For most spotting scopes, to get a satisfactory view, you will need a sturdy and stable tripod and tripod head. Only the very smallest spotting scopes might allow you to get away with hand-holding the scope. And even many of those would benefit from being stabilized.
The reason for this is the magnification offered by the spotting scope. With the amazing magnification offered by most birding scopes, any movement or shake of the instrument will result in an unsteady image.
With the right tripod head for your spotting scope, tracking and movement of the spotting will be a breeze. Let's take a look at the best options for tripod heads that will cope with the weight and movement of a spotting scope.
Quick comparison: best tripod heads for birding spotting scopes
Manfrotto MVH502AH video head
One of the leading brands offers this smooth and easily operable tripod head with counterbalance and lockable pan and tilt
Best overall tripod head for birding spotting scopes
SmallRig Selection CH10 Fluid Pan Tilt Tripod Head 3259
A small, lightweight fluid video head perfect for on-the-go birding at this price point.
Best value tripod head for birding spotting scopes
Benro S6 PRO Flat Base Fluid Video Head
One of the best options with machined metal components, giving the Benro S6 PRO a solid and stable feel
Best tripod head for birding spotting scopes if money is no object
SIRUI VA-5 Fluid Video Head
A popular birding option due to its silky movements in tandem with a light and compact form
Best lightweight tripod head for birding spotting scopes
Manfrotto MVH500AH Fluid Video Head
This reliable, high-quality Manfrotto tripod head has a fully adjustable counterbalance ensuring precise control
Best heavy duty tripod head for birding spotting scopes
How we selected the top picks for tripod head
Key features to look for in your tripod head are:
- a counterbalance system to hold the spotting scope in position even when steeply tilted
- precise control of the drag resistance to allow free movement when repositioning
- smooth movement when panning and tilting
- a consistently reliable locking system
- sturdy construction for extra stability
- attention to details, such as an integrated leveling system, an adjustable panning handle, durable dials and knobs
It is also worth considering the size and weight of any equipment you carry. Of the most value is a tripod head that detaches easily from the scope and, if necessary, from the tripod legs.
The weight is a delicate balance. While you want the tripod set-up to be heavy enough to provide sufficient stability, consider also the distance that you are likely to be carrying it. Or even if you’ll need to pack it for travel within a certain baggage weight allowance.
To get a detailed overview of the different types of tripod heads, we have an in-depth article discussing what to look for when choosing your tripod head:
Reviews of the best tripod head for a birding spotting scope
With a clearer idea of the best features to look for in a tripod head, let's now take a closer look at the models featured in our list of the top picks.
Best overall tripod head
Main Features of the Manfrotto MVH502AH Video Head
The Manfrotto MVH502AH Video Head with Flat Base offers impressive features. Here are a few of them, just to spark your interest!
- Variable fluid drag on pan and tilt movements
- Fixed counterbalance system
- Sliding plate for quick connection and set up
- Flat base for multiple support combinations
Weight 3.74 pounds
Maximum payload 15.4 pounds
Safety lock Yes
Quick release Yes
- Tilt is easy and smooth to operate, with adjustable drag.
- Both the pan and tilt are lockable.
- Large resistance controls are
easy to grip and operate.
- Resistance dials can be finely adjusted.
- The pan knob is less accessible, at the back.
- The resistance of the counterbalance spring is not adjustable.
Manfrotto MVH502AH Video Head Overview
A fluid video head with adjustable drag on the pan and tilt features, this is an easy tripod to get used to.
The panning handle can be attached on either side. Depending on which side you chose, you might have to release the long QR plate in the opposite direction to usual.
The quick release plate has a safety lock, so that the plate does not release even if the dial is off. Good to know that your spotting scope will remain safe!
Finely tuned drag on the pan and tilt movements
The substantial metallic red ring at the base adds or removes drag to the pan. There’s a dial on the side for the tilt.
Both these controls of the pan and tilt resistance are a good size. The first advantage of this is that they are easy to grip and turn.
Additionally, because the dial is large, it means the resistance can be more finely adjusted. This allows for a greater degree of control over the drag.
Maintain the scope’s position with the counterbalance
The counterbalance, to hold larger, longer spotting scopes in place using their center of gravity, is a handy additional feature. This adds to the sense of using a stable piece of equipment. Your spotting scope will also be sitting on a wide, sturdy base.
Manfrotto has created a solidly reliable and smooth moving fluid video head. Its features add ease and control to the use of your spotting scope.
Best value tripod head
Main Features of the SmallRig Selection CH10 Fluid Pan Tilt Tripod Head 3259
The SmallRig Selection CH10 Fluid Pan Tilt Tripod Head 3259 offers impressive features. Here are a few of them, just to spark your interest!
