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Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead, Review

The BH-55 from Really Right Stuff is big, heavy and chunky. Lets be honest, you can’t escape that! But…it’s also a work of art…and not only a work of art, but a very practical work of art! Simply put it’s one of the best and most versatile ball heads on the market, so should you consider it? Absolutely yes!

The BH-55 ballhead review from Really Right Stuff

The BH-55 ballhead from Really Right Stuff

Overview
Weight: 889g (1.96lbs)
Height: 92.7mm
Max load: 23kg (50lbs)
Links: Really Right Stuff.com

A quick word about load ratings
The head is designed to ‘only’ support 23kg (or 50lbs) which is a lot less than some of it’s rivals. However, it is worth remembering two things, the first is that there is no standard for measuring load ratings and figures are provided by the manufacturers with no word of how they arrive at these results, and second…whilst you may think compared to it’s rivals it’s load bearing is not up to the task, it’s worth pointing out that my D3 and 600mm only weigh in at around 7.5kg…which gives you some idea of just how overpowered the BH-55 still is regardless of it’s modest load rating. Have I used my 600mm with it? Nope. But that’s not because I don’t think it would support it but because with a lens that big I personally feel it’s easier and safer swing about on a gimbal like the Wimberley MKII.

Nikon D3 with 28-70 on RRS BH-55

Build
The RRS BH-55 is built like a tank! Pictures simply do not do it justice. The engineering that has gone in to it is second to none. From the chunky machined aluminium knobs to the smooth movement of both the pan and the ball itself, this thing oozes quality. Plus, the low profile shape and over size knobs certainly help it stand out from the crowd. No matter what angle you look at this from, it looks like it means business!

Rear view

If you are used to shooting with pro sized camera’s and metal bodied pro lenses then you will feel right at home with the BH-55. If you aren’t familiar with such cameras and lenses then you’ll be in for a treat when you take delivery of the BH-55.

Left side profile

Controls
Of course, the BH-55 features the standard issue controls you would expect from a ball head, but it offers you them in a way that makes it stand out from the competition.

Main locking knob for the ball
Obviously the most important part of any ballhead. The first thing you will notice about the BH-55 is it’s over sized locking knob. Whilst this may seem like overkill at first glance, once you start using it you will soon appreciate it’s size. The beauty of it being it is very easy to grab and use quickly if you are using the head along with a large telephoto lens for wildlife. The size also makes it very easy to use even with thick gloves on, perfect for those who need to shoot in cold conditions. Locking it down tight is also very easy thanks to it’s size, and when locked down this thing is solid as a rock with no movement at all.

Large, easy grip, locking knob

Large, easy grip, locking knob

Pan and tension fine tune adjust knobs
Another big plus point, as well as the over sized main ball knob, you also have quite large locking knobs for not only the pan of the head but also the tension fine tune of the ball. The tension fine tune being especially nice as it has 1 – 9 marked on it so you can easily set the tension to where you need depending on what lens you are using. You can turn the knob round a couple of times so you can go from 1- 9 then back to 1 and on again so there is quite a range of movement to go from a full loosened tension setting to a fully tightened one. It would have been nice if the range went from 1 – 9 only without the need to keep turning through the numbers a second time, but that’s a fairly small negative as the large tension knob is a welcome feature compared to the way some other manufacturers implement this feature.

Tension fine tune and pan knob

The large panning knob is also very welcome because again, it makes operation very quick and easy even with gloves on with thanks to it’s size. Again a vast improvement on the way some of the other ball head manufacturers offer much smaller and more fiddly panning knobs.

Tension adjust and pan knobs

Tension adjust and pan knobs

Another nice touch is the tension and pan knobs are also machined slightly differently so that you can tell which is which without the need to look down at them. As you can see from the image above, the pan knob has a groove machined in to it and also sticks out slight further than the tension fine tune knob.

