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Ball head - Markins, RRS or ???

Discussion in 'Tripods, Ball Heads, and Gimbals' started by Butlerkid, Jul 22, 2008.

  1. Butlerkid

    Butlerkid Cafe Ambassador Moderator

    Apr 8, 2008
    Rutledge, Tennessee
    I'm looking for a new ball head. I'm currently using the ArcaSwiss B1. A Nat Geo pro I know went with RRS BH-55 and loves it.

    I doubt I'll have any bigger lenses than what I have now. At most I would consider a 200-400 or 300/4 if a wildlife trip found it's way into my future. And that's not likely for a year or so!

    I'm using the Gitzo G1228/2540 tripod. I use RRS camera and lens plates for my various gear. Even though I do a lot of hiking and travel photography, I faithfully carry my tripod around with me! :eek: 

    I'm considering the RRS BH-40. It's a little lighter than the BH-55 but I think it will be more than adequate for the gear I have.

    Can anyone comment on the Markins vs the RRS? Markins seem to have the thumb screw for the tension and I always struggled with it on the AcraSwiss.

    Has anyone seen the new Gitzo ball heads? They seem to have an very interesting leveling system above the ball. don't say if they are compatible with ArcaSwiss plates...

  2. TheCommons


    Jul 2, 2008
    LA, CA ;)
    I use a markins M20 with a RRS clamp. Great combo.

    I had the BH40 before the M20, RRS striked me as having more features, but i love the locking mechanism on the M20 alot more than the clamp type lock on the BH40, plus the BH40 will be too small for certain Gitzos.


    The clamp hit the side of the tripod
  3. I'm very happy with my Markins M10. Heaviest lenses I have are the 70-200VR and 300/4 AF-S with out without a TC and that gives no problems. Tripod is a Velbon Sherpa Pro CF-640 and works for me but is not suited for the 200-400VR.
  4. I haven't had the Markins so can't comment on that. But if you are potentially planning to go into the 200-400mm lens, I'd recommend, within the RRS options, that the BH55 is the better choice over the BH 40. I had both and the 40 works well, but is probably not the best choice for a heavier tripod and lens set up as noted above.

  5. Butlerkid

    Butlerkid Cafe Ambassador Moderator

    Apr 8, 2008
    Rutledge, Tennessee

    Which ball head is this that isn't clearing the tripod?

    The BH40 is recommended by RRS for the tripod I have. Of course, the BH55 would be even better! The only reason I was considering the BH40 over the BH 55 is just weight. (Thought maybe I could offset some of the additional weight of the 24-70!!!:biggrin:) 

    Thanks so much for replying!
  6. Butlerkid

    Butlerkid Cafe Ambassador Moderator

    Apr 8, 2008
    Rutledge, Tennessee
    Thanks for the info. Does the M10 have a tension adjustment? If so, is it easy to use? Do you use the M10 often?
  7. Butlerkid

    Butlerkid Cafe Ambassador Moderator

    Apr 8, 2008
    Rutledge, Tennessee
    Good to know! I've carried the ARcaSwiss for YEARS - guess there's no reason to wimp out now!
  8. I have the RRS 55 and love it---no surprise there, and I know that Markins has its devotes too! The 55 is solid, stable, easy to use and a work of art. Like you I currently shoot nothing bigger than a 200 but would like a 200-400 to be in my future. The 55 can be had with a choice of lever or screw clamps---I have the traditional screw, since I am using Kirk plates.
    I went with the 55 over the 40 because it gave me capacity to spare and I found that it's larger size fit my hands better. Like you I am religious about hauling my tripod (Gitzo 1350) around on my back.
  9. KeithR


    Jun 21, 2008
    What you're seeing is the BH-40. I debated over the 40 or the BH-55 and ended up getting the 50 from someone that wanted to get a smaller head. He went with the 40, then wrote me back that while the 40 "was nice" he missed the 50. After having it for about a month know, I won't part with it.
  10. digitalzed


    May 14, 2006
    N. Cal
    To answer this part of your question, I believe Gitzo's heads are proprietary and are not Arca Swiss compatible.
  11. Butlerkid

    Butlerkid Cafe Ambassador Moderator

    Apr 8, 2008
    Rutledge, Tennessee
    Thanks for the input. I live out in the boonies and just don't have the opportunity to get my hands on a Markins. It would be nice if someone has handled both the RRS and the Markins.

    Thanks for the clarification. Sure wouldn't want something that didn't have adequate clearance!
  12. Leif


    Feb 12, 2006
    The M10 has a tension adjustment, but what it really does is limit how far you can release the locking knob i.e. sets the minimum tension. You loosen the tension knob to the minimum tension you want, then use a finger nail to turn the small 'dial' in the middle of the tension knob as far as it will go. Personally I rarely use it. The locking knob is large, and it is very easy to set the required level of friction.

