October 28, 2013

Create an Economy Leveled Panoramic Rotator via a Ball Head Flip-Kit

SCV-FK Flip-Kit on Sunwayfoto XB-44 Ball Head
More and more photographers, especially amateur, get enthusiastic with panoramic photography, either because they discover inherent features in their newly acquired camera or because they get intrigued of having higher resolution landscape photos.
The point is that the more you get involved, the more you realize that for better panoramas with less stitching problems you need horizontally level panning. Especially for single-row cylindrical panoramas which are the most common.

Of course there are plenty of solutions, from  add-on panning clamps, leveling bases to complete panoramic heads, quite a few of which I had presented in the past, but all have a considerable cost.

On the other hand if you invert a ball head equipped with a panning base, then you automatically get a leveling panning platform with minimal cost.

The Concept
The idea of an inverse ball head is not new among panorama photographers, since many cost minded photographers have implemented DIY solutions in the past.
Reputable manufacturers have introduced solutions to fulfill this demand, like Arca-Swiss® with a couple of inverse ball head models Monoball P0 and P1 or Acratech with GP Series reversible models, but all with a notable price tag.
Nowadays most photographers, of any caliber, already have a ball head with an independent panning base.

So for a long time I had in mind, to design a low-budget universal solution, via which anyone can convert his/her ball head into a leveled panoramic rotator at will.
Was not so simple though. In order to do that, one either has to add an extra Quick Release Clamp at the bottom of a ball head, or the existing QR Clamp has to be removed and relocated at the ball head bottom and the ball head be mounted on a tripod by its ball.
I chose the latter approach as it would require less investment from the end user remaining functional and very stable. Nevertheless, this would require machining of a new base and hardware from scratch.
After some long discussions with Desmond Simmonds of Desmond Photographic Distributors who by the way is a very receptive mind for innovation, and after some prototypes, the first version of Desmond SCV Flip Kit came into life.

The Flip Kit

SCV-FK Flip-Kit components
The first version of the SCV-FK Flip kit contains five components. One Aluminium Base 58 mm (2.28") in diameter by 20 mm (0.79") tall  combined with two stainless-steel hex-socket cap screws (with 1/4"-20 and M6 threads) and one 4 mm Allen hex key, all intended to support a flipped over ball head. Plus one stainless-steel 40 mm (1.57") in diameter male 3/8"-16 to male 3/8"-16 thread adapter. The adapter is intended to facilitate the relocation of the existing ball head QR clamp at the bottom of the ball head.
SCV-FK Flip-Kit Aluminium Base - top view
The main component serving for the ball head flip-over is the lightweight Aluminium base which weighs less than a common quick release clamp at 58 gr (2.05 oz). It's a finely machined and finished aluminium product anodized in black satin color. The perimeter is grooved in order to give a better grip for mounting and tightening on a tripod top mounting plate. The top platform is completely flat and smooth with the exception of a groove along its center mounting hole intended to much the relevant ball head anti-twist bosses. 
SCV-FK Flip-Kit Aluminium Base - bottom view
The bottom side reveals the center 3/8"-16 threaded hole, cross braced to the sides with all in-between material removed in order to eliminate excess weight. Besides the hollow design, the SCV-FK base is solid and acoustically dead on knocking, which means that it is also a very good vibration insulator.
All other components are made of stainless steel in order to ensure best rigidity and corrosion resistance.

Although the goal  is "anyone" can use it, at the moment, in order to keep costs down, there are a few prerequisites regarding the ball heads covered by this first version of the Flip-Kit,
A. The Ball Head should have a Quick Release Clamp attached via an M6 or 1/4"-20 screw.
B. The Quick Release Clamp should have a center hole threaded 3/8"-16.
C. The Ball Head should have an independently locking panning base with a 3/8"-16 mounting hole.
Actually the above prerequisites, reflect the majority of contemporary Arca-Swiss® compatible ball heads.

Ball Head Conversion Example

From my small arsenal of ball heads, I picked for the illustration the Sunwayfoto XB-44 Low Profile Ball Head which fits exactly the requirements.

