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Thread started 16 Jan 2013 (Wednesday) 02:52
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RRS BH 40 LR II first impressions and review

 
Sirrith
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Jan 16, 2013 02:52 |  #1

This first part details why I chose the RRS BH-40 and the decision making process; you can skip ahead to the next red line of text if you don't want to read it.

I've recently been wanting to get a new ball head for my tripod. I had (and still have) a Cullmann MB 6.5 head with A-S compatible lever clamp, which is a great head, but has some annoying problems: the plates which fit the clamp have pointed corners and dig into the palm of my hand, which is not pleasant. The clamp is not adjustable, which means I cannot buy more ergonomic plates from different manufacturers. The panning base uses grease/oil, which thickens and makes it very hard to pan at low temperatures. The head is quite large and heavy.

So I wanted a ball head which would fix all those flaws, while retaining the stability and smooth movement of the Cullmann (areas in which its performance is pretty darn good). This immediately meant I was looking at a much smaller range of ball heads, all of which were more expensive. I narrowed it down to 3. The Acratech GP-s, the Markins Q3T, and the RRS BH-40. I liked the design of the GP-s a lot, it looked nice and pretty cutting-edge. It would also be useful in certain situations I sometimes find myself in, where the ball head is exposed to things you wouldn't really want it to be exposed to such as dirt and lots of water. The Q3T was being considered purely because it has a very good reputation. The RRS was being considered also because of reputation, but also looks (it does look quite pretty).

I luckily managed to find a store that sold all 3 of these heads and let me play around with them (without actually mounting anything on them unfortunately). I immediately ruled out the Q3T because I didn't like the tension/friction dial at all, and partly because of the reports of the weak panning base lock.

The GP-s felt very solid in the hand, and quite smooth, although a bit behind both the RRS and Q3T in that respect. I didn't like the tension knob very much, it felt a bit flimsy. I also didn't like the petal shaped flange on the stem which meant that I absolutely had to use an Acratech clamp on the head. Finally, I didn't like that it cost more than the RRS. So I ruled the Acratech out.

Ok, now this part is the actual review :)

First impressions

The head is rather short compared to your "traditional" ball head, which keeps it compact. It also has 2 drop slots, unlike any other head I am aware of. The whole thing is machined aluminium, very solid, feels very high quality as you'd expect from such a pricey piece of equipment. The panning base is clearly marked at 2.5 degree intervals. The finish on the casing is textured, and not unlike the finishing used on Canon's magnesium-bodied cameras. Unfortunately, it is more like the earlier models e.g. the 20D, where the finish doubles as a nail file which means that whenever your fingernails come into contact with the casing, you'll leave a white streak on the black surface. If you are a bit OCD about these things, then be prepared to clean this head regularly, or wear gloves/be extremely careful when handling it. You can see one such streak to the upper right of the RRS logo in between the drop slots in the following photo (tripod is a Feisol 3442).

IMAGE: http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8506/8385266017_2a2718fe59_b.jpg
[IMAGE'S LINK: http://www.flickr.com ...s/noobography/83852​66017/] (external link)
1301161 (external link) by noobographer (external link), on Flickr

The head really is a thing of beauty. I am quite impressed by it.


Functionality

The knobs are oversized for easy use with gloves in cold weather. The friction dial and panning base lock are on one side of the casing, with the main locking knob on the other. The main locking knob is spring loaded and repositionable to your liking (I think 6 positions). I do not like the design of the main locking knob. Its elongated shape means that if you use it on a tripod with no centre column and a wide spider like the 3442, the knob will hit the spider. Fortunately, locking/unlocking the head does not require a full turn of the knob so it is not a problem in practice.
IMAGE: http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8473/8386349776_0252097db3_b.jpg
[IMAGE'S LINK: http://www.flickr.com ...s/noobography/83863​49776/] (external link)
1301163 (external link) by noobographer (external link), on Flickr

The tension and panning base lock knobs are quite close together, but RRS thoughtfully made them completely different in shape so that there would be no chance of mistaking one for the other:
IMAGE: http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8508/8385265861_93b2c9b05c_b.jpg
[IMAGE'S LINK: http://www.flickr.com ...s/noobography/83852​65861/] (external link)
1301162 (external link) by noobographer (external link), on Flickr

All the knobs are captive, so they will not fall out if you unscrew them too much. There are numbers on the friction dial running from 0-10, but these don't really serve much of a purpose, as you can untighten it past 0, and it is extremely difficult if not impossible to tighten it past 7 or so. They just let you know if you are twisting it in the right direction.