- Small, light compact fluid head
- Fixed damping for smooth operation
- Tilt goes to +90 degrees /-55 degrees
- Pan rotates the full 360 degrees
Weight 0.83 pounds
Maximum payload 6 pounds
Safety lock Yes
Quick release Yes
- Extremely compact - literally fits in the palm.
- Impressive lightness makes it highly portable.
- Drag adds smoothness to the movement.
- The Arca-Swiss compatible quick release system might require perseverance to attach.
- Limited counterbalance tilt range, which might impact larger scopes.
- It is a little difficult to view the bubble level.
SmallRig Selection CH10 Fluid Pan Tilt Tripod Head 3259 Overview
For those who need a lightweight option, the SmallRig CH10 only weighs 13.3 ounces. Its compact dimensions and low poundage make it ideal for on-the-go birding.
The size seems to impact the counterbalance range on the tilt function. The small size of the plate allows a slightly limited positioning range.
This is something that could affect larger scopes, as they are heavier on the front end and may be less balanced.
360 degree panning range
Some of the weight is saved by having plastic controls rather than metal. This reduces the cost too.
The tilt and pan locks are located on the side of the tripod head. The tilt range goes from +90 degrees in a downward direction to -55 degrees backwards, while the pan operates across the whole 360 degree panorama.
A simple solution: small, light, functional
Unless your spotting scope is really large, this simple and functional tripod head should support your optics, despite its small size.
If you’re searching for a sound budget option, this should deliver a reliable enough performance to enable you to feel that you are receiving good value for your money.
Best tripod head if money is no object
Main Features of the Benro S6 Pro tripod head
The Benro S6 Pro tripod head offers impressive features. Here are a few of them, just to spark your interest!
- Counterbalance with 5+0 settings
- +90/-75° tilt range
- 360° pan range
- Continuous pan and tilt drag functions
- Independent locks on both the pan and the tilt
Weight 3.6 pounds
Maximum payload 13.3 pounds
Connection Optics mount: 1 x 1/4"-20 Male, 1 x 3/8"-16 Male; Tripod mount: 3/8"-16 Female
Safety lock Yes
Quick release Yes, its own proprietary plate. Needs a converter for Arca-Swiss
- Machined metal components and controls increase sturdiness and durability.
- When locked, the controls feel very secure.
- Six different counterbalance settings makes it more versatile for use with different optics.
- Length of the panning handle is adjustable.
- Upgraded pan drag.
- Well known top brand.
- Depending on what you’re attaching, you might need to buy an extra adapter for the plate.
- The improved design and upgrades add to the price tag.
Benro S6 Pro Overview
Benro’s S6 Pro sits very favorably in its price range. Upgraded from its previous popular model S6, the S6 Pro is machined from magnesium (on the main body) and aluminum.
All of the dials and controls are now upgraded to metal instead of plastic on the S6. As well as being easy and simple to use, the fact that they are metal also gives a more solid feel.
This means you can adjust in a hurry with confidence, without the sense that you need to be careful in case the controls loosen or break. All the locks, too, keep your optics reliably attached.
Counterbalance features an adjustable scale
There are five preset levels (in addition to 0!) at which you can set the counterbalance. So within the bounds of the suggested weight range, your spotting scope will stay put at the desired angle, and not flop forward when you let go of it.
This counterweight feature also allows you to swap from spotting scope to binoculars. Then maintain balance once the counterweight is set accordingly.
Benro upgraded the pan drag
The panning range reaches around the full 360 degrees. One of Benro’s big improvements on the older S6 is to the pan drag. You have the flexibility to attach the panning handle to either side. It’s telescopic and lockable.
The bubble level - which can be illuminated at the touch of a button - is a really nice little extra. No more squinting at the instrument in the dim dawn light!
Best lightweight compact tripod head
Main Features of the Sirui VA-5 fluid video head
The Sirui VA-5 fluid video head offers impressive features. Here are a few of them, just to spark your interest!
- Fluid system for smooth pan and tilts
- Internal spring-loaded counterbalance
- Adjustable quick-release plate
- Dual safety lock system (keeps plate attached even if loose)
- Two bubble levels for alignment (on top and at the base)
Weight 1.3 pounds
Maximum payload 6.6 pounds
Connection Tripod mount: 3/8"-16 thread
Safety lock Yes, a dual safety lock system
Quick release Yes. Accepts Arca-compatible quick release plates
- Combines lightness with compactness.
- Easy and secure to set up and use.
- Spring-assisted counterbalance feature to steady the scope.
- The nine-inch rubberized swivel arm can be attached in different configurations.
- Two leveling bubbles.
- It’s a little less intuitive to find the panning release than the tilt knob.
Sirui VA-5 fluid video head Overview
When searching for a tripod head packable enough to take on longer distance birding adventures - or when you are just keen to lighten your load overall, check out this lightweight gem.
