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Author Topic: Expensive ballheads - what do you get for the money?  (Read 7608 times)
Chris Pollock
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« on: August 17, 2009, 05:14:01 AM »
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I've been using a Velbon Carmagne 640 with a Slik SBH-320 ballhead for a number of years now, and have found them to be quite satisfactory. I chose the 640 because I was living in Japan at the time, one of my primary means of transport was a bicycle, and it was the largest tripod that would fit into my pannier bags. I recently decided to get a Velbon 840 as well, because I sometimes want something larger and sturdier, and weight is a non-issue when I travel by car. So far I've found it to be entirely satisfactory, except that it doesn't come with a carrying case.

I'm still sharing the SBH-320 between the 2 tripods, but I'd like to get a new ballhead for the 840, to avoid the wear and tear of swapping the head. I could get another SBH-320, but I'd like to try something new.

I see that you can easily spend several times the cost of the SBH-320, which is a solid and apparently well made piece of equipment. I'm wondering what the extra money buys you. (Smoother motion perhaps?). Unfortunately good camera shops aren't common here in Australia, so it would be hard for me find a place where I could actually touch a quality ball head. I'd appreciate any advice or recommendations. I'm not on a tight budget, but I don't want to spend money unless the expensive choice brings some benefit.
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francois
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« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2009, 05:51:12 AM »
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I can only share my experience with the ballheads I currently have:

1. ArcaSwiss B1: operates very smoothly when new but after a few "rough" years it started to stick when subjected to humidity and the screw holding the clamp started to get lose until I put Loctite.
2. The Acratech UBH: very light and very simple construction. It's not as convenient to use as other ballheads but I use it as my backup ballhead or when I need to be light (long & steep hikes in the moutains). It shifts a bit when tightening the screw knob.
3. Really Right Stuff BH-55: while it's not as smooth as a new Arca Swiss, it's very close. It's very heavy and it seems unaffected by the elements (snow, rain etc.) so far. Mine is equipped with the lever clamp but I also have a pano clamp.

All in all, the BH-55 is my workhorse. The Arcatech is my backup or my travel light ballhead and the Arca gathers dust somewhere on a shelf. I've tried other ballheads but not long enough to get a good idea of their performance in the long run.
« Last Edit: August 17, 2009, 05:54:27 AM by francois » Logged

Francois
Anders_HK
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« Reply #2 on: August 17, 2009, 06:24:22 AM »
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Hi,

Your Slik SBH-320 actually looks similar to the Foba M-1 that I used to have. The Foba M-1 was good!!!

= light weight and solid clamp.

Above in mind, I started out with a Gitzo that was a pain. Then went to a Foba M-1 without quick release which was a mistake. The threading to my F100 battery pack broke around Cairns, and left me stranded on travels for few days. When I got chance I upgraded to an M-1 with quick release. A quick release is mandatory.

When I worked in Korea I purchased the Markins M10 with quick release.

Why?

More clamping power. It means solid. For this level of ballhead it is lowest in weight, yet very strong claming. Do compare to RRS, Kirk and Arca.

I now use it for medium and large format.

The Markins is perfect for me. If one wish;- that I would have bought it right away instead waste money on the others....  

Regards
Anders

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Hank
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« Reply #3 on: August 17, 2009, 09:11:05 AM »
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It depends entirely on the load it's carrying, the load you're willing to carry and the conditions you'll be working in.  Our requirements are smoothness, durability, speed, and reliability.  That mix comes from a stiff shaft, a good sized ball and reliable mechanics.  I've heard a lot of grief directed at the A/S B1, but evidently we bought all of ours before the model changed somehow and the problems started.  Never a beef with them and we use them hard with heavy loads at times.  But they are rocks in a pack.  Problem is, I've not found any that would make me replace them, at least until one of ours acts up.  It's not broken so we're not fixing it.  Smaller and lighter might be justification for occasions when I don't need the smoothness or high load capacity, but that's a pretty narrow set of criteria for addition of a smaller head or replacement.  I'd rather spend my money elsewhere and continue to enjoy great function.

