1. Welcome to NikonCafe.com—a friendly Nikon camera & photography discussion forum!

    If you are thinking of buying a camera or need help with your photos, you will find our forum members full of advice! Click here to join for free!

Arca Swiss Z1 or RRS BH-55? Owners opinions please.

Discussion in 'Other Cool Gear, Camera Bags, Camera Straps' started by Richard Peters, Aug 17, 2009.

  1. Does anyone out there own these two ball heads? I've decided it's time I picked one up. I'd like it to support weights ranging from the D3 with a small lens up to the D3 with my 200-400.

    I see the Arca Swiss is rated at more weight (although I'd never want to load it even close to their top rating) but the RRS looks like it might be easier to operate in cold weather with gloves on due to that large locking knob.

    There are a couple of issues I have read though which may steer me towards the Arca Swiss...one being that the RRS can have a small amount of creep with heavy loads and two, if I read it correctly the RSS requires it's own special plates - is a big no no!

    Oh and also, with the AS, is the pano version any good? I do the odd pano here and there but I can't really see how much use the special pano version is when I can just make sure I havea level base with my Gitzo built in spirit level...?!

    Thoughts appreciated :smile:
  2. I have owned and used both the Arca Swiss Z1 and the BH-55, along with other heads.

    The RRS is indeed a lot easier to use with gloves on, especially the main control knob. Though I will point out that that beautiful knurled metal knob is colder to the touch than the plastic/rubber Arca Swiss control knob.

    I didn't use the RRS with such a big set-up as you mentioned so can't comment on creep once the head is locked.

    However, I will note that in my own tests, the RRS had less composition shift on lockdown than the Z1 did. The Z1 moved the frame up a few dozen pixels more than the RRS did when the head was tightened down.

    Plate compatibility only comes into play if you plan to use the lever clamp with either head. Personally I wouldn't recommend the lever clamp with gear as heavy as you've described, but that's just me. If you use the RRS screw knob clamp, there are NO plate compatibility issues. If you use the RRS lever clamp, most third party plates/brackets will work but there are some that are slightly wider/narrower and you don't get the optimal clamping force in the jaws. Thus if you get the lever clamp you should stick with RRS plates or Wimberley plates, as they recommend (they have no such recommendation for their screw clamp).

    The Z1 lever clamp -- called a flip-lock by Arca Swiss -- has an adjustment capability to work with different width plates. However, it is relatively flimsy compared to the RRS lever clamp, with some major plastic parts. It has a dual-safety catch to prevent the lever from opening, but I find it slows down usage and is very, very difficult to use with gloves on. So if you get the Z1, stick with the knob clamp, or get the RRS lever clamp for it.

    The Z1 is smoother than the BH-55, and the elliptical ball design is somewhat better at prevent gear flop.

    Do you use a Gitzo Systematic tripod? I have a GT3541LS and the silly pan lock lever design on the Z1 interferes with the base plate. So I could not fully unlock the pan lock. The head would pan, albeit stiffly. I worried that wear over time would make it worse.
  3. Thanks for such a great reply! This bit at the end does worry me slightly as I use a GT5541 tripod...hmmm not ideal!
  4. Yikes, so the base plate will definitely interfere.

    I've read comments from two other users who say that the pan lock lever does open enough to let them pan. They describe it as "damped" to "stiff." If the lever could swing freely some more, then it could be unlocked to very freely pan.

    Personally I find this annoying. I could tightly lock the head with the lever not interfering with the base. But I would worry that over time, the pan lock lever would require a different range of motion to either securely lock or to free up the head. That would be a significant problem with a Systematic tripod. If I had kept the Z1, I might just have ground off the end of that lever!

    Here's how the pan lock lever looks. It wasn't quite locked in this position -- it needed to be turned to 2 o'clock:

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    And here's the problem -- this is the furthest I could unlock the pan. The large Systematic base plate gets in the way and you simply can't turn the lever any further:

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Earlier Z1's had a regular round knob. However, unlike the preceding B1, Arca Swiss used a thinner pan base for the Z1, and located the pan lock knob very close to the bottom of the head. That led to complaints that it was very hard to get your fingers in at the pan lock knob, especially if you were wearing gloves. So Arca Swiss replaced the round knob with that lever knob you now see. They probably didn't think of / didn't care that some tripods have a base that is wider than the clearance requierd for the lever.

    The knob is also a bit too close to the main control knob, making glove use more of a pain.
  5. Thanks for the pics, that's a pretty annoying situation...maybe the BH-55 is the one to get after all...!
  6. azarby


    Sep 17, 2006
    Phoenix, Az
    Take a look at the Markins M20,It is very similar to the R55 and Z1, but doesnt have the problem with the lever.

  7. Messiah Khan

    Messiah Khan Guest

    Hello Richard. I can't comment on the Z1, or indeed compare the BH-55 and the Z1. But I do have the BH-55, mounted on my Gitzo 3540XLS. It's a great head. Heavy for its size, but very easy to work and reassuringly accurate. The heaviest setup I've used it with is a D300+Grip, 300mm f2.8+1.4X TC and I didn't see any creep at all. (Can't say I liked using that combo though. Im far to used to a Gimbal now to go back to just a ballhead for long lens work. You might want to consider a sidekick as well, which is what im planning on doing).

