As a landscape photographer one of the most useful things I own is a sturdy tripod. Most of my exposures are far longer than I could possibly hold the camera steady for, sometimes into minutes rather than the usual fractions of a second. Most high quality tripods come with separate legs and a head which attaches the camera to the legs. The idea behind this is that different photographers taking photos of different subjects are able to customise their tripod to their own needs, as a landscape photographer for example my needs are very different to those of a bird photographer who will need to hold huge heavy long telephoto lenses and be able to snap them around quickly as their subject arrives.
To date I've been using ball heads, initially a Giottos, then latterly a vintage Linhof item. Bal heads are very good for making large adjustments and making quick setups. Where they fall down though is in making small adjustments, you have to unlock the ball which then releases the camera to move in every plane which is an issue when you only need to adjust one dimension. An example is when I set up for a shot which contains water, be it a lake, river or the sea, the horizon has to be level, your eyes are used to the sea being level, if it is only 0.5 degrees out of straight it is noticeable and looks odd. If I've composed a shot and need to straighten my horizon then with a ball head when I unlock it I run the risk of changing the entire composition.
One solution is a three way head, where three locking levers each adjust one plane of movement, left to right (panning), vertical (up and down) and angle (the lean of the camera from left to right). The better solution is a geared head, which is what I have just invested in. On a geared head there are still the three levers of a three way head but instead of simply unlocking they are now geared so they can be adjusted in small amounts by turning them.
I chose the Manfrotto 405 geared head. My tripod legs are Manfrotto and I find it good well made kit. The 405 is the second largest in the range of geared heads, the 410 being the smallest (it is actually officially called a Junior Geared Head) and the 400 being a heavy old monster more suited to studio work. The 405 fits neatly in the middle offering enough weight capacity for dSLRs and medium format gear.
I've just brought the 405 back from its first outing, an epic trip around the Lake District calling at every lake and I have to say I am very impressed. The gears can be unlocked to make broad adjustments before locking them back up and making small final adjustments. Once I was used to it I didn't need to take my eye from the viewfinder (or more often the angle finder) to make an adjustment which meant composition was much easier. My 1Ds Mkii is fitted with a gridded focussing screen so levelling the horizon couldn't be easier.
The other nice thing with the 405 is it takes the larger 410 quick release plate which feels really strong and inspires confidence particularly when the camera is tilted over in portrait orientation.
A very well made and useful piece of kit which I am sure will form part of my equipment for many years to come.