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Really Right Stuff -- The New Ballhead

Back in March of this year, I decided to upgrade from my old Manfrotto 468MGRC0 Hydrostatic Ball Head with its RC0 hexagonal connector plate to something with Arca-Swiss compatibility. I looked around, and with the realization that this was going to be pretty expensive (for me, anyway), I decided on Really Right Stuff. I had heard a lot of good things, and many of the more prominent photographers I follow use Really Right Stuff (hereinafter "RRS") gear.

A few days and $1200.00 later, I was the proud owner of the following Really Right Stuff gear:

  • LCF-10 foot for my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8

  • LCF-11 foot for my Nikon 500mm f/5.6 PF (which, at the time, was only a week old)

  • (2) BMBD12-L810 L-Plates for my Nikon D810 bodies (this L-plate is designed specifically for bodies with grips, which mine have)

  • B2-LR-II Lever-Release Clamp (60mm) to go on my monopod

  • BH-55 Ball Head with Full-Size Lever-Release Clamp (Chrome) for my tripod

Everything except the LCF-11 was purchased through B&H in NY. At the time, the LCF-11 was only available directly from RRS.

Needless to say, at $489.00, the BH-55 Ball Head was the heavy hitter on the old wallet.

The Manfrotto 468MGRC0 was a great ball head, and had served me well for quite a number of years. It was easy to use, and rock solid. I even used it with great success supporting an old manual focus Nikon 600mm f/4 lens. With just the right touch on the tension knob, that big glass would sit still on its own, yet I could still move it with ease. What it lacked was Arca-Swiss compatibility.

Enter the RRS BH-55. I chose the Full-Size Lever-Release Clamp over the Screw-Knob because I don't trust myself to get the knob tight enough to make sure the camera/lens were properly seated and secure. Never have liked having to secure things with tighten-up-knob-y-thingies. Give me a lever that snaps into place any day.

Which brings me back to the LCF-11 foot for my Nikon 500mm f/5.6 PF, which, you might remember, attaches to the lens with one of those tighten-up-knob-y-thingies. Please note that while RRS did in fact refund my purchase price on the foot, I had to pay the shipping to them, and they have never responded further in any way, so I don't know if they were able to replicate the problem or if it was corrected. I don't want take the time to go through all of that again here, so if you want to read about it, follow this link.

Which (finally) brings me to the reason for this post -- a $498.00 ball head that worked flawlessly -- until last week. I was on a job last week, and without going into unnecessary details, trust me that it was one of those jobs where the camera MUST be mounted on a tripod.

As I tried to change from horizontal to vertical, I noticed that the Lever-Release Clamp was becoming increasingly more difficult to move. By the time the shoot was over, getting the camera out of the clamp was hard enough, but closing the clamp onto the L-Plate was almost impossible. It took all the strength I had to close the clamp.

When I got home, I played around with it some more, and it was getting worse with every actuation. By Saturday, it was hardly moveable. All this time, the lever on the B2-LR-II Lever-Release Clamp that was mounted on my monopod was working fine.

Being Saturday, customer support at RRS was closed, so the best I could do was leave a voicemail, and hope they call back.

Out of frustration, I sat at my desk with the tripod jammed between my legs, and tried to work that lever back and forth. Remember, that with the camera on the ballhead, it was almost impossible to close the clamp all the way. Without the camera, it was only slightly easier.

After about 30 minutes of this back-and-forth, straining as hard as I could, I noticed a good deal of very fine particles that looked like aluminum dust or filings falling all over the black body of the ball head under the clamp.

Several more minutes of lock/unlock back-and-forth, and something gave. "Popped" isn't the right word. It was more like something in the clamp suddenly snapped back into place.

I don't know exactly what happened, but what I do know was that the clamp was suddenly working correctly. As a matter of fact, it is even easier to move than when it was new. It's even easier to clamp or unclamp than the one on the monopod. In addition, after several tests (which are, as of now, ongoing), it seems to be holding the camera just fine.

That's not to say I'll be tossing the tripod with a camera mounted to it over my shoulder anytime soon and even when I do, the camera will be tethered to the tripod (a subject for another post). So there is no longer any danger of something coming undone and dropping the camera.

Bright and early the following Monday morning, I received a call from a young lady at RSS customer support. I was unable to take the call, but she did leave a voicemail detailing what I could do to (hopefully) solve the problem.

She said that the problem wasn’t all that uncommon, and that I should use something like a toothbrush to get into every nook and cranny of the clamp, and clean out as much as possible of whatever gunk may be lodged in there. After cleaning out the gunk, I should apply a small amount of a synthetic lubricant. She said they use bicycle chain oil, but that other, similar lubricants would work. She specifically warned against using WD-40, as they felt it would leave a residue that could cause a recurrence of the problem.

She said that if this didn’t solve the problem, and that if I felt it would be necessary to send it in for service, I should call back and they would instruct me what to do.

I took advantage of the opportunity to call back. Since I was unable to speak with the young lady who had called me (she was speaking to another customer), I spoke with the young man who answered. I got him up to speed, and then I told him what I had done myself, the back-and-forth, the aluminum filings, all of it.

His reaction was one of surprise — he’d never heard of that solution. He said that he would enter my information into their database.

I have been thinking of late of replacing my old aluminum tripod with one of the RRS carbon fibre units. After the problem with the BH-55, I started having second thoughts.

Fortunately, RRS’s Customer Support’s rapid response to my problem has saved the day, and I think that when the time does come, I’ll be picking up one of their carbon fibre tripods. Now if I can decide on which one . . .

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