Whether you are planning to clean your tripod or are upgrading to a new tripod head, there will be times when you need to detach the tripod head from the tripod legs.
So that you can do this easily and without causing any damage to the tripod kit, we have compiled this guide to walk you through it.
Here we cover:
- The terminology about tripod heads - so that you know which word refers to which piece of the tripod.
- Tripod heads’ universal attachments
- How to detach the tripod head
- How to attach the tripod head
Tripod head terminology
What is a base mount on a tripod head?
The base mount, at the base of the tripod head, is different from the head mount, which is on the top of the tripod head.
The base mount on a tripod head is the part where the tripod head connects to the tripod legs. The standard attachment for this is a ⅜-16 screw.
What is a head mount on a tripod head?
The head mount is where you mount the optics. On top of the head, the standard attachment is a ¼-20 screw.
This size of ¼-20 screw fits with the ¼-20 hole on the underside of most spotting scope feet or binocular adapters.
While you can screw the optics directly onto this connection, many birders prefer to use the quick release system that comes with their spotting scope.
Are tripod heads universal?
The tripod head is the part of a tripod where you will find the most variation. Tripod heads suitable for birding scopes and binoculars vary from two-way pan heads to video fluid heads to ball heads.
Each of these tripod heads has its own specific features, which suit different sorts of optics and uses. We cover all of these different styles of tripod heads, and how to choose which is best, here.
Though there are many different types of tripod heads, they all connect to the tripod legs with a universal attachment. This means that all the heads are interchangeable.
So if you don’t like the tripod head that was included with your tripod kit, or it has worn out, you can easily switch it for a different one.
Do all tripods have the same size screw?
The standard screw attachment on a tripod head
The base mount is where the tripod head connects to the tripod legs.
The standard attachment is a ⅜-16 screw.
This screw protrudes from the tripod legs. There is a corresponding hole on the underside of the tripod head.
These just connect, screw together then get locked in place by another small screw.
The screw attachment on an integrated head
On some tripods with integrated heads the tripod head cannot be removed from the legs.
You may see this on monopods. With these integrated heads, the binoculars or spotting scope attach straight onto the base mount.
As in these cases, the whole unit is smaller, the connecting screw may be a ¼-20 instead of the standard ⅜-16.
How to remove the tripod head from a tripod
Take off the optics
If your binoculars or spotting scope are still attached, take this off first. The mount may use the standard screw system, in which case you need to unscrew it. Or if the optics are mounted via a quick release, use the lever to open the lock.
Extend the center column
Release the center column so that you can extend it all the way up.
Unscrew the tripod head
On the underside of the base mount there is a very small screw. Remove it and keep it somewhere safe.
The specific type of screw varies from brand to brand so check that you have the right kind of screwdriver to use without damaging the screw head.
Lower, then lock the pan
Lower the center column back down
Lock the panning motion of the tripod head so that it doesn’t rotate.
Unscrew the tripod head
Once the tripod head is locked, when you move the panning handle, the whole head should loosen. While you shouldn’t need much force for this, you might need to give this a quick push to get it moving.
Then the whole head will rotate. From here you can just keep rotating the head to unscrew it.
How to attach a tripod head to a tripod
To put the tripod head back onto the legs, simply reverse the previous process.
Line up the hole with the screw
Line up the hole in the base of the tripod head with the center screw that protrudes from the base mount of the tripod.
Rotate the tripod head to reattach
Keep turning the whole head so that it screws back on. At this stage, ensure that you have the tripod head locked. This means it is actually screwing on, not just panning around as it normally would.
When you have firmly attached the tripod head, then you can go ahead and loosen the panning lock.
Extend center column
Lift the center column so that you can access the underside of the tripod head.
This can be easier to do when the tripod is on its side or upside down. So it can be worth tipping the tripod over to be able to access the screw.
Replace and tighten the screw
Replace the little screw that you took out.
Tighten that screw with a screwdriver. Be sure not to overtighten it otherwise you risk damaging the thread.
How to attach a tripod head to a tripod - next steps
Unless you have an integrated tripod head, which is sometimes the case with an entry level tripod, you can remove the head. It is possible to change the tripod head for another because they have a universal attachment.
The size of the standard attachment to connect the base mount with the tripod head is a 3-8/16 screw.
The standard attachment to mount the spotting scope or binoculars on the head mount is a ¼-20 size screw.
Now you understand that there are universally compatible connections between the tripod legs and tripod heads. We have also provided a step-by-step guide to walk you through how to detach and re-attach a tripod head.
For some more information on tripod heads, why not check out one of these articles:
- 1 Tripod head terminology
- 2 Are tripod heads universal?
- 3 How to remove the tripod head from a tripod
- 4 How to attach a tripod head to a tripod
- 5 How to attach a tripod head to a tripod - next steps