A tale of three ball heads. The Arca-Swiss, left, was expensive and too large, the Demon, right, was inexpensive and underwhelming, but the RRS BH-30, while not cheap, was just right.

A tale of three ball heads. The Arca-Swiss, left, was expensive and too large, the Demon, right, was inexpensive and underwhelming, but the RRS BH-30, while not cheap, was just right.

Right up front, this is not a complaint about the price of Really Right Stuff (RRS) products. Yes, RRS gear can be expensive. It is also quality gear and more than likely will last you a lifetime of photography.

My grandfather often said that you have to pay for an education. So it's natural for new photographers, after spending a significant amount of money on a camera and lens, to look for a bargain on accessories. Only after purchasing those bargain accessories do they realize that they have to now spend more money buying what they should have considered buying in the first place.

Which brings me to point of this blog. I've used several ball heads on my Gitzo Mountaineer series 0 tripod in the past, starting with the Arca Swiss Monoball B1. That is an expensive ball head, so it isn't always about the bargain for me, sometimes I just need to do more research. That ball head was overkill for my tripod, especially when I switched from a DSLR to a Fujifilm X-Pro2 for my landscape photography. In an initial effort to go lighter and smaller, I purchased the Demon DB-46 Tripod Ball Head. At around that same time, I also purchased my first L-Plate, the universal quick release L-Bracket. Both the ball head and the L-bracket worked fine, and for a total investment at the time of around $60, I guess it worked well enough for me to get by for two years. But it was my grandfather's advice that would come back to haunt me.

The RRS BH-30 Ball Head with the BXPro2 L-Plate for the Fujifilm X-Pro2.

The RRS BH-30 Ball Head with the BXPro2 L-Plate for the Fujifilm X-Pro2.

I was reading the new RRS magazine, Light & Shadow, and was intrigued enough to visit their website and check out some gear. The first thing that caught my attention was the RRS BXPro2-L Set L-Plate. The difference between this L-Plate and the knock-off I owned was night and day. Sure, the other L-Plate worked, but it always felt like it was just an accessory and somewhat in the way. The RRS L-Plate is custom made for the camera and in my case, fits the X-Pro2 perfectly. I can access the battery compartment and the connections on the side of the camera without having to remove or loosen it. After several weeks of use, it really is part of the camera, almost as if Fuji had added it themselves. Then during a recent trip to the Smoky Mountains I become frustrated with the Demon ball head. It wasn't smooth and I was never quite sure when turning the locking knob if I was tightening or loosening the ball head. Besides, it seemed like a crime using this really nice RRS L-Plate on a substandard ball head. So, when I returned home, I was right back on the RRS website and ended up purchasing the RRS BH-30 Ball Head with Mini Screw-Knob Clamp. I had to think a bit about the cost, $260.00, but again, after using this ball head for several weeks now, I'm glad I did.

The ball head is smooth, light and just right for my camera. A feature I really appreciate is the oversized spring-loaded locking T-lever that can be pulled out and repositioned. A nice bit of attention to detail. Even in the dark, with gloves on, there is no fumbling around when making adjustments.

I was lucky to get great advice from a mentor when I was purchasing my first professional camera gear in 1985. At the time I wasn't sure I really wanted to spend around $250 for a tripod, but guess what, I still have that Bogan 3020 Series tripod today. It's a little heavy and only gets used if I'm working out of the car, but the point is that it was money well spent.

So my advice is to do the research, buy quality gear and only buy it once.


Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all the photographers out there and thank you for the continued support.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all the photographers out there and thank you for the continued support.

It is the time of the year when we start to see all kinds of photography related gift lists, either for you to purchase or if you are lucky enough, have someone purchase for you. And I do love these lists, except that in most cases you would need to take out a small loan just to purchase a few of the items.

With that in mind, every photography or photography related item on my list this year is under 12 dollars and over the next 12 days, I'll add one item each day*. Think of it as the 12 days of Christmas, only without any partridges or pear trees, which even though they might be the cheapest item on that list, would certainly be more than 12 dollars. 

Day Twelve

Ok, technically this is more $12, but since it is under $10 per month, I'm going to make it the final item on my list of 12 gifts. When Adobe switched to the Creative Cloud they took a lot of heat from a community used to making one-time software purchases. And at the start pricing, and a lot of misunderstanding was an issue. That all changed when the photographer's plan was introduced and now I recommend this all the time, even to those who consider photography a hobby. If you are still using an old version of Photoshop or Lightroom, please consider upgrading. You will not regret it. Besides, if it doesn't work out, cancel and go back to using whatever the last version of Photoshop you own. Let's just hope it is newer than version 3.0.