Sirui has a good range of products and this is also a good choice. Even at the low weight of 1.3 pounds it can cope with a payload more than four times its own weight.
The maximum payload is specified as going up to 6.6 pounds. We would try to stay shy of this limit for optimum views and stability, though.
Holds scopes motionless using the counterbalance system
The VA5’s spring-assisted counterbalance feature helps to keep front-heavy spotting scopes in position. It also tempers the tilt movement for those larger optics, ensuring good control and smoothness.
Both the pan function and the tilt have separate controls. So the scope can be kept still on one axis and move smoothly along the other. The location of the pan release could be better. It’s not too difficult to get used to but less intuitive.
Easy alignment using both bubble levels
For simple set-up, there are two bubble levels. It’s possible to attach the easy-grip rubberized panning lever on to whichever side of the tripod head best suits you. And it can be pointed either towards or away from the user.
Simple, secure, solid - and as light and compact as they come. The VA-5 will work well in a range of birding situations. Even with its small dimensions, Sirui’s compact offering is not the cheapest option. But for many birders it can represent a sound investment in space- and weight-saving.
For more fluid head choices, check out our round-up of the best here > Five of the best fluid tripod heads for spotting scopes
Best heavy duty tripod head
Main Features of the Manfrotto MVH500AH Fluid Video Head
The Manfrotto MVH500AH Fluid Video Head offers impressive features. Here are a few of them, just to spark your interest!
- Bubble level and precision control handle.
- Wide platform provides a sturdy base
- Long quick-release plate
- Pre-set spring-loaded counterbalance system (suitable to 5.3 pounds)
Weight 2 pounds
Maximum payload 11 pounds
Connection 1/4" and 3/8" attachment
Safety lock Yes
Quick release Yes
- Counterweight suitable for scopes up to about 85mm.
- The counter-balance system keeps the scope stable at the angle you leave it.
- The panning handle attaches to either side of the head.
- Effective drag and lock facilities on the tilt to cope with heavy scopes.
- Top quality, well established brand.
- Counterbalance is pre-set at 5.3 pounds. So for a very large/heavy scope, the 502 might suit better (its counterbalance goes up 3 to 4 pounds).
- Drag is not adjustable.
Manfrotto MVH500AH Fluid Video Head Overview
The MVH500AH comes from one of the best-known brands for tripods and tripod heads. Manfrotto designs tend to be reliable and of high quality. You’d be buying from a company that is likely to be around for quite some time yet.
This fluid video head handles smoothly and precisely. Exactly what you want from your tripod head. Our only gripe is the lack of adjustable drag.
To add this option, you might consider taking a look at our top pick for tripod head, Manfrotto’s 502. It’s the next up in this range and will take more weight and also offer you the ability to change the resistance on the tilt and pan movements.
The MVH500AH handles an 11-pound maximum load
Sticking with the MVH500AH model, however, will still get you up to 11 pounds of maximum payload. To give a rough guide, sizewise this includes scopes around 85 mm. The counterweight spring is set around five pounds.
Some tripod heads can end up with extra play in the controls over time. With this Manfrotto, though, both the drag and the lock facilities on the tilt are secure. They certainly feel strong enough to cope consistently with scopes at the heavier end of this spectrum.
If the fixed drag feature is sufficient for your needs, the Manfrotto MVH500AH is our pick of the tripod head options to cope with heavier spotting scopes.
These are some other options of heavy duty tripod heads: Best heavy duty tripod heads (good for big scopes or wind!)
Buying the best tripod head: next steps
Most tripod heads can be switched to be used with different tripod legs. So if you want to replace or upgrade a tripod head, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find an alternative that is compatible with the tripod legs that you prefer.
We've highlighted some of the most eligible models available and shared what to look for when making your purchase. Feel free to click through to read the specifications of our favorites – that will help ensure you get a tripod head that is perfect for your needs.
So, if you're in the market for the best tripod head for your birding spotting scope, be sure to read through our complete buyer's guide to find the best option for you.
The final decision rests on what your most important factors are. With our guidance on the potential features, we hope you are clearer about those priorities.
If you're buying a tripod head separately from the tripod legs, it may help you to know how to detach and attach the head.
We are sure that you will identify the tripod head that will make bird watching and nature photography even easier and more fun than ever. Happy birding!
- 1 Quick comparison: best tripod heads for birding spotting scopes
- 2 How we selected the top picks for tripod head
- 3 Reviews of the best tripod head for a birding spotting scope
- 4 Best overall tripod head
- 5 Best value tripod head
- 6 Best tripod head if money is no object
- 7 Best lightweight compact tripod head
- 8 Best heavy duty tripod head
- 9 Buying the best tripod head: next steps