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05-24-2013, 07:36 AM   #1
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Big Balls

Ball heads, that is...

I'm looking for input from users of really big ball heads. I'm talking 50mm diameter balls, and up (RRS BH-55, Kirk BH-1, Arca Monoball Z1, etc.)! I've realized I need a larger ball head, with a smoother panning base, than my current Markins Q3. The Markins has a 38mm ball, and is an excellent, light ball head with great capacity and smooth movement, except for it's panning base. Even when "locked" as much as the little knob will go, it can creep. The ball never creeps, but the panning base does! Apparently this is common Markins complaint.

Aside from that annoyance, I use a Wimberley Sidekick with my longer lenses (50-500 BigmOS is the biggest I have right now) as a portable gimbal attachment. Again, this requires a smooth panning base on the ball head, but it also helps if the head has more than one drop slot to be able to position the knobs near my hand. So far, I've only found the RRS BH-55 and the (monster) Novoflex CB-5 with more than one slot, so this isn't a deal-breaker.

Having a big, smooth, friction-controlled ball is paramount! The other little details needed are: arca-swiss type quick release; screw-knob quick release platform (since I have plates from lots of manufacturers); less than 1kg in weight (2 lbs!); and it would be nice to have a pre-set tensioner (which the Markins doesn't have, but I'm interested in it).

Finally, I want something as well-built as the Markins are in general, and I'm willing to pay for it (hence the listing of premium brands). But that doesn't mean I want the brand sticker over quality. I don't abuse my gear, but my tripod and ball head are "slung out" on my bag, or carried over my shoulder (with camera attached) and sometimes used to clear brush out of my face. I never want to worry about my gear when out in the wild (and Canada can get pretty wild)! Dust, sand, snow, (fresh) water, rocks, etc. are part of the duty for this new head. (This is why I won't consider the Sunwayfoto "knockoff" of the BH-55. So poorly designed it has exposed screws!)

So, who's got "big ball" experiences they want to share to help me out here?


Last edited by panoguy; 05-24-2013 at 07:46 AM.
05-24-2013, 07:51 PM   #2
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I don't have a measurement on my ball, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't meet your requirement of being 50mm or larger. However, my Manfrotto 468MG does fit your other requrements. Also, I can't say about the panning base slipping, but this head has a lock down lever instead of a knob for tightening down on the base.

Has the double slots
A very good adjustable friction control with click stops - and it is a knob that sticks out a little so it is easy to grab and turn
You can buy the head without a top plate - Hejnar Photo makes a very nice arca-swiss plate just for this head.

My experience with the 468MG is great. The hydraulic function works as advertised - nice big control knob that takes just 1/4 turn to lock solid.

Just thought I would throw this option at you - if you have any specific questions just ask!

Manfrotto 468MG Magnesium Hydrostatic Ballhead - Supports 468MG

Manfrotto 468MG Magnesium Hydrostatic Ball Head reviews - Pentax Camera Accessory Review Database

Clamp for Manfrotto 468MG hydro-static head [M468MG] - $65.00 : Hejnar Photo Store, Serving Your Professional Photography Needs
05-25-2013, 05:13 AM   #3
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I'm not quite sure what exactly you are looking for. Your post is confusing.

Anyway, I have used a Kirk BH1 for many years. I don't treat it well as a lot of my time is also sent in the woods. I have used it extensively with a Sigma 150 - 500 lens as well. I don't use a sidekick or any gimbal as these lenses are not really big enough to warrant one in my opinion. It's just added weight to lug around and one more thing to break or malfunction. But to each his own.

To address some of what I think you are looking for. The panning base on the Kirk BH1 is very smooth and can be locked down solid. Once you tighten it down, and it takes very little force to do this, it isn't going to creep or move on you. Period.

As for the actual ball itself, it has a tension control that is easy to set up. If done correctly, you have full smooth movement of the camera and lens in all directions until you turn the main control to tighten it down. Once you do that, it is not going to move. It takes about a quarter or less of a turn to lock, and I mean LOCK it down. Balance your camera and lens on the head (moving it back and forth in the clamp) tighten the tension until it stays put but you still have free range of movement, and the camera and lens will just sit there until you move them, and you will have smooth and full range of movement. Once locked down, you wont be able to move the camera.

