The Nodal Ninja Ultimate M-2 panoramic head is another version of the Ultimate M-1. It is thus a panoramic head that can be put in the category of spherical heads for heavy and bulky bodies since this version is mainly thought and optimized for the realization of gigapixel panoramas. It can thus handle easily a body like the EOS 1 DS Mark III or my new Pentax 645Z equipped with a teleobjective lens. Just like the M1, it is manufactured perfectly.
The Nodal Ninja Ultimate M-2 panoramic head is a manual head called spherical but made for gigapixel shooting. It can be completely disassembled in four parts which makes it choice equipment for transportation and storage in a photo bag. This is no detail! It is especially stable since it's even more stable than the Manfrotto 303 cylindric head imagine. It handles quite heavy equipment like the Canon 1 Ds Mark III, a Nikon D4 or even a Hasselblad H5D easily.
Four things are striking when you have it in your hands:
An excellent manufacturing quality (Arca standards),
Incredible stability for a spherical head,
Great modularity and universality,
And a great smoothness of use.
Like with all spherical panoramic heads, it is possible to place the entrance pupil of the lens used in absolutely any direction. It is thus a very versatile and absolutely universal head because the vertical arm turns over to shoot the nadir, even if it's less useful when you shoot a gigapixel. Like the M1 version, it looks like the ideal spherical head...
Nodal Ninja Ultimate M2 head presentation
The panoramic head Nodal Ninja Ultimate M-2 is thus another version of the Ultimate M-1. It is a spherical head, but a very stable one, ready to support your teleobjective lens to shoot your non-motorized gigapixels. Its two positioners are designed to be as stable as possible and to offer you a very wide range of settings. Unlike the classic positioner RD-16 (below on the right), the positioner RD8-II is much wider, shorter and above all, its notches are much closer to one another as needed in gigapixel photography. You should also note that the positioner on the vertical arm is also wider on this M2.
Apart from their physical differences, the two Nodal Ninja positioners also differ by their notches: from 2° to 6°, then 15 and 30° for the first and from 7,5° to 120° for the second.
It comes with a stage of setting in depth that can be tilted on a vertical arm to shoot cylinders or multi-range panoramas, like gigapixel photos for instance. And since the arm can be turned over easily, it becomes, with the head Manfrotto 303 SPH, the ideal head to shoot a complete sphere to realize a virtual tour, even with heavy equipment.
The rails are rather long, which facilitates the settings even if some settings might be quite bold and will bring important overhang to the camera but this head is really more robust than the average and will deal with it effortlessly. If this head can't handle your equipment, which will?
Nodal Ninja Ultimate M2
Average price : $699.95
Height of use
On 10 cm upwards and 10 cm downwards
Yes - in four parts - Head, stage and vertical arm.
It is made of four distinct and dismountable parts. Apart from the classic horizontal and vertical stages, 16 or 21 cm long, thick enough hence very robust, you'll also be able to dismount the vertical (which can thus be turned over to shoot the nadir) supporting the tilting axis as well as the RD8- II positioner, "big" declination of the famous RD-16. Please note that the bottom positioner thus has 8 notches that have the peculiarity to offer very small angles since the first notch is at 2° only. Teleobjective lenses can really be used with this positioner.
Please also note that the vertical arm positioner is also a reinforced version of the M1 version. Note! Unlike the M1 version, the vertical positioner isn't notched. It is completely smooth.
Once mounted, it is quite impressive - though in the standards of "serious" vertical heads like the Cambo CLH-500 and the Manfrotto 303 SPH - and of course its version Ultimate M-1, but becomes easy to fit in a photo bag once dismounted because its pieces are not bulky at all.
With the camera set, it is about 23 cm higher than the head. The height alone being about 25 cm indeed, from the base of the tripod. As you can see in the image above, its dimensions in width are quite important which enables to fasten a bulky camera like the Canon 1 Ds Mark III or even a Nikon D4.
You can also clearly see that the vertical arm can be dismounted and can thus be turned over. Very convenient to shoot the nadir. Then, note that the thickness of the rails claims robustness, which I could check in the real world! Bends or torsions indiscernible. Remarkable!
