View Full Version : Three way tripod and ballhead review

18-01-2012, 8:04am
I've recently acquired another ballhead in the form of a RRS BH-55 and I thought some people may be interested to know if there is any advantage in paying more for a higher quality camera support.
So I've compared the three tripods and ballheads in all nine possible configurations to see what differences are possible when you match high quality gear with lower quality gear and vice versa.

I personally favour ballheads over three way heads, the main reason being for usability where a ballhead is easier to manipulate via the use of a single adjustment control.
Other reasons are that the they are more compact in not having handles that need to be folded out of harms way when packed up and also of a lighter weight.

Geared heads can be more accurate for framing, and I've only ever used one threeway video type head many years back and I found it clumsy to use in comparison to a ballhead, so they're just no my cup of tea when using them as still camera support.

To state the bleeding obvious, of the combinations possible that I currently have nothing comes close to the RRS BH-55 + Gitzo GT3531.

I'll post the current(17-01-12) summary of scores that I've given the gear and then I'll post individual replies for each of the ballheads with more detail as to what I've found with them.

The point of this exercise is not just to re-iterate what the pro's opinions that quality cost, but more so to what degree it helps.

That is, if you're uses are such that you don't require a support base with superlative results of continental plate rock solid stability, even a cheap tripod is going to give you results.
Thom Hogan's summary of how to save money is absolutely spot on tho. if you're like the vast majority of photographers and have no one specialised use, that is you do a bit of this and a bit of that and you want to branch out into something else too, and those alternative genres are dependant on stability in the support(Macro comes to mind) then save your money on the cheap stuff and get it right the first time around.
It cost you more initially and you end up saving in the long term.
But in saying that, I was the same, in that I wanted something now(back then) and it needed to serve a function(predominantly landscaping at wide angles).
The initial Manfrotto setup I purchased still has a value(for me) and I won't sell it just because I now have a better setup. I will use it for other purposes.
I was predominantly into landscape photography using wide angle lenses, but then I got more interested in other stuff, where the landscape tripod setup was completely inadequate for those uses.. 500mm lens, macro, and abstract imaging where framing may have been critical. I'm not the type of person that shoots and then crops. So my framing requirements are sometimes critical.
I could have gone for a geared head option, but the two versions I would like are either way too expensive(Arca Cube) or bulky and relatively expensive(Manfrotto 400) as a general purpose all rounder.

I also have plans to retire the Manfrotto 468 and acquire another ballhead, of a different brand, and will also do some comparisons between them when I get that other one one day in the future. But that is a long way down the list of things to get now and as it stands I'm 99% satisfied with the RRS head, and it's ultimate ability.

Here's a summary of results (out of 10), with the point that the scores are relative to what I have on hand. So if in the future I acquire more equipment, ie. another set of legs(which I will), I'll then update the scores accordingly. Scores are based on price as well as ability, so even tho the Gitzo is very expensive compared to say a Benro equivalent, if the Benro is as good as the Gitzo, but at a far lower price, then the Benro will score higher.
I'll also included summarised notes on the issues I've had with the gear too.

RRS BH-55: 9.5 (needs time to bed in, may be higher)
Manfrotto MG468RC5: 8.5 (after clean and with plates replaced with Arca Swiss plates)
Manfrotto 488RC2: 5.0 better with a clean, much worse without and probably may not have scored a 1.0 due to it's inability to hold a 300/2.8)

Gitzo GT3531: 9 (close to great, other than I can break it quite easily, which I have done! .. oops!)
Manfrotto NeoTech 458B: 7.5 (best wide angled lens/landscapers tripod in good environmental conditions, but needs regular cleaning)
Manfrotto 055B: 6.0 (no issues with breakage or durability, just feels too flimsy for a 'sturdy tripod' .. compared to the Gitzo leg locking system, this one is a pain to set up)

This way it alleviates the pain of having to drudge your way through the mire of incessant ramblings that I'm apparently (in)famous for.
But if you have any of the Manfrotto gear I have, it may be worthwhile reading because from the factory, I think they're more flawed than they ought to be.

