UPDATED 8TH JANUARY 2009
I've recently switched from a Manfrotto 488RC2 head to the Really Right Stuff BH-55 with B2 AS II clamp and the Arca Swiss system. I kept the Manfrotto legs so the BH-55 is mounted on my Manfrotto 190ProB. For now the Manfrotto legs will suffice but I do plan to upgrade those at some stage also.
Why did I change? I use a tripod a lot more that most for my macro shots and the droop with the old ball head was starting to be an issue. How many people have see the subject shift in the viewer when they tightened up the ballhead? This is what I was experiencing with the 488 and I was compensating for this each time I tightened the ballhead. With a good tripod and head I can often lower the shutter speed to 1/60sec when using my 180 and full set of Kenko tubes. I then get a better natural colour in the background and the flash is less noticeable. The PCL-1 Panning Clamp and Mini-Clamp Package will also be worth while additions as I plan to do more landscapes and panoramas.
Weight 0.725kg (1.6lb)
Load capacity 22kg (50lb)
You will read around the web that many consider the load capacity quoted by RRS for the BH-55 to be on the low side and i tend to agree. It probably can take more but these are their figures.
Ouch! RRS gear is expensive. This falls into to you get what you pay for category, this type of equipment is truly an investment that will last for many years.
When you take delivery of a any RRS gear you can immediately appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into their equipment. The BH-55 comes with a bag to protect it - a nice addition to help protect your investment. The next thing you notice is how big the BH-55 is, that said, it's shorter than most other ballheads in the class.
It easily fitted onto the 190ProB in a minute. The base of the BH-55 is a little bigger than the top plate on the 190ProB. Though this might look a little odd when you look at it closely it doesn't present any problems.
BH-55 mounted on Manfrotto 190Pro
The first thing to say is --- it doesn't creep or droop. The 488 used to suffer from droop, but the BH-55 is rock solid. This is part of what makes it special. The ballhead in the BH-55 has to be about 2x the size of the ball head in the 488. The BH-55 locks the ball into place with a side clamping mechanism, most other ballheads clamp from the bottom. The BH-55 has a pan knob, ball head knob and a drag knob. With the drag knob you adjust the drag tension on the ball, you can then adjust the ball without the main ball knob being totally tight. Like this it will hold a 100-400 on a gripped body and you can still adjust the position of the lens.
BH-55 fitted with B2 AS II
The Arca Swiss plates fit perfectly into the clamps. I chose to go with the leaver release clamps. The leaver has three positions, locked, partially open, fully open. In the fully open position you can insert the lens plate easily. In the partially open position you can slide the lens plate from side to side. The RRS plates have a very small screw at either end and this stops the travel so the plate will not totally slide out of the clamp. When locked, there is no movement in the lens or body plate. As a comparison, there always was a little play in my Manfrotto RC2 plates and clamps.
A note about the Lever Release clamps. When I purchased the BH-55 as a complete package it comes with the B2 AS II Lever Release Clamp. This clamp is designed to fit onto the BH-55 with a countersunk screw from the top and has no thread internally - it comes fitted like this. The B2 LR II by comparison has the countersink drilling AND the 3/8 thread.
As you can see from the weight listed above it's a little on the heavy side compared to some of the other Arca Swiss ball heads. The link at the bottom has a comparison of the weights of the more common ball heads. This is probably not the head to choose if you are looking for a light weight travel solution. ie This is probably not the ballhead you are going to take on a long trek when you are carting all of the equipment yourself.
Length of BH-55 on 190Pro
This is shot will give you an idea about the length of this combination. Call it 26".
I've also added a BGE2-L40 L plate to the 40D and have quickly adjusted to this being fitted to the camera. It's nicely contoured and I hardly notice it on the body, a very big improvement over the ergonomics of the Manfrotto L plate. I leave the body plate fitted to the camera all of the time. During the Christmas holidays this proved to be a good idea. At one stage I grabbed the camera and tripod and raced to the beach to catch a huge Supercell Storm. Having the plate on already meant I was instantly ready to shoot the pano in landscape or portrait. I was not wanting to expose myself to a lightning strike so time was important. The result is here.
I kept the Manfrotto 486 ball head on my monopod but switched the plate to a RRS B2 LRII. The RC2 plate simply unscrews and I screwed on the RRS B2 LR. With the addition of a little Loctite Blue I was done. RRS doesn't recommend leaver releases on monopod so I'll see how I go with this.
Here's a shot of the head along with some extra's used for panos. A friend here put it quite well.
Even with all of this it is very stable. I won't be using it like this photo every day, normally I wouldn't have the CL-1 Panning Clamp and Mini-Clamp Package attached.So you've got your camera fitted to the L-bracket which sits in a clamp, which sits in a clamp, which attaches to a rail that sits in a pano clamp with a plate attached that fits into a QR clamp on top of the ball head?
I've now been using this for about two months with no problems. It is a lot easier to switch from landscape to portrait mode with the L plate attached to the camera and the directness with which the plates and clamps fit together is great. To conclude, I'm totally satisfied with my purchase of Really Right Stuff equipment and would recommend it to anyone.
Really Right Stuff BH-55
A comparison of popular Arca Swiss Ballheads
An excellent article on tripods