Another advantage of the geared head and why I got it is for macros. Ball heads and normal 3-way heads are just not precise enough for very careful composition. With a ball head say you have the left-right position correct but you have to move the composition up-down. When you do so you find that the process of moving up-down also changes the left-right so you basically have to start all over. In other words the motion is not constrained to one axis and it free wheels when adjusting. A three-way pan head solves this but I find that it is very difficult to make small, very precise adjustments. Hence the geared head-just turn the knob a little and you are in business. This counts when doing flowers outdoors and there is slight movement due to wind. The flower is moving, the breeze stops, the flower is not in the same position as you started, but you can take an exposure now because the subject is still enough for the slow shutter speed you are using. If you take too long readjusting the composition, the breeze starts up again and you are screwed. This happens over and over and you get quite frustrated. But with the geared head and remote release you can fix the composition very quickly and fire while the breeze is still low. Note that I am using the LCD which is articulated so I can see it from a comfortable position, so I can work very fast when needed. Other cameras may not work as well as this setup but their are points that can be adapted to any setup.
Agree 100%, and I wouldn't limit this comment to macro shooting. Personally, I detest ball heads, due to exactly what you have described - essentially, off-axis movement. There is no way to prevent this, since a ball head that is not locked will move not only
in the direction that you want to move it in, but also in any other direction. Every attempt to point the camera the way you want and/or to level the camera will more likely than not induce some unwanted movement, which requires you to try again...and again...and again.
My favorite heads are the Arca-Swiss B2/Z2 (which are not
ball heads, even though they call them "monoballs" like their ball heads), and the NPC Pro Head. Both of these move in only
fore-aft and side-to-side directions (as well as pan, with a separate control). The Arca-Swiss does it with independent controls for each movement (it is a "ball within a ball" design), the NPC with a single knob that releases the head to move in both directions (but each direction can be moved independently since their are only two motions possible).
For what the OP is using (i.e., nothing bigger than a 70-200 f two point eight (can't stop the eight from being turned into a smiley for some reason)), I'd recommend the NPC Pro Head, but it'll be a treasure hunt, as it's currently out of production. The Arca Swiss Z2 is also tough to find, though currently being (when they feel like it) produced. If you're using big glass, the Arca-Swiss B2/Z2 is the one head that makes you feel like the Gimbal heads can stay home. It's not as quick for moving/erratic subjects, but with the side-to-side movement locked and the fore-aft and pan suitably damped, it can be used in similar fashion to a Gimbal (except you probably want to lock down when you take your hands off). It also is one head that has more than enough capacity for a "Sidekick" type Gimbal, if you decide to go that route.
As for quick releases, I'd go Arca-Swiss "type" all the way, and I'd recommend the knob style clamps over the lever types. If you go with the lever types, then you'll have to stick with one brand (as their specifications all differ slightly, which introduces compatibility issues and potential for malfunction/equipment damage if you mix and match), which limits your choices. I also get the feeling that I could inadvertently catch the lever on the lever style clamp with the cuff of a shirt sleeve, unintentionally opening it and having the whole rig slide out.
When it's screwed down snug, it's not going to come off without conscious effort, which is as it should be.