18-01-2012, 8:11am
Manfrotto 488-RC2

5 out of 10.

The score I've given the Manfrotto 488 is a relative score, not an absolute one!
That if you do specific types of photography where the support you use isn't an issue, then the ability of this ballhead will be higher. It's only when compared to the MG468 and especially the BH-55, is where the inadequacies of the 488 become apparent. Many photographers use this ballhead with successful results for their choice of photography genre.

As an example of what this means is, if you're shooting at 10mm and focused at infinity, any camera support can be used to effect a sharp image at any shutter speed any camera mode, any angle and in any type of environmental conditions .. Yep! even those cheapo $20 plastic tripods can do the job.(I'll get some comparative images up once I've finalised them all) What a higher quality support base gives you is repeatability of results in a more consistent manner.
I've had inconsistent results from the 488 using 10mm lens and focused at infinity on the odd occasion shooting with a highsh speed mode. Because of this, I'd have to switch to Mup mode in camera with a delay between Mup and exposure .. or that I'd have to wait for the wind to settle, or shield the camera from the wind or whatever. So the score for the 488...

Compared to the RRS BH-55, you wouldn't even bother with this ballhead once the difference is seen. The quality of the stability these two devices offer are poles apart.
Where the BH-55 to MG468 vibration is marked and significant, the difference between the 488 and the BH-55 is startling.
Not much can be said of the 488 other than it can be effective as a support base for many folks, and they're happy with the results they get, because they use it in a particular manner.
Trying to get any images between about 1s and about 1/30s using the 300/2.8 as a 420/4 is hopeless using the ballhead at shutter speeds such as those.
Shooting at 1/500s is a different matter tho. Or shooting at 10mm as said before. Many people are happy and have been happy with the results from this ballhead, and I've been one of them. But for me, I started to do stuff that placed a higher burden on the device, that is macro and the use of a large/long lens on it, and it left wanting. Note also that the lens doesn't even have to be large. The 500 mirror is a physically small lens for a 500mm lens, but the magnification it produces is troublesome for the 488.
Also a major problem I noted with the RC-2 plate system.
Due to the nature of the design, it's 'easy' to rotate the QR late within the confines of the clamp itself. Because the plate is secured in a central position on release side, it's prone to twisting if excessive force is used to twist it.
Sounds a bit silly to clamp the plate down and then try to twist it off by force, but this highlights the insecure and fragile nature of the entire system. Any possible room for movement in the support system is going to add to an already fragile hold and exacerbate it even more.
For Manfrotto plates, the RC5 or RC0 plates stuff is far superior and the RC4 is better than the RC2.

As a ballhead for the purpose of general purpose photography, I highly recommend against this device. For equivalent money, you can get much better (cheapo Chinese) gear that will almost certainly provide better performance. I know that some of the larger Benro ballheads work better than these 488 sized ballheads, but as I don't have any to compare .. my comments are really only going from my brief encounter with the Benros.

FWIW: mine is now relegated to doing flash support duties as it's not capable of properly supporting my large lenses, nor stable enough for macro work.
As I now have two other tripods/heads to work with, and the RC2 plates are incompatible with any of my other plates, I'm going to attach a flash support base to the plate and use it for quick and easy speedlight mounting for now.

18-01-2012, 8:20am
Manfrotto MG468-RC5(but I have the National Geographic version of this with a rubber gaiter over the ball)

