Bob Atkins Photography

Arca Swiss B1 Ballhead

The Arca Swiss B1 ballhead is pretty much the standard by which other ball heads are judged, so you frequently see questions like "Is the XYZ ball head as good as the B1?". Usually the answer is no.

What makes it good and what makes it less than perfect? 

The good points are superb swiss craftsmanship in construction. Everything works smoothly. The ball isn't spherical so that as you tip the lens more and more from the horizontal, the resistance increases. This can prevent what's known as "ball head flop" which is what happens with a large lens on a ballhead when the center of gravity shifts as you tilt the lens to the point where gravity takes over and the lens flops over and hits the tripod. The B1 can pretty much handle any normal lens up to about a 600/4, yet it weighs under 2lbs. It's fairly expensive and the quick release plates aren't cheap either, so if you have a lot of lenses and camera bodies and you want a QR plate on each you can run up quite a bill.

On the subject of QR plates for the Arca Swiss, the best ones are made by Kirk Enterprises and Really Right Stuff. They makes plates specifically designed to fit many popular camera bodes and lenses.

What's wrong with the B1? Well a couple of things CAN go wrong. First it's a precision device with fairly small tollerences, so if you drop it from a height onto a rock there's a chance you'll distort it enough so that the movements "stick". The second problem is the dreaded "ball lock" which some people fear and others (like me) have yet to have happen. It occurs when the set screw on the locking mechanism tightens itself due to vibration when the tripod is being transported with the ball in the fully locked position. You can't move the ball and you can't back the set screw out. What you have to do is to attempt to further tighten the tension knob which with luck will unlock the set screw, allowing you to back it out and release the ball. As I say, some people have had this problem, others never see it. If you transport the head with the ball unlocked, it should never happen!

Conclusion: I've tried quite a few ball heads and the B1 is the best so far. The only thing I don't much like about it is the cost but that's something there's not much you can do about. The similar alternatives (see below) may be slightly cheaper, but not by enough to really make much of a difference in the decision as to what to purchase.

Alternatives: A number of people seem to like the ball heads made by Kirk enterprises (BH-1). They are very similar in design but use a spherical ball so you don't get the benefit of progressive tension increase as the load is tipped. They are slightly cheaper than the Arca Swiss and accept the same QR plates. There's also a Kirk ball head of similar design which is smaller than the B1, so if you don't have any heavy lenses you can save some weight and money by going that route.

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