The Manfrotto 468MG Magnesium Hydrostatic Ball Head is the current top-of-the-line professional ball head from Manfrotto, and comes in multiple versions: the 468MG itself, plus with a variety of quick release systems on top, designated 468MGRC0 through 468MGRC5. None of these quick release systems are Arca-Type compatible as far as we can make out, more on that later.
The 468MG is rated for a robust 35.3lbs (16 Kg) for the base unit, down to 22lbs (10 Kg) for some of the RCX versions, so all versions should be able to comfortably hold a big DSLR with a heavy lens. The 468MG uses a hydraulic system to lock the ball in place (makes for a much tighter lock with minimal turning of the knob). It utilizes a cast magnesium head with a 1.25" Teflon coated aluminum ball. The controls are oversized to allow use with gloves.
The base has an independent panning bed with its own lock and a calibrated 360 degree scale, marked in 5 degree increments. This allows you to lock the ball down, but still rotate the camera freely.
The Head can tilt to +/- 90 degrees (so you can easily go from landscape to portrait orientation), and also features an adjustable friction control on the main knob. The overall unit (468MG) is about 5" high and weighs about 1.4 lbs (635g). Weights and dimensions for the RCX quick release versions vary.
A large number of pro photographers use the Arca-Swiss compatible plate, clamp and rail systems from manufacturers like Wimberley, Kirk, RRS etc. The Arca-Type system is a slippery path; once introduced you discover many new and exciting ways to blow your hard earned cash on accessories like the Wimberley Sidekick, Panoramic Gear, Macro Focusing Rails, L-Brackets and so forth. Because we have a tendency to acquire such gear, we bought the standard 468MG and ignored the various RCX versions, and then converted it with an Arca-Compatible Wimberley C-10MG clamp. Another photographer that uses the 468MG is Joe McNally, again it appears he got just the standard 468MG, and simply screwed a Arca-Type clamp directly onto the top, as you can see here on his blog.
Fit and Finish
The fit and finish of the 468MG is very good, as you'd expect from Manfrotto. The head is cast magnesium, the ball aluminum, although most of the knobs and controls are plastic. The controls are well designed and easy to grip and operate even with thick winter gloves. The panning motion is very smooth indeed, but the ball movement a little less so – it's not bad by any means, it is still relatively smooth, but it's simply not in the same league as some of the more expensive heads from Kirk, RRS and Markins.
Manfrotto 468MG Ball Head with Wimberley C-10MG Quick Release Clamp
Performance (Feb 2010)
Our Manfrotto 468MG has been in continuous use since August 2007, and has been used in just about every condition imaginable, from sub zero temperatures on the side of a mountain to sand dunes, beaches and deserts. In all these conditions, it has performed admirably. It holds up well to heavy loads, as you can see in the picture below with the Nikon 200-400mm, D300, Wimberley Sidekick and Nikon SB-800.
Despite the weight and leverage created by the above setup, the ball-head is still locked solid and refuses to slip, and the panning motion remains very smooth. With a medium weight setup (for example a D700 with MB-D10 and 24-70mm f2.8 lens), it performs flawlessly. However with a heavier setup (for example a D300 with MB-D10 and 200-400mm f4 lens), after you've composed your shot and tighten the knob to lock down the head, it has a tendency to move a little – usually just enough to have to loosen it at start over/recompose.
Because of this, for a lighter camera/lens combo, this is a great ball head. After 2.5 years of use, ours is still performing like new. If you shoot with bigger telephoto lenses, you would be much better off with a higher-end head, like the offerings from Kirk, RRS and Markins, which cost almost twice as much.
We'll update this review periodically moving forward, this ball head will get used and abused over the coming months/years, we'll report back how it holds up and performs in different environments.
To get your Manfrotto 468MG Hydrostatic Ball Head, please check out B&H Photo or use one of the links below: