Quick background. Ball heads are an essential part of the tripod equation if you need to steady your camera for landscape, long exposure or portrait work. Really Right Stuff (RRS) established a reputation for their ball-heads as the best there is amongst the web-based photography pundits. They cost a small fortune, and don’t look wildly different from any other competitive heads. So are they really better?
Well here we get into the ‘audiophile mains cable’ (or power cord) arena. When I was interested in hifi, I was always amused by the reviews of audiophile power cords, which could cost several hundred pounds, and claimed to deliver mains electricity better to your high-end hifi than a normal cable. Reviewers would write about the ‘improved sound stage’ and ‘crispness of the high-end’ with these cables. All b*llocks of course. No way could you detect any difference by changing the power cable in a hi-fi system, and the lack of blind testing of this or any other component of hi-fi systems showed what hogwash it all was.
The same b*llsh*t applies to much in the photography accessory arena. Camera sensors and lenses have a standardised set of tests from the likes of DxOlabs and Photozone, that allow true objective comparisions. Not so in the case of tripods and accessories. Most reviews are purely subjective, and reviewers are clearly swayed more by marketing than objectivity. Those that do tests usually conduct them over a few (say 5-10) products, and don’t maintain a database.
But I have discovered an amazing German database of ball head tests from the excellent Traumflieger Fotographics (literally Dreamflyer Photography – go figure). They have been testing ballheads since 2009 and so far have done 37 at all prices. So what are these tests?
The main requirement for a ball-head is that it can carry a reasonable load, doesn’t droop when a long lens is mounted, is easy and smooth to adjust camera position, and has reasonable damping of camera vibrations. Oh and ideally it needs to be low in weight as it has to be carried around. The Traumflieger chaps have objective, repeatable tests for all of these. They are located here and are in German. The easiest way to understand them if you are not a native speaker, is to use Google translate. I have extracted their summary below – and translated the headings. if you want to know how the tests were done, it’s in part I of the test report.
And what of the results? In objective testing, the RRS-BH40 is only an average performer. It comes 17th out of 37, and does pretty poorly in the droop tests. It also costs 340 euros and weighs half a kilo. What is the best ball head in the test? This is the unpromisingly-named Tiltall BH-07, which costs only 99 euros, and destroys the RRS head in almost every category. It also weighs half as much as the RRS. You can get them from Amazon UK for £84 including delivery. I ordered one, and it’s absolutely excellent. The table is useful for evaluating most other expensive and highly regarded makes of ball-head like Arca, Markins and Kirk. Not surprisingly, these all do fairly poorly in objective tests. An abridged version of the results summary is shown below. At the end of the table, is a picture of the test results for the RRS BH 40, showing the 8mm of droop (!) when a 4kg load is applied…….
|Head||Approx price||Weight||Max weight skew||Points|
|Tiltall BH-07||99 EUR||284 gr||7.5 KG||90||80||104||76||102||90|
|FEISOL CB-40D||129 EUR||420 gr||about 12 KG||85||85||148||63||69||90|
|Manfrotto 468||250 EUR||690 gr||15 KG||88||80||141||100||43||90|
|Sirui K-20X||115 EUR||400 gr||6.5 KG||85||90||98||100||73||89|
|FEISOL CB-30C||99 EUR||235 gr||about 8 KG||85||75||107||50||123||88|
|RRS BH-55||420 EUR||900 gr||about 8 KG||93||80||123||100||32||86|
|Markins Q3||285 EUR||385 gr||about 8 KG||90||80||100||79||75||85|
|Triopo B3||150 EUR||590 gr||about 7 KG||90||75||124||84||49||84|
|Arca Monoball P0||285 EUR||350 gr||about 6 KG||88||80||88||79||83||83|
|Arca Swiss Monoball Z1||280 EUR (without Schnellw. system)||600 gr (o. Schnellw. system)||about 8 KG||95||75||94||100||48||83|
|Sirui K-10X||100 EUR||350 gr||6.5 KG||60||90||91||89||83||83|
|Sirui G10||81 EUR||300 gr||about 6 KG||78||80||78||76||97||82|
|Sirui G20||85 EUR||400 gr||6.5 KG||80||80||81||92||73||81|
|Benro B-2||145 EUR||480 gr||about 7 KG||88||75||80||89||60||79|
|Benro J-2||185 EUR||510 gr||6.5 KG||88||78||85||84||57||78|
|Triopo B-2||105 EUR||420 gr||about 6 KG||88||75||66||89||69||78|
|RRS BH 40||340 EUR||480 gr||6.5 KG||85||79||74||89||60||77|
|F eisol CB-50D||1 45 EUR||560 gr||about 7 KG||85||85||94||71||52||77|
|Cullmann MB 6.5||149 EUR||640 gr||6.5 KG||92||88||85||63||46||75|
|Sirui C10||35 EUR||180 gr||5 kg||75||70||65||63||100||75|
|Benro J-1||159 EUR||390 gr||about 3 KG||88||78||26||68||74||67|
|Kirk BH 3||240 EUR||550 gr||7.5 KG||83||75||84||16||53||62|
|Benro J-0||149 EUR||340 gr||2.2 kg||85||78||18||42||85||62|
|Novoflex Ball 40||85 EUR||485 gr||about 7 KG||40||25||80||89||60||59|
|Benro KS-1||115 EUR||560 gr||1.5 KG||75||70||13||68||52||56|
|Novoflex MB 50||230 EUR||610 gr||4,5 KG||75||55||43||53||48||55|
|Kaiser 6011||139 EUR||660 gr||about 6 KG||45||53||50||79||44||54|
|Novoflex Magic Ball Mini||169 EUR||330 gr||1.5 KG||75||45||13||37||88||52|
|FLM Centerb. 38 FT||270 EUR||465 gr||about 2.3kg||75||95||18||5||63||51|
|Cullmann Magnesite 25 Nm||70 EUR||445 gr||6.5 KG||65||65||51||5||65||50|
|Walimex FT-011 H (Action-Grip)||55 EUR||840 gr||1.3 KG||55||65||12||79||35||49|
|Bilora Perfect Pro||40 EUR||320 gr||about 2 KG||40||50||16||37||91||47|
|Manfrotto 322 RC2||110 EUR||650 gr||5 kg||60||60||58||11||45||47|
|Manfrotto 486 RC2||60 EUR||460 gr||5.5 KG||58||55||48||5||63||46|
|Manfrotto 484 RC2||55 EUR||320 gr||2.4 KG||55||55||20||5||91||45|
|Kaiser 6017||60 EUR||290 gr||2.8 KG||40||50||23||11||100||45|
|Walimex FT-001 Mag||60 EUR||480 gr||about 3.3kg||40||60||28||0||60||38|
RRS BH 40 test results
Note that ‘Testergebnis Nachsachen’ does not refer to scrotal dimensions, but to the amount of head droop experienced. Quite a different thing.
Tiltall BH 07 test results