Initially I'd have given this one 7 out of 10, but upped to 8.5 a while back. It took a while and a small punt, but it got better.
The only difference is that the Nat Geo version has a rubber gaiter to protect the ball from the environment. I can only assume that it works well as a protective cover for the ball, as I don't have the Manfrotto MG468 to compare directly, but I do have my other Manfrotto (488), and one thing I hate about it is the gunk it used to develop.
This MG468-RC5 seemed to promise a lot back when I got it, as it was much more solid than the old 488 ballhead I rushed into getting, which could barely hold my camera lens upright. The 468 was so much more solid, but far from perfect. Long focal lengths and then macro image capture was sub par, where vibrations induced by the mirror slap would impede on image sharpness relatively easily. Once again, I'll go back to the topic of manually focusing, or handling the camera whilst using the MG468. Any touching of the camera/lens would initiate a freaky vibration that would seem to take forever to settle. Take forever is a relative term and in reality it may have been something like 0.9sec or so, but when you're flicking back and forth to confirm focus, especially with the well damped focus throw of the Nikon 500mm f/8 mirror lens, it makes for very frustrating operation.
I hear cries of "get an AF lens 'ya mug!!", but this is not the point. The point is that this is not a very rigid support device, and it shows in the images. The accuracy of framing was also inaccurate. Set a frame up and then let go and lock down the ball and the framing would drop significantly, just as I've described with the BH-55 above.
For a long time this ballhead even when new wasn't what I though it may be, even though it had a friction controlling adjustment too.
The friction control works well, allowing very wide range of controlling options for the ball, where even with a light locking amount it would allow for movement of the camera/lens, but also not let it drop, or droop(too far), even with the 300/2.8 mounted. As long as the large lens wasn't tilted up/down too far, it would hold it securely enough and still allow for a very fine framing adjustment. This is a far cry from my first ballhead(488) which simply wouldn't hold the large lens at all, unless it was set to a fairly level position. Point it at the moon and it would always droop.. no question about it.
The hydrostatic adjustment that Manfrotto designed into the control knob is a better, more intuitive, design element when compared to the BH-55. The friction adjustment is built into the main control knob, which falls naturally to hand.
A grippy rubberised main knob is also nice to use, compared to the BH-55's knurled aluminium knob. Neither is better than the other just different when going from one to the other.
There seems to be no advantage of one type over the other.
As to the topic of the score. Initially, after many years of use, this ballhead eventually got worse and worse to the point that I began looking for a proper device.. at any cost! I stuffed around with various methods and much testing and just concluded that this product was another overpriced Manfrotto offering. It was hopeless at maintaining an accurate frame, was pretty much as flexible as a series of rubber bands and quite expensive.. but I got it and I had to live with it. After a few years of use, the locking mechanism to stops the horizontal rotation(panning) feature also developed wear. The inner screw system had scored a series of imperfections in the housing, and when you lock down the panning knob, there is always a few millimeters of horizontal skew.
But about a year or so ago, I got fed up with it and had to see what I could do to help it along.
First thing was to check the panning knob. I filed and sanded some surfaced to a more appropriate level and this seemed to fix it to a small degree. It's enough to be a less significant issue now, but it's still there. This is yet to be resolved properly and I doubt that it ever will be due to the soft aluminium material of the casing.
The biggest revelation came with a 'spring clean'. I attacked(literally) the ball itself with a can of WD-40.
As the ball is covered with the rubber gaiter(which is still going strong with no tears or rips too), you can't easily see if the ball is dirty or not, so it requires a strip down. As I was stripping it down, I thought I may as well do it as far as I possibly could, or needed too, and see where it takes me. As with the 488 ballhead, Manfrotto uses a smearing of some greasy compound on the ball, but where the 488 collect gunk, the rubber gaitered Nat Geo version doesn't! I thought maybe this grease is part of a problem, which in fact was.
After a liberal coating and wasting heaps of WD spray, I eventually seemed to get all of the grease off the ball, put it all back together again and bingo!
Framing is now 99% spot on accurate. There is no droop, drop or flop in the framing when locking it down. The device is still rubber band wonky compared to the BH-55, but 100% better than it used to be. There was a very slight drop in fluidity of movement, but not jerky nor stiff to the point of usability, just about perfect! This is no doubt due the adjustable friction control knob, which allows the operator to set an amount of stiffness in the ball's movement quality.
I've had many opportunities to compare it to other head designs, a few of the 'cheapo' Benro stuff, which the Benro wins hands down. Both on price and being more user friendly. Absolute rigidity tests compared to Benro or other cheap ballheads are impossible for me to do, but I suspect that the Benro's are as solid too.. maybe better.
But in removing the grease off the ball itself has improved the workings of the MG468 no end. It's still an inferior product to the likes of a BH-55 in terms of overall quality, but now at least it works as it should.. to provide stable support for a camera and lens.
Until this spring clean point in time, I'd resigned myself to the fact that this device was only good as a UWA lens support device, or possibly worse, as a supplemental accessory support device, eg such as holding external lighting, props or whatever that didn't require an absolute rigid foothold.
Now I can stick with it for a while and use it for many purposes.

