When you are photographing wildlife, or pursuing fleeting light, it often seems that speed and efficiency are paramount. For this reason, I prefer to use a ball head for a tripod head.
With the turn on one knob on a ball head, I can move my camera in any direction, up down and side to side. Turn the knob the opposite way, and now the camera is locked into that position. With a good ballhead, the movement is very smooth and fluid, and when the head is locked down, the camera won’t budge; there isn’t any ballhead creep (movement). With cheaper heads, you compose your shot, lock the head down and the cameras position drops a little bit forcing you to re-compose, or compose and try to anticipate the movement – I got good at that with my first, cheap ballhead.
The original standard for years was the Arca Swiss B1 ballhead – I had one for many years. I have now been using a BH-55 from Really Right Stuff (RRS) – this ball head is a big improvement over the Arca Swiss, and have been very happy with it. Now a good ballhead isn’t cheap, the BH-55 with the quick release clamp like in the photo runs about $455 bucks. If you wanted to save a little money, I think the BH-40 would be perfectly adequate for everyday use with lenses up to a 100-400, and would be a great fit for the Gitzo 2530 or Bogen 055. The BH-40 with clamp runs about $375. My BH-55 is a little too heavy for the Gitzo 2350. Now if you wanted some excess capacity for larger telephotos, the BH-55 would be a perfect match for the Gitzo 3530.
B & H doesn’t carry these ballheads, you need to deal directly with the manufacturer. So why Really Right Stuff? Not only are their ballheads very well designed and constructed – most photographers consider them the best; but the RSS company is wonderful to deal with as well. Here is one example:
I usually remove my ball head and pack it in a shoe when I’m flying with my tripod in checked luggage. This Fall I forgot to remove my ballhead and the quick release clamp lever (I will talk about that in the next lesson) was bent and unusable. I called RSS to order a new clamp, they asked what happen, when I explained, they suggested I send them the damage one because they may be able to fix it and save me money. They told me they would call me with an estimate once they could see it. I was surprised to get my clamp back a week later; surprised because I never received a phone call. It turns out they repaired it under warranty and sent it back to me at no cost! They even paid the cost of shipping back to Alaska. Now that is going the extra mile in customer service!
Next: Camera plates and L brackets.