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Thread started 08 Aug 2013 (Thursday) 16:03
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Kirk BH-1 thoughts/review

 
sawsedge
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Aug 08, 2013 16:03 |  #1

I've read some mixed comments online about the Kirk BH-1, and thought it was time to share my experience the ballhead.

I bought the Kirk BH-1 in early 2003. I've had it more than long enough to know it well, and to have given it a few dings and wear off a bit of finish. It works just like it did the day I unwrapped it, even if it isn't quite as nice looking. It is very solid. I have confidence that it will hold anything I can put on it. In a nutshell, it works very well and I like it. I have never regretted the purchase. It works and doesn't get in my way; I generally give it no thought in use and that's the way it should be. I've had other heads that would shift, slip, or poke me, so having something so well made is wonderful. My version is old enough that Kirk changed the clamp design, but I'm not sure if anything else is different vs the current model.

IMAGE: http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2829/9468690566_1f1000a00d_o.jpg

Prior to the BH-1, I had a Bogen/Manfrotto 3038 heavy ballhead. The 3038 was very strong, but not smooth, and so heavy that I did not carry my tripod as often as I should. The raves about Arca-Swiss style heads convinced me to upgrade.

One of the reasons I picked the Kirk over other models (such as the Arca-Swiss B1), was the orientation of the drop notch. Many competing models had the controls on the wrong side relative to the drop notch. I hold the camera with my right hand, so I want the ballhead controls easily usable with my left, with the drop notch opposite from me. I shoot a lot of closeups, and end up aiming down frequently. Only subsequent to my purchase have other brands followed that model.

Also, around the time I bought the BH-1, the Arca-Swiss B1 was notorious for having lockup problems. My Kirk BH-1 has never had a single problem in operation, and I've used it in every type of weather. As I'm sure most of you know, Arca-Swiss has since resolved the lockup issue.

At about 2 lbs, the BH-1 is half the weight of my old Bogen, much smoother, and though I didn't want to admit it, the plates are much easier to deal with than the Bogen hex plates. For the life of me, I cannot understand why Manfrotto has not completely switched to A-S plates (As of 2013, they support a number of quick release systems. Hey, late breaking news: http://www.the-digital-picture.com/News/News-Post.aspx?News=7236 (external link).) With all the more recent advances in ballheads since I bought mine, 2 lbs probably sounds heavy to a lot of people, but the weight certainly falls into an acceptable range where I don't mind hiking with it.

My model is old enough that the clamp does not have any provision for safety stops, nor a level. I simply have to make sure I clamp it down properly. I have a knob release (I am not sure levers existed when I bought it). I have not had any accidents, the clamp is simple and strong.

IMAGE: http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3714/9465908149_25eeb904f2_o.jpg

How strong is it? Once locked, the BH-1 doesn't budge, not one bit. There is zero creep (though there is settling as you let go, like in all such systems, this is expected and normal). I have never seen a single movement while locked down in 10 years of use. Odd angles? I'd be more concerned about the tripod tipping over than creep. I've had up to a 400mm f/4 on it and it gives just as much confidence with that gear as it does with a compact setup like a Minolta XD-11 with a 50mm (yes, I was shooting film when I bought the BH-1). I've never even stressed the BH-1. Current models are rated at 50 lbs, but I don't recall seeing a rating when I bought mine. Photographers with heavier gear than mine were using this head when I bought it, so I wasn't worried.

How smooth is it? When the tension is on the looser side, it is quite smooth. It beats everything else I have personally used, but I haven't compared it against many other models so I can't say if one of the others is smoother or not. A number of other reviews I've read claim that there are a few models that are smoother, but if true, I'd say it isn't a concern if you use the ball loose and lock it down tight. If you use your ballhead loose, you'll be happy. I read one review that said the BH-1 is not smooth. All I can say is, my 10 year old model is smooth. However, the BH-1 isn't as smooth when the tension is set fairly tight, and clearly the ball isn't as perfectly round as one might expect. As you move the ball around, the resistance increases and decreases. That reviewer might have a lemon, or perhaps he was trying to use a lot of tension.

