Nathan Griffin Photographs

really right stuff (rrs) bh-40 ballhead review

Image of Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ballhead

I was lucky enough to receive a ballhead as a gift to put on my new Gitzo G2220 tripod earlier this spring. It was a heated and tough decision between the Really Right Stuff BH-40 and the Markins M10. Also in the mix was the possibility of upgrading to the RRS BH-55. It went back and fourth between weight, carrying capacity, clamp, appearance, finish, and on and on. I finally decided to get the RRS BH-40.

Everything about getting a ballhead seems to push you up to a higher price bracket. It started with the cheapest option (and not very cheap at that); the Markins M10. I had heard great things from online reviews about the Markins M10. The strong point for this unit is the high load capacity (rated at 88 lbs) and smooth tension operation. I have never used a Markins M10 so I can't vouch for the feel or operation. I can't vouch for the capacity either. The load capacity for the Markins is the highest I have ever seen for a ball head. I am not going to say it can't hold 88 lbs, but the issue of how manufacturers come up with their load capacities is interesting. There is no set standard as to how these numbers are derived; at least the Markin's website offers a short video showing their testing setup. Unfortunately, other manufacturers don't offer this kind of explanation, so comparisons are difficult. The weak point for the Markins was the clamp - it comes with an arca swiss type clamp with a screw knob. I really had my heart set on getting a lever release clamp from RRS. This would mean buying the M10 head at $340 US and adding the RRS B2 LR II lever release clamp at $120 US for a total of $460. This combination is a tough sell as it is more expensive than the RRS BH-40 and even the BH-55.

RRS BH-40 Ballhead - shown with the optional B2 AS II lever release clamp in the fully open position. In this position, the Arca-Swiss type plate can be removed from the top of the clamp.
RRS BH-40 ball head

This reasoning helped me narrow the search down to either the BH-40 or BH-55. The load capacity of the BH-40 is rated at 18 lbs while the BH-55 is rated at 50 lbs. Advantage BH-55. The BH-40 is lighter by over 3/4 of a lb. Big advantage to the BH-40 as my setup of aluminum Gitzo G2220 is already on the heavy side. The load capacity issue went away because I sat down and added up the weight of my dream setup (Canon 5d and 70-200mm f2.8) and the weight came well below the 18 lb. capacity of the BH-40. So, I decided to save a few bucks (and 3/4 lb. of weight to carry around) and go with the smaller ballhead.

The only other decision I had to make was on the clamp. The clamp that comes with the BH-40 when you go with the lever option is one that is specially made for this ballhead. It is slightly narrower than the standard that comes with the BH-55. Much to my dismay, it does not come with a bubble level. Sneaky marketing on their part. The increase in cost to have my BH-40 shipped with the larger B2 AS II release (with bubble level) came to $415 (over the base price of 375 for the smaller release and no level). This is where most people would justify the extra cash to get the larger BH-55 at $455. I had two reasons why I would not go up to the larger unit: First, I was already way above budget and could not squeeze any more money out for the ballhead. Second, I did not want to live with the extra mass. Decision made, finally!

The ballhead came in a plain, white cardboard box with a simple instruction sheet on regular paper. I know it doesn't matter, but for this kind of cash I was hoping for a better presentation. At any rate, the real beauty came when I opened the included neoprene cover and pulled out my new ballhead. Beautiful! The finish on this piece is wonderful - Basically matte gray on the body and blue/gray anodized finish on the ball.

The ballhead has two small knobs on the right. The lower is for locking and unlocking the pan base. This knob always has a considerable resistance to it, even when fully loose. It gives a secure and precise feel, but I would prefer a little more play. Since it always has so much resistance to turn I can't quickly feel how close it is to being in the tighten range. One advantage to this tightness is that even when the knob is fully loose, the pan base still has some smooth resistance against spinning. This is an advantage for me - when I forget to tighten, the camera usually remains stable and does not rotate.

