Having used a wide variety of ball heads and other 3 way heads even the Manfrotto joystick head (review at a later date) that has now been replaced by the 324RC2, I must admit that I was never really happy with them.
At some point I came to notice another photographer using the Manfrotto 3 way 410 junior geared head and I liked the way it was working and its features so I decided to give it a go. I need to say that I had tried some 3 way heads in the past but always found the handles too hard to operate and besides, I was always pocking my eyes with them, no use.
My first impressions:
Like some other Manfrotto products, this head is sturdy and solid built. The joints were built with heavy weight in mind and will not slip, no matter what gear you have on it at the time. I have tried it with medium and large format gear on it. The quick release plate is and feels extremely safe. It is great to know that your gear is safe on the tripod while you are walking about waiting for the light to change.
Usually you get 3 knobs on 3 way heads. This one has 6. The 3 larger ones (pic 1) are for fast movement, allowing you to get to a rough position within 2-3 seconds. The 3 smaller ones (pic 2) are the fine adjustment knobs and this is where I find this head superior and above all the rest. They work very well and offer a very smooth adjustment, allowing you to get to the best composition with high precision. The upward limit of the tilt of around 30 degrees might be a bit limiting to some but again, you can always change the plate on the camera from front to back.
Turning the knobs is a firm action and in time this action gets even firmer and this might be of a problem to people with small hands and especially women but I believe that a bit of WD40 might sort the problem out but you need to check it out with Manfrotto before you take this action.
When it comes to weight, there is nothing Junior about this head. It is solid built and heavy. At around 1.2 kilos it might seem a bit unbalanced when used with carbon fibre tripods even with no camera on it but will not be of any problem, you get used to it. Manfrotto says that this head can take up to 5 kilos of weight and I strongly believe it can. One thing to consider is that this head is not recommended for long hikes.
At the very top of the head and right next to the head plate, there is a single bubble spirit level. It is enough if you want to check if your camera is level with the horizon but not enough if your camera is tilted downwards.
I noticed that when used with the Canon 70-200 2.8 lens with the plate on the lens collar, the distance between the collar and head is very small. This made me think that with some other lenses (like a macro lens), the collar might be right against the head and render one of the knobs useless. I take this as a bad design.
Overall, I find this head to be well built, solid and well suited for landscape photography where fine and precise movements are required. If you are not a “Slow Down Attitude” person like myself then you need to look for something else as this head will slow you down.