All in all, it is a very easy ball head to use, is rock solid, and unless you beat it against a rock, it will keep on working. As I said, I have had mine since before my first Pentax (K200 K20) cameras. I used to use it with a Mamiya 645 system. In reality, unless you have something really big, and the Sigma 50 500 is not really big, it is overkill. I often thought I could have gotten by with the BH3 or the RRS BH40 for digital cameras, even with a grip on them.

The issue of an Acra Swiss mounting plate with screw attachment is a non issue. You can buy replacements from many manufacturers. You mentioned Sunway - I have one of their screw mount plates on a small travel tripod, and it is every bit as well machined as anything I own from RRS and better than Kirk. They make some quality gear. I've not used their ball heads, but then, if you buy a good, and I mean a REALLY good ball head, you should never have to buy another unless you damage it or it is stolen.

The big difference I see between RRS and Kirk is that the RRS ball heads are works of functional art. The machining and anodizing is amazing. The Kirk BH1 on the other hand is more of a work horse ball head. It is nicely done, the fit is as good as RRS but the finish and little things like rounded corners, engravings, and other little things on the RRS heads is a cut above. Probably a pretty good cut above. I also like the lower center of gravity, but I'm not really sure how much this matters in the long run.

If given the opportunity, would I switch to a RRS head over my Kirk? Probably not. There is obviously more Ego Gratification using a RRS head, but as I have said, the Kirk BH1 is a work horse and I'm comfortable with it's movements for the type of shooting I do. I don't worry about it breaking down or giving me trouble in the field. I am sure the RRS would instill the same confidence over time. These are both quality heads that should last you a life time. You'll probably never need a larger one, but a smaller one might be in the cards if you use a travel tripod. They are quite large.

If you are wondering, it has been attached to an Induro C213 carbon fiber tripod for about 5 years? Maybe a bit more. It used to be on a Manfrotto Wilderness tripod in years past.

You mentioned clearing brush with your tripod. I might suggest you look into a small collapsible baton like the police use. You can buy them from many on line sources. They are light, small, and extend with a flip of the wrist and work well for moving brush out of the way, fending off critters, two or four legged, and you can use them hold brush out of the way if you are doing close up shots. A lot less wear on your tripod and head.

Hope that helps some. If you need anything more, let me know at wild_images at comcast dot net I don't visit the site too often this time of year and would hate to make it look like I am ignoring you if you have a question.

Last edited by wildimages; 05-25-2013 at 05:39 AM.
05-25-2013, 06:57 AM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by stormtech Quote
I don't have a measurement on my ball, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't meet your requirement of being 50mm or larger. However, my Manfrotto 468MG does fit your other requrements. Also, I can't say about the panning base slipping, but this head has a lock down lever instead of a knob for tightening down on the base.

Has the double slots
A very good adjustable friction control with click stops - and it is a knob that sticks out a little so it is easy to grab and turn
You can buy the head without a top plate - Hejnar Photo makes a very nice arca-swiss plate just for this head.
Thanks, Stan! This is what I was hoping to hear; that some other manufacturers have more than one slot, and that I can replace the proprietary quick-releases of Manfrotto. (I used to have all RC2 plates, but that was long ago!) Plus, your photos give me a frame of reference for the size. Very helpful!

One question about the friction control... is it only adjustable by the "click stops" or is there a "free adjustment" method? Or can the amount of friction at the stops be adjusted? I'd hate to have a load that was "in between" tension levels, so it was either too hard to move or too sloppy!

The 50mm ball size is mainly about smoothness of rotation while under load, and from the B&H specs, your Manfrotto has a 50mm ball. Certainly a BigmOS isn't the biggest load a ballhead can handle (and my smaller Markins can handle it easily), but I've found that larger balls make even lighter loads easier to manipulate. In the past I've mounted my panohead and gear on top of the ball head for leveling (in total much heavier than a Bigma), but now I have a dedicated leveling base for that. The other idea is that I don't know what kind of gear I may use in the future (1200/8? Probably not... but you never know!), and I'm hoping not to upgrade again any time soon.

