Vanguard’s Alta BH-250 ball head is made from aircraft-grade aluminum and weighs just over 577g (20oz) but it can support loads of up to 20kg (44lb) as it’s designed with larger cameras and long lenses like a 70-200mm in mind.
It also has three knobs to enable separate control over the panning, ball lock and friction. Unlike the Vanguard Veo BH-160S, however, it has just the one panning control and, as with most ball heads, that’s at the base.
Vanguard has opted for an Arca Swiss style plate and clamp. While the screw lock for the clamp doesn’t have a safety catch, there is a pin that’s designed to stop the plate (and camera) from slipping out sideways from the clamp.
Base diameter: 61mm
Weight: 577g / 20oz
Controls: ball lock, friction, pan
Plate compatibility: Arca-Swiss
Maximum load: 20kg / 44lb
Build and handling
Overall the Vanguard Alta BH-250 has a high quality look and feel. It’s predominantly made from metal and this gives it an air of durability. Each of the control knobs has a deeply textured rubber-like coating, which makes them comfortable in your hand as well as easy to grip.
The larger ball lock knob has a wing-like shape which means it’s easy to apply pressure with your thumb to lock the ball securely. It’s range of movement is quite limited, but it can be pulled out and repositioned to ensure it’s at a convenient angle for use.
The panning control knob has the same shape as the locking knob but it’s a lot smaller. Meanwhile, the friction control and quick release plate locking knobs are the regular round style but the rubber covering gives the purchase that’s required.
The ball of the Vanguard Alta BH-250 has an oxidized and anodized surface, which as well as protecting it from scratches is designed to enable it to move smoothly.
It’s good to see a large flip-out D-ring on the quick release bolt as this makes it easy to fix the plate on a camera or lens. However, the ring was prone to detaching my sample and I had to pop it back in place on a frequent basis. You may get away with just finger-tightening via the D-ring with a small camera or lens, but for longer lenses it’s essential to use a coin in the bolt slot or even an Allen key in the small socket. As there’s no Allen key in the box, you’ll have to find your own to fit the socket.
At 6cm wide, the quick release plate strikes a nice balance. It’s not so wide that it covers the battery compartment door of every camera its mounted on but it gives a nice solid base.
Helpfully, both of the two bubble levels on the Alta BH-250 remain visible when a camera is mounted. The most prominent one sits immediately below the rear of the camera while the second is on the side ready for use when the drop-slot is in action and the camera is in portrait orientation.
The limited range of movement of the locking knob is a little disconcerting at first and, as usual, it takes a while to find a balance with the friction control - which also has a fairly limited range of influence. However, even with an unbalanced load such as the Nikon D7100 (765g) mounted directly with a Nikkor AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 G ED VR (1.57kg) fitted, it’s possible to just about eliminate any droop.
Switching to a more sensible and balanced arrangement with the quick release plate attached to the tripod foot on the lens collar, it doesn’t take long to find the composition that you want and lock everything tight so the lens doesn’t drift downwards.
While this is the correct way to mount a camera with a long lens, it means that the camera sits further back over the head and the rear bubble level is hidden.
The ball movement is pretty smooth but to doesn’t feel quite as fluid as that of some other ball heads.
Vanguard Alta BH-250: Verdict
The Vanguard Alta BH-250 is a good ball head but it’s up against some very tough competition with even smoother ball movements. Its robust build is also somewhat let down by the D-ring on its quick release plate which is prone to popping out of position. It makes using a coin or finding the right Allen key essential when mounting long lenses.
The control knobs are well shaped and feel good in use, but a greater range of movement would be appreciated with the locking knob to enable subtler adjustments.