For years, I simply left the tension setting fairly loose, relying on the main knob to tighten the ball. I never gave the tension knob any thought. More recently, I've read about people setting tension on their ballheads so that the ball does not slip even when the main knob is loose. I tried this recently, and found it just isn't workable on my BH-1. The tension knob requires several complete revolutions to go from completely loose to completely tight (so tight you can't move a thing). But the transition from loose to tight is very very short and sudden, and I have not found that "just so" tension setting. The tension control knob is not marked and not indexed, and it is also very easy to turn. My kids change the tension on me all the time. As a result, I expect some of you will decide to pass on the Kirk. This is the one part that Kirk could really stand to improve (maybe they did?). For my use it isn't an issue. FWIW, a close friend has a Really Right Stuff BH-55 and says the tension isn't very workable on that model either. Only the Markins and Arca-Swiss users seem to rely on that feature, from the bit I've read online.

Also, with the tension set fairly high, I found that the BH-1 ball will shift when I tighten the main control, changing the composition (not just settling), depending on the angle. In doing closeups, this is unacceptable, so I just keep it loose. I can't tell you if that is just my copy, or a common design issue. I've read of this shifting/pulling with other brands too. I get the feeling that only a couple of the very highest end ballheads don't have this issue.

The panning knob just works. Loosen it to pan or adjust the location of the drop-notch, tighten it. It moves smoothly and locks tightly. I've carried it over my shoulder with a camera mounted and it has never come loose. No worries.

IMAGE: http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3728/9468690602_5e47c49053_o.jpg

The bottom line is, this ballhead holds my camera steady with every piece of gear I've ever owned. The BH-1 isn't fancy, but it is a workhorse. It works well enough that I generally don't have to think about it when I use it, which is as it should be. Compared to previous heads I've used, that was a first.

- John

  
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Al_at_MMO
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Aug 09, 2013 06:44 |  #2

I've had the same head for about 5 years. It isn't sexy, it just works. Very smooth, and almost bomb proof. Good review.




  
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peter_n
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Aug 09, 2013 14:13 |  #3

Nice review. A lot of people swear by this ballhead but for some reason it doesn't seem to be much used by POTN members. However that was my perception of Acratech heads too until a recent thread and then suddenly a bunch of users started chirping about them.

I confess to not having used this head either but it remains more-or-less the same today, see the attached pic below. As you say they have updated the clamp but the ballhead itself looks identical to yours. That's either because it's already perfect or it's too hard/expensive to do. I think it could be improved a bit though.

I would like to see Kirk differentiate the panning and tension knobs to obviate any possible confusion about the function of these two identical-looking knobs. I assume that the knob near the panning base is the panning lock knob and the knob on the opposite side of the ball housing from the large locking knob is the friction tension knob.

You do say that the tension knob is the one thing that Kirk could improve, and I would add to your comments that the location of the knob or even the design of it could be improved. As it is and assuming the drop slot is facing away from you you would need to use this knob with your right hand and hold the camera with your left. Ideally you should be able to hold the camera with your right hand and adjust things like orientation and friction with your left hand.

The best implementation of this I've used is the Linhof design in which there is a very large ball locking knob and inside of it (using an outer shaft) is an indexed friction knob. The two knobs are very distinct and can easily be used with gloves. The Linhof ballheads have been overtaken in other respects but this is the most ergonomic design I've used or seen.

I'd like to see Kirk implement a design like this and also move the panning knob so that it's at a 90ยบ angle from the ball lock/friction assembly on the ball housing. Then I think it would be really competitive.


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Phoenixkh
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Aug 09, 2013 14:46 |  #4

When I was upgrading my Manfrotto stuff to Arca Swiss compatible clamps, I had the pleasure of working with a couple people at Kirk. I have several of the Kirk clamps Peter is showing and I can say, they are every bit as fine as the screw clamp I now have from RRS on my BH-55. I'm still using the Kirk clamps on my focus rails and on my Newton FR3 rotating flash bracket.

