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A survey of the current heavy-duty ball heads (1 Viewer)


New member
United States
Hi all, I set out recently to find the smoothest heavy-duty ball heads on the market, so I thought my findings would be beneficial to some. I have used the old RRS BH-55, Markins Q20, Arca P0, Acratech GP and Ultimate, and various Chinese knock-offs of the RRS. This is mainly a survey of various reviews on these ball heads and my own opinion from using the other heads. I did not like the BH-55 ergonomics so I settled with the Markins a long while back. I focused on smoothness cause load bearing in this class would not be the main issue. Ball motion smoothness is always a thing for ball heads of all sizes (bigger tends to be smoothers). If I missed any other competitive contender, please let me know :D.

1. BH-55 SCR: has some improvements in the latest iteration. The friction knob is no longer similar to the panning knob. The new R-mount is a well-thought-out design. The $600 price tag for the new design is not too bad next to some of the Arca Swiss stuff I want to get as well, but it is about the most expensive ball head in this group.

2. PMG BH-1 and BH-50: BH-1 being around 100 grams heavier than the BH-55 is quite a sight to look at. A few reviews I came across noted the "not-super-smooth" nature of this flexible design. BH-50 is a conventional ball head that is about 100 grams lighter than the BH-55. The skinny neck is a puzzling decision, and I imagine that it would affect the stability somewhat. This is a tweener option between the BH-55 and BH-40, IMO. Smoothness is not a highlight in any of the reviews.

3. Arca Z1+: This is a great and safe alternative. But the button size friction adjustment does not look to be as intuitive/easy to adjust out in the field with different loads, IMO. I would prefer a separate adjustment knob/lever for the friction adjustment. With that said, this would be my backup choice if my other top contenders (Novoflex and FLM) did not match my expectation. I skipped the P1 cause of the low stiffness score on TCC and I don't think it would be smoother than the Z1+.

4. Gitzo GH4383: What a great-looking ball head to me! Heavy ball head, almost 100 grams heavier than the BH-55. Hardly any good reviews from English-speaking users. The good reviews were from Japan, especially with the special edition of this head (matte black vs. mottled) with only 100 of them made. Gitzo switched from Tungsten Disulfide coating to PTFE coating for smoother ball action on this edition. From the reviews, the panning action is extremely smooth. The main tension knob requires only a short turn to tight lock (though one guy had his knob fall off). The main downside is that the friction knob is very light (easily moved) with no definitive stop. The Gitzo clamp is not my favorite either and it looks like I can't exchange it for another. Gitzo heads have low stiffness scores in general on TCC.

5. Acratech: I had the GP and Ultimate before. Not the smoothest. They're nice to look at but I ultimately sold them.

6. Novoflex ClassicBall: IMO, this is truly the BH-55 alternative. Thanks to Mr. Mark Banas's DPreview test and his conclusion "Smoothest ball motion in the group", I took a look into these German-made ball heads. They do not look that great (probably why I forgot about them), but the overall design ticks a lot of boxes for me. The detent friction ring is straightforward without fiddling with the ball tension lever. The low profile tension lever largely serves as an on-off switch and thus with short travel (I hate the endless turning to lock the ball). The listed extremely low load capacity can be a turnoff but I think Novoflex shows the max weight its marked friction ring can handle (it can be adjusted but I haven't looked into that yet). A review pointed out that his Classicball 5 can handle a 500/4 with ease. The few small unintuitive aspects of the design are minor to me: the pan lock on the static section, no provided clamp, no stop notch for clamps, etc. I'm thinking of buying all 3 in the series down the line (at the very least one if the FLM performs better than I hope).

7. FLM new GX series: extremely lightweight for the ball size. A straightforward friction adjustment from the photos. Given the reputation and quality, I decided to buy the GX55 to try out this new design concept. I imagine it would be worse than the BH-55 in terms of load bearing, but would offer some other advantages (weight-wise about half of the BH-55). They also have the GX70 that I think can compete well with the BH-55, if not better.

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