Is the ( Really Right Stuff) RRS BH 40 ball head worth the money?

RRS BH40 ball headQuick background.  Ball heads are an essential part of the tripod equation if you need to steady your camera for landscape, long exposure or portrait work.  Really Right Stuff (RRS) established a reputation for their ball-heads as the best there is amongst the web-based photography pundits.  They cost a small fortune, and don’t look wildly different from any other competitive heads.  So are they really better?

Well here we get into the ‘audiophile mains cable’ (or power cord) arena.  When I was interested in hifi, I was always amused by the reviews of audiophile power cords, which could cost several hundred pounds, and claimed to deliver mains electricity better to your high-end hifi than a normal cable.  Reviewers would write about the ‘improved sound stage’ and ‘crispness of the high-end’ with these cables.  All b*llocks of course.  No way could you detect any difference by changing the power cable in a hi-fi system, and the lack of blind testing of this or any other component of hi-fi systems showed what hogwash it all was.

The same b*llsh*t applies to much in the photography accessory arena.  Camera sensors and lenses have a standardised set of tests from the likes of DxOlabs and Photozone, that allow true objective comparisions.  Not so in the case of tripods and accessories.  Most reviews are purely subjective, and reviewers are clearly swayed more by marketing than objectivity.  Those that do tests usually conduct them over a few (say 5-10) products, and don’t maintain a database.

But I have discovered an amazing German database of ball head tests from the excellent Traumflieger Fotographics (literally Dreamflyer Photography – go figure).  They have been testing ballheads since 2009 and so far have done 37 at all prices. So what are these tests?

The main requirement for a ball-head is that it can carry a reasonable load, doesn’t droop when a long lens is mounted, is easy and smooth to adjust camera position, and has reasonable damping of camera vibrations. Oh and ideally it needs to be low in weight as it has to be carried around. The Traumflieger chaps have objective, repeatable tests for all of these.  They are located here and are in German.  The easiest way to understand them if you are not a native speaker, is to use Google translate.  I have extracted their summary below – and translated the headings.  if you want to know how the tests were done, it’s in part I of the test report.

And what of the results?  In objective testing, the RRS-BH40 is only an average performer.  It comes 17th out of 37, and does pretty poorly in the droop tests.  It also costs 340 euros and weighs half a kilo.  What is the best ball head in the test?  This is the Tiltall BH07unpromisingly-named Tiltall BH-07, which costs only 99 euros, and destroys the RRS head in almost every category.  It also weighs half as much as the RRS.  You can get them from Amazon UK for £84 including delivery.  I ordered one, and it’s absolutely excellent. The table is useful for evaluating most other expensive and highly regarded makes of ball-head like Arca, Markins and Kirk.  Not surprisingly, these all do fairly poorly in objective tests. An abridged version of the results summary is shown below.  At the end of the table, is a picture of the test results for the RRS BH 40, showing the 8mm of droop (!) when a 4kg load is applied…….