Actually the B1's are our "light" heads.  In the studio and on some locations we're using a couple of Foba Superballs.  They're considerably larger and even smoother with our heaviest loads.  But they're approximately twice as bulky as the B1's and weigh about four times as much.  It's by no means a field head.  The other downside is a tendency for the pan lock screw to back off and be lost.  We keep several spares, one taped to the side of each head.

Your concern about wear and tear from switching between legs makes me curious.  Ours move between a mix of legs frequently, and it's never occurred to me to worry.  No signs of wear and tear and no problems at all.
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Paul Sumi
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« Reply #4 on: August 17, 2009, 03:30:30 PM »
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Chris,

One of the things not yet mentioned is that all of these ballheads use a non-proprietory system of camera and lens plates and clamps pioneered by Arca-Swiss.  These plates allow one to quickly and securely attach one's camera or lens with tripod ring to the ballhead clamp.  Unlike a ballhead with just a platform and screw attachment, there is no torquing or slippage no matter what angle the camera is placed.

The Arca-Swiss system is the single biggest advantage of these ballheads (I use a RRS BH-55 and Acratech V2 myself for Canon DSLRs).

I'm not sure, but it *may* be possible to retrofit your Velbon ballhead with a clamp using the Arca system.  One caveat is that good camera and lens plates are not cheap and should be designed specifically for that camera or lens model.

Really Right Stuff is my company of choice for camera support gear and they also have very good FAQs/tutorials on ballheads, etc:

http://reallyrightstuff.com/home.html

Paul
« Last Edit: August 17, 2009, 03:41:44 PM by PaulS » Logged

Anders_HK
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« Reply #5 on: August 17, 2009, 04:49:05 PM »
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Markins, ReallyRight Stuff, Kirk, Arca Swiss, Foba all use the Arca Swiss standard for full compatibility of their plates.

Also KangRinpoche uses Arca Swiss standard of plates. I have not used KangRinpoche but checked them out in stores and recommended to friends. KangRinpoche may not be same quality as the others I mentioned above, but they offer a bargain in solid and strong clamping well worthy to check out for someone who wish to spend less. The Foba Superball M-1 is excellent and low price, but not to the same clamping strength as the others above. Actually when I was going to recommend that one to a friend when we went to a shop they had KangRinpoche also, and I ended recommended the KangRinpoche... it is that good, I am very picky of ballheads. As far as the plates... I use both Markins, KangRinpoche and sometimes Foba..., also used Kirk & RRS special camera/lens plates. Markins is best generic plates because very light, but KangRingpoche is not far behind.

Where Markins ballhed truly wins is in its low weight in bag (for its size), and yes... it indeed is very smooth and high quality. Nikonians.org had an article comparing the Markins to RRS and Arca around five years back, please check. Markins is arguably the best (although some might not agree...).

Anders
« Last Edit: August 17, 2009, 04:57:36 PM by Anders_HK » Logged
k bennett
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« Reply #6 on: August 17, 2009, 07:20:22 PM »
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I have not used that particular Slik ballhead, but I have used a variety of Manfrotto, Slik, and Giotto ball heads before purchasing an RRS BH55 head. The one most noticeable difference between them is that the camera does not move when tightening the knob on the BH55. On all my other (less expensive) heads, there was a tiny but noticeable "nudge" when tightening the head. This made for a fun game of guessing how much to leave the camera tilted while tightening, so it would end up level once tight. <sarcasm>

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Herkko
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« Reply #7 on: August 18, 2009, 01:09:10 AM »
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Quote from: Anders_HK
When I worked in Korea I purchased the Markins M10 with quick release.

Why?

More clamping power. It means solid. For this level of ballhead it is lowest in weight, yet very strong claming.

I have the same experiences. I've been using Markins M10 four years now to support EF 500/4 via Wimberley Sidekick and also for macro (with long rail) and landscape photography.  Panning with Sidekick is multiple times smoother than with my earlier fluid video head Manfrotto 503. Standard one movement quick release is another plus compared to my older systems.

Markins M10 coupled with Gitzo GT3530LS is all I have ever needed for outdoor photography. Only thing I regret is I didn't switch earlier from Manfrotto (ie. Bogen) and Berlebach.


