SoCal PhotoExchange

Really Right Stuff ball-head system – User report

Posted in Photo techniques, Photography by douglaspstockdale on February 1, 2018

08-05-16_Hasselblad_150_Sonnar_2x_21mm_tubes

Really Right Stuff BH-40 and mounting plate with Hasselblad 2017 copyright Douglas Stockale

The review of the Really Right Stuff (RRS) ball-head system is the second part of my series on tripod systems and last week I discussed the Gitzo carbon-fiber tripods. To create a really good camera support platform, you need to use equal parts tripod and the means to hold and position the camera system. While the tripod provides the basic support I have found that a well design tripod head can make the photographic experience a lot of fun or if not well designed it can be a lot of frustration. Having used a both a ball-head and a pan-head, I do really, really do prefer the ball-head system for the following reasons.

First, I will admit that the pan-head systems have come a long way since I purchased my all-in-one tripod that included a pan-head camera mount. From my discussions with other photographers the pan-head seems better suited for those who need precision and are not in any big hurry, such as architectural field work. Essentially you have three levers to control changes; for the vertical, horizontal and tilt. I just found it frustrating to use a pan-head as a change to one of the three levers usually entailed adjusting the other two, which is why you better not be under a time constraint.

Since my field work is usually more dynamic and after frequent struggling with a pan-head I made the change to a ball-head support system and I am glad I did. I can vouch for all of the comments that I read about the Magnum photographers almost elusively using a ball-heads as I now realize that a ball-head makes a ton of sense. Set up is fast. And faster still if the ball-head is smooth as silk in operation.

After a lot of checking and reading reviews I concluded that the camera support system made by Really Right Stuff (RRS) was my choice, although a bit more pricey, these are made by a US machine shop which is run by photographers. They have created a really nice market niche and in my book have shown that they can create one of the best ball-heads in the market that is made in the US. Lots and lots of precise metal machining going on.

I acquired the middle of the line PH-40 which is predicated on the weight of the camera system, with the BH-55 meant for the really heavy cameras, e.g. a load view camera or DSLRs with some really long lens. RRS also has some lighter and more compact ball-heads as well. At the time I bought this ball-head I still had my Mamyia RB-67 with the prism, which is a heavy beast (since changed to the Hasselblad system) and a bunch of digital cameras including a full-frame DSLR.

The ball-head weight issue for long lens (my longest zoom is the Canon 70-200 mm f/4 L lens) is with all of that heavy glass hanging out at the end of the lens acts like a big gravity lever that can result in ball-head creep. This occurs once you lock the ball-head down for your composition (or a pan-head), there might be a tiny bit of moment in the camera/lens due to the amount of static weight being placed on it. Even with the relatively light 70-200 on my Canon, I still recheck the composition before committing to the exposure.

Although the ball head comes with a threaded screw, what makes this system work even slicker is when you pair a ball-head up with a quick release system. This also requires a matching mounting plate dedicated to the camera base. In my case I opted for a lever quick release base mounted to the ball-head and I have not had any issues with snagging this lever and inadvertently having the camera come off. The design of the lever does require some force to engage it, thus it does take some effort to open and close so a slight brush with your clothes is not going to allow a catastrophe to occur. For a square format camera like the Hasselblad a simple bottom quick-release plate will suffice, see above.

For a DSLR with a rectangle format, I would recommend acquiring an L bracket (see below) that once the camera is locked down for the composition, the camera body can be quickly changed to for an alternative framing. Although an L bracket does add a bit more weight to potentially an already heavy camera such as the Canon 5DMk3, I have found that the L bracket weight actually seems to act as a counter balance to the battery and hand hold aspects of most digital camera systems. The camera as a whole now seems more balanced and for hand holding situations, the horizontal framing process seems quicker now. Maybe it’s just me, but I get similar comments from other photographers when they pick up my rig.

