Arca Swiss put themselves at the top of the geared head market with their venerable Cube. While the cube is an amazing head, it is big, heavy, and the large gaps make for easy ingress of dirt and sand. This isn’t great for field use. The d4 fills that gap and brings Arca Swiss precision into a smaller geared head. While the d4 isn’t particularly light, it is compact and much more sealed than the cube. If you are looking for a geared head for field use, the d4 is for you.
|Name||Arca Swiss d4|
|Yaw Stiffness||3447 +/- 24 Nm/rad|
|Pitch Stiffness||1798 +/- 28 Nm/rad|
|Weight||2.161 lbs (0.98 kgs)|
|Manufacturer weight rating||75 lbs (34.02kgs)|
|Maximum Height||4.7 in (11.9 cm)|
|Base Diameter||1.7 in (4.3 cm)|
|Ball Diameter||N/A mm|
|Quick Release||Arca clamp & quickfix|
For a geared head, the stiffness performance of the D4 is excellent. In my testing, it is only bested by that of the Arca Cube. There are a variety of d4 knockoffs available and while I have only tested one of them, it was no where near as good. The precision of the machining makes a big difference in geared heads, and that is where we see the d4 excels.
The stiffness is good enough to rival some ball heads, which for a geared head is excellent. Normally with ball heads we look for stiffness of at least 3x that of the tripod. You aren’t using a geared head to optimize stiffness to weight ratios though. The d4 is heavy enough that there is no point in pairing it with a travel tripod, and it is not stiff enough to pair with the largest and stiffest of systematic tripods. I would recommend using one of the stiffer all-purpose style tripods such as the RRS 2-series, Gitzo Mountaineer tripods, or a smaller systematic tripod such as the FLM CP34-L4 II.
As is natural, the d4 features an Arca style clamp for the quick release. Their clamp has a double dovetail that can accept the standard and ubiquitous arca plates or the newer monoball fix plates. I see no reason to use the smaller monoball fix system, but the option is there if you want it. The particular model I tested had a screw knob as opposed to the lever release. The Arca-Swiss lever release clamp isn’t good, so I recommend the screw knob. If you want a lever release clamp, I would recommend using a third part one.
As we expect from Arca-Swiss, the build quality is absolutely top notch. All of the parts are beautifully machined and anodized aluminum. The rubber grips fit tightly and don’t slip. I have nothing negative to say regarding the build quality.
With ball heads, it is possible to get excellent stiffness performance out of a head without having excellent build quality. This isn’t the case with geared heads. The stiffness of the head is dependent on how tightly the gears actually fit together to minimize any slop or backlash. While we cannot directly see the quality of the gearing without disassembling the head, the fact that we see such good build quality on the exterior of the head is a good sign. Plus, we of course measure the performance directly and it is excellent.
Who is it for?
If you are looking for a geared head for field use, the Arca-Swiss d4 is simply the best option available. Unfortunately it comes with a steep price tag.
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