Giottos MH5001 - £45/$68

Best tripod head: 12 tested

Despite having a modest 6kg maximum load rating, the Giottos three-way head feels every bit as sturdy as the Benro HD2, which has an 8kg rating. The locking arms are rather longer than on the Benro head, but you can remove one and screw it into the other for compact carrying.

Dual bubble levels are incorporated in the base of the head and the camera platform, making it easy to level the tripod legs as well as the camera itself. The scissor-action quick-release mechanism works well, and the surface coating of the plate enables a very firm connection to the camera.

Manfrotto 496RC2 - £55/$72

Best tripod head: 12 tested

The predecessor to this head was the Manfrotto 486RC2, which was a firm favourite with many photographers. The newer 496RC2 adds an adjustable friction damper and a refined safety lock for the quick-release plate, which is spring-loaded so it can't remain in the unlocked position.

Frills like a pan-only locking knob and bubble level are lacking, but the overall stability of the head is simply superb. Unlike the 494RC2, there's practically no sagging post-adjustment, and a dual cut-out in the ball's socket enables quick and easy tilting of the camera in either direction. What it lacks in extras, this head more than makes up for in ease and speed of use, and rock-solid performance.

Read the full Manfrotto 496RC2 review

Manfrotto 804RC2 - £55/$68

Best tripod head: 12 tested

The official maximum load rating of 4kg is meagre compared with similarly priced heads, but the 804RC2 feels as sturdy as the competing Benro and Giottos three-way heads. Like the Benro, there's no facility for screwing one locking arm into the other for streamlined carrying, and the Manfrotto actually features a third locking arm for panning, instead of a more basic thumbscrew.

Handy pan, tilt and swivel scales have five-degree increment markings, and there's a bubble level on the camera plate. Annoyingly, however, adjustments feel very jerky unless you slacken off the locking arms considerably.

Custom SLR M-Plate - £60/$75

Essential camera accessories

This tripod head mount is compatible with Arca-Swiss and Manfrotto RC2 quick-release tripod connections, and can be used with the CUSTOM SLR Glide Strap.

Velbon Super Mag Slider - £65/$130

Essential camera accessories

Described as a macro stage, the Velbon Super Mag Slider allows the exact position of an SLR or similar camera to be finely adjusted. It can move left and right over 30mm, and forwards and backwards over 60mm, while two tripod threads on its base enable it to be mounted on a set of standard tripod legs.

Despite weighing-in at a very lightweight 470g, the device boasts a solid magnesium- alloy construction, with thick rubber knobs for precise movement control. However, these knobs are perhaps the product's weakest link, partly due to their small size, but also because the two can, at times, come into close contact with each other, hampering their performance.

Otherwise, the device is effective and straightforward to use: very fine adjustments are possible, and as the plate stays fixed to the unit the camera can be quickly released simply by unscrewing the cog that holds it in place.

Vanguard SBH-100 - £70/$80

Best tripod head: 12 tested

Like the Giottos ball head, this Vanguard model features a pan-only lock that also comes with an adjustment scale, calibrated in five-degree increments; this enables precision panning while the tilt and swivel adjustments are locked off. A downside of this, however, is that you need to release the pan lock as well as the main locking knob when switching to portrait-orientation shooting.

Other features include two spirit levels on the camera plate and a quick-release plate with its own locking screw. There's no D-ring for fastening the camera to the quick-release plate, however - you have to use a screwdriver or a coin. There's no adjustable friction damper either, and post-adjustment sag can be noticeable.

Giottos MH1311-652 - £75 (about $120)

Best tripod head: 12 tested

A full-featured ball head, the Giottos has three operating knobs. In addition to the main locking screw, there's a separate, adjustable friction damper plus a pan-only lock. Panning also comes with an angular scale, marked in five-degree increments. Instead of a bubble level, the camera plate has two spirit levels, so you can check for precise front-to-back and side-to-side levelling independently.

The quick-release system features a scissor-action safety catch, and the surface coating offers a solid connection to the camera. Considering its hefty 10kg maximum load rating and wide-ranging features, the Giottos is still pleasantly light in weight, partly due to the ball being hollow.

Read the full Giottos MH1311-652 review

Benro HD2 (BRHD2) - £75/$100

Best tripod head: 12 tested

With the same 8kg load rating as Benro's ball head, this three-way model is more than twice as heavy, at 840g. The extra weight is mostly due to the additional tilt and swivel locking arms, and the chunky thumbscrew for the panning lock. There's no facility for screwing one locking arm into the other for carriage.

Precise adjustments are aided by three calibrated scales with five-degree increments for each of the pan, tilt and swivel movements, and there's also a bubble level on the camera platform. The quick-release system and plate are the same as those used in the Benro ball head, which creates the same sponginess issue caused by the narrow camera-cushioning strips.

Manfrotto Modo Steady - £85/$85

Essential camera accessories

This ingeniously designed camcorder support can be stabilised by the shoulder or used with the counterweight, and even folded out into a tabletop tripod.

Manfrotto MVH502AH Pro Video Head - £192/$195

Essential camera accessories

Although many of today's SLRs are equipped with some form of high-definition (HD) video recording as standard, traditional photographic equipment isn't necessarily best suited to video recording. Tripods, for example, are fine when the camera is static, but when the camera is being moved during recording, a tripod head designed specifically for the purpose makes all the difference.

The Manfrotto MVH502AH is one such product, designed to satisfy the requirements of the creative videographer. With a 3/8-inch thread, it's compatible with a range of tripods, although it's more at home on a sturdy set of legs that will fully support it while being moved around. At 1.6kg, the head is weighty, but this is justified by its excellent construction: it's mostly made of solid aluminium, with rubber and plastic used for certain controls where appropriate.

The handle can be secured to either side of the head to suit both left- and right- handed users, and the tactile rubber around its end makes it comfortable to use. The head's resistance for panning and tilting is easily adjusted with the collar, which encircles the head and knob to its side, while the 4kg counter balance ensures that movements are smooth and that the videographer stays in control.

There's little to fault it in terms of operation, although the locking knob to the side of the head feels as though it could benefit from a more ergonomic design. The quick- release plate is long enough to accommodate even the largest of SLRs, although the button for releasing it is a little stiff (which admittedly may be intentional for the purpose of security).

Vanguard BBH-200 - £200/$200

Essential camera accessories

The BBH-200 is one of three new tripod heads from Vanguard, the others being the BBH-100 and BBH-300, all of which include a new rapid level system. This consists of a switch at the base that locks the head in an upright position, making it perfectly level with the base.

Although it lacks friction control, the large securing knob gives enough flexibility over the friction to accurately position the head exactly where you want it.