I'm going to place another note here, as I just mentioned it:
Just about any type and quality of head support can be used for when a very short focal length lens is in use. The issue of solid stable gear support, both the legs and head support is only really relevant for when higher magnifications and long/large lenses are used. I guess it's hard to pinpoint an exact figure for lens/magnification where the support becomes an issue, but it's also tied in to exposure times, and camera mode used. up to now, for any critical sharp, high magnification long lens use, I've had to stick with Mirror Lockup mode to get a sharp image. I HAD to upgrade from a D70s to a D300 simply for the MLU mode it supported. Also note, sometimes the exposure delay feature of some cameras isn't enough to compensate for mirror slap. It helps, but can still cause sharpness issues due to vibration.

The Manfrotto RC5 compared to any Arca Swis type is best described as a dead heat, but where the Arca Swiss system offers far more flexibility of products from the various manufacturers, and better quality materials found from the third party folks.
As far as I'm aware you can't get an L-Plate for the RC5 system .. and that's just one example of the limitation in it. That's why I spent a considerable amount of money on changing to the Arca Swiss type, but from a reputable manufacturer and not any of the cheap Chinese stuff. Some of it may be good, but I wasn't prepared to risk it yet .. I may in the future tho.
There is no advantage in changing from the Manfrotto RC5 plate setup to the Arca Swiss type other than for more flexible options of plates and accessories.

18-01-2012, 8:26am

So far 9.5 out of 10, but this will need to be revisited due to a peculiarity I'm currently getting with the RRS ballhead.
Rigidity is superlative!! But this description needs some clarification. The BH-55 is a super rigid ballhead in that any manual control of the camera or lens is met with minimal vibration results through either the viewfinder or the review screen set to 100% view in LiveView mode. That is, if the camera needs to be handled, or focus requires adjustment manually on the lens, there are minute traces of vibration through the viewfinder or Lv mode, but still easily workable. This is one area that has caused constant frustration when using my previous support gear, in that trying to manualy focus even with the lightest touch, has the view trembling with fear. This then makes it hard to get focus absolutely spot on because you can't see the contrast/focus properly in the desired area and you kind of need to guess, which is usually wrong, and go back and do it again.. and again and so on.
With the BH-55, the process is simple. keep your hand light on the focus collar move this way, move that way, move the other way again if you just want to be 100% sure and you're done. The lack of vibrating vision helps you to visually confirm good contrast much quicker and easier than the other ballheads(so far). What very small and easy to manage vibes there are with the BH-55 settle instantly .. ie,. in less than a slip second.
I don't currently have any means to test this properly, ie. via movie mode, but the difference is as clear as day when comparing them next to each other and directly.