QuoteOriginally posted by wildimages Quote
I'm not quite sure what exactly you are looking for. Your post is confusing.
Perhaps, but in the end both you and Stan "got it" anyhow. The Kirk BH1 is also on my list to look at... despite the lack of ego gratifcation.


.
Related to all of this, I'm finding more and more "big ball" heads from other brand manufacturers:

Photoclam 54NS or even (crazy big) Photoclam 74NS!

Feisol CB-50D and CB-70D (apparently there is a "who's got the biggest" competition going on here).

And again, there's a Sunwayfoto DB-52 that could meet most of my needs, but doesn't look too well designed/finished/constructed.


Last edited by panoguy; 05-25-2013 at 07:46 AM.
05-25-2013, 07:28 AM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by panoguy Quote
One question about the friction control... is it only adjustable by the "click stops" or is there a "free adjustment" method? Or can the amount of friction at the stops be adjusted? I'd hate to have a load that was "in between" tension levels, so it was either too hard to move or too sloppy!
I just checked the tension adjustment to try to give you an idea of how it works - it really is a pretty fine tune in my opinion.

I took it from totally loose to as tight as I could turn it - took 70 clicks. One full revolution of the tension knob is 17 clicks. So it takes over 4 full revolutions of the knob from loose to tight. To me the clicks are so close together that you couldn't get it in between clicks even if you wanted to.

I use the tension adjustment quite a bit the same as you - I like to get it just right so I can move it about smoothly for wildlife shooting, while still being able to let go of it without anything moving. Very easy with this head. I've found that when I am adjusting the tension to acquire this sweet spot, it actually takes 2-3 clicks back or forth to get it just right. Of course getting a long lens as balanced as possible in the beginning really helps. I think the tension feature works so well is because the clamping mechanism is actually hydraulic instead of using mechanical friction. This also proves itself with the large lock down knob that takes only 1/4 turn from loose to lock.

When using a heavy lens like the Bigma, I normally use my heavier tripod and a gimbal head when outside shooting. I have had it on the Manfrotto head on my lighter tripod if I am cheating and shooting from indoors through our big glass doors (winter time!).

As far as lighter loads, I have had the Q mounted with a small M150 3.5 lens. Again with this the tension control has such a wide range, I didn't have any problem adjusting it to be able to move the setup around, and be able to let go at any time and have it stay put. Doing this works well with the Q and long lenses as I almost always use the 2 second timer - so I just adjust for view, let go, and hit the shutter button.

I have to use a tripod for shooting 90% of the time because of my inability to hold much of anything for any length of time - between this head on my 055Xprob and the gimbal on my 475B I feel I have all my bases covered from the Q to the Bigma with K-5iis w/grip.
05-25-2013, 08:00 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by stormtech Quote
I just checked the tension adjustment to try to give you an idea of how it works - it really is a pretty fine tune in my opinion.

I took it from totally loose to as tight as I could turn it - took 70 clicks. One full revolution of the tension knob is 17 clicks. So it takes over 4 full revolutions of the knob from loose to tight. To me the clicks are so close together that you couldn't get it in between clicks even if you wanted to.
Aha! Thanks for checking that. I was thinking the "click stops" were pre-set amounts of tension, where other manufacturers would have 5-10 "stops" on their knob. This is more like an indexed knob going over the whole range of tension.

In the past I've used cheaper Manfrotto ball heads (the 486 & 489) that were either "locked" or "totally loose" - no variable tension at all. The smooth tension of the Markins was a revelation, but it would be great to be able to "set it and forget it" at a certain tension level, then lock or unlock it as needed. It looks like the Manfrotto hydrostatic can do this!
05-25-2013, 12:42 PM   #7
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Arca-Swiss Monoball Z1 dp with Flip-Lock Quick Release 801114

05-25-2013, 06:07 PM   #8
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Yep, the Arca-Swiss Z1 (a reboot of the original B1) is on my list to look into. Only one drop slot, and I can't find any review that explains how their pre-set friction works (which I think it has around the main knob). I don't think I'd go for the double-pan, though. I already have too many panning bases and rotators for my pano work! The big reason I don't like the panning base on my Markins is because it slips, even when locked, which defeats the purpose of my indexed panning equipment and prevents me from using it underneath my pano gear. I suppose I could go for a ball head that didn't have a panning base, but I'm pretty sure those aren't made anymore...

