Arca-Swiss B1 Ballhead Review
I've purchased a lot of photography equipment over the years. Cameras, lenses, flashes, bags, film, memory cards, cleaning cloths, and the list goes on and on. I've also purchased a few tripods and ballheads. Back in the middle of 2000, I bought an Arca-Swiss B1 ballhead, and it's the only one I've used since. Well worth the money!
I had used a few different heads before purchasing the B1 and was generally dissatisfied with all of them. For one reason or another, they all failed somewhere. I eventually started giving consideration to all the recommendations for the B1 and read Thom Hogan's Serious Support. I was well on my way to following the path he laid out and spending $1700 on lots of wrong equipment and eventually the right stuff. So, I broke down and bought it.
That was a fantastic decision and I still consider it the best piece of photographic equipment I've ever purchased. A few months after owning the B1 I wrote a review of it on Photography Review:
At $400, the Arca-Swiss B1 is nearly 8x more expensive than Bogen's 3055. Not to mention any QR plates you might need. (I spent ~$120 on two custom-fit plates from http://www.kirkphoto.com/.) That's about $520 for a ballhead and QR plates. Is it really worth that much more?
Yes. A resounding yes. Without a doubt. I would not have thought that the B1 could be that much better, but it is. I'm sure you don't believe me, but it is that much better. Incidentally, I use my tripod for probably 90% of my photos.
"Friction control" and "progressive resistance" are major benefits. The knob to lock/unlock the ballhead controls the ball's friction/tension. It is numbered from 0-12. 0 is no tension, so the head just flops around. 5 is tight, but can be moved. 12 totally locks the head. So you can unlock the head to, say, 7. The head will still be tight enough that it won't move at all, but loose enough that I can move it if I want. Progressive resistance keeps the head from letting your lens flop over. As the lens points to the ground, it encounters increased resistance.
Arca-Swiss's QR plate should be avoided. It's a one-size-fits all variety, and since you can have a custom-fit plate for roughly the same cost... well, you might as well get the custom-fit QR plate. Plates are made by Kirk Photo (http://www.kirkphoto.com/) and Really Right Stuff (http://www.reallyrightstuff.com/)
Both RRS and Kirk can explain the benefits of the Arca-Swiss system better than I, but here's my short summary: The custom QR plates have little bumps and ledges that correspond to the camera body/lens shape so that when it's attached it can't move. There's no cork or rubber between the plate and camera. (It's not needed--the QR plate fits that tight.) On the Bogen system (and most others) it's a one-plate-fits-all deal with cork or rubber. The way it stays in place is that you tighten it as much as you can so the force keeps it from moving. I can tell you from experience the cork/lots-of-force idea doesn't work well. As well, the Arca-Swiss style QR plates are so small that you hardly notice them, unlike the monstrous Bogen QR hex plate. The QR system isn't as fast as Bogen's hex plate system. With the Bogen, you just set the plate in place and press down. Then "snap," things lock into place. The Arca-Swiss QR system requires you to put the plate in place then you screw the clamp tight. The knob to screw the clamp in place is quite big (3/4"?) so it's easy to do, but it isn't as fast. I don't think that matters much.
- Super-smooth ball and pan adjustments
- Knobs are easy to grab and adjust easily
- Head doesn't move when locking-down
- QR system is great
- Thumbscrew can be loosened/tightened accidentally
- Doesn't come with QR plates
I still agree with what I wrote and am still happy with the B1. I've had several different QR plates for different cameras and lenses, so the investment in the system has increased, but it's been well worth it. A gripe, that the QR screw is slow, has been remedied with a lever system, which also has a level built-in!