Vertical drop slots
You will notice straight away another distinct different between this and other ball heads is the inclusion of two vertical drops for the ball to slot in to. If you are a serious landscape shooter then you’ll no doubt have an L bracket but regardless, they are spaced 45 degrees apart and help offer just that little bit more flexibility should you ever need it – maybe for the macro shooters out there.

Dual dropslots for flexibility

Plate options
I picked up my head with the quick release clamp but there are a couple of other options as well such as a non-quick release clamp and a panoramic head, see the RRS website for more details. At this point I should tell you that although I prefer the quick release clamp for it’s speed of use, only certain plates will fit. It is Arca Swiss compatible and of course RRS own plates work but if in doubt, again a quick look at the website will help you. If you have plates that will not fit or do not require quick release then the screw clamp is the one to go for as that will fit any width plate…and it’s cheaper! Every clamp also has a spirit level built in to help get a nice level base if you need it.

Built in spirit level

Operation
All those features above make for a ballhead that is an absolute joy to use. It is designed so that you have the large ball knob to the left with the smaller pan and tension fine tune knobs to the right, this layout means you can lock and unlock the ball with your left hand whilst keeping a firm grip on the camera with your right hand. A very sensible and intuitive layout that works very well giving you great confidence, especially if you are shooting with a telephoto lens attached which was my main concern. The downside of course, is that if you need to adjust the pan you need to let go of the camera and use your right hand to do so, which may not appeal to everyone. However, for my style of shooting that is not an issue as I’ve found I only really adjust the pan when using wide angle lenses for landscape etc, in which case I am generally taking my time and not in a rush. When shooting with a telephoto the pan is always locked down as I am just using the ball itself. And when locked down, this thing is solid with no visible creep, easily holding my 200-400 in any position needed – let alone light weight lenses such the 50mm or the 28-70.

Nikon D3, 28-70 on RRS BH-55

As I said at the start of this review, the Really Right Stuff BH-55 is a heavy and large bit of kit. Those of you looking for something lightweight should look elsewhere. But those of you shooting with other heavy equipment that requires sturdy support well, this will certainly make a welcome addition to your kit bag as it’s one of the toughest ball heads on the market. As I’ve mentioned I made my purchase based on the need to shoot wildlife with my 200-400 VR when travelling abroad, and the over-sized knobs of the RRS had me sold as I didn’t want to fiddle about with smaller controls in situations that required speed of operation. As I said if I ever go ‘light’ when I travel over seas I take my 200-400 with me and the BH-55 compliments the lens perfectly, allowing me to leave my Wimberley MKII at home along with the 600mm. Then I have one head that will allow me to use both my telephoto and do some landscape, macro or time lapse work too. In fact my first time using the BH-55 was doing my old time lapse of Miami.

Due to it’s size, in my opinion it’s not really designed to be used with a monopod, but then I wouldn’t use any ball head on a monopod. For that, something like the Really Right Stuff monopod head is much safer as it only allows tilting movement of the lens.

Nikon D3 with 200-400 VR on RRS BH-55

Conclusion
Due to it’s size and control layout you will either love or hate this ballhead. Personally, I think most will love it once they have had a go but as with most things, it’s all down to personal preference. But one thing is clear from where I’m sitting, like I said at the start…from the beautiful finish to the over-sized, easy grip controls to the attention to detail, the Really Right Stuff BH-55 is not only a work of art, but a very practical work of art!

Want to buy?
You can only get the BH-55 direct from the Really Right Stuff website. They are based in the USA but do ship worldwide. I had to ask them about a couple of things before I placed my order and they were nothing but fast and friendly in dealing with my emails, so top marks on customer service too!

About the author

Richard Peters is a Surrey based professional wildlife photographer, Nikon Ambassador, and one of the few British photographers to receive the accolade of European Wildlife Photographer of the Year. He is known for a style that often favours dramatic use of light, runs wildlife photography workshops and, from camera clubs to big industry events, holds talks about his work.

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