Head Approx price Weight Max weight skew Points
Points droop
Weight /
Tiltall BH-07 99 EUR 284 gr 7.5 KG 90 80 104 76 102 90
FEISOL CB-40D 129 EUR 420 gr about 12 KG 85 85 148 63 69 90
Manfrotto 468 250 EUR 690 gr 15 KG 88 80 141 100 43 90
Sirui K-20X 115 EUR 400 gr 6.5 KG 85 90 98 100 73 89
FEISOL CB-30C 99 EUR 235 gr about 8 KG 85 75 107 50 123 88
RRS BH-55 420 EUR 900 gr about 8 KG 93 80 123 100 32 86
Markins Q3 285 EUR 385 gr about 8 KG 90 80 100 79 75 85
Triopo B3 150 EUR 590 gr about 7 KG 90 75 124 84 49 84
Arca Monoball P0 285 EUR 350 gr about 6 KG 88 80 88 79 83 83
Arca Swiss Monoball Z1 280 EUR (without Schnellw. system) 600 gr (o. Schnellw. system) about 8 KG 95 75 94 100 48 83
Sirui K-10X 100 EUR 350 gr 6.5 KG 60 90 91 89 83 83
Sirui G10 81 EUR 300 gr about 6 KG 78 80 78 76 97 82
Sirui G20 85 EUR 400 gr 6.5 KG 80 80 81 92 73 81
Benro B-2 145 EUR 480 gr about 7 KG 88 75 80 89 60 79
Benro J-2 185 EUR 510 gr 6.5 KG 88 78 85 84 57 78
Triopo B-2 105 EUR 420 gr about 6 KG 88 75 66 89 69 78
RRS BH 40 340 EUR 480 gr 6.5 KG 85 79 74 89 60 77
F eisol CB-50D 1 45 EUR 560 gr about 7 KG 85 85 94 71 52 77
Cullmann MB 6.5 149 EUR 640 gr 6.5 KG 92 88 85 63 46 75
Sirui C10 35 EUR 180 gr 5 kg 75 70 65 63 100 75
Benro J-1 159 EUR 390 gr about 3 KG 88 78 26 68 74 67
Kirk BH 3 240 EUR 550 gr 7.5 KG 83 75 84 16 53 62
Benro J-0 149 EUR 340 gr 2.2 kg 85 78 18 42 85 62
Novoflex Ball 40 85 EUR 485 gr about 7 KG 40 25 80 89 60 59
Benro KS-1 115 EUR 560 gr 1.5 KG 75 70 13 68 52 56
Novoflex MB 50 230 EUR 610 gr 4,5 KG 75 55 43 53 48 55
Kaiser 6011 139 EUR 660 gr about 6 KG 45 53 50 79 44 54
Novoflex Magic Ball Mini 169 EUR 330 gr 1.5 KG 75 45 13 37 88 52
FLM Centerb. 38 FT 270 EUR 465 gr about 2.3kg 75 95 18 5 63 51
Cullmann Magnesite 25 Nm 70 EUR 445 gr 6.5 KG 65 65 51 5 65 50
Walimex FT-011 H (Action-Grip) 55 EUR 840 gr 1.3 KG 55 65 12 79 35 49
Bilora Perfect Pro 40 EUR 320 gr about 2 KG 40 50 16 37 91 47
Manfrotto 322 RC2 110 EUR 650 gr 5 kg 60 60 58 11 45 47
Manfrotto 486 RC2 60 EUR 460 gr 5.5 KG 58 55 48 5 63 46
Manfrotto 484 RC2 55 EUR 320 gr 2.4 KG 55 55 20 5 91 45
Kaiser 6017 60 EUR 290 gr 2.8 KG 40 50 23 11 100 45
Walimex FT-001 Mag 60 EUR 480 gr about 3.3kg 40 60 28 0 60 38


RRS BH 40 test results

Note that ‘Testergebnis Nachsachen’ does not refer to scrotal dimensions, but to the amount of head droop experienced.  Quite a different thing.


 Tiltall BH 07 test results


The best camera for traveling – D750 wins!

Travel-4So I want to choose the current best system camera to take with me on a trip. Let’s make some assumptions first. Say that trip is overseas, and involves at some point plane travel with a 7kg carry-on allowance in a smaller carry-on bag than the main airlines allow (the allowance size of Airasia, Ryanair, Easyjet and others). So weight and size is a major factor. I like to take seascape/landscape (particularly long exposures), street, and wildlife photos. I publish mostly on the web, but I also will print, up to say 18×12 inches. I drink mid-range wine, drive a BMW (and Porsche) and won’t pay for first or business class seats on my own dime. So I’m not going to include a Leica at the high end, or an iPhone at the low end, in my consideration set. What do I choose?

Ha! Wish I knew! But this question off and on has been occupying me for years. I have been intensively buying and selling cameras and lenses to get to the ideal point for a few years (I’ve bought 4 and sold 4 cameras already this year, and it’s only March). I now have 14 system cameras and maybe 40 lenses, as part of this quest. But the increasing pace of product announcements and choices, makes the latest-buzz buying game impossible to keep up with. So I needed a more logical approach than the latest breathless review, to cut through the haze. I present my approach below. It may not work directly for you, but it’s highly tunable. And I’ll give you the spreadsheet also, to twiddle for yourself if you want to. It may seem a bit pernickety and over structured, Quel surprise! I was a Strategy VP in my prior life, and my trade was to structure and formalise the decision making process.

