The Ultimate Camera Ballhead Comparison

Important Note: This review is primarily directed at nature and landscape photographers who are concerned with stability while at the same time taking weight into consideration. Therefore I chose ballheads that fit a mid-size tripod with a 2.5” base like the FLM CP30-L4 II (my favorite) or the Really Right Stuff TVC-24L . I did not include larger ballheads like the RRS BH-55 that have a 3” base. While the BH-55 is one of the best ballheads ever made, it is also very heavy, bulky, and requires a larger tripod.

Last year I decided it was time for a new ballhead after mine from Colorado Tripod Company was falling apart. I separated from their team after many issues arose. I wasn’t sure what to get, I knew the Really Right Stuff BH-40 was a great option, but I wondered if there was something better. What a perfect opportunity to do a review comparing everything B&H was willing to send me! I settled on eight different ballheads to test out:

Features

In the video I cover what features I look for in a ballhead. The short version is that the Acratech GXP ticked all the boxes for me, it’s the closest to a perfect design that there is my opinion. The Really Right Stuff BH-40 came in a close second, but the paddle lever instead of a knob was ultimately the deciding factor for me.

Winner: Acratech GXP

Freeze Test

If you never use your ball head in frigid conditions, you can skip past this section, but if you have any plans to use a ball head in temperatures below freezing, this will be very important information. We love photographing in the winter, but it can be hard on your gear, and not everything is designed to work well in these conditions. It was summer when I first started this review, so I did my best to mimic cold conditions by throwing them in the deep freeze! I left the ball heads in the freezer overnight in -20 F temps, which is well beyond what most photographers will ever experience. Watch the video for the full details or read below for my recommendation.

Many of the ballheads did not fare well in this test; the Highline from Colorado Tripod Company was the worst by far. I initially liked their ballheads but have since found them unreliable and perform horribly even in moderately cold temperatures; I apologize for ever recommending these ballheads.

The standouts were the Really Right Stuff BH-40 and the Acratech GXP; I could barely tell either had been frozen overnight and pretty much worked the same as when they were warm. I give a slight edge to the Acratech as the lever clamp is easier to use in the cold and overall was a bit more fluid, but they were very close.

Winner: Acratech GXP

Price

  • Colorado Tripod Company Highline Small – $99
  • Leofoto LH-40 – $179
  • Benro GX35 – $210
  • Arca-Swiss Monoball p0 – $348
  • FLM CB-38FTR – $356
  • UniqBall UBH 35XC – $369
  • Really Right Stuff BH-40 – $455
  • Acratech GXP – $489
Technical Winner: Colorado Tripod Company Highline Small
Best Value: Leofoto LH-40

Although the Highline was the cheapest, I don’t think it’s the best value. The Leofoto gives you the best bang for your buck, assuming that you’re okay buying from a Chinese company that is clearly copying Really Right Stuff.

If money is no object or you just want the best, then the Acratech GXP or the Really Right Stuff BH-40 are the best options. There is a reason they are the most expensive, they are quality products that will last you many, many years.

Weight

  • Colorado Tripod Company Highline Small – 0.7 lb
  • Benro GX35 – 0.875 lb
  • Arca-Swiss Monoball p0 – 0.9 lb
  • Acratech GXP – 1 lb
  • FLM CB-38FTR – 1 lb
  • Really Right Stuff BH-40 – 1.07 lb
  • Leofoto LH-40 – 1.14 lb
  • UniqBall UBH 35XC – 1.2 lb
Technical Winner: Colorado Tripod Company Highline Small
Best when all else considered: Acratech GXP

Yes, the Highline is the lightest and the Acratech falls into fourth place, but the weight differences are very small. When you consider all the other features and reliability, I believe the Acratech GXP is the best choice with the Really Right Stuff BH-40 being a close second.

Load Capacity

I’m not going to list the load capacity of these ballheads because it’s so arbitrary. The manufacturers make up their own numbers based upon their criteria, and there is no standard. Almost all of these will perform well for mid-sized gear, meaning a mirrorless or DSLR with typical sized lenses. When you get into large telephoto lenses like a 100-500 or more, you will see some weaknesses like drift. The Arca Swiss p0 was certainly the worst and required a lot of torque to keep it in place with even mildly heavy loads. The RRS, Acratech, and Leofoto perform quite well and hold larger gear in place no problem, but you will see a little bit of drift with very large lenses.

Panoramas

Winner: Acratech GXP or UniqBall

The UniqBall is great for panos since it has a built-in leveling base, so if you do a lot of panos but want to keep your weight down, this might be a good option. Otherwise, I prefer the Acratech with my method because it allows you to easily do vertical panoramas as well. You can also add a leveling base if you do a lot of panos which only adds a half-pound.

Photographing the Ground

Winner: Acratech GXP

I know, this sounds weird. But we often point our cameras straight down when photographing mud cracks, rocks, water, etc. The Acratech is the best option here because it sits a bit higher and therefore extends a bit further out from the tripod legs. It also sits at a perfect 90 degrees to keep the lens parallel to the ground.

Clamp

Winner: Acratech or RRS

A lever mechanism on your clamp is the way to go, screw knobs are hard to ensure tightness, and I have had my camera fall off using a screw knob multiple times.

If you plan to stick to RRS gear for everything, meaning your ballhead and plates, then the RRS lever clamp is great and works beautifully. The cam design is brilliant and prevents the camera from falling out when opened halfway.

I prefer the Acratech clamp because I do not use strictly RRS plates. RRS precision designs their clamps and plates to work with one another, but the clamps do not always play well with other manufacturer’s plates. The Acratech allows you to adjust the tightness to work with any plate. Plus I like the locking mechanism to ensure my camera can’t fall out.

Conclusion

Winner: Acratech GXP

I came into this test fully expecting to declare the RRS BH-40 the winner, it’s been a solid performer, and everyone I know uses one. While it performed very well, I ultimately found the Acratech GXP was the clear winner for me. Having a knob rather than a lever makes it easier to use; the layout of the knobs is more ergonomic, the clamp allows you to adjust for different plates, the collar allows for smooth panning, and the open design lets debris fall right through the ball. I cannot recommend this ballhead highly enough; I am a convert!

About the author David Kingham

David is a professional landscape and nature photographer originally from Loveland, Colorado who is now traveling the American West full-time in an RV with his photography and life partner Jennifer Renwick, and their two cats. David has published an eBook called Nightscape and has in-depth videos on post-processing. David and his partner Jennifer Renwick find joy in teaching others photography in their photography workshops, and through their blog.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. I came here hoping to get your impressions of all of the ball heads. Maybe you do this in the video.

    The one ball head I continue to come back to is the Arca-Swiss p0. It's not perfect. The lack of a panning base on the bottom of the head is a real PITA. If Arca added this feature, even as an accessory, it would be perfect for me. Despite this, the p0's lightweight, compact design and excellent, easy-to-use control system makes it the head I reach for most often—especially if I'm wearing gloves.

  2. Hi David;

    Good review of the GXP!
    I would just add one point of interest: I switched to the GXP after years (perhaps decades) of using RRS ball heads and was pleased, but noted that it did not seem to rotate as smoothly as the BH55, which I attributed to the size of the respective balls. When I called Acratech, however, and spoke to their head tech, he told me that the material of the ball occassionally picks up microscopic particles. He suggested just wiping the ball down with an alcohol swab. This did the trick and I have not noticed any "drag" since.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}