A tripod head is the part of a tripod system that attaches the supported device (such as a camera) to the tripod legs and allows the orientation of the device to be manipulated or locked down. Modular or stand-alone tripod heads can be used on a wide range of tripods, allowing the user to choose which type of head best suits their needs. Integrated heads are built directly onto the tripod legs, reducing the cost of the tripod system.
The main function of any tripod head is to provide the ability to hold the attached device fixed in a specific orientation until the user needs to change its position. In the case of a photographic camera, this can help reduce vibration that would appear when using relatively slow shutter speeds while still being able to quickly recompose for another shot, or allow for very long exposures. In cinematography or video applications, a tripod head allows the camera operator to pan and tilt with much more control when compared to hand-holding the camera.
The various types of tripod heads available provide different control mechanisms and have distinct applications. Some can restrict movement to a single axis, while others offer robotic movement to increase the precision of the movements. The materials used to construct tripod heads and the physical designs of various heads can be drastically different, depending on their intended use.
In some situations, a tripod head may be used without a set of tripod legs. Heads can be attached to monopods to provide more versatility, or to a simple plate with a base mount for when the height of a full tripod is unnecessary.