The huge lump on the back of the casing means this ball head is relatively useless for those of you wanting to reverse-fold your tripod legs around the head. With a centre column it is better, since the legs will be able to close most of the way, but without a centre column, the legs will be splayed out at very wide angles. This was not really a consideration for me as I tend to remove the head when packing the tripod for travel anyway. It may be a problem for some of you.

The movement of the ball is smooth, but not as smooth as I'd ideally like, but as the head is brand new it will probably break in and become smoother over time. There is no sag or droop at any angle with a 5DIII with 70-200/4 and flash mounted. I am confident the head could easily hold a 100-400, though the tension dial might have a bit of trouble and you may need to use the main locking knob to fully stop any creep with heavier lenses.

The panning base is nowhere near as smooth or fluid as my Cullmann head, partly because it doesn't use any grease or oil. The Cullmann was exceptional in this area (save for the freezing up at low temps), as good as some fluid heads, so this is not a negative mark against the RRS.
***Edit*** I've looked more closely, and it seems that the BH-40 does in fact use some kind of lubricant for the panning base. I'm not too happy about this, as it likely means the panning function will slow down/become hard or impossible to use in cold temperatures, and about the fact that it is nowhere near as well damped as my Cullmann head.

I chose the B2 AS II clamp as I prefer levers over screws. The clamp is a bit large for the BH-40, which means that there may be interference if you use the drop slots with a tripod such as the 3442 with no centre column/a wide spider. However, this only happens if you have the clamp at an angle when it is in the drop slot. If you have the clamp level, there is sufficient clearance:
IMAGE: http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8473/8385264927_0fa500ee69_b.jpg
[IMAGE'S LINK: http://www.flickr.com ...s/noobography/83852​64927/] (external link)
1301167 (external link) by noobographer (external link), on Flickr

RRS states that the B2 AS II clamp

automatically adjusts to accept all Arca-Swiss style plates except Arca-Swiss P0 Slidefix plates and plates made by Novoflex.

This means there is no need to adjust any screw or knob which if true, is very convenient. It remains to be seen how much leeway for adjustment is available with the automatic system. It works fine with my Cullmann plate which was previously tested and failed to work with a Markins clamp, I will test it with a Benro plate once I get the chance.

The clamp has 3 positions, fully open, halfway closed, and closed. In the fully open position seen below, you can lift the camera in or out:

IMAGE: http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8087/8386349586_95589f49a9_b.jpg
[IMAGE'S LINK: http://www.flickr.com ...s/noobography/83863​49586/] (external link)
1301164 (external link) by noobographer (external link), on Flickr

With the clamp in the intermediate position, you can slide the plate but not lift it out:
IMAGE: http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8336/8386349270_e438a9c3bd_b.jpg
[IMAGE'S LINK: http://www.flickr.com ...s/noobography/83863​49270/] (external link)
1301166 (external link) by noobographer (external link), on Flickr

Once locked, the clamp holds the plate securely without any movement. The lever is nicely contoured to take up less space and require less force to open:
IMAGE: http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8469/8386349414_8dedd2eb13_b.jpg
[IMAGE'S LINK: http://www.flickr.com ...s/noobography/83863​49414/] (external link)
1301165 (external link) by noobographer (external link), on Flickr

The bubble level is quite useful and is not covered by the camera.

Overall, I'm quite pleased with the BH-40, it holds my gear perfectly fine, is lighter than my old head, is just as smooth (except the panning base), doesn't have any oil or grease to freeze up in cold temperatures, looks great, has good controls, and should last a very long time. I don't see myself upgrading from this unless I decide to get a 500/4 lens.