What about the manufacturing quality?
Finally, and unfortunately you can't see it in these photos, I want to stress how smooth the functioning of the clamping screws is and how it guarantees a high quality clamping without forcing. The realization of this head is really remarkable, almost like the Cambo CLH-500. With the use, this head is one of the two most pleasant I got to review. Everything is wonderfully manufactured, thought, designed. Which is pleasant to see, touch and use!
Four distinct and dismountable parts
A part from the model Manfrotto 303 PLUS which rails are micrometric and can't be dismounted, all spherical heads on the market can be dismounted in several distinct parts. It is a precious asset to fit eh equipment in your photo bag. You can fit each stage in a different part of your bag. To place or remove the rails, you just have to unscrew the clamping screw and make them slide by pressing the blocking ergot at the same time (fig. here).
Once dismounted, the head Nodal Ninja Ultimate M-2 can be divided into: a special notched head RD-8 II (1), a low horizontal stage on 20cm (2), the vertical arm supporting the tilting axis (3), and a stage sliding in depth on 16 or 20cm to fasten the camera (4 - stage 16 cm here):
Once dismounted in four parts, the spherical head Nodal Ninja Ultimate M-2takes few space. It will be easy to fit in a photo bag! The RD8 II is wider than the RD16 but noticeably lower.
(1)- Rotary notched base RD-8 II - The base RD-8 II, wide and lower version of the famous RD-16 thus enables to choose the number of notches between two consecutive photos easily with eight possibilities. And unlike the RD16, this RD8 enables to choose very tight angles: from 2°! This positioner is thus clearly dedicated to teleobjective lenses.
The choice of the number of notches couldn't be easier because you just have to use the blue wheels: the big one (Lock) is used to block the positioner to screw/ unscrew from the tripod. The small blue ones are used to select the number of notches between two consecutive photos (here 30°/2).
(2)- Lower stage - Each stage, of ARCA or Really Right Stuff standards, is really very robust. I didn't notice any bending even with my heavy Canon 1DS Mark III or 645Z. Each setting enables a setting on 16 or 20cm and features a spirit level.
(3)- Vertical arm and special tiltable positioner block - This tilting block, different from the Ultimate M-1 because wider and not notched is fastened on the vertical arm and it can turn over on the lower stage. Convenient to shoot the nadir. High smoothness of movement and again, not notched.
Caution! however, it's not very high and when you're trying to shoot the zenith, your body can be stopped by the bottom rail.
(4)- Top sliding stage and quick fastening plate for your camera - The high stage on the Nodal Ninja Ultimate M-2 supports the camera when it's a reflex one. It slides on 16 or 20 cm in depth. It fits into the tiltable plate of the vertical arm. For more details, see later.
Use of the Nodal Ninja Ultimate M-2 head
Like all panoramic heads, the Nodal Ninja Ultimate M2 head is used to support the camera and here its teleobjective lens and to place the whole set at the entrance pupil of the lens, above the rotary axis of the head and in the tilting axis of the vertical arm to get perfect overlap zones in multirange photography. This head being a manual dismountable head, its functioning is very simple and always the same if you read this type of review for at least the second time.
I notice that this is the first non motorized head offering very tight notches for teleobjective lens. Very convenient! However, not being able to place it all at the entrance pupil isn't so important with big teleobjective lenses because there's in general no foreground in teleobjective shooting.
Setting the head at the entrance pupil
Let's start with an essential point: fastening the camera on the top stage. Indeed, depending on whether the screw thread of the camera is in the axis of the lens or not, its fastening on the panoramic head won't be the same:
1 - The fastening of the camera on the top stage :
Important!To fasten your camera, you need to buy the quick fastening plate (fig. below on the left) matching your camera body unless you fasten the quick fastening stage of your head's brand directly.
Note that since the quick fastening slides on a short distance (3/4 cm) in the plate of the top sliding stage, it is possible to set the axis of the lens exactly in the tilting axis, even if you have a point-and-shoot camera or a booster (on a Canon 5D Mark III/IV for instance). Indeed, in these cases, the screw thread of fastening on the head under the camera isn't in the axis of the lens anymore. (image above on the right).