    The M10 is a well made head, and with few vices. Locking it down hardly changes the ball position, and it locks down easily. The only bad point IMO is the pan knob which is small and made of knurled metal. I have no idea if the BH55 is better in that respect, not having ever used one. I use mine each weekend, and was out with it this evening in a nature reserve with a D200 and 200mm micro lens.

    I added one drop of WD40 to the ball, which made the action smoother, not that it was rough, but as the lock knob was tightened the ball motion tended to go from loose to not so loose to juddery to tight. With the tiny bit of oil it goes from loose to unmovable with a gradual smooth transition.
  13. Hi! I have not tried Markins. I use RRS... for the tripod you have, the BH-40 would be better since the base of the BH-55 will be too big for your tripod. :smile:
  14. I have the M20L Markins and am very pleased.
  15. The BH-40 here is shown on what tripod? It's definitely too small for the tripod it's mounted on.
  16. Butlerkid

    Butlerkid Cafe Ambassador Moderator

    Apr 8, 2008
    Rutledge, Tennessee
    Sounds like you've given it a lot of use! I've had the B-1 for many years and am just ready for a change.

    Is the base of the BH-55 bigger than the B-1? The B-1 fits my tripod just fine.

    Good to know! Thanks!

    Rich: Thanks for jumping in! What do you like about the Markins? Ever had a ball head you didn't like and why?

    The tripod I have is a G1228/G2540. I don't know what is being used here.
  17. Yes, an Acratech. I forget the model name but it has a 45 degree slanted clamp. It was horrid. If weren't perfectly attentive and waiting when I loosened it the camera and lens would flop over scaring the wits out of me. Also with the 45 degree slant it seemed every time I wanted to lower my sightline the top of the angle got in the way. Forget tracking anything. With the D2X and the Sigma 120-300 I could never cinch it down tightly enough.

    I chose the Markens because of the weight limit and build quality and recommendations at Nikonians and here. Nikonians gave them a superb review...of course they sell them. :rolleyes:  As I recall it was the highest rated one at 90#. It has a micro friction adjustment which allows you to move the whole camera-lens kit to one position rather easily and it stays there. However, I think they all have that feature. A small part of my decision was the cost of RRS stuff; to me they're a bit high for what you get.

    I'm very happy with my choice. While I may buy new lenses and bodies I have no intention to replace my Wimberley II, Markins, Manfrotto monopod or my Gitzo 1525.
  18. KeithR


    Jun 21, 2008
    Since you already have RRS plates, you might as well stay with RRS. I checked the difference in weight of the 40 & 55 and they're about a pound apart. I'm a bit biased, but to me that's not a lot. I kind of chuckle when I hear people talk about how heavy this lens or that lens is. I shoot sports and my prime lens weighs about ten pounds w/o the camera. Add the body and a monopod and I'm working with close to 15 lbs. for one camera-and I use at least two. To me the 70-200 is "light". If you have a choice(and at this point you do) I'd get the BH-55. Who knows that somewhere down the road, you'll want and get(damn NAS!) that "bigger" lens, then you'll not have to go through this again. If you do decide to go with RRS, you'll need to decide which clamp you would want to work with. More decisions....
    Oh, and one more thing. As far as RRS goes, there are some buys to be had at Nikonians. That's where I found one, and I think I saw one or two recently. I'm a relatively newbe to this forum, but I have noticed that RRS sometimes can be had here also.
    I don't know about Markins, but I have talked to a couple of sales people here in Minneapolis that wish that they could carry RRS, but that RRS has no plans to change what they are doing.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 22, 2008
  19. Butlerkid

    Butlerkid Cafe Ambassador Moderator

    Apr 8, 2008
    Rutledge, Tennessee
    That Acratech sounds terrible! Glad you got something you really like!

    You're probably right about the 1 lb difference. Like I said I just got the 24-70 and it's a lot heavier than my 24-120 - but a lot better lens also! :smile:

    If you were back packing the Grand Canyon (which I did - down and back up!) I'll bet you would give more consideration to weight! LOL!

    I do a lot of travel photography and hiking, so weight becomes more of a consideration. I'm still trying to convince myself to take the 70-300 to India and leave the 70-200/2.8 at home :eek:  :eek:  :eek: 

    I'll probably end up taking my "best" photo gear and having room for only 1 change of clothes! BTW - I always carry my own gear instead of having the hubby help out! Forces me to be really sure I want to haul all the stuff around for hours on end each day!
  20. I've been debating upgrading my tripod head, and the web is full of opinions and fans of specifics models. What I have gathered from reading way too much stuff and confusing myself, along with some hands-on experience.

    A lot of the difference in the "elite heads" come down to what you're going to use it for, how much you want it to weigh, and your preference for ergonomics.