    I would say the movement isn't quite as smooth as I had hoped (I think I expected too much) but it is a lot lot better than the Manfrotto kit I have been using up until now. Regarding the plates, as Big Daddy says, the RRS doesn't require its own plates as such. It's just that with the lever release, there is a limited amount of gripping range, so if you used a third party plate which was significantly narrower than the RRS/Wimberley specification, it could slip. Having said that, I bought the lens and L-Plates from RRS at the same time as the head, and they grip rock solid. The great thing about the lever release is the speed at which I can add and remove the kit from the head.

    Im sure that whichever you go for you will be happy with, and I am certainly happy with the BH-55. Eventully I plan on getting on of the smaller RRS head to go on a light weight Gitzo tripod for traveling. If you want to try out the BH-55 and you happen to be 'up north' then please give me a shout and you can give it a go. :smile:
  8. Thanks guys :smile:

    MK, thanks for the offer :smile:
    One of the reasons for getting a ballhead is for when I travel to Florida (or anywhere really) so I have an ok way of supporting the 200-400 with the D3. Of course I will use it for landscape type stuff too but it is mainly for supporting the longer lens. I don't really want a sidekick because once I have added that in I may as well just lug my Wimberley around with me.

    I've just remembered my friend has the old B1 so I'll check that out to get an idea of what the AS is like. I'll more thank likely buy whatever one I decide on next time I'm in the U.S. so it won't be for another 6-8 weeks yet.
  9. One thing to keep in mind when you try your friend's old B1 is that there will be mostly similarities but there will be some differences. E.g. the feel of the elliptical head should be similar. However, the Z1 may feel a bit "skimpier" than the B1 -- I hesitate to use the word "cheaper" but that may apply to a small degree.

    There's some suspicion that Arca Swiss cut corners to make the Z1. The B1 was actually more expensive -- especially if you factor in prices then vs. now. For example, the pan base is thinner, the head is smaller (though lighter). That necessitated decisions like placing the pan lock knob too low, later forcing the lever.

    An old B1 may have its brake "stretched" so that also might make it feel different.

    One other thing worth mentioning -- if you do go with an Arca Swiss clamp, please be aware that their newer ones don't engage the set screws you may have on your plates. Arca Swiss switched to a "double decker" clamp with two pairs of jaws. The lower pair of jaws are for large-format rails. The upper pair of jaws hold the ubiquitous "Arca Swiss" plates.

    So if you have a plate with set screws on it, the screws have nothing to "catch onto." As you likely know, set screws can be useful in case the clamp loosens up and the plate starts sliding across the clamp.
  10. I've been using the Z1 for couple of years now - mounted to 3530 with leveling base. I guess that base is not as wide as Idon't have the same problem Bill does with pan knob - in case you were considering a different tripod base.

    The lever is not ideal, but I have used Giottos, Wimberley and Kirk plates only adjusting the width of the jaws once. I may and you may swap out the AS clamp for after market like a Kirk or Wimberley screw type.

    Before I bought a gimbal, I used a 500P on this head and sometimes a TC too on my d300 with grip. The head was rock steady. The lens plate for the 500 is a big Wimbereley P 50 and I use the set screws for protection. The jaws of the A/S are not double decker and hold the plate securely and I have tested sliding the Wimbereley plate security screws with success.

    YMMV, good luck.
  11. Thank you all for the great replies, much appreciated!

    On another forum a member has shown me a picture of his Z1 with a revised pan lever, which only moves between 9 and 12 o clock to lock and unlock it - so it does not go down as low as the one pictured above.

    I wish I could see both of them 'in the flesh' as it were!
  12. Interesting! So it's fully locked at the 12 o'clock position, and fully loose at the 9 o'clock? And he can't turn it to 8 o'clock?

    I would want at least a second confirmation from another user, or better yet, input from an Arca Swiss distributor. Just in case his head just doesn't have a lot of "play" in the pan lock brake.

    Unfortunately, AFAIK, Arca Swiss itself does not respond to queries. At least here in the U.S, they rely on Precision Camera Works. I find it amazing that Arca Swiss does not even have a web site.
  13. ok, you guys are killing me here....i just tested and confirmed. The Z1 is locked at 12 oclock. Turning the panning knob counter clockwise releases the base at about 9pm. You can rotate the knob further where it will interfere with the base but it will not loosen the base any further. Its a quick little twist then reverse to lock it tight.

    I didn't think A/S would design their product in a way to make in un-usable on most tripods.
  14. Very weird. Interesting, but weird. Thanks for sharing.

    Yet the Z1 I bought early this year did NOT fully unlock at 9pm. It was not unlocked fully at 7pm, after which it'd run into the Systematic base plate. It was fully locked at 1pm to 2pm.

    There are other reports of similar behavior -- a gentleman from DPR said his was the same, and a review on B&H indicates that much.

    What's interesting is that you mentioned you bought your head a couple of years ago. That then brings up the interesting question -- is it a design change, or sample variation?

    For the OP, all I can say is make sure you buy the head from a place with a strong return policy!
  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.