I’m sure anyone who is in the market for a quality ball head would be wondering about these 3 top level ball head manufacturers.  It also depends on what kind of gear that you’ll be putting on these ball heads would determine the models from these manufactures.    I’m also sure that there are some other ball heads from other companies besides these mentioned here, that are very well made and reasonable.  However, there is no denying the resell values of these ball heads and their quality and craftsmanship that these possess.  I also learned a while ago that if you have the money to afford the best, then buy the best, you won’t regret it nor be itching to sell and buy something else later on.

One more thing, this post is about my experience and how I feel about them, and not the technical data nor measurements, etc…, which don’t often translate into your final use experiences.

My post here, is basically giving you the major points of these ball heads, pros and cons as I see it, which might or might not expose everything that someone might know, like or dislike about them, however, these are just my own experiences born out of my usual usages in the field, so please, keep that in mind.

If you don’t want to read more details about this post, you can read the next line and move on….

Of all three ball heads, I like the Arca Z1 the most for its silky smooth ball movement, second is the RRS as an overall balance performing head, and thirdly is the Markin for its light weight, less expensive and good quality.

Don’t get me wrong, if I only had only one of them, I’d be happy and not complaining…but probably only wondered what the others would be like, that is why I have all three!

Three Ballheads

OK, now the summary of pros and cons:

Arca Swiss Z1:

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To check prices on B&H

The best as far as mechanical movements and quality.  Here are the pros:

  • The movement of the ball itself is as smooth as silk.  The best among the three, second would be the Markins, and thirdly the RRS BH-40.
  • The built quality is superb.  This ball head can last a life time.  This one is one ballhead that you can be sure to outlast you and many cameras to come.
  • Can accommodate the heaviest gears that you have compared among the three.  Of course, this is relatively speaking, not absolute.  But notice, I said “among the three”.
  • I’ve taken this ball head to many different areas, weathers, temperature…with minimal maintenance required, except some minor wiping dirt off with a soft cloth.  That is it.  No fuss, just keeping on working as the first day I got it.
  • The screw-in mounting-plate type as opposed to the lever type is absolutely perfect,  in my opinion, I think there is no need to have the lever type plate, because you can feel secure after you make sure that you’ve secure your camera by your own hand.  The lever plate, as on the RRS BH-40 is good, but it is pretty hard to flip it in and out, and after a while, that hurts my fingers.  I’m one who doesn’t keep the camera setup on the tripod when moving around or hike, therefore I have to take the camera off and on many times.
  • The setup is very stable, especially with their patented elliptical shape which prevent the setup from drooping down when setting the gear pointing downward, is the best among the three.  Did I also mention that it moves like silk?
  • The weight makes the setup more stable.

The cons:

  • Heaviest of the three, second is the RRS and lightest is the Markin.  However, not sure if this is a cons, because the weight makes the setup more stable.  So depending on what you think is more important.  For me, since I’m not getting any younger, and going on a long hike, carrying lighter gears more and more, is my preference.
  • A bit taller profile than the RRS, about the same height as the Markin, so in this regards, I would say lower profile of the RRS is better, which would render your whole setup to seem a bit more secure.  However, this is only a perception, and probably doesn’t effect the performance.  In the heavy wind situation, probably the BH-40 has better profile than it.
  • Not sure about resell value…people seem to want the RRS more.
  • That is it, can’t think of anything else as cons.

RRS BH-40:

The Pros:

  • Also built like a tank.
  • Looks nicer than the other 2.
  • Will last forever, and when you have it on your tripod…it is like a show-off piece of gear, you think that other ball heads are craps.  Some bought the RRS for the prestige and are afraid to use it.  Some bought it and baby it so much that they don’t want to have any scratch on it…to me, if  that removes the enjoyment out of using a piece of gear, then it is a pity.  Sure, you can try not to abuse it, but in normal usage, especially if you take these equipments with you on hikes, travels, it is inevitable that they will get some dings and scratches.
  • Movement of the mechanism is very assuring.  You know pretty much that it is set and ready to go after you adjust the position, even it is not as smooth as the Z1.
  • A bit lighter than the Z1, but not much.  However, I think the low profile compared to the other 2 makes me want it.
  • The best resell value.

The Cons:

  • The ball moves with a little bit jerky, not as smooth as the Z1 nor the Markin.
  • The lever is very difficult to open and close, which hurts my fingers after opening and closing many times during the shoots.

Markins Q3:

The Pros:

  • Lightest among the 3.
  • Good quality, even though not to the same level as the other 2, but probably will last a long time too.  I can’t verify this statement, but I don’t doubt it that it is accurate to the best of my experience.
  • Ball head movement is between the other 2 ball heads, not as good as the Z1 but better than the RRS.
  • Can accommodate pretty heavy gears, but based on the physical size and weight, I doubt that it will be better than the RRS and Z1.  However, their website claims and shows that it can support a ridiculous amount of gears on it…but how stable it is, is another story.  But, having said that, for my kind of gears, I’m sure that it is more than adequate for my use.  In fact, this is the ball head that I consider bringing with me on long hikes and travels.
  • Good price, cheapest among the 3.

The cons:

  • Probably too light for some heavy gears.  It can probably accommodate the heavy gears, but I’m not sure you want to take a chance and compromise, regardless of the specifications from the manufacturer.
  • It seems to be harder to control when setting up the gears pointing downward, but having said that, this is not an issue about the ball head would droop down on its own, but you just need to make sure that you’ve set the friction adjustment correctly and/or making sure that you’ve tighten up the ball friction knob before taking the pictures.
  • Due to its light weight, I have a feeling that with heavy gears on it, it would probably not as stable and vibration free in the winds.  The Z1 is the best, second is the BH-40.

Summary

Despite of these knit-picking points, the bottom line is that if I had only one of these ballhead, I’d be OK.   I think some of us, myself included, tend to analyze things to death.   Since I have all 3 ball heads, I plan to do this:

  • Use the Markin Q3 for long hikes and travels.
  • If I do less hiking, and mostly have a car to drive from point to point, I would take the Z1 or the RRS.  I switch back and forth between the Z1 and RRS in some situations, just to make it more interesting….
  • The RRS would have been my clear pick, if it is not for the fact that it is hard to open/close lever.  This is with using the ArcaSwiss camera mounting plates, and not with the RRS plates, which I don’t have, so the situation might be different if I used the lever one with the RRS mounting plates.

As you can see, I’m a bit torn between the Z1 and the RRS.  I’ll keep the Markins for sure due to its light weight.  But if I have to pick only one, either the RRS or the Z1, I might keep the RRS because my gears have changed recently.  I changed my camera system from the Canon 1DS Mk3 (a beast) to the Nikon D800E, and the weight requirement factor is not as much as before, and I also travel more and more out of the country, so lighter gear is better for me.  I can put up with the RRS sticky ball movement a bit (not a big issues as I made it to be, mind you), but the flip lever issue is a big issue for me.   After using a while during the shoot, my thumb hurts pretty good to the point that I was afraid to open it.  I’m not alone in this department.  My brother has the same ball head and he just bought himself a screw type lock like the Z1 to replace his lever lock.

Definitely, I’m using the Z1, without reservation now.  However, just to keep things interesting, I might switch the Z1’s screw lock to the RRS BH-40 once in a while, just for fun.

Hope that this might give you a little bit more information on which one of these ball heads might suit your needs.

To check prices on Arca-Swiss Z1 on Amazon

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