Colorado Tripod Co. Highline Aluminum Review

The Highline Ballhead is the first head from the upstart manufacturer Colorado Tripod Co (CTC).  It is in many ways a traditional ballhead but CTC claims a number of innovative features such as increased freedom of movement in the drop notch, ergonomics for left handed operation, and increased locking force, all at a very reasonable price.  Before we get to discussing the efficacy of those innovations, lets look at the measured specs of the tripod.

NameColorado Tripod Co Highline Aluminum
TypeBall Head
Stiffness About Vertical Axis2342 +/- 9 Nm/rad
Stiffness About Radial Axis1904 +/- 7 Nm/rad
Retail Price$100
Weight1.102 lbs (0.5 kgs)
Manufacturer weight rating54 lbs (24.49kgs)
Maximum Height4.0 in (10.2 cm)
Base Diameter2.3 in (5.8 cm)
Ball Diameter48 mm
Tension Controlyes
Panning Lockyes
Quick ReleaseArca Clamp

The size and weight of the Highline are all in line with what we expect from a midsize ballhead.  A 48mm diameter ball is on the large side for this class of head, so the engineers at CTC deserve credit for fitting such a large ball into a head of this size.  Unfortunately however, the ball diameter is not the only determining factor of stiffness, which leads us quickly to the elephant in the room for the Highline Ballhead.  The stiffness of the head isn’t in line with what we expect given its size and weight.  The average stiffness is 2100 Nm/rad, which is about half of what we expect.  Competing heads at this weight routinely have twice this stiffness or more.  The stiffness of the Highline will be plenty for lighter duty applications but will be a limiting factor for heavier ones.

The design of the Highline is that of a traditional ballhead.  The base contains a separate panning lock.  Next up on the cylinder body is the combined main ball lock and tension control.  The tension control knob sits in the middle of the main lock knob, preventing it from opening past a user specified point.  Again, the ergonomics here are fairly standard.  It isn’t the standard aspects of the Highline that we are interested in however, as the head offers a number of new and unique features.

The most prominent innovation is that of an enlarged drop notch for use in portrait mode.  Most ball heads have a 90 degree drop notch in the body that the stem of the ball snugly fits.  This allows for the camera to be put in portrait orientation or to shoot at a high or low angle.  The problem is that unless the tripod has been perfectly leveled, using the traditional drop notch for portrait mode doesn’t level the camera, and tedious adjustments of the legs must be made to compensate.  The Highline fixes this problem by allowing the ball to move in a long wide window instead of just a notch.  There is enough freedom of movement to allow for almost any reasonable composition in portrait mode.  This isn’t just a gimmick, and works quite well.  This is only a useful feature however if you don’t use an L bracket.  If you do use an L bracket, or telephoto lenses with a rotating collar, this isn’t going to be much use to you, though it won’t hurt either.  While I advocate for the ergonomic benefits of using and L bracket, it is easy to imagine users who want a smaller, lighter, setup simply using the plate included with the Highline and making good use of the Highline’s freedom of portrait composition.

The enlarged drop notch is located opposite the lock knob on the cylinder of the ball head.  The idea here is that the ball head can be used primarily with the left hand, while the camera is held and positioned with the right, even when in portrait orientation.  The logic here is sound.  If you want to make use of the drop notch for portrait compositions, the location of the lock knob is ergonomically very convenient.  If however you use a L-bracket and use the drop notch primarily for shooting high or low angles, the traditional 90 degree separation between lock knob and drop notch will work better for you.