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:
- Acratech GXP
- Arca-Swiss Monoball p0
- Benro GX35 (no longer offered by B&H)
- Colorado Tripod Company Highline Small
- FLM CB-38FTR
- Leofoto LH-40
- Really Right Stuff BH-40
- UniqBall UBH 35XC
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
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
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Another good choice: Arca P0
-Ball faces upwards, socket downwards sheltering the ball, thus less dirt and water land on the ball.
-Panning joint is atop the ball so leveling with the ball joint replaces tedious leveling with leg lengths, then panning is in a horizontal plane. I sold my leveling insert when I switched to this head.
-Single large ring controls both friction and aim. Once this is learned, aiming the camera is very fast, and no friction adjustments are needed going from short lightweight lenses to long heavy ones.
-High quality, large ball, no drift even with a long heavy lens.
-Works just as well at -20F as in summer heat.
-Should be used with a round clamp. I prefer the Novoflex but have also used the Sunway, both designed for this ballhead.
-Weight is in the medium range, 281g, a bit heavy for a travel tripod but about average for what most landscape photographers use.
great in depth review! it's very helpful to see all the demonstration of ballhead operations. I am looking to upgrade my ballhead recdny. I was considering FLM CB 38, but I wasn't very satisfied with the ballhead that came with FLM CP26 Travel Tripod, with your review, I won't consider it anymore.
do you think that pair arcratech GXP with FLM CP26 work? I also have FLM CP-30 L4 II. I am debating to get GXP or GXP-SS.
I recently got the CP26 paired with the GXP-SS and love it! I think it’s the perfect pairing for a travel tripod.
Thank you for a very useful review! I'd like to ask a few questions if you don't mind.
I was looking at either the FLM CB-38 FTR / RRS BH-40 or possibly the FLM CB-32 / RRS BH-30, based on the legs choice. I'm surprised how quickly you dismissed the FML head given its other reviews. And from what you said the RRS head also doesn't seem like a dream product, one would guess in that price range there would be no creep or sag…
Also I'm looking at either the FLM CP-30 L4 II or CP-34 L4 II for landscape/travel. I'm currently using Nikon DX gear and plan on switching to Fuji X-T series, so weight is not the issue.
But I basically want one ultimate tripod that will never let me down. Could the CP-30 L4 be enough? I'm affraid it might not be, when shooting in waves or high winds. I think I'd rather lug the heavier thing but had the peace of mind if it's gonna be a noticable difference. Also I'm 6’5” so need the tripod to be used at full extension. But maybe it's an overkill for Fuji system and the CP-30 L4 with even a 30mm ball head would be plenty? I saw that you used BH-30 with a little travel tripod for your Fuji.
I’m from Europe and don't have the option to try anything so any input will be welcomed. Many thanks
I had high expectations for the FLM ballhead as it sounded like a really innovative design. I read all the reviews too, but it just didn’t live up to the hype, at least for my needs. I want something that just works all the time and it was confusing and clunky to me. Is there a reason you’re not considering the Acratech? I know it’s pricey, but damn I still love that thing! I really dislike the lever on the BH-40, otherwise it’s close to perfect. My current setup is the Acratech GXP on the FLM CP30-L4 II using a Canon R5 and it’s plenty stable except maybe in the most brutal winds. I used this setup with my Fuji and it was perfect, still is with the bigger Canon even. For travel I switched things up because I was sick of the BH-30 and the Feisol legs. I went with an FLM CP26 Travel Tripod and an Acratech GXP-SS, which is a little on the heavy side for a travel tripod, but it’s very stable. I’m 6’4″ and love both of these setups. If you’re interested in the Acratech’s shoot me an email and I can get you a discount for 10% off.
Thanks for the detailed response. I was affraid the FLM head in practice might be a little too “tryhard”. If that Tilt function worked well it could be very useful. But the 7 turn locking seems a little ridiculous…
I think I like the RRS head the most – it's clean, simple and intuitive and I think I actually prefer the lever, it locks with just a small turn. My only concern is the lever hitting a possibly wider tripod apex at the bottom turn.
As for the Acratech, I haven't considered it, my first impression was that it's pretty big and the knob sticks out a lot (I don't mind taller cuz I'm tall and it adds height). It sure looks unique and kind of bold, while being useful. The gimbal function seems sweet, but I prefer smaller telephotos like the 70-300 which sadly has no column (I wish it did).
I'm glad you say than even the CP-30 L4 is enough for anything but brutal winds. I'm not sure what difference would CP-34 make in those. I'll try to find a little more info on this and also check some more Acratech reviews. Thanks again!
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.
I do cover this in the video. I’m glad you enjoy the p0, I found it to be one of my least favorite heads, everyone has different preferences!
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.
Great tip Michael! I’ll keep that in mind if ours start to get sticky.