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Chris Pollock
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« Reply #8 on: August 18, 2009, 05:11:41 AM »
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Quote from: francois
3. Really Right Stuff BH-55: while it's not as smooth as a new Arca Swiss, it's very close. It's very heavy and it seems unaffected by the elements (snow, rain etc.) so far. Mine is equipped with the lever clamp but I also have a pano clamp.
I had a look at the Really Right Stuff website today, and liked the look of their equipment. The pano clamp and rail looked like they'd greatly simplify panorama shooting. I've never tried shooting panoramas before, but since the necessary equipment only costs a few hundred bucks it would be fun to experiment with. I like shooting cityscapes, which I expect would be a good subject for panoramas.

I liked their camera L-bracket - I've found that tilting the camera to one side for portrait shots causes the whole assembly to bend slightly, so it can require a bit of fiddling to get the camera exactly vertical.

I have one question. Is the pano clamp suitable for use as a 'regular' clamp for non-panorama work, or would I need to buy both a pano and a lever clamp?
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francois
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« Reply #9 on: August 18, 2009, 08:06:51 AM »
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Quote from: Chris Pollock
I have one question. Is the pano clamp suitable for use as a 'regular' clamp for non-panorama work, or would I need to buy both a pano and a lever clamp?
Yes, the pano clamp is fully usable as a standard clamp. In fact you can easily swap clamps systems (screw knob & lever & pano) with a simple hex key (included with the RRS clamps).

By the way, the Really Right Stuff customer service is top notch and very friendly.
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Francois
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« Reply #10 on: August 18, 2009, 08:24:46 AM »
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I'm still unconvinced. I have a mid-range Manfrotto ballhead which has worked fine for over ten years. The ballhead itself doesn't have a quick-release handle, so I have to screw it quarter of a turn to secure it - but there's no travel or sagging whatsoever. I broke the quick-release handle for the quick-change plate a few years back, so it's a bit of a hassle to open, though. Only thing I miss is a bubble level.

Perhaps I'm not convinced since I haven't tried any of the really good heads. Might be better that way - seeing an HDTV a while back at a TV store was the most expensive window shopping I've made to date  Just couldn't go back to non-HD after that.

Quote from: Chris Pollock
The pano clamp and rail looked like they'd greatly simplify panorama shooting. I've never tried shooting panoramas before, but since the necessary equipment only costs a few hundred bucks it would be fun to experiment with. I like shooting cityscapes, which I expect would be a good subject for panoramas.

You only need a pano head if you have subjects in the foreground. If you shoot cityscapes with nothing in the foreground, you can just as easily forgo spending hundreds on a pano head. I shoot all my panos on a Manfrotto ballhead or handheld.
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Paul Sumi
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« Reply #11 on: August 18, 2009, 08:49:16 AM »
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Quote from: francois
By the way, the Really Right Stuff customer service is top notch and very friendly.
+1 on this.  Whenever I've had any questions about their gear, they have been very informative and responsive.

Paul
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Chris Pollock
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« Reply #12 on: August 19, 2009, 06:21:41 AM »
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Thanks for the help guys. I decided to order the Really Right Stuff BH-55 with lever clamp, and the L-plate for my Canon 5D Mark II.

After some consideration I also decided to try my hand at panoramas, so I also ordered a panning clamp and rail, plus the adapter for attaching the panning clamp to the lever clamp. The panning clamp might be adequate for non-panorama work too, but the lever clamp looks like it would be a lot more convenient.

They apparently shipped my order within 6 hours of me placing it, which is good customer service indeed.
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Chris Pollock
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« Reply #13 on: August 19, 2009, 06:38:08 AM »
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Quote from: feppe
You only need a pano head if you have subjects in the foreground. If you shoot cityscapes with nothing in the foreground, you can just as easily forgo spending hundreds on a pano head. I shoot all my panos on a Manfrotto ballhead or handheld.
I don't doubt that it would be possible to shoot panoramas without specialized equipment, but I'm sure that it would be a lot harder, and would usually yield inferior results. The thing appeals to me about the panning clamp is that I can use my ballhead to get the clamp (almost) exactly level, mount my camera vertically with the rail and L-bracket, and then simply rotate the panning clamp between shots. If I used the ballhead to do the panning, I'd have to get the tripod exactly level by adjusting the legs, which is bound to be a lot harder than adjusting a ballhead. Time is precious for me, so I'm happy to spend a few hundred bucks to use it more efficiently.