I will be honest; the majority of my work is with horizontal framing, but when I wanted a quick vertical framing after the camera was set-up, it was lightening fast to change the body and quickly get the exposure. When you are working with a fluid situation, the amount of time to make a camera change can also make the difference in getting the alternative shot.

My one gripe; the quick release plate does include a leveling bubble, but this bubble is concealed when the camera is on the ball-head. If for an architectural composition in which the horizon and verticals need to be in alignment this would require removing the camera body and checking the bubble or setting up the tripod and get the bubble right before mounting the camera body. My work around for speed? I purchased an inexpensive bubble that slides into the flash bracket of my DSLR (regretfully not shown below).

All in all I have now used the RRS BH-40 for over five years through the US, Europe and Asia. It easily dismounts from the tripod to reduce size for travel and is an absolute delight to use; very, very smooth operation. It is really great that when you are engaged with a subject that you don’t find yourself worrying about your support equipment and it essentially becomes an extension of your creative imagination.

It’s also my option that Really Right Stuff is the top of the line for ball-heads systems. Not the most inexpensive system, but you only need to buy it once and you should consider this a valuable investment in obtaining great photographs.

Cheers!

RRS BH-40 ball-head with Canon 5DMark3

Gitzo compact carbon fiber tripod: user report

Posted in Camera equipment, Photo techniques, Photography by douglaspstockdale on January 24, 2018

12-26-17_Camera_set-up_104342_Tijeras_Creek_Trail_RSM

Gitzo G1228 Mountaineer Reporter Carbon Fiber Tripod, copyright Douglas Stockdale

A number of years ago when I bent and broke for the last time my aluminum tubing heavy duty tripod, I decided to make an investment in a carbon fiber tripod. One of my many reasons for selecting the Gitzo G1228 as the tripod’s name implies it that it’s meant for backpacking and mountaineering; rugged and light weight. The carbon fiber materials were very much lighter than the beast that I had before and every bit as rigid and has held up very well over time which is the reason for this user report. By the way the current Gitzo model is the G1228 MK2.

My intent was to use if for my DSLR and medium format cameras with light to moderate weight lens. I understand from others that this tripod can probably handle a light weigh 4×5″ camera as well. I was also intending to travel with it on airline flights and when the ball head is removed, the tripod collapses and measures 20 1/2″ which is ideal for stuffing in an overhead bag that fits in the overhead bin. I have since carried this tripod with me on assignments all over the US, as well as to Europe and Asia. No issues.

The downside to this compact travel size tripod is that when the four section legs are fully extended as well as the column fully extended my camera is almost the right height for eye level viewing. The less you can extend the tripod legs usually the greater its stability, which is the whole reason for its use. So when I using this tripod with my camera rig, such as in both the photos, I try not to extend the column if the composition appears to work. I have also found that when the three legs are held together, the tripod can double as a monopod and provides just enough added stability when working with an active situation (perhaps looks a bit weird, but it works).

The legs are secured or extended after a quick twist of the heavy duty locking rings and I prefer this over the flip-tap type leg systems. It seems that the flip-tabs keep getting snagged (not great for packing with clothes) and are always in the wrong place. The leg sections always seem to extend quickly and smoothly.

Since I am a big fan of ball-heads to attach the camera to the tripod, having the option of a plate to attach the head design of your preference was a nice feature. This also allows a more compact size for travel when I remove the ball head.

The Gitzo is very stream line and robust and has done by me very well for the past five years.There was a hook that threaded on the bottom of the column, but I seemed to have lost that a while ago. If you can keep track of your hook, that is idea place to attach a bag or some other object to provide additional stability for the tripod, such as on a breezy day.

With a lot of my travel assignments now by car/SUV, I am considering a longer tripod. I would prefer that I do not need to extend the smallest legs and still have my cameras at eye level. I would also buy another Gitzo again when I am back in the market for another tripod; little pricey, but worth it.

Cheers!

01-23-18_Gitzo_Tripod_with_Hasselblad_095737_SCPX