This is why the BH-55 scores close to 10, but there is one rather large problem, and that is of framing the scene. if you use the main control knob, to frame tighten it down and then tighten it down hard, the frame drops significantly. I'm going to contact RRS to see if this is an issue, in general or with mine, or simply something that will bed down and loosen up over time with use. The movement of the ballhead isn't so fluid either. When fully unlocked the ball movement can be a bit stiff resulting in slightly jerky framing movements. This is only an issue with high magnification or a large lens at close focus, and while not many people deal with this everyday, a product that is a general all rounder needs to work in an all round manner. Of course a geared head is more appropriate for say macro work, but we're dealing with general all rounder gear suited for multiple uses.
On this problem of framing accuracy with the BH-55, there is a caveat. That is, even tho it doesn't bode well for the product, there is a way to set framing and maintain this framing accurately whilst locking the ball down nice and tight so that the setup is rigid.
One great aspect of the BH-55 is that even with a very light amount of locking down, it will still hold a large 300/2.8 without droop or fear of falling. But sometimes you just want to be 100% sure and you lock it down as tight as it will allow. And the trick is to lock it down lightly with the large main control knob and then tighten it down hard with the smaller friction control knob.
To me this is counter intuitive, where the Manfrotto MG468 system feel more natural(I'll explain this in the relevant section).
So in using this method you can lock down a large lens, secure in the knowledge that it won't drop, fall or do anything else undesirable.
Note tho as I already said this BH-55 issue may be due to the fact that it's a brand new one. I've had experience with gear where, with use, the product frees up or requires some user intervention(as with my experience with the MG468) and then everything works perfectly.
Until I figured out this friction control method of locking down the ballhead, I was thinking that this was an expensive waste of money.
The framing drops significantly, which would make for infuriating macro/closeup photography. I was going to give it an 8 or 8.5 until I figured this out. In reality the different method of use(compared to the MG468) is neither worse nor really an issue .. it's just something I've never been used too.
I have a suspicion that over time it will bed in free up and not become an issue. The RRS ballhead has a plastic looking bushing between the ball and the casing(where the Manfrotto uses metal to metal) and it simply feels as tho it's just too tight at the moment.
Only time will tell, so I'll get back in the future on this aspect of the BH-55.

In all, a great product that is manufactured to an extremely high level of quality(compared to the Manfrottos) and definitely worth the money now that the AU-US dollar is at parity ... or better, for us.

18-01-2012, 9:23am
Tripod Review(so far 17-01-12):

Tripod review:

Of the three tripods I have, there is a difference in the quality of support they provide, but an smaller amount of difference compared to the quality of the heads. This is not to say that the leg support is less important for critical use, or even just pedantism .. it's just that having tried all combinations of the three heads on the three sets of legs, I noted(briefly) that the difference was less of an impact on image quality.

Therefore, the implication is that mirror slap has less effect on the type/quality of legs used, compared to the quality of the head type in use.
Haven't tested it all in windy conditions yet, but as time allows, I'll try that too, and this may reveal a significant finding.

FWIW, tho, the Gitzo is far better than the 055, and I suspect only due to the difference of materials used, Gitzo is carbon fibre and high quality steel upper plate, where the Manfrottos both use Aluminium and a plastic feeling upper plate to clamp the leg together up top.
Even tho the 478 NeoTech tripod can only be described as hopelessly inadequate as legs support, the advantage of setup is where this one shines.
I've written on this topic before and the way this tripod works in setting up is worth 5 points of score anyhow.
All other tripods seem clumsy and incompetent by comparison, and for any dedicated landscaper type photographer that moves around a lot, this is THE tripod to have.
It's relatively expensive, there is the issue of residual oil on the legs after use and it's a bit heavier, but these are easy to forgive.
I would never dare to use it as support for when a solid set of legs are required tho.

In terms of usage or setup and packup time and ease, the NeoTech gets 11 out of 10!
If you haven't ever seen one, I suggest you look at Manfrotto's website.
The design type is of some kind of hydraulic ram system. At the top of each leg is a button.
To open the legs up you simply pull them out, no levels to flick, no locks to unscrew, nothing! Just pull each leg out.
If the average setup time for a tripod is 30sec, this one is 10 sec flat.
In the time it takes to unlock and open one leg of a standard tripod, I think you coule easily have all legs on the NeoTech opened and closed again.. it really is that quick and easy.
Because of this hydraulic ram system, leg locking is automatic.
The beauty of the system is when trying to level the NeoTech or simply position it as you want via the height adjustment of the legs.
You simply press the button at the top of each leg and close the leg, to both adjust and to pack it away.

I've always loved the ease and speed that this tripod has made wandering around the country for when I used to do landscapes as setup/packup times were much reduced.

Of course with this ease comes compromises, and these are inadequate rigidity, weight and due to the hydraulics, cleanliness. Cleanliness is such that with regular use it build up a light film of oily stuff on each leg that comes off on your hands.
If you clean it regularly(simply wipe it down every months or so) there is no issue... it's only when this is not done where the oily stuff builds up and becomes a problem.
Weight isn't really noticable against the aluminium tripods, but it is when compared to a carbon fibre one.
Stability is simply terrible, but for landscape work at wide angles, it's not a problem.

