on April 19, 2012
What do I think of this head? I received one today and after about 45 minutes of testing I ordered another one.
Let me start by saying that I don't have lot of experience with top-notch ball heads. I started 7 years ago with one of those Manfrotto grip heads. That would have been OK for a small SLR and kit lens, but nothing bigger. Not only did it slip, but it wasn't smooth and it was very difficult to position precisely. As I expanded my kit and improved my photography, I recognized I needed something better.
My next purchase was a Vanguard SBH-200. At the time I liked it as well as any of the more expensive heads I tried in my local camera stores, and it was half the price of anything comparable I could lay my hands on. That said, it clearly wasn't fabulous, and I had one of the few reviews with anything negative to say about that product line. It was far smoother and stronger than my previous head, but if the friction was tight enough to support the weight of a D200 & 80-200 f2/8, it was jerky and hard to position. Once you got it pointed where you wanted, it was very stable in most positions, but it would creep when tilted at extreme angles no matter how tight I wrenched the locking knob. Finally, the friction and locking knobs are very close to the same size and position, just on opposite sides of the head. I often grabbed the wrong knob when shooting at night. It was a good-enough head, but I knew immediately that I would be upgrading sometime in the future.
I thought I would buy an Arca or RRS head when I could afford it, but I stumbled on the ABH series by accident a few months ago. The single-knob caught my attention, and in looking closer I could see that it was a completely different design. While it looked promising, there weren't any reviews and I wasn't interested in something marginally better than what I had. Last week I happened to see some positive reviews for the product line and a competing seller had this model for an unbelievable price, so I pulled the trigger.
This is what a ball head should be. The operation of the friction adjustment wasn't obvious at first, but Vanguard included an illustrated instruction card that explains how to use it in three easy steps. That's in addition to an instruction booklet with more detailed guidance. The first major difference between this and other heads I had tried was the Arca-compatible QR plate. The dovetail design allows the plate to slide on the head to better balance the load. The plate that comes with it has an off-center mounting screw which combined with the dovetail allows the camera to be shifted about 1" on either side of center on the head. This was enough that my D700 with 80-200 and battery grip could be perfectly balanced on the head, eliminating any flexing during camera positioning. If 1" isn't enough for your rig, there are plenty of manufacturers that make longer plates for under $30. The mounting screw also accepts a 5/32 or 4mm hex wrench in addition to the typical flat-bladed screw driver. This allows you to get good leverage with a small tool to keep the camera from rotating on the plate when shooting in portrait orientation - a problem I've had more than once in the past.
Once I centered my camera and dialed in the friction, I could easily position the camera wherever I wanted and release it without any movement - before tightening the locking knob! It turns out that's the way these things are supposed to work. Who knew? Once I tightened the locking knob, there was no creep in any camera position I tried. There was one very small "defect" in the locking mechanism. When tightening the locking knob very tightly the frame would shift slightly toward the knob. The range of motion was very slight, almost exactly the width of the line in my focus area indicator (maybe 3 degrees), and it was only noticeable when I tightened very hard, which I soon realized I didn't need to do. Added 5/2/12: The second head doesn't have this problem. I briefly considered exchanging the first one, but it's not enough of a problem to worry about.
One of the reviews I read indicated that the L-type quick release was a bad design - it was too tight and hard to adjust. That isn't the case with mine. Closed locks the plate securely in place. Open half-way allows the plate to slide in the dovetail, but it's still captive in the head so it can't accidentally fall out. Full open allows the plate to be removed. There's a small thumb-wheel in the head that allows the tension to be adjusted easily and precisely. It's a very clever design.
This head is far better than anything under $200 that I ever tried in a camera store. Is it as good as a $400 Arca? I've never even touched one, so I can't say. I also doubt I'll find out. This is all the ball head I need.
on August 13, 2012
This ball head is no longer made by Vanguard (bummer) but the lifetime warranty provided by the manufacturer says it all. The newer replacement version (BBH-XXX) is a great unit but costs twice as much, because they're that good. I'm exceedingly pleased to have secured one of these heads before supplies ran out, I feel like I just got away with something! Two control knobs and a lever, that's it, can't get much easier and the instructional flier that came with it need only seconds to review and you get it, completely understandable and very functional. Did I mention I love this unit?
This unit comes with a velvet carry bag which I use over the head when it's installed on the legs (Induro 8M AT413) as extra protection when stored in the tripod bag. I would absolutely recommend this head to my friends and have.
on October 28, 2012
I purchased the Vanguard ABH-340L to replace a Bogen head with an arca clamp on a large studio tripod. I bought it for two reasons- it uses an arca-swiss style quick release plate and it was dirt cheap compared to what I have spent on such heads in the past. The good news it is very stable. It compares favorably to the Kirk and Really Right Stuff heads I currently own. The tightening and locking adjustments are smooth and easy to use. The rotation is just a tad less smooth than the Really Right Stuff head I own but it is more smooth than the Kirk. Unfortunately the locking design is less than ideal. Instead of the typical screw-type locking they have opted for a hinge-type swinging arm, (right side of picture with the yellow button.) a small wheel on the top of the tripod is used to adjust the width. Most plates have varying widths so every time you change plates you have to go through a process of spinning that little wheel, mounting the plate, swinging the locking arm in place to see if it is correct, opening it if it doesn't and repeat the process until you hone the grip. It's tedious and unnecessary. So, if you are only going to use the plate it comes with I would rate it five stars. If you have multiple plates be aware that you'll be fiddling with it quite a bit. Still, it's a stellar value, but not perfect.
on July 17, 2012
I love it. I shoot nature and portraits both of which can require some awkward angles. Previously I used a ball head that did not have the quick release. The quick release is pretty useful when you cant get the angle just right quickly when shooting nature. I would definitely recommend this product to anyone that needs the weight support, quick release, or shoots in awkward angles.
on August 24, 2012
Quality is tops in my opinion. It was an effort to make my camera in the same position after locking the knobs, I end up wasting a lot of effort trying to hold it just so that when I let go, it will not move.
With this new abh-340l ball head, my camera is locked tight with no movement, its frozen solid 200mm and all.
Extremely happy with the purchase.
Sadly these product has been discontinued....so what are you waiting for, stop reading and buy it already!