but it’s still best to use the collar with a long lens.
3 Legged Thing’s AirHed Pro has understated looks and a modest price but it performs extremely well, giving a good range of motion, being easy to use and keeping heavy camera gear still. It can cope with long lenses but it’s best suited to wide, standard and mid-range zooms for everyday, long exposure and landscape photography.
Some photographers may wish for a separate friction control, but I like the simplicity of a single release knob and the size of the one on the AirHed Pro makes it easy to make precise adjustments. It means you get just the degree of movement that you need before locking the ball tightly.