SOMETIMES, IT’S WHAT’S UNDER THE CAMERA THAT COUNTS: A Review of the Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head w/ B2 Pro II Clamp

BH55 AS II Clamp

When novice photographers and weekend warriors become obsessed with gear, they naturally tend to spend most of their attention (and money) on lenses, lighting kits, or other accessories that aid the camera in taking the picture. Even the most sophisticated gadgets and gizmos, though, can’t compensate for a jiggled shot or cockeyed frame.

Shooting for ROBO3D Printer
Shooting for ROBO 3D printer’s posters and campaign ads. We will be shooting a lifestyle version as well.

A tripod with a good ball head can thus be essential to ensuring quality images. Moreover, a sturdy tripod ensures the survival of the camera itself. By securing my camera on a tripod and ball head while on set, I can avoid having to place my camera on a table with a firewire cord connected to it. The latter arrangement has always made me nervous, because if someone trips on the firewire cable, my camera will go flying across the room.

For several years now, I’ve used a Vanguard Auctus Plus 323CT carbon-fiber tripod with a BBH-300 Series ball head. The Auctus is a fine tripod about which I plan to write more in a future blog post. But the BBH-300 ball head has disappointed me. I appreciate its Arca-Swiss compatible design that makes it easy to move my camera from one head or tripod to another without having to switch plates. Yet the Vanguard ball head constantly frustrates me, for even when I crank down the locking ball lever, I still get a little “camera creep.” I generally use a very heavy camera–it’s about 5 pounds without the V-grip–and over the course of a shoot, the BBH-300 ball head allows the camera to slide down a little. That shouldn’t happen with a company’s top-of-the-line ball head.

Enter the Really Right Stuff BH-55 ball head with the B2 Pro II Clamp. While the Really Right Stuff ball head is considerably more expensive than Vanguard’s BBH-300 Series, the difference in performance makes it worth the extra investment: For a combination of reliable stability and superlative build quality, the BH-55 is in a class of its own. Light but mighty, the ball head unit weighs only 1.8 pounds, but can safely handle a load capacity up to 50 pounds, giving you both portability and dependability. The large main locking knob employs stainless steel ball bearings, guaranteeing smooth adjustments and protecting against long-term wear-and-tear. All of these advantages, and absolutely no “camera creep”!

RRS BBH-55 w/ B2 AS II Clamp

My one caveat is about the Arca-Swiss “standard.” When I originally purchased the BH-55, I ordered it with the B2 AS II clamp shown above. It’s a single-locking clamp that is not adjustable. The V-grip for my 645DF+ camera came with an Arca-Swiss compatible L-plate, but the B2 AS II clamp would not lock tightly enough on the plate. With only a minor application of force, my camera and L-plate could slide off the ball head. However, when I tried a Kirk Arca-Swiss plate on my camera, the B2 AS II clamp became perfectly tight when I locked the lever.

Evidently, the Arca-Swiss “standard” comes in more than one size, a fact of which the unsuspecting photographer should be aware. Arca-Swiss plates are supposed to have a standard measurement of 38mm across and a 45 degree dovetail. As I’ve learned the hard way, however, even though similar plates may all say “Arca-Swiss,” slight variations between vendors do create some incompatibilities. Deviations in width, depth, and angle can all be an issue. When deciding on an Arca-Swiss lever-style locking mechanism for your ball head, you should probably use a plate from the same manufacturer.

When I first encountered the apparent inconsistency of the B2 AS II clamp, I contacted a Really Right Stuff customer service representative, who stated that all of Really Right Stuff’s locking mechanisms are set to a true Arca-Swiss standard and that they are not adjustable. He said that the company has tried a number of Arca-Swiss plates from Acratech, FEISOL, Giotto’s, Kirk Photo, and Wimberley and found that all the plates are compatible. The service rep was so taken back by my report of the problem that he asked me to send him a video demonstrating the issue. It seems that the Danish manufacturer of my Phase One 645DF+ got its Arca-Swiss plate wrong. It might be a harsh thing to say, but I suspect that the Phase One’s L-plates are manufactured somewhere other than Denmark. :-)

So how can I secure my 645DF+ to the BH-55 ball head and take advantage of Really Right Stuff’s superior workmanship and reliability? I ultimately exchanged the B2 AS II clamp for the B2 Pro II twist lock clamp. The twist lock allowed me to tighten the clamp on my plate a little more than the lever on the B2 AS II. The B2 Pro II clamp is a great clamp with a strong hold. The twist lock is long and easy to adjust even when torqued to its tightest tolerances.

B2 Pro II Clamp

I’m more comfortable with the twist lock versus than the clamp lever in other ways as well. Since I do recreational landscape photography, I sometimes carry my tripod on my shoulder with the camera attached.

Me at the Vally of Fire in Las Vegas, NV
Image taken of me at the Vally of Fire National Park in Las Vegas, NV

The B2 AS II clamp lever could snag and pull open on a backpack strap, causing my camera to crash to the ground. That would be a painful sight. For both its greater security and its flexibility in adapting to minor irregularities in Arca-Swiss plates, I recommend getting the Really Right Stuff BH-55 with the B2 Pro II twist lock clamp. It will give you the confidence of knowing your camera is safely secured and steady as a rock when you need it most.

One Response to SOMETIMES, IT’S WHAT’S UNDER THE CAMERA THAT COUNTS: A Review of the Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head w/ B2 Pro II Clamp

  1. Steve W says:

    I ordered the BH-55 ball head with the lever-locking clamp and noticed that a genuine Arca-Swiss plate I got from Amazon ($53) fit OK, but didn’t seem to quite lock down with the same authority as my RRS plate for my Canon 7DII with battery grip. It held just fine and I wasn’t worried about it, but I ordered the twist-lock ball head plate from RRS anyway and I’m using that. I feel a little better.

    EXCELLENT Ball head, by the way…

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