Update: contrary to my earlier brief findings, there is a difference in the quality of the legs in use with each of the ballheads.

I've set the 420/4 combo up at the back of the house in the entrance hallway to the back door. This is next to the laundry where the washing machine is currently washing away with a nice constant rhythmic beat. The floor of the house is timber and the vibrations of the washing machine some 2-3meters behind me and in another room, separated by a wall and hence a solid support at the ground level, was causing vibrations through the viewfinder with the 420/4 mounted to the Manfrotto MG468 and Manfrotto 055 tripod.

I quickly switched to the BH-55 on the Gitzo GT3531 and there is no visible vibration effect through the viewfinder at all, by comparison.

Instead of observing this through Liveview, which I thought unnecessary for now, I quickly switched the heads/legs over and noted that now the BH-55 on the Manfrotto 055 legs had some vibes, although quantitatively immeasurable without a video function to help, and and that also the MG468 on the Gitzo 3531 legs had reduced by what I first thought I noticed. The net effect was that the BH-55/055 setup had the same amount of vibes now with the trembling floorboards when directly compared to the MG468/GT3531 setup. It seems that there is a higher degree of difference at least in an environmental sense with the legs than I first thought.
Whether that translates to camera related vibration issues is yet to be seen.
But I can't get any useful data until I have some way to observe this in a more meaningful way. So for now this is only a casual observation on my part.
In a sense, this makes me feel more secure in that I've made the right choice of equipment and amount spent. BH-55 and Gitzo tripod have cost well over the $1K mark.
Initially I thought this new $500(incl shipping) expenditure may not have been justified as much as I guessed it should have been, going by reports from others on this RRS BH-55 being as good as they've said it is.
Of course it's not uncommon for most folks to exaggerate their user experience due to the investment they've personally made in the equipment.
You can get similarly specced equipment at half the price, so this illusion that the gear is good simply because of the price paid is always present and can taint a users opinion.

Lots of people swear black and blue that these Gitzo tripods are the best in the business, and for the money you pay for they damned well ought to be.
But having seen the equivalent Benro CF tripods, I believe that they're as good as the Gitzo's but at a far lower cost(close to 1/2 price).
I like the Gitzo I have, but it's far from perfect. I have broken two parts on it, and while the manner in which I did this is 'unusual' it only serves to highlight that they aren't quite as high quality as expected.

18-01-2012, 9:31am
Some sample images of framing error when locking down the ball:
I don't think it matters much, but this is taken with my 300/2.8 + 1.4TC from approx 3-4m from the clock. While it;s not anywhere near macro level, it;s still quite high magnification but more importantly the lens itself is quite a burden for the ballheads and tripods. The tripod collar on the Tammy 300/2.8 has excellent stability.

First up the BH-55.
The correct framing when the ball was locked and the camera released should be so that the circle of the clock face should just touch the bottom edge of the frame.
I'd set the BH-55 to a point where the camera wouldn't move of it's own accord, but could still be forced to move. That is, semi locked. At this point with no hands touching the camera/lens and only using the large ball locking knob, the tighter it was locked down, the lower the framing went .. until a point where the framing stopped moving or the locking knob could be tightened no more.
*note that I subsequently figured out that I could maintain perfect framing, if I used the (smaller)friction adjustment knob to lock down the ball tight. But this isn't as intuitive nor easy as it sounds.
The friction knob is small, hence hard to rotate easily. You need to find the 'correct' balance between the lockdown knob and the friction knob, as if one is too loose the other doesn't lockdown fully, and vise-versa too.. so while it works, it's not as easy as the Manfrotto MG468 setup.

Manfrotto MG468-RC5:
While the MG468 is not a very sturdy ballhead when compared to the BH-55, it is far easier to compose your framing.
But it wasn't like that until I cleaned off the greasy substance that was applied to it from the factory.
I have some samples of how much it used to drop during the transition from semi locked to locked position, and it wasn't too far different from what I see from the BH-55, but removing the grease has made it much more accurate now. The circle of the clock face should be just above the bottom edge of the frame, whereas it's just missing in this image, but this slight framing error is most likely either my fault, or the fact that the D300 isn't entirely 100% view through the viewfinder, or misaligned by a millimeter or so.