    RRS BH-55: I'll get to play with one late this week, looking forward to it. I've observed that virtually everyone who owns one loves their's. From everything I've read, people love its looks, build quality, and durability. Smooth after it's broken in. Has a separate tension knob -- some people prefer having a separate one, others are afraid of "knob confusion" and accidentally turning the wrong knob and having their gear flop. Can creep a tiny bit on lock-down. Can be bought with all manner of clamps. It's pretty heavy, though very little more over your B1.

    Markins M10 & M20: A lot of people love either one. The M20's about a half-pound lighter than the BH-55, and more compact overall. Supposedly smoother than the BH-55 (some have commented that it's too smooth). Most comparisons have it creeping less on lock-down than the BH-55 (though lock-down creep is also highly related to one's technique and the gear you have on it). Has the tension control in the main control knob like your B1. Some people prefer the tension knob like that -- less possibility of "knob confusion." Manufacturer's claimed weight rating exceeds the BH-55. But the stock clamp is goofy (the camera covers the bubble level) and many prefer to buy it without the Markins clamp, and add an RRS or Kirk clamp to it. One fairly common complaint is that its pan lock isn't tight enough, or requires over-tightening the pan lock. Some say that it's more than stable enough with finger-tightening.

    Arca Swiss Z1: A lighter, more modern version of the B1. Has the patented Arca Swiss elliptical head so tension is better maintained as the ball moves more off-axis, like your B1. Early complaints about the accessibility of the pan lock addressed by using a lever instead of a knob. Very high manufacturer's claimed load rating (there's no standard for load ratings, however).

    Unfortunately there's been a lot of concern over whether Arca Swiss "cheaped out" on this less-expensive head. The company seems focused on more high-end products. There's a review from someone who claims the internal components are cheaper and his pan base started separating while carrying the head. Wimberley and others have discovered that the clamp stem has this strange extra seam that some fear will come lose. Bummer, because on paper, I was really interested in this one. Now I'm afraid of it and wouldn't go near it.

    Kirk BH-1: I've used this one a good deal, both new and older versions. Very solid, high-quality head. Kind of heavy, similar in weight to the BH-55 and the B-1. Has a separate tension control knob, which some people like, others don't. Kirk fixed earlier complaints about the lack of progressive tension -- the newer design one I used was waaaaay better than an older model. I really like the new-design Kirk clamp (and would consider getting it for the Markins). It has a spirit level and is very well-made -- no exposed springs/pins when the jaw opens, nicely machined. It's a knob clamp -- some prefer a lever for easy and affirmative open/close. But a knob clamp can tighten harder than a lever clamp if you turn it hard enough. Kirk uses a special thread so it actually opens and closes almost as fast as a lever clamp.

    I found that it creeps very slightly on lockdown, though I don't have enough basis for comparison -- creeps less than the Acratech heads. And my test is pretty severe -- 1:1 macro and the actual deviation was very slight. The Kirk is about $100 cheaper than the BH-55 which makes it attractive in the "heavier" head category. It doesn't have the RRS look and "macho appeal," though.

    Acratech Ultimate Ballhead: I bought Rich's and can echo his complaints. I view the Acratechs as being most useful for hikers who can appreciate its under-16 ounce weight and ease of cleaning. No other head I've used is as easy to clean in the field than the AUB, which basically leaves almost the entire head exposed. The newer clamp is nice because it has a "double-speed thread" -- opens and closes very quickly. You can get it with a clamp with a spirit level in it. The lack of tension control does require care. It's also not terribly expensive, especially used models (which are often a bit beat up since many are being used in the rougher stuff). Creeps more on lock-down than the BH-1, though. I don't view the AUB in the same class as the above heads. I think it's a "specialized" head that's very good at its specialty.

    Acratech GV2: I have also used this enough to be familiar with it. Still under a pound, almost (but not quite) as easy to clean in the field as the AUB. But it adds the critical tension control that the AUB lacks. The "G" version of the V2 lets the clamp act as a gimbal head, though I wonder if I'd trust it for big glass. New versions come with a nice clamp with a spirit level built in, and the double-speed thread. I still don't think the Acratech heads are as well-built as the Kirk/Markins/RRS/Arca Swiss. But that's one of the trade-offs for the under one pound weight. It still creeps a bit on lockdown despite manufacturer claims to the contrary. Not a huge amount, but more noticeable than the BH-1. Again, I don't consider this in the same class as the Kirk/Markins/RRS/Arca Swiss heads. But good for hiking in rough stuff.


    I suspect in the end I'll end up with either a Markins M20 with a Kirk clamp, or the RRS BH-55. I'm attracted to the alleged smoothness of the M20 and its 1.25 pound weight (at least with the stock Markins clamp).
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