By the way, to save you wading through the detail if you don’t want to – here is the answer (so far). I’ve done an analysis across 11 cameras (each of which, bar one, I actually own). And there is of course no outright winner. But IMHO taking the weight of the systems into account (as in my initial assumptions), the best camera overall and the outright best for for sea/landscape is the Nikon D750 (!), the best cameras for street are the Panasonic LX-7, the Olympus E-M5ii, or the Nikon 1 V3, and the best cameras for wildlife are the D750 or the Nikon 1 V3. The Fuji X-T1 is a very close runner-up to the D750. I know I haven’t included Canon in this. That’s because there is no lightweight FF Canon equivalent for the D750, and the outright best camera for wildlife in the market irrespective of weight, the Canon 7Dii, weighs as much as a Nikon D800 and is far heavier than any of my other choices when paired with a 100-400mm Canon zoom lens. It’s the best in it’s field but only for specialists. Overall for distant (e.g far eastern) travel, if I had to take one systems camera, it would be the E-M5ii (purely based on weight). But I can take more, so in practice I will take a D750 for sea/land and wildlife, and the Olympus for street/walking around. The Panasonic LX-7 makes a very inexpensive sub for the Olympus, so in practice that’s what I’ll probably use on my next trip, along with the D750. And one final thought -the Fuji X-M1 is the joint runner up for sea/landscape shots, and is the absolute bargain of the bunch.  You can get them for around £200 on eBay, and I have taken photos like this with mine.

I’ll come back to each of these areas/genres in future posts, but first, here is the logic behind the assessment.

Step 1. OK, what am I trying to do? What are my likes and dislikes? Here’s a matrix that lays it out.

Genres Good at Interested in Frequency Weight
Sea/ Land and LE 5 5 5 15
Street/beach 4 4 5 13
Wildlife 2 3 1 6
1=bad, 5=good

Fine, so pretty simple. I add together my level of proficiency, to my level of interest, to how often I do each type of shooting. The score of all these is used to weight the downstream ratings by each genre.

Step 2. Now what are the key camera system characteristics that are important for each genre?

Here again I’ve used a scale of 1-5 for most areas, but for each genre I’ve allowed 2 scores of 10, because some factors, like frame rate in wildlife are wayyy more important than others. I hope you can see the approach – for street photography, the camera cannot be huge, and the depth of field needs to be good (you need to take really fast shots and get people in focus). On the other hand for LE, the RAW latitude (AKA low ISO signal to noise ratio) and the lack of need for noise reduction (so a 4 minute shot doesn’t become an 8 minute shot) are key for LE shots of the sea, or indeed landscape in general. It’s easy to tune these of course, and I keep on doing that. Overall weight is an important factor which I’ll come back, and at the end, you’ll see ‘system weight’ as well as camera and lens weight. System weight is what the weight of a complete system from super wide to 300mm tele would be and reflects what you have to pack in the case as opposed to what you might truck around in the street. Here are the key factors by genre then.

Genres Seascape/rivers LE Street/beach Wildlife
Camera weight 3 10 3
Lens weight 3 5 3
FPS 0 3 5
Super wide 5 0 0
RAW latitude 10 0 2
Resolution 5 3 2
Focus tracking 0 4 10
Focus speed 0 5 10
Flip screen 5 5 0
Silent shutter 0 5 0
High DoF 0 10 0
Low DoF 0 3 0
Tele portability 0 0 5
Image Noise 5 2 4
No NR needed 10 0 0
Camera + lens resolution 5 3 5
Frame buffer 0 3 5
Quality of primes 0 5 0
System weight 4 5 4


Step 3. OK. Now I have rated each of these attributes for 11 cameras across 5 different lens systems. The table for that is too large to show in this kind of format, so it’s in the spreadsheet. You may not agree with the assessments – and if you care that much you can easily tune them (as I do all the time). Multiplying all these out gives the three columns in red below, and the winners for each genre are shown in bold. The blue column to the right is formed by multiplying the score for each genre by the weight for each genre, and then adding. That moves the significance of wildlife shots much farther down in the ranking, and moves seascape up slightly.


Sensor Make Model Sea /land Street Wild Combined
FF Nikon D800 210 169 215 6637
FF Nikon D600 220 197 223 7199
FF Nikon D750 249 236 247 8285
APSC Fuji F X-T1 230 265 195 8065
APSC Fuji F X-M1 230 235 185 7615
APSC Fuji F X100S 160 225 160 6285
MFT Olympus O M10 170 268 209 7288
MFT Panasonic LX-7 165 294 210 7557
MFT Olympus O M5II 170 296 214 7682
APSC Sony S A6000 220 243 227 7821
CX (1 inch) Nikon N1 V3 131 290 243 7193


These results are what is summarised in the third paragraph above. I’ll return to this topic in the near future, with more detail on the D750, and the other category winners. And to explain why IMHO, the D750 is a better landscape camera for my needs, than the D800 (which I also own).