Day Eleven of Twelve

I still can't believe this item is under $12. I was looking to purchase a second tripod plate prior to a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains and came across this L-bracket and couldn't believe it, especially given that I have previously looked at camera specific L-brackets, but couldn't justify spending between $150 and $200. Let's just say I was skeptical. I may go into more detail about this item in a future blog post, but for now, I can say this product is well-made and works perfectly fine with both my DSLR and Fuji x100s. Don't hesitate on this!

Day Ten of Twelve

This is another one of those items you will never think about until you need it. In fact, you will probably get tired of seeing it in your bag and be tempted to leave it behind. Don't. My suggestion is to find that little-used pocket in your backpack or camera bag and just stick one there for a rainy day. Sorry for that, but not sorry for recommending it. You won't regret it.

Day Nine of Twelve

There are all kinds of carabiners on the market and many are under $12, although not all of them have the screwgate feature which adds an extra level of security when closed. You may be wondering how this item relates to photography, even though you have to admit it is just plain cool. This is another piece of equipment that I alway have with me and use it all the time to secure my backpack or gear to a fixed object, whether flying, on a boat or in an open vehicle. I can't imagine watching as my camera bag goes in one direction while I'm traveling in the other. Additionally, when it is attached to a backpack, you can run your camera strap through it and not worry about the camera slipping off your shoulder. 

Day Eight of Twelve

Now is the time to think about how you are going to organize all the items on this list, whether it is cables, batteries, cleaning cloths or the Lens Pen. There are of course more expensive storage bags and then again you could just put everything sandwich bags, but for under $12 these are a great solution. Bonus tip. Since they are assorted colors, use them for rechargeable battery management, charged and ready in the yellow bag and used in the red. Of course it is still a good idea to always have sandwich bags on hand, but that's another blog post.


Day Seven of Twelve

Like many of the items on this list so far, you can never go wrong with giving a photographer a microfiber cloth. I know your strategy is to pick these up at trade shows and I don't fault ou for that, but under $12, what do you have top lose by actually purchasing them. Besides, they don't last forever, so that microfiber cloth you picked up from the Nikon booth at PhotoPlus in 2013, is probably ready to be replaced.


Day Six of Twelve

This is the original Joby GorillaPod and for under $12, you just can't go wrong. Admit it, from the beginning you thought this looked silly and was one of those gadgets you carried around and never used, until one day you just stopped carrying it altogether. Give it another try, it takes up almost no room, is light and granted, this version will not support your DSLR, but what about a strobe or a GoPro or... You get the point. 


Day Five of Twelve

This "doohickey" is another item on the list (and won't be the last) that at first may not seem like a photo gift, but how many times have you gone to fasten a tripod plate to your camera and realized that you don't even have loose change in your pocket. And thanks to the terrorists, you may not even have a multi-tool with you, especially if you had to fly somewhere. Well, this item is perfect to keep clipped to your backpack, camera bag or use it as a keychain. You'll forget it's there until you need it and for the price, you could order three and still be under $12.


Day four of Twelve

In a recent post, I wrote about peace of mind while on a photo shoot or traveling with your gear. These small locks are perfect for securing everything from zippers on your backpack to securing gear to a fixed point in your trunk. These won't stop a determined thief, but if these little lock allows me to enjoy a bite to eat, or concentrate more on my shooting when seperated from my gear, it's worth it for under $12.


Day Three of Twelve

This item will make any photographer on your gift list smile. And even if they already own one, having another won't make them sad. Plus, it does an outstanding job of removing dust and smudges from your lenses and filters. If you've had one of these in you camera bag for years, remember there is a limit to its effectiveness, so now may be the right time to order it again at under $12.


Day Two of Twelve

Gaffers tape is something you only think about when you don't have it. It's bulky, heavy and takes up space in a camera bag, which is why I'm suggesting this smaller 30-yard roll that just happens to be priced slashed and available now for under $12.


Day One of Twelve

You may not have known what they were called, but I'm sure you have seen them around, organizing cables big and small. Cable management is one key to good packing and also maintaining sanity while on a photo shoot. I guarantee a pack of ten will not be enough.

*I own and have used every item that appears in this post.