-Tom
Flickr
F-Stop Guru review | RRS BH-40 review

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Denny ­ G
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Jan 16, 2013 08:20 |  #2

Great review.

Why did you go with the B2 AS II clamp vs the B2 40 LR ?




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Sirrith
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Jan 16, 2013 08:46 |  #3

Denny G wrote in post #15495369external link
Great review.

Why did you go with the B2 AS II clamp vs the B2 40 LR ?

Thanks, and good question :)

First, I wanted the bubble level, second I wanted the "automatic adjustment" thingy which RRS doesn't mention on the B2 40 LR description, and third, they didn't have the B2 40 LR at the shop.

If you don't need the bubble level and plan to use only RRS plates, the smaller B2 40 LR would be a better choice for the BH 40.


-Tom
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F-Stop Guru review | RRS BH-40 review

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ben_r_
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Jan 16, 2013 11:03 |  #4

Great job! Adding to the Support Sticky!


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yourdoinitwrong
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Jan 16, 2013 12:30 as a reply to ben_r_'s post |  #5

Nice write up! I purchased a RRS ballhead a few months ago and I am very pleased with it as well, the build quality is exceptional. Though I have a different model (BH-55) your impressions pretty much mirror mine, even down to the movement not being quite as smooth as I had initially anticipated. It does seem to smooth out a little over time though, admittedly mine does not see heavy usage.


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MDJAK
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Jan 16, 2013 13:09 |  #6

I owned the BH 55 and found it to be of very high quality, as are all RRS components. I own many of their plates.

As to the dropouts, I agree it's nice to have two. My Markins only has one. However, most people (me NOT included) use an L bracket which makes the dropouts useless.

I sold my BH 55 because I felt the Markins had better drag control and easier to adjust and use drag control. All adjustable by the main knob, without having to turn a secondary one.

One thing about your very fine and well written review (and the pics are also excellent) that I disagree with: How on earth does the camera or lens not cover the bubble level? I find them in the worst place and use one on the hotshoe instead.

Excellent work.

mark




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Sirrith
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Jan 16, 2013 18:43 |  #7

ben_r_ wrote in post #15496085 (external link)
Great job! Adding to the Support Sticky!

Thanks Ben :)

yourdoinitwrong wrote in post #15496369 (external link)
Nice write up! I purchased a RRS ballhead a few months ago and I am very pleased with it as well, the build quality is exceptional. Though I have a different model (BH-55) your impressions pretty much mirror mine, even down to the movement not being quite as smooth as I had initially anticipated. It does seem to smooth out a little over time though, admittedly mine does not see heavy usage.

Thanks, its good to have confirmation that this is normal and will smooth out. I did handle the BH-55 and was wow'd by it. Unfortunately I was looking for something lighter than my previous ball head, not heavier, or I would have gotten it!

MDJAK wrote in post #15496541 (external link)
As to the dropouts, I agree it's nice to have two. My Markins only has one. However, most people (me NOT included) use an L bracket which makes the dropouts useless.

I sold my BH 55 because I felt the Markins had better drag control and easier to adjust and use drag control. All adjustable by the main knob, without having to turn a secondary one.

One thing about your very fine and well written review (and the pics are also excellent) that I disagree with: How on earth does the camera or lens not cover the bubble level? I find them in the worst place and use one on the hotshoe instead.

Excellent work.

mark

Thanks Mark, yes the L bracket does make the dropouts somewhat of a moot point. However, it does in fact serve a purpose in letting one get closer to the ground. Not that I'll be using it that way very often.

Its interesting you sold the BH-55 for the Markins. Not many people would do that to my knowledge. I think the tension knob question is just a matter of personal preference. If I had used a ballhead with the same system as the Markins, I may have preferred the Markins myself.

And to answer your question, like this! :):

IMAGE: http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8085/8388444862_84f8e8725e_b.jpg
[IMAGE'S LINK: http://www.flickr.com ...s/noobography/83884​44862/] (external link)
1301171 (external link) by noobographer (external link), on Flickr

-Tom
Flickr
F-Stop Guru review | RRS BH-40 review

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Bianchi
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Jan 17, 2013 19:49 |  #8

Appreciate the time and effort for the review


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MDJAK
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Jan 17, 2013 20:16 |  #9

Wow, I've been putting my camera on backwards all this time? I always like to have the lever or screw knob facing the back, behind the camera, otherwise I find it hard to get to under the lens. That's why I've been covering up the bubble.