Attaching the Aluminium Base

Sunwayfoto XB-44 BH - QR clamp removal sequence
First step is to remove the ball head quick release clamp. After locking the ball tightly via the ball head lock-knob, we unscrew (turning counter-clockwise) the QR clamp using the provided 4 mm Allen hex key.
SCV-FK aluminium base w/ hex socket cap screw and Allen key
Then we isolate the SCV-FK Aluminium base and the appropriate hex socket cap screw from the kit, choosing the one that matches the threads of the screw removed from the QR clamp. In this case it is the M6 thread screw.
Hand testing of hex-socket cap screw on ball head stem
Before going any further it would be wise to hand test the hex-socket cap screw into the ball stem threads in order to ensure full compatibility and avoid causing damage to the threads.
SCV-FK aluminium base mounting sequence on Sunwayfoto XB-44
Next step is to invert the aluminium base on top of the ball head, taking care to align the ball head stem bosses with the relevant anti-twist groove on the base top platform (as shown on the top left photo). Then we should align the center hole with the ball head mounting hole and gently screw the hex-socket cap screw a few turns (top right photo). Then using the Allen hex key we screw all the way and tighten the base in place.

Attaching the QR Clamp via the 3/8" Adapter

SCV-FK 3/8 to 3/8 adapter mounting sequence on Sunwayfoto XB-44
Now we can flip and stand the Ball Head on the SCV-FK base. The stainless-steel 3/8" male to 3/8" male thread adapter should be hand screwed into the ball head's 3/8"-16 bottom mounting hole.
The adapter is equipped with diamond patterned grooves around its disc perimeter which facilitate tightening it firmly. All we need now is to screw on the existing QR clamp.
Inverted Sunwayfoto XB-44 BH w/ SCV-FK Flip kit - complete
Our leveled panoramic rotator is now ready! Should I mention here, that the stainless-steel adapter has a dual role. Besides holding the QR clamp it also acts as a spacer between the ball head and the QR clamp. Quite a few low profile ball heads, as is the case of the Sunwayfoto XB-44 pictured above, have lock-knobs placed very close to the bottom,. If the QR clamp were attached flush to the ball head panning base then there would be interference between the clamp knob and the ball head knobs. 

Using Your Inverted Rotator

Tripod mouting sequence of inverted Sunwayfoto XB-44 BH via SCV-FK Flip kit
The inverted ball head is now easily mounted on a tripod top mounting plate stud, via the 3/8"-16 mounting hole on the SCV-FK Aluminium Base. (If your tripod has a non reversible 1/4"-20 stud then a 3/8"-16 to 1/4"-20 conversion bushing should be used - not included).
Ball head operation examples in tilted or vertical orientaton
The Flip-Kit base is both sturdy enough to hold and tall enough to permit any kind of ball head movement from slight tilting to full vertical tilting without any interference with the panning base (panning top now) or the QR clamp knobs. Even on very low profile heads as the one in the example above.
Inverted Sunwayfoto XB-44 BH w/ Desmond DNR-120 Nodal Slide
Adding a low budget Nodal Slide like the Desmond DNR-120 pictured above you may come up with a very versatile and low cost, entry level panoramic solution, yet Arca-Swiss® compatible.

According to demand, other Flip-Kit versions are planned, enhanced with more screws, bushings etc in order to cover more ball head or quick release mounts. As soon as more options are available, I shall update with the appropriate implementation examples.

Note: The Flip-Kit components illustrated in the photos above are prototypes or first production samples, which may differ slightly in appearance and specs from final products. The article will be updated promptly upon receipt of final versions.

Update March 12, 2013
Create a Leveled Panoramic Rotator via the SCV-Flip-Kit - Part Two

Update March 31, 2013
Create a Leveled Panoramic Rotator via the SCV-Flip-Kit - Part Three

I hope you found the article and ideas useful, thank you for viewing.
Design, Photos & Photosynths: © 2013 S.C.Vlachos

Price & Availability:
Introductory price of the Desmond SCV-FK Flip-Kit is US$ 24.95 9.95 and is available from Amazon and from eBay

Referenced Articles:

Sunwayfoto XB-44 Low Profile Ball Head Review

Triopo GX-1328 Carbon Fiber Classic Tripod Review

New Budget Line of Nodal Slides and Multipurpose Rails from Desmond

Relevant Articles:

Desmond DTR-1 Tripod Reducer Review


  1. I am an amateur. ever since i bought the flip kit, i had did not find a need to mount the ball head normally. Sorry if it is a silly question; what is the advantage of unflipped mounting of ball-head over flipped mounting (other than reading the markings)

    1. The major advantage of an unflipped (normal) mounting of a ball head is to maintain its center of gravity lower than the pivoting point of its ball.
      Nevertheless, the ball had behavior depends on its structure and strength to compensate for the displacement of the center of gravity.
      Anyway, it is more accurate when the head is panning at the top than the bottom. Framing is more precise and making panoramas easier.
      Therefore, if the structure and strength of your ball head permit, and you find it convenient using it flipped, keep it that way. ;)