It's also my experience that it's hard to get a totally unobstructed view in cities, so I expect to encounter plenty of foreground objects that will make parallax an issue.

Admittedly I haven't actually shot any panoramas yet, but hopefully I understand the theory well enough.  I don't doubt that the difficult part is putting the theory into practice.
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Wayne Fox
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« Reply #14 on: August 19, 2009, 12:14:35 PM »
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Quote from: Chris Pollock
I don't doubt that it would be possible to shoot panoramas without specialized equipment, but I'm sure that it would be a lot harder, and would usually yield inferior results.

Admittedly I haven't actually shot any panoramas yet, but hopefully I understand the theory well enough.  I don't doubt that the difficult part is putting the theory into practice.


Well, give it a try.  With some scenes it is possible to get a good pano hand holding.  Others may benefit from specialized equipment, but standard 4 or 5 exposure panos with the camera vertical on a simple setup works very well much of the time.
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« Reply #15 on: August 19, 2009, 12:27:16 PM »
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Quote from: Wayne Fox
Well, give it a try.  With some scenes it is possible to get a good pano hand holding.  Others may benefit from specialized equipment, but standard 4 or 5 exposure panos with the camera vertical on a simple setup works very well much of the time.


I personally purchased a Really Right Stuff BH-55 and love it!  I have also purchased a Kaidan pano kit to utilize shooting QTVRs with my Canons. I have my eye on purchasing a Arca-Swiss C1 (Cube) but don't have a true need right now.  

We (Capture Integration) are offering them at a special price for Arca-Swiss' 85th anniversary.  They normally list for $2,419, but are currently on sale until the end of August for $1,699.00.  We have 5 in stock currently.

Chris Lawery
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Chris Pollock
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« Reply #16 on: August 20, 2009, 06:35:16 AM »
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Quote from: Hank
Your concern about wear and tear from switching between legs makes me curious.  Ours move between a mix of legs frequently, and it's never occurred to me to worry.  No signs of wear and tear and no problems at all.
Oddly, the socket on the bottom of the Slik ballhead seems to be made of aluminium or some other soft metal. It certainly isn't steel (magnets don't stick to it), and I've seen little bits of metallic dust coming off after I remove it from the tripod. Maybe I'm just being paranoid.

It's not just wear and tear, mind you. Swapping the head between tripods is an (admittedly minor) inconvenience. Two heads would also be handy so that I could use one to mount my LensAlign focus calibration target.

Anyway, it's a moot point now. I look forward to trying out the Really Right Stuff ballhead.
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Hank
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« Reply #17 on: August 20, 2009, 08:56:57 AM »
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I'd be more than paranoid.  I'd be downright pissed and very suspicious of Slik products at that point.  The exterior surfaces of our A/S B1's look like  a POS, they've been beaten up so badly in our very rough usage.  But the mating surface looks showroom new, in spite of many thousands of leg changes.  Same for our various leg sets.  Beaten to hell and back, but the mating surface with the head looks pristine.

I think you made the right decision to stop with the Slik nonsense and move on to another line.
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duraace
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« Reply #18 on: August 20, 2009, 01:11:19 PM »
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I just replaced a Giotto MH-1000 ball head with a very expensive Markins ball head.  The difference is night and day.  I have a Nikon D700 with battery grip, and adjusting it with the Giotto was frustrating.  I couldn't make it tight enough to avoid slippage in portrait mode, and had to over or under adjust in landscape to get the right position.  Didn't work.  The Markins is very precise and accommodates my camera weight.
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LKaven
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« Reply #19 on: August 27, 2009, 05:36:15 PM »
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I've been happy so far with the Cullmann Magnesit 35.  For anyone looking for a full-featued and sturdy ballhead/plate on a budget (~$150), this has proven a worthy addition, able to handle serious work.
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