Review: Arca-Swiss and Leofoto geared tripod heads

All tripod heads have two movements: tilt—fore and aft adjustment—and panning—panoramic rotation. Most tripod heads for still photography also have a lateral roll angle adjustment, allowing you to switch from landscape to portrait orientation and anywhere in between. Rational heads separate the tilt and roll movement while ball heads control both simultaneously. With most tripod heads, the force applied to one end by the weight of a camera and lens is balanced on the other end by the locking force on the tilt mechanism. The problem with this arrangement is that it’s difficult to make slight adjustments to a camera’s position. Locking the tilt joints or ball can also move the camera slightly. This matters when your photography requires fast and precise camera positioning.

For this review I tested the Arca-Swiss Core 60 Leveler and Core 75 Leveler and the Leofoto G2, three similar tripod heads with different capacities and capabilities. All three address this problem of precision. Which of them is right for you? After working with all three for several months, I developed a preference based on the types of photography I regularly do.

An Arca-Swiss Core 60 Leveler geared tripod head with each level moved to a tilt degree on a white background
Courtesy Arca-Swiss
Arca-Swiss Core 60 Leveler

Consider first that these are not all-purpose heads. The basic mechanical design limits tilt and roll angles. In exchange, you gain a massive increase in speed when you need to precisely control camera angle and focal plane position. That precision, combined with a high size-to-strength ratio, makes them ideal for macro, still-life, copying artwork, panoramic, and architectural photography.

These heads locate the center of the tilt and roll movements above the camera platform—near the optical center of the camera—using the geared tilt drives inside the head. This makes precision tilts far easier for four interrelated reasons:

  • Because the axes are located near the center of the camera, the camera doesn’t need to move as far for each degree of tilt or roll.
  • The moving part of each support stage arcs further for each degree of tilt.
  • The worm drive in the lower part of each tilt and the geared track attached to the upper part of the tilt can be more finely pitched.
  • The worm drive mechanism is inherently self-locking.

The Core 60 Leveler and Core 75 Leveler are designed and made in Switzerland by Arca-Swiss, a respected name in the photographic world synonymous with innovative, high-quality large-format cameras and camera supports. Today most photographers know the brand as a generic term for the versatile quick-release system copied by multiple manufacturers.

An Arca-Swiss Core 75 Leveler geared tripod head with each level moved to a tilt degree on a white background
Courtesy Arca-Swiss
Arca-Swiss Core 75 Leveler

The Core 75 Leveler is the larger of the two and has a higher load capacity and a wider tilt range. Both the Core 60 and Core 75 Leveler heads incorporate dual panning mechanisms—one at the camera platform, one at the base—that feature bar-type levels in the camera platform. The base-level panner allows you to point the head in the desired direction while the upper panning movement keeps the camera on the same plane after setting the tilt and roll angles.

The third head, the G2, is made by Leofoto, a manufacturer based in the Guangdong Province of China. While the G2 copies the basic mechanical design of the Core Leveler heads, there are significant differences such as size, price, and quality. The G2 has only one upper-level panning mechanism, but its base is an Arca-Swiss compliant quick-release plate.

A Leofoto G2 geared tripod head with each level moved to a tilt degree on a white background
Courtesy of Leofoto
Leofoto G2

In real-world use, all these heads sped up my shooting time with architectural, panoramic, and product photography. They also made macro work easier even when using a heavy-duty WeMacro Rail motorized focus-stacking rail. For video work I’ve found them useful for quickly leveling a short (22-inch) Zeapon Micro 2 motorized slider. The cameras I used in testing were a Nikon D850 and Nikon Z 7, and a Sony a7R IV with a range of lenses, the largest being a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom.

The Arca-Swiss heads still feel brand new and silky smooth after four months of use, even after an incident when the Core 75 Leveler and the tripod it was mounted on were dropped headfirst on concrete. The Leofoto G2 has not held up as well. The gearing of the lower tilt mechanism on the G2 has grown progressively stiffer, which calls into question its longevity. However, the G2’s small size and incorporated Arca-Swiss base plate allow me to use it on the end of a camera bar when I need to put the camera out over the edge of a structure to make panoramas, and that’s a plus. That said, I think the Arca-Swiss Core Leveler heads are a better overall investment, especially the Core 60. 

Chart comparing technical specs of the Arca-Swiss Core 60 and Core 75 Levelers with Leofoto G2

Ellis Vener is a contributing editor to Professional Photographer.

Tags: gear  tripods