I suppose I'll eventually sell my Giottos tripod with the Kirk modified Manfrotto 468 MG hydrostatic ball head. I still like the multi-positional center column for macro work but I've really gotten used to using my RRS tripod and monopod and don't get the Giottos out much.


Kim (the male variety) Canon 1DX2 | 1D IV | 16-35 f/4 IS | 24-105 f/4 IS | 100L IS macro | 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II | 100-400Lii | 50 f/1.8 STM | Canon 1.4X III
RRS tripod and monopod | 580EXII | Cinch 1 & Loop 3 Special Edition | Editing Encouraged

  
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judyg
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Aug 09, 2013 17:18 |  #5

I love my Kirk ballhead. I have both the BH-1 and the BH-3 and they are equally great. Extremely well made and reliable. I also have 2 of their L brackets and the plates on all my cameras are by Kirk. Great company, very good quality.




  
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effstop
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Aug 10, 2013 18:22 |  #6

I have the bh-3 and it just works. I usually rotate my gear out to try something new but never ever thought about replacing the bh.


5D MKI | 1D MKII | 24-70mm 2.8 L | 80-200MM 2.8 L | 400mm 5.6 L |50mm 1.8

  
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sawsedge
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Aug 10, 2013 19:46 |  #7

I admit I got curious about the other ballheads with nicer friction control, and I'm curious to try the Markins Q20 and Arca-Swiss Z1. I find the Acratech open designs very interesting, but they don't seem to have any better tension control vs my BH-1. As far as finding an ideal interface, I think the Sunwayfoto XB-52 may be perfectly laid out for how I'd like to work with a ballhead. The RRS BH-55 is obviously outstanding, but I don't like the control layout.

There is one thing that bugs me about the screw clamp (and almost none of the other ballheads would cure it). It is a result of using square body plates because I like having the knob to the left as I look through the camera. Given the main control knob location relative to the drop notch, it is natural for me to want to use the drop notch to my left. But I can't go that way, because the screw knob hits the base and side of the ballhead. I then say "argh" and rotate the ballhead 180 to put the notch on the right and get my shots. I do it fairly often. I don't feel this is a strike against the BH-1 because I'd have the same problem with most other heads.

I could cure that in one of several ways. I really don't want to add the bulk of an L-bracket, though it is one option. I have thought about putting a longer stud and shim on the ball so the clamp won't hit the base or sides. I have thought about a lever clamp. I've thought about modifying my screw clamp with a shorter post, and using it with the knob facing back at me (being short, it should not poke me). I've thought about a panning clamp that should put the knobs out from the side of the ballhead. While I was making such a change, I have also thought about getting a Z1 (maybe with a RRS lever clamp). And there is one ballhead design that would eliminate the problem: The Sunwayfoto XB-52. With two drop notches, one forward and one to the right, I'd just tip the head to the right. But I like the Kirk and can't see spending another $400+ to "fix" what really comes down to my own quirk. I think I'm most likely to do a DIY project to shorten the screw knob.


- John

  
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sawsedge
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Sep 27, 2013 16:50 |  #8

I thought about how I was using the ballhead and clamp more, and decided to go with the L-bracket option. So now the orientation of the drop notch is almost a non-issue (I still drop it forward for some macros). Because I sometimes point straight down, the knob has to point back towards me. So now I'm considering my options for a knob that won't stick out very far vs a lever clamp. I would not mind a faster option as well, since it takes 4 complete revolutions of the screw to release the plate from the top of the clamp. As far as I know, only a lever satisfies both desires, but I'll feel more secure with a screw knob.