The right side of the BH-40 shows the tension adjustment knob on the top, pan lock knob on bottom.
Image of Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ballhead
The left side of the BH-40 shows the main tension knob.
Image of Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ballhead

The other small knob on the right is the pre-tension knob. This allows you to dial in the minimum tension that the ballhead defaults to when you open the main release knob. It has etched numbers from 1 to 10. I feel no effect in tightening from numbers 1 through 5. Basically, the range that I work in is from 6 to 8.

The ballhead stem rotates into two slots for taking vertical pictures.
Image of Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ballhead
The main locking lever is on the left side. It is very smooth and wonderful to operate. It's length offers good leverage to tighten quickly and easily.

The biggest surprise came in the operation of the pretension and main locking levers. I expected to be able to tighten the pre-tension knob to a level that would allow smooth and small adjustments of the camera position while offering enough resistance to keep the camera from flopping around. I have not been able to achieve that with this setup. Out of the box, when I loosened the tension enough to allow smooth adjustments, there was no resistance and I had to keep a hand on the camera to keep it from flopping. If I added just enough resistance to make the setup more stable, I could no longer make fine adjustments. The biggest problem was a grabby feel of the ball when any resistance is applied with the pre-tension knob.

The operation when fully locked down is perfect! It is rock solid and I would guess it could handle much more weight than its rated 19 lbs. The main locking release is very quick to lock down and the lens does not migrate when I apply the final tightness.

The optional B2 AS II lever release includes a handy bubble level.
Image of Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ballhead
The bottom of the RRS BH-40 is threaded for a standard 3/8" post.
Image of Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ballhead

The operation when fully locked down is perfect! It is rock solid and I would guess it could handle much more weight than its rated 19 lbs. The main locking release is very quick to lock down and the lens does not migrate during or after I tighten.

The lever release that I agonized over is a wonderful invention. It reminds me of the concept behind the quick release on a bicycle wheel, only with a lighter action. The operation is in two parts: the first action is from open to half way (with the lever out 90 degrees). In this position the camera plate will not come out the top but can be slid out the side. Part two takes the lever back to almost 180 degrees from closed. In this position the plate can be removed (and reinstalled) into the top. It is very quick and secure. I have learned to give a quick tug up after I close the clamp to ensure it is solid - a good practice to ensure you never have a spill.

I have had one considerable annoyance with with the larger B2 LR II clamp that I had installed. I usually position the lever away from me with the bubble level towards me (so it can be seen). In this orientation, when the camera is lowered into the drop slot for a vertical shot, the lever on the clamp hits the base plate on my tripod and does not allow the camera to fall fully into the slot. There are three possible solutions to this. The easiest is to rotate the clamp so that the lever is towards me and the bubble level is under the lens. The negative to this is that I can't see the bubble level if it's under the lens, defeating the purpose of having it. It's a pain to rotate the camera for vertical shots. Another solution is to use an L-Plate eliminating the need to use the drop slot. The third solution is to make sure the base of the tripod is smaller in diameter than the base of the ballhead. I did order an optional base plate for the Gitzo G2220 that is smaller, but it still is slightly larger than the base of the head and still hits just a little. If I had known that this headache was going to happen I would have saved the money and gone with the standard B2-40 LR (narrow) lever clamp.

With the optional B2 AS II lever clamp, the wide profile of the clamp can cause the lever to hit some tripod bases and prevent the stem from fully seating in the slot.
Interference of BH-40  lever release with Gitzo G2220 plate

All in all, I am very glad to have the ballhead to use and enjoy. It is rock solid and I think it will serve me for many years. The BH-40 is highly recommended. Even if you get one and decide you don't want it, there is always Ebay! You can easily sell it for near retail if you feel the need to go another direction.

I would also like to add that after almost a year of use, the ball has loosened up a bit and fine adjustments are easier. I think that part of the problem initially was my use of the ballhead for a very light Nikon FE2. Since moving to a heavier camera / lens combination, the control of the tension adjustment knob seems more effective. If you are planning on using your new ballhead with a very light camera, take this into consideration.

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