As to selling the BH55 in favor of the Markins, one thing I didn't mention is the Markins is about a pound lighter, and a pound is a pound.

Also, I do use the dropouts and miss the second one.

As to the drag, it is just a lot easier to deal with one large knob that handles both than that small one and then the unlock knob. The gradations of drag are finer and better on the Markins. Not by a lot, but by a little. Enough to be noticeable.

But again, first and foremost, your review is excellent as are your pictures.

Sirrith wrote in post #15498045 (external link)
Thanks Ben :)

Thanks, its good to have confirmation that this is normal and will smooth out. I did handle the BH-55 and was wow'd by it. Unfortunately I was looking for something lighter than my previous ball head, not heavier, or I would have gotten it!

Thanks Mark, yes the L bracket does make the dropouts somewhat of a moot point. However, it does in fact serve a purpose in letting one get closer to the ground. Not that I'll be using it that way very often.

Its interesting you sold the BH-55 for the Markins. Not many people would do that to my knowledge. I think the tension knob question is just a matter of personal preference. If I had used a ballhead with the same system as the Markins, I may have preferred the Markins myself.

And to answer your question, like this! :):
QUOTED IMAGE
[IMAGE'S LINK: http://www.flickr.com ...s/noobography/83884​44862/] (external link)
1301171 (external link) by noobographer (external link), on Flickr




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Indecent ­ Exposure
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Jan 17, 2013 20:34 |  #10

How can the gradations be finer than linear? They aren't stepped, AFAIK...


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Sirrith
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Jan 18, 2013 00:57 |  #11

MDJAK wrote in post #15502561external link
Wow, I've been putting my camera on backwards all this time? I always like to have the lever or screw knob facing the back, behind the camera, otherwise I find it hard to get to under the lens. That's why I've been covering up the bubble.


But again, first and foremost, your review is excellent as are your pictures.

Again, its a matter of personal preference, but I prefer having the lever "in front" and hidden under the lens as there is less chance of it catching on something and getting undone, especially as there are no safety stops on the RRS L bracket (why, RRS, why?).

Again, thanks! :D

Indecent Exposure wrote in post #15502614external link
How can the gradations be finer than linear? They aren't stepped, AFAIK...

You are correct, they are not stepped.


-Tom
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MDJAK
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Jan 18, 2013 05:13 |  #12

Indecent Exposure wrote in post #15502614external link
How can the gradations be finer than linear? They aren't stepped, AFAIK...

If I said stepped it was both poorly phrased and incorrect. However, trying is believing. I found with the 55 it was either tight or somewhat loose, just didn't have as fine a grasp on the ball as the Markins. Now it is subtle but definitely noticeable. Also, I am not putting RRS down at all. I just bought a thousand dollar plus tripod from them. And their service is second to none.




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Indecent ­ Exposure
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Jan 18, 2013 08:39 |  #13

You just mentioned the gradations are finer on the drag knob and I was wondering how that could possibly be. The RRS drag knob responds to nanometers of movement.

Regarding an issue with the drag knob that I think actually exists, we should be able to have a way to lock it. Bumping it is a pet peeve of mine.


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Hendo
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Jan 18, 2013 09:39 |  #14

Great OP with thoughtful and insightful comments by all.

One of the better ballhead review threads I've read, and I've read a lot of them in the last few days.

Thanks to all!

-Tom in SoCal.

PS - a special shout-out for the outstanding product photos. First class all the way!




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Wilt
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Jan 18, 2013 13:58 |  #15

Sirrith wrote in post #15503515external link
Again, its a matter of personal preference, but I prefer having the lever "in front" and hidden under the lens as there is less chance of it catching on something and getting undone

I prefer having the lever in front as well, as I dislike having it catch on my teeth! :lol:


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RRS BH 40 LR II first impressions and review
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