Really Right Stuff BH 55
In August of 2010, I ordered a Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head (you can order yours at www.reallyrightstuff.com). I have had the Really Right Stuff BH55 for 8 years now. I think it is now safe for me to do a little review of this ball head. The BH55 is the biggest, beefiest, and most expensive ball head that Really Right Stuff offers. In the configuration that I have this ball head runs $489. So the big question, is a ball head worth $489 for a food and product photographer?
Fit and Finish
The fit and finish of the BH-55 are absolutely stunning. The BH-55 is made with very high-quality parts. The BH-55 has a nice heft to it when you hold it in your hand. Despite being mass manufactured the BH-55 is artfully crafted. This is one of the more attractive ball heads on the market. All of the knobs have a nice drag to them and an excellent feel. The quick release is well made and has a smooth and quick operation. Check out a few photos from when my Really Right Stuff BH 55 was brand new and out of the box. I was not a good product photographer back then, 8 years of experience goes a long way. You can check out some current photos that are much better below.
This ball head is one of the biggest on the market. It is intended for studio or commercial use. It is big and beefy. This ball head is not going to let you down. It weights 1.6 lbs is 3.7in tall and 2.9in wide. This is not a ball head that is designed for travel. There are many ball heads on the market even some from Really Right Stuff that are perfect for travel.
The BH-55 ball head shines above all others in usage. It makes using a tripod a dream. Before using the BH-55 I did not like using tripods. The main reason for my dislike of tripods was that the ball heads that I have used in the past sagged and were hard to operate. Really Right Stuff has solved both of the traditional problems for ball heads which are smoothness and droop. This ball head can support a 50lb load capacity.
The BH-55 has absolutely no sag or droop even with my heaviest combo of a Pentax 645Z and Pentax 120mm f4 Macro. The thing that makes the BH-55 shine is that it allows you to have a set tension on the ball that allows for a nice drag. The tension on the ball head is set with a separate knob than the one used to lock down the ball head. You can move the camera around with the drag set properly and then release the camera and it will not sag or droop. It also is an extremely smooth ball because of the size. When my ball head was new it worked equally well with light cameras and with heavy cameras. I think the best feature of this ball head is that it can lock up extremely tight. When you have the BH55 locked up you can mount the heaviest digital systems on it without having to worry about it sagging. I have even mounted my 4x5 cameras on this ball head without issue.
The lever clamp is a super nice feature. It allows you to lock the tripod plate in with ease. It is one quick motion to set the camera on the tripod. The camera plates that Really Right Stuff uses are excellent and well made. The Arca standard, in my opinion, is the easiest to use. There are a wide variety of plate sizes in all price ranges. The benefit of the Really Right Stuff plates is that they have a detent on the bottom that will prevent the camera from sliding out.
Age and Ware
As this ball head has aged I have found that it works best with heavy cameras. I think that the lighter levels of drag have a bit of a catch to them and are not as smooth. With my Pentax 645Z, the ball head is perfectly smooth to operate. With my Nikon D600, I find that the ball head is a bit jerky. Overall I would say that I am still very happy with the Really Right Stuff BH55. Check out some current photos of my BH55 after 8 years of near daily use.
Thoughts on Using a Tripod and Ball Head
In addition to being a commercial food and beverage photographer, I also teach food photography at a local art college, teach workshops and do 1 on 1 session with photographers. Though teaching others I have found that one of the biggest problems that photographers have is using a tripod and a ball head. Many of them are super frustrated using a tripod because the head on it sags and droops and ultimately will not lock up solid enough to keep the camera in place. If your camera is not staying in place the tripod and ball head are essentially useless. I find myself constantly recommending people to invest money into their camera support kit. Having a tripod and ball head that is easy to operate, is light, and has solid lockup will drastically improve your photography. One of the keys to locking in a set is to make sure that the camera does not move. If you are having to constantly battle with the tripod and ball head you are losing time. If the camera is constantly moving your shot will be constantly changing. As we move the camera we are changing a lot of relationships. If we change camera angle we are also changing lighting and composition.
Is this ball head perfect for Food and Product Photographers?
Honestly, I have mixed feelings about this ball head for still life usage. I purchased this ball head before I had settled in on still life photography. At the time I was photographing bands, lifestyle, product, food, event etc. As a general use ball head, this is the absolute best on the market. The BH55 does everything well.
As a still life photographer, I would honestly prefer a geared pan and tilt head. The reason is that they allow more precise adjustments. You can repeatably change the adjustments on a geared head without a thought. With a ball head, I would like to be able to make more exact changes to my composition than what is easy to do with a ball head. If I were to buy a new tripod head to do it would be an Arca Swiss Cube.
So is this Really Right Stuff BH55 right for food and product photographers at $489? Despite some of the negatives that I have mentioned above I think it is. The BH55 even though it is not precise it is really easy to move and get in the correct position. Not only that it has perfect lockup. It is also big and beefy so you can be confident that it will work perfectly for you.
I would recommend this ball head to anyone that can afford the price. The price is hefty, but this ball head is worth every penny. I primarily use this ball head for food and product photography. I take this ball head with me everywhere. It has seen 8 years of constant use. In an average week, I will do 3 photoshoots. The ball head gets tossed around and used professionally. It has withstood the test of time without many issues. As I noted above it is not as smooth as when it was new, but I am still happy with it. Let me know your thoughts about ball heads for food and product photographers below. Do you use a tripod or bullhead what do you use?
If you want to see more of my food and product photography kit check out this link Food Photography Gear.
Want to find out The Single Best Lens for Food Photography? Click this link The Single Best Lens for Food Photography.
Do you have a budget for two lenses for food photography? Click here to find out what the Two Best Lenses for Food Photography are.
Want to know my favorite gear purchases of 2018 are so far? Check out this blog post on my favorite purchases of 2018.