- John

  
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S_Egbert
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Sep 28, 2013 01:46 |  #9

sawsedge wrote in post #16329960 (external link)
I thought about how I was using the ballhead and clamp more, and decided to go with the L-bracket option. So now the orientation of the drop notch is almost a non-issue (I still drop it forward for some macros). Because I sometimes point straight down, the knob has to point back towards me. So now I'm considering my options for a knob that won't stick out very far vs a lever clamp. I would not mind a faster option as well, since it takes 4 complete revolutions of the screw to release the plate from the top of the clamp. As far as I know, only a lever satisfies both desires, but I'll feel more secure with a screw knob.

You might check with Kirk for a replacement screw clamp. The newer models are one turn for full release.


Steve

  
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sawsedge
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Sep 29, 2013 07:12 |  #10

Thanks Steve. I just wrote to Kirk to ask if they can make a fast clamp with a shorter knob.


- John

  
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sawsedge
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Dec 11, 2013 10:01 |  #11

A follow-up on the new Kirk screw knob.

I tried the new Kirk fast screw knob. It's faster than the older knob style; that part is nice. It seems to have enough bite to lock solid with my gear, which is also nice, but I don't quite feel the same level of confidence I do with the older slower knobs. That is likely just me. I wish the knob had larger knurls to make it easier to grip, like my old one. It seems that most of the latest screw knobs are more rounded. They work fine, but I still prefer the old grip. I was all set to just live with it, until I noticed another issue.

When I tighten the knob, the jaws push the plate up on the knob side, shifting the plate out of level with respect to the clamp. I'd read about this somewhere and didn't understand what the reviewer was saying, and dismissed it. But now I get it. This makes the level on the clamp 100% useless. I considered it a too big a flaw to let it slide, and returned the clamp.


- John

  
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S_Egbert
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Dec 12, 2013 00:18 |  #12

sawsedge wrote in post #16518741 (external link)
A follow-up on the new Kirk screw knob.

I tried the new Kirk fast screw knob. It's faster than the older knob style; that part is nice. It seems to have enough bite to lock solid with my gear, which is also nice, but I don't quite feel the same level of confidence I do with the older slower knobs. That is likely just me. I wish the knob had larger knurls to make it easier to grip, like my old one. It seems that most of the latest screw knobs are more rounded. They work fine, but I still prefer the old grip. I was all set to just live with it, until I noticed another issue.

When I tighten the knob, the jaws push the plate up on the knob side, shifting the plate out of level with respect to the clamp. I'd read about this somewhere and didn't understand what the reviewer was saying, and dismissed it. But now I get it. This makes the level on the clamp 100% useless. I considered it a too big a flaw to let it slide, and returned the clamp.

I never use the level on the clamp. I use the in camera level on my 7D or use a hot shoe level on my old 30D. That little level on the clamp just seems too tiny and fussy to mess with, especially if it is anywhere near eye level, then you are on your toes trying to adjust things. This is not just with Kirk mind you, any of those little bulls eye levels on clamps or tripods just seem to not be that easy to use accurately.


Steve

  
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maneckezaog
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Dec 12, 2013 01:11 |  #13

I've thought about a panning clamp that should put the knobs out from the side of the ballhead.

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sawsedge
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Dec 12, 2013 07:25 |  #14

S_Egbert wrote in post #16520842 (external link)
I never use the level on the clamp. I use the in camera level on my 7D or use a hot shoe level on my old 30D. That little level on the clamp just seems too tiny and fussy to mess with, especially if it is anywhere near eye level, then you are on your toes trying to adjust things. This is not just with Kirk mind you, any of those little bulls eye levels on clamps or tripods just seem to not be that easy to use accurately.

True, good points.

However, I've never heard of any other clamp pushing the plate like that, and it can't be deliberate or they would not bother with the level. Even if it really doesn't impact the security of the camera, it bothered me.


- John

  
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sawsedge
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Dec 12, 2013 07:27 |  #15

maneckezaog wrote in post #16520937 (external link)
I've thought about a panning clamp that should put the knobs out from the side of the ballhead.
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I've thought about that as well.


- John

  
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