Last edited by panoguy; 05-25-2013 at 06:12 PM.
05-25-2013, 07:08 PM   #9
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My Smith Vector BH5 has ball about 50mm and this BH8 is much bigger Smith-Victor BH8 Metal Alloy Ball Head 700355 B&H Photo Video
05-28-2013, 12:05 PM   #10
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Okay, I have three (maybe four) more "potential candidates," based mainly on reviews and threads around here. You can really tell that "brand name and price" is not my main indicator of ability or quality by looking at these, so I'm mainly interested in feedback on these manufacturers, whom I have no experience with:

Sirui K-40x, as described in this thread, which has a 54mm ball, although it seems quite big compared to others.
Horusbennu FX-54Z, which seems to be a 54mm ball version of the popular FX-45Q. Seems pretty "run of the mill" for a Korean product.
Photoclam PC-54NS (gotta love those 1-star reviews because they got crumpled box), and many folks around here say great things about Photoclam being the equivalent to Markins when they first started up. I wonder how their panning base clamp is?

And, on a related note, I found the Benro-knockoff of the RRS BH-55: the Benro G3. Now this looks like a much better constructed and designed unit than the Sunwayfoto XB-52 (though nowhere near the "industrial art" look of RRS), and is lower priced as well!

Anyone have experience with these heads, or with comparable products by these manufacturers?
05-28-2013, 02:21 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by panoguy Quote
Yep, the Arca-Swiss Z1 (a reboot of the original B1) is on my list to look into. Only one drop slot, and I can't find any review that explains how their pre-set friction works (which I think it has around the main knob). I don't think I'd go for the double-pan, though. I already have too many panning bases and rotators for my pano work! The big reason I don't like the panning base on my Markins is because it slips, even when locked, which defeats the purpose of my indexed panning equipment and prevents me from using it underneath my pano gear. I suppose I could go for a ball head that didn't have a panning base, but I'm pretty sure those aren't made anymore...
Hi Panoguy

I have the Arca Monoball and the Manfrotto 468 hydrostatic (an old version) and both are nice heads. But the Arca runs certainly smoother and stays put when clamping it down, whereas the Manfrotto has a very slight shift, when clamping. The friction control works equally nice on both heads. The Arcas panning movement is easy and fluent, nothing to be desired here.

I have a couple more ball heads and none can match the Arca, the Manfrotto being a very good second (and quite cheap, given its performance). One thing to note is, that you can exchange the QR system on almost any ball head to any other system if you prefer to do so. On the Manfrotto heads, this is fiarly easy and even on the Arca I had that done within a short while (I use the Manfrotto hexagons on all my tripods and cameras/lenses). Only on one of those Benros I had to disassemble the whole head to replace the QR base. But that was a fruitful experience, as it showed, how poorly the head is designed... It may look like an Arca from the oputside, but the inner virtues are non-existent...

Ben
05-28-2013, 03:34 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Ben_Edict Quote
One thing to note is, that you can exchange the QR system on almost any ball head to any other system if you prefer to do so.
This is good to hear, as I really don't like the look or function of the "new double-clamp standard" QR that current Arca-Swiss heads have. A kind of dual-layer dovetail, where the more common "arca-style" plates have to sit at the top, with a gap beneath them. This is the only real strike against the Arca Monoball in my opinion. I prefer to have my plates (all of them arca-style from various manufacturers) sitting directly on the clamp for maximum clamp and security. (Please note: I haven't done a FEA study on whether something is more secure when resting on a clamp surface and clamped, or just clamped and sitting above the surface, like the new Arcas!)

QuoteOriginally posted by Ben_Edict Quote
Only on one of those Benros I had to disassemble the whole head to replace the QR base. But that was a fruitful experience, as it showed, how poorly the head is designed... It may look like an Arca from the oputside, but the inner virtues are non-existent...
Which Benro was this?