Manfrotto 488RC2:
As can be seen here it's obvious that the 488 is totally inadequate for using a large lens on it, and so by extension, any high magnification lens.
The only way to get the framing you actually want is to pre compensate for the drop, but to also estimate how much it's going to drop as you tighten the ball locking knob.
The more you tighten, the more it drops. Nothing else can be done to overcome this issue, whereas the BH-55 can be set to an accurate framing position, if the friction control knob is used to lock the ball in place.

I'll have to do more stability test shots to highlight the difference as time allows me too.
I've only done preliminary shots, but the lighting wasn't favourable and consistent, so I'm going to have to set up a system where I can maintain constant aperture and shutter speeds and alter the lighting only to keep exposure constant.
Hopefully I'll get this done in a few days or so.
The issue is at an exposure of 1 sec or more, the problem of mirror slap and how it affects image sharpness diminishes.
From what I understand of mirror slap vs exposure time, the amount of time that mirror slap affects stability is approx 0.4s. So that with a 1sec exposure, more than half the time of exposure is formed with a stable image. I need to be able to set an exposure time of about 1/2 sec to 1/10s and keep both aperture and lighting constant, so at the moment the only way to do this is to use a speedlight.

18-01-2012, 9:39am
Blimey Arthur! But thanks....that exact combo is on my to do list! So it is nice to read a review of whether it is worth it....

can I ask where you acquired the BH-55?

18-01-2012, 10:07am
Hey Roo.

I think the only way to order the RRS stuff is directly from their site.

Be careful what you order tho, some of their stuff is 'worth it' and others not.

eg. As I briefly said, I ordered a lot of new plates and a clamp from HejnarPhoto, who only does plates and clamps .. not ballheads and tripods and suchlike.
His plates are of comparable quality, but are about 50% cheaper than RRS. Some of Hejnar's stuff is better designed too(or more flexible in it's design).

Looking at your list of gear, it looks as though you probably need a camera plate and least two lens plates, which makes only three plates in total.
If you order a BH-55, and any associated plates the plate in effect come with 'free postage'. So to order the plates from a second manufacturer you lose any savings in the cost of postage.
I ordered something like 6 plates and 1 clamp, so even with the cost of postage I came out ahead(by $100).
The other thing for me was that Hejnar had a specific plate for the Manfrotto MG468, which RRS didn't, or may have had to modify one for. So the choice of plates/clamps was easy.

My problem ATM is that I really don't need another tripod as the 055 is more than capable as a light stand :p
But I want a larger sized CF(my GT3531 is ok, but in some instances too small) and I'm thinking of getting a Benro 4xx series.
This one has larger diameter tubes than the GT3531, and thicker tubes translate into even more rigidity from the tripod lens themselves.

When setting up the Gitzo and 055, the difference in flexibility is immediately noticeable between the two.
The best way to describe the differences is that where the Gitzo flexes by milimmeters, the (Aluminium) 055 has centimeters of flex in it.
At first I didn't think there was much in it when actually taking photos, but after the washing machine issue it became a bit more obvious. Never really noticed this, and without the benefit of the more solid BH-55 ballhead, I'd simply have assumed that it was all due to the ballhead's flexibility only.

For now(from what I've noted over the years and now) I'd definitely recommend the BH-55, but for a tripod based on price/performance ratio, I'd say that the Benro 4xx series may be better value for money.
Note that when I got my GT3531, the Aussie dollar was worth about (US0.60c) or so, so all imports were much more expensive. Now with the stronger AU dollar, things have change a bit, and my tripod is easily found for about $600 or even less(I paid $1K for it).

If you're not in a rush and can wait a while or so, maybe we could do a meetup some time soon, and if Mic comes along, he has a Benro tripod and you could compare the 'difference' for yourself.
If you want something now! .. ie. can't wait any longer, you won't go wrong with a GT3531 and BH-55 combo.

