The ProMediaGear BH1 is not an entry-level product. In fact, in the world of the best ball heads this all-aluminium, US-made example has to be near the top of the tree. Just check out its price, a whopping US$499.95/UK£395/AU$695. Nor is it particularly lightweight at 920g/2lbs.
But make no mistake, the BH1 could be the ball head of your dreams. It's durable, it effortlessly switches between landscape and portrait, and it’s ultra-precise. Here's how we got on using the BH1 and what type of photographer we think it’s best suited to.
Max load: 23kg/50lbs
QR plate: Arca-Swiss compatible
The BH1 isn't like other ball heads. It’s got a semi-open design that gives you an extra degree of movement over its rivals by orienting to the side instead of the top, essentially allowing more movement for less effort.
Its ball head is actually housed in a casing that moves through 180°. It’s the fact that the casing itself moves that makes this a drastically different design to other ball heads. There is then another axis for the ball head to move through 90° so you can quickly move from landscape or portrait orientation.
All movement is reasonably smooth and controlled by the main lock knob, which is huge though also low profile. Thanks to some deep yet smooth grooves it’s really easy to grip with small or large hands, naked or gloved. The pan lock knob is much smaller and twists the BH1 through 360º, but it’s similarly grooved and just as easy to use.
Able to work with any lens, it comes with ProMediaGear’s PBX3 quick release plate, but you can use any Arca-Swiss plate you already own. It attaches to a tripod via a 3/8-inch thread, though its base is pretty wide. This isn’t a ball head for flimsy or tabletop tripods.
There are actually two spirit/bubble levels built-in – one on the base and one on the plate – so you can get your camera level with the horizon really easily.
Performance and usability
The BH1 boasts a bulletproof-like build quality. Sculpted from aircraft-grade machined aluminium, it’s got steel insides and feels like it will last several lifetimes. It ships with a small drawstring bag to protect it from bumps and scrapes, but we’d wager you could drop this from heights and it would survive intact.
What we loved most about the BH1 during our time with it was its ease of use. The main locking knob frees-up two degrees of movement, so you can put your camera in either landscape or portrait orientation and set the exact position without having to play with additional knobs. That’s largely because the BH1 is oriented on its side and because the casing also moves, though since two components are moving simultaneously there’s not the same smoothness that most ball heads offer. Nor is there any friction control.
However, it didn’t take us long to get used to this, and arguably it’s worth the extra ease of control and precision. That main locking knob is super-strong, which means no droop. If you've used more than a couple of ball heads you'll know that whenever you find a new position for your camera and secure the lock knob there's always a tiny bit of droop or sag before it settles. Not so the BH1, which is super-precise. That's going to be extremely useful if you’re using a telephoto lens on the BH1.
Here’s a unique ball head that has excellent craftsmanship and ease of use. Equally as at home in the kitbag of a landscape photographer or indoors in a studio, the BH1 is a solid and as precise as any ball head we've used. We liked its flexibility and the fact that you can operate the main lock knob and the pan lock knob quite easily while wearing gloves, but mostly the BH1 shines for its precision and complete lack of droop. Sure, it's expensive and its movement is not as smooth as on its rivals, but you're getting something uniquely precise – and if that’s your priority then the BH1 delivers.