Last edited by panoguy; 05-28-2013 at 03:40 PM.
06-02-2013, 08:37 PM   #13
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I think you will prefer the double pan...I have two of the original Arca Swiss B1's and love them dearly (have 2 B2's also, but they are much bigger than you are describing and are "ball within a ball"...use them with 600/4 instead of using gimbal heads)...B1's didn't offer single or double pan and I think all were double pan? If I understand correctly, the double pan means you have a panning base in addition to panning by spinning the ball. Of course you really don't want to pan by spinning the ball but rather with a panning base. Thus you will want the double pan. The panning base control knob is the weak link of every ballhead out there. I wore one out on one of my B1's over more than 10 years of use and it was inexpensive to have it rebuilt.

Had the largest size Foba ball head for awhile back in the mid 90's...the Arca asymmetrical ball to stop creep just blew the Foba away...that's when I started building all my tripod options with Arca Swiss heads. I'm in pretty deep with Really Right Stuff and really like their gear, but can't foresee ever giving up my Arca Swiss B1 and B2 heads.

For me cost is not the issue...function is the only issue and you won't be disappointed with the Z1 double pan heads if they are even remotely as good as the original B1.
06-03-2013, 06:51 PM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by Ron Boggs Quote
For me cost is not the issue...function is the only issue and you won't be disappointed with the Z1 double pan heads if they are even remotely as good as the original B1.
Thanks for the recommendations, Ron!

The Arca-Swiss "double pan" refers to having the usual standard panning base on the bottom and another one on the top, above the ball. I cannot find a large ball head that doesn't have the panning base on the bottom (as well as rotating the ball)! My whole quest started because the Markins panning base "slips" when under the kinds of loads and torque I apply (not excessive, but 3-5 kg of weight).



Coincidentally, I was at the major photo-gear expo here in Toronto this past weekend (rain killed my other plans) and got to try out many different "large-ball" ball heads, both the ones the on display by the distributors and dealers, and from some friends and even a random guy walking by! Not side-by-side under the same conditions kind of testing, but at least I got a feel for each of these:

Novoflex Classicball 3 (they didn't have the larger 5 I'm interested in): Extremely well made and finished, seemed bombproof and silky smooth, except the panning base was achingly difficult to rotate. Could never use a Wimberley Sidekick on that! They are checking with the folks at Novoflex Germany to see if this is typical of the 5-series as well...




RRS BH-55 (thanks Nick!): Well-made, silky smooth, very nice panning base, and I love the look/ design. However, the "dark grey" finish didn't look very durable (but maybe Nick uses it as a weapon), and the control knobs felt loose which apparently is just "how they are." Also a surprisingly wide and heavy sucker! However, that's just for comparison, as I won't buy from RRS for personal/ professional/ moral reasons.




Kirk BH-1 (thanks random guy visiting the OPC booth!): seemed taller than the rest, and kind of "brick like" both in controls and build quality. Might just be the one this guy had, but every knob was hard to turn! The ball action was incredibly smooth (better than the RRS, almost as good as the Novoflex) when you got the right tension on it. Oddly enough, the owner said he was likely going to get a smaller head because the BH-1 was overkill for his needs, and he asked me about Markins!




Manfrotto MH054 & 057: Really big & heavy, yet they also felt rather cheaply constructed compared to the others. Smooth ball action (which my older Manfrottos lacked), and easy to grab controls. The version without one of Manfrotto's dedicated quick-release systems is "special order!"




FLM Centerball 58FT: I had only heard of FLM in Europe, but now they are available in North America. Interesting ball heads, made entirely from CNC machined aluminum on the outside - even the (multitude of) knobs! (Silver and black finish like the RRS, but they looked a little rougher and kind of "blingy!") However, the ball action on their heads is incredible! Very smooth and solid feeling, with a great "tension memory" function unlike any I've seen on other heads. They also have a "tilt only" function which locks the ball into rotating on only one axis (like a gimbal when used with the panning base), and a really nice "click stop" button to turn the panning base into an indexed panoramic rotator!



Note that all of the big-ball heads I was able to look at, touch, and try out were not from Asian manufacturers. (There were a few Asian manufacturers represented, but only with their smaller-ball heads) And no trace of Markins, Benro, Sirui, Photoclam, or Feisol... kinda weird!

Last edited by panoguy; 06-03-2013 at 07:53 PM.
06-03-2013, 07:12 PM   #15
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I know you want a ball, but ProMediaGear makes indestructible gimbals that might suit you better, and they make a Tomahawk that is 1/2 a Gimbal.

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