18-01-2012, 10:19am
I have a Manfrotto 488RC2 on my 055XproB tripod and an older Manfrotto 486RC2 on the Benro C49F monopod for birding.
In the case of the monopod it is mearly a bit of extra height and coupling to the 50-500 lens.

For framed shots using the tripod the 488RC2 works ok for me.
I keep the ball tension relatively tight and know to adjust for the slight droop.
Once locked it stays put. I don't typically use big heavy lenses when doing landscapes (usually the Sigma 10-20 or the Tamron 28-75/2.8)
When I do use a big lens on the tripod (50-500) its mounted on the lens and it balances.
The 488RC2 definitely has limitations.

The RRS looks excellent, and going by other reviews it works as expected.
But for that price I can also buy a decent lens http://reallyrightstuff.com/Items.aspx?code=Ballhead55&key=cat

So it gets down to price vs need.
If you gave a me a RRS? Sure!! If I did a lot more landscape or studio work - maybe.

Thanks for the review! :th3:

The old adage you can at best have two of these three when buying camera tripods (Light, Stable, Cheap), sometimes you only get one. :rolleyes:

18-01-2012, 11:12am
Thanks Arthur.....no not really I have been umming and ahhhring for about 8 months now!

I am also looking at the Arc Swiss Z1, any thoughts?

Will have a look at the Benro, but really want a 3/4 tripod....this looks good though!

Don't know what you mean by 4xxx can't find that series....

18-01-2012, 5:09pm
Thanks for the reply Kym.
I think the droop(as in constant droop, not the drop in framing) I experienced on the 488 was more due to the 300/2.8 and the incessant use it had to put up with for it's short life.
As you know, on a lens with a tripod foot, it's easier to balance the camera/lens set up so that the COG of the setup can be adjusted for.
The 300/2.8 is so much more front heavy compared to a 500/5.6 and even tho I get a 'good' balance in the way I set weight distribution, it's never going to be as well balanced as it woudl be with a smaller lens. Never really had too much problem with it on either the 500/8(being a small light lens) nor the 80-200/2.8 or the 70-200/2.8.

Once again, it all comes down to usage too, so my testing and experience is more about how far can you push the envelope.
I did specifically say tho, that even tho I've given it a low rating, many people get good use out of their 488's, and the score is really only relevant as a comparison .. that is the BH-55 really is twice as good as the 488.
Compare the 488 on a semi decent tripod to any of these $29/giveaway tripod you see on ebay, and the 488's score would've been much higher.
Also the droop was eliminated once I attacked it with the WD-40 and got all the greasy stuff off the ball.

The point I tried to make was that in most situations the 488 is perfectly fine. For landscape usage(using wide angle lenses) it serves the user well. Same for studio work. A high end piece of kit in these situations is a waste of money(IMO). Shutter speeds or focal lengths used in these two situations won't challenge the 488 as a form of support.(unless you're using a 200/2 or larger for your studio work :confused:)
But give it a 1:2 macro task, and without Mup mode and the associated annoyance this involves, the 488 soon reveals it's inadequacies if you're shooting with natural light and shutter speeds between 1-1/20s or so.

A few weeks ago I decided I 'needed' a new macro lens. After a bit of looking around I went with a cheaper lens option, to allow me the additional ballhead purchase ;)
I've put up with Mup mode for too long now, and the IDIOT engineers at Nikon that implemented LiveView on the D300 haven't made it easy to use that mode either, as the pseudo Mup mode(which woudl be absolutely ideal! :th3) .. bu6t they stuffed it.

Roo: sorry... in the old days it used to be called the C428 or C427 series or whatever. Now they seem to be called the C4570T/C4580T series. The difference is that one has three leg sections, the other has four. Three is always better than 4 for stability, less joints, but of course takes up more room when travelling.
I'd recommend a C3xxx series over a C2xxx series at the least. larger diameter leg tubes are what you're looking for, even if it has to be a 4 section tripod. The lowest leg sections are very thin in diameter and this will be the weakest link in the chain. Same with all tripod legs, Maximum stability is always with all legs collapsed, where it relies on only the largest tubes for rigidity.