ProMediaGear BH-1 Balhead Review
Today we take a look at a product that we were interested in for quite some time and was recently updated which gave us a chance to review it. The ProMediaGear (or PMG for short) BH1 is a unique type of ballhead with a semi-open ball design that gives you more flexibility and another degree of movement.
Let’s check out its design and features of the BH1 more closely.
The ProMediaGear BH-1 Balhead – unique design
Build and design – the build quality of the BH1 is really top-notch just like any PMG product that we have tested. It is made in the company’s factory in the U.S., entirely of aluminum and feels fantastic in the hand. The design is really unique, it isn’t exactly what we would call open ball like CTC’s Aspen ballhead that was recently on Kickstarter, but it does have huge freedom of movement with an unbeatable level of heavy-duty build that seems like it will easily last for a lifetime.
Size and weight – all this ruggedness does come with some extra weight and although the unit is made of lightweight aluminum it is still over 900 grams or 31 oz.
Base and knobs – the base of the unit is sizable at 7cm (over 2.5″) giving it good support. Please keep in mind though that it isn’t really designed for small and light tripods and is a much better fit for studio tripods or heavy-duty outdoor tripods.
The head has two knobs, a larger one for operating the ball and a smaller one (although still pretty substantial) for the pan. Both knobs feel great with nice thick grooves that are easy to lock and open with one hand. The larger knob and ball mechanism is made in such a way that you don’t need to turn it as much as you do with a normal ballhead in order to achieve the same locking force which is a great time saver and a very welcome feature.
The smaller Pan knob – fantastic build quality and design
Ball design – We think that the best way to think about the design of the BH1 head is like a ballhead on its side that also has pan option so, in essence, you get another degree of freedom when you play with the head.
Bubble levels – The BH1 has not one but two bubble levels, the first one the side of the base (in early models of the BH1 it was in the center which was not easy to view but PMG changed that) and another on the Arca Swiss base which is what we have been using for the most part.
Quick-release and plate – The BH1 uses a very robust PMG Arca Swiss quick release base with a nice strong locking knob. It comes with a PMG’s universal PBX3 plate which can also connect to other PMB accessories. We actually attached a Manfrotto 323 RC2 base to the plate and if you prefer RC2, the Arca base of the BH1 is user-replaceable.
Operating the BH1 is pretty straightforward although it is different than most conventional ballheads on the market. The tilt knob allows the user to move up and down forward or backward in about the area of a quarter of a sphere. If you compare this to a “normal” ballhead that has typically a single drop slot (high-end ballheads might have two or even three but these are rare) that allows you to change the position of the camera from landscape to portrait, the BH1 can do this on an entire side which is very useful if you find yourself constantly switching between landscape and portrait mode during shooting.
One thing which a lot of ballhead reviews don’t seem to talk about but is really important is that on many ballheads there is a tiny drop that you sometimes encounter after locking the head (often referred to as sag). With the BH1 we did not encounter this at all, and even if it does occur with very heavy setups, it is minimal.
Talking about setups, since we are shooting mostly with Sony mirrorless cameras and setups that are not very heavy, we didn’t feel like we were really challenging the head that much, so we decided to push it to its limit using our new Slypod (review coming soon) which creates a very substantial amount of force on the head when the camera and most of the slider is away from the ballhead. In our experience, as long as we made sure that the ball is tightly locked down, the Slypod stayed in place despite the huge pressure.
There are two things that we would consider improving if a new version of this product will be developed in the future. The first is making the movement a little smoother. It seemed to improve a little since we got it and might improve even further the more we break it in, but it would be nice if it came this way from the start. Talking to PMG they explained to us that:
“The BH1 is not as smooth from the start as traditional heads, and it can never be because it is designed differently. Were’ not only squeezing the ball we’re also squeezing the housing it is placed inside since it’s rotating”.
So this is one thing to keep in mind if you are thinking of getting a BH1 head. The second is adding some sort of a friction mechanism so users can decide how much resistance they need. This is common in normal ballhead designs but after talking to PMG we understand that this will be complicated to add to the current BH1 design. It is worth mentioning that the level of resistance the BH1 has is actually very good, although just like any other head, when it is open all the way your camera is going to fall forward, so be careful.
The BH1 is a very unique product. It has one of the highest levels of craftsmanship in the industry, an extremely robust build and most importantly an extra degree of freedom which makes it particularly flexible.
We can certainly see the BH1 used both indoors, for studio work like we do, as well as in an outdoor environment for landscape and general-purpose shooting.
We wish there was a way to add a friction knob and maybe get a bit more smoothness in the motion of the ball, although this is likely to improve over time.
As for pricing, the BH1 currently sells for $500 which is certainly a premium price but you will be getting what you paid for with this head and we can certainly recommend it for those looking for a unique high end versatile heavy duty ballhead.
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