Caution! When you use the quick fastening system Nodal Ninja (ARCA standards) then you'll be forced to dismount this clip each time you'll want to place your camera on your usual head IF it's not an ARCA head. Not so convenient if you don't have one of the excellent Benro heads but it offers more stability.
2 - Place the center of the lens just above the rotary axis of the panoramic head.
Once the camera fastened on the top stage, itself on the tiltable arm, you just have to center the lens just above the rotary axis of the notched base thanks to the movement of the bottom stage on which the vertical arm is fastened first. For that, you just have to slide the stage a bit on the left in this example after loosening the clamping screw (fig. below)...
Once it is done, you need to find the setting in depth depending on your lens and if it's a zoom lens, you need to find the settings depending on the most used focals. It is done using the top stage, also sliding, quite simply!
4 - Set the entrance pupil (also called nodal point) of your lens above the rotary axis of your panoramic head - Note that the center of your lens is in the tilting axis of your panoramic head.
The entrance pupil (nodal point) is perfectly set in all axis hence in 3D on this panoramic head for this lens. You just have to mark the settings on the marked reglets below.
Spotting the settings of the Nodal Ninja Ultimate M2 head
Once the settings made for your lens, you just have to write them down in a corner of your head for the youngest ones, or more carefully in a notebook for others ;-). Who said I used the notebook???
On the head Nodal Ninja Ultimate M1 /M2, the marking is done in the marked reglets (top and bottom rails).
You can as well use a piece of tape as a marker not to have to take your notebook with you all the time. If you use several lenses of focals, it would besides be more convenient to write one mark/focal.
Markers are not very visible by night but they're very accurate.
Turn the vertical arm over to shoot the nadir
In the tutorial dedicated to virtual tour creation on this site, I wrote an article about shooting the nadir on a tripod. To do so, you need to turn the vertical over on 180° in order to tie the camera over empty space while putting it as far as possible from the arms of the tripod. On the head Nodal Ninja Ultimate M-2, you just have to loosen the vertical arm's screw to be able to turn it over on 180°. And for that, note that you won't need a screwdriver! It is very convenient. And yet Nodal Ninja does even better... Here's how.
Ultimate nadir adapter
When you want to shoot a whole sphere to realize a virtual tour and if you want to get the best possible quality, it is better to shoot the nadir by leaving the camera on the panoramic head in order to keep the camera as close as possible to the entrance pupil relatively to the floor but also, of course, to be able to shoot photos with long exposure times.
Nodal Ninja makes a small accessory that must be fastened between the vertical arm and the bottom stage and that enables to turn it over even more easily without dismounting it. You just have to unscrew the small wheel on the side and turn the stage over. Couldn't be more simple!
Conclusion and rating!
The Nodal Ninja Ultimate M-2 head is the best head I ever reviewed. It is another version of the Ultimate M-1 even more robust and optimized to shoot gigapixel panoramas manually. It offers one of the best manufacturing qualities I ever saw and above all the best stability among all models. The finishing is really excellent and the settings, very smooth. It will easily carry your heavy digital camera body.
As a conclusion and since it is even more universal than the Cambo one (its vertical arm turns over) it is according to me the best top range and/or robust spherical head on the market.
Settings of the base
Value for money
Wonderful design and manufacturing quality
Robustness and stability: the best among all heads
Wind sensitivity far above the average
Smoothness of the settings
the vertical arm turns over
Positioner RD8 II made for gigapixels.
Objectively very few if you're OK with the price, the weight and the bulk (of course since it's very robust)
OK, maybe the setting of the camera on the top stage in a dark environment, the lack of stopping wedges as on its little sisters (Nodal Ninja 4 and 3), very few things finally.
9.5 / 10
My opinion: The ultimate head, no wordplay! It is probably the best spherical panoramic top range head on the market, hence among products over 500? It is convenient, superbly finished, you can do everything you want with it. Nodal Ninja is really good. It's a success!
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