Any readers who made it to this point, well done! Any readers at this point who also read my other blog, will see why I had to separate the two. And I will put the full spreadsheet up sometime soon. This will be accelerated if anyone actually asks for it, via the comments form below.


Hello there! A new site for the travelling photographer

cropped-camera-row-smart-copy1.jpgWelcome to this new site – a companion to my general site at  This one is for the technical topics that make the eyes of my regular readers rotate in their sockets.  I am a geek at heart – and I have amassed a pile of more or less useful technical information, which I have never had a viable outlet for.  Until now!

So who is this new site for?  It will be primarily useful for intensive users of high and medium-end systems cameras, who use their equipment for landscape (particularly long exposure), street, or travel photography.  It’s also specifically directed to those for whom the weight of the total system is a major issue.  I spend most of my time fiddling in this area – and trying to find the perfect combination of image quality, portability, and practicality.  I should emphasise that for me it is all about the gear.  I realised several years ago that I get at least as much pleasure (OK, more pleasure) researching and buying new camera and lenses, as I do in taking photographs.  I think actually I’m not a bad photographer – I have a fairly decent following on Flickr and usually get 200-300 favorites per photo.  But that’s really done so I can have the justification to get more equipment.  And unlike many bloggers out there (I think), because I am a louche retiree, I have bought and owned a very large range of equipment, and I use it intensively.

So if you want to know…..

  • Which system (camera, lenses, batteries) is lighter – the Nikon D750 full frame or the Fuji X-T1 mirrorless?
  • Which is the best system and camera for street photography? (not a Leica, or X-100S/T)?
  • How do the Long Exposure noise characteristics of all the major Mirrorless cameras compare to Nikon Full-Frame cameras?
  • How can you have a stable tripod for a Nikon Full frame camera that only weighs 1.2Kg?
  • Why the Nikon 14-24 F2.8 is one of the most useless lenses ever built.
  • How to charge all your camera batteries (including Nikon ones) from a USB source.

…these and many other questions will be answered in future posts.  Can you find this info elsewhere on the web, without the irritation of reading mine?  Not so easily. There are of course absolutely zillions of sites where you can read reviews of new equipment.  They tend to fall into four categories:

Firstly the top data-driven technical sites, like DXOmarkphotozone, and ePhotozine. These are the cream for me – in that they generate real technical data that can help you make informed technical choices.  None of these help you in assessing how practical the systems are in use.

Secondly the general review sites like DPreview, Photography blog, Camera labs and Imaging resource.  These are sometimes helpful for specifications, but base their image quality tests on fairly meaningless standard patterns, which do not cover the real issues for me – namely long exposure results, and low-iso noise.  I find these almost completely unsatisfying, with the exception of Camera labs (because Gordon Laing’s  tests are rigorous, and he is an excellent bloke).

Thirdly there are the ‘bloke’ based reviews, by the likes of Ron Martinsen, Steve Huff, Ken Rockwell, Matt Granger and so on.  These and almost every other source on the web show ‘real world’ jpeg images, at normal size, and tell you how fine the camera is from these shots.  An iPhone would generate images as good in almost all circumstances, and these endless photos of wives, birds, nearby buildings and so on, are of no help to me.  They are often entertaining, but not a source of useful working data.  A notable exception to these is Tony Northrup, who bases his reviews on data from DXOmark, and is exceptionally rigorous – but does not cover long exposure or street in any significant detail (and who is only accessible via Youtube unless you buy his books).

Finally are the forums – mostly the DPreview forums.  Here you can find nuggets of really useful information  – usually from real experts in response to queries placed on the forum.  But it’s mixed with often really offensive invective, and the information you need to know is split across lots of scrappy little posts.

Now let me be clear,  I really like all the above sites.  No disrespect.  I follow every one of them daily, and value their input.  They just are not specialised enough for me.  So for many  queries of my own, I have had to do my own tests and research.  And the results will be presented as I excitedly learn them, in these pages.