Really Right Stuff BH-30 Ball Head Review

Long ago, I owned an RRS BH-30 ball head and used it as my regular travel ball head. While the head was a great little product, it simply did not lock as tightly as I wanted it to and I eventually moved on to other heads. Eventually, a Really Right Stuff BH-30 Ball Head made it back into my kit and the latest revisions have made this one different. This one locks very tightly and it is now my regular travel ball head.

The biggest attraction here, aside from the very impressive design and ever-present quality in Really Right Stuff products, is the big performance from the tiny size and very light weight of this head.

I went into a lot of detail about ball heads in general, including why they are the best general purpose tripod head choice, in the Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head review (I highly recommend reading that page), so I'll keep this review more concise, focusing primarily on the BH-30 specifically here. Since the BH-30 is, in many respects, a smaller BH-40, these reviews will show many similarities.

Know that the quality and performance of a tripod head can vary greatly and in most cases, you will be glad that you selected a quality model. The BH-30 easily meets that qualification.

Really Right Stuff BH-55, BH-40 and BH-30 Ball Head Comparison

Really Right Stuff BH-30 Ball Head Dimensions, Specs and Weight

As with tripods, ball head selection involves finding a model that offers the right balance between load capacity, dimensions, weight and cost along with the features and quality it offers relative to needs.

Here are the Really Right Stuff BH-30 Ball Head's measurements, following its larger, stronger siblings.

SpecificationsBH-55BH-40BH-30
Load Capacity50.0 lb(22.7kg)18.0 lb(8.2 kg)15.0 lb(6.8 kg)
Weight31.4 oz(889 g)17.1 oz(485 g)11.2 oz(318 g)
Measured Weight31.2 oz(885 g)17.21 oz(488 g)11.2 oz(317 g)
Height3.7"(94 mm)3.0"(76 mm)3.0"(76 mm)
Base Diameter2.9"(74 mm)2.1"(53 mm)1.6"(41 mm)
Max Diameter4.59"(116.0 mm)4.07"(103.4 mm)3.28"(83.3 mm)
Min Diameter2.86"(72.5 mm)2.08"(52.7 mm)1.61"(40.7 mm)
Main Chassis Width2.86"(72.5 mm)2.08"(52.7 mm)1.61"(40.7 mm)
Ball Sphere Diameter1.97"(50.0 mm)1.57"(40.0 mm)1.18"(30.0 mm)
Ball Stem Diameter0.79"(19.9 mm)0.58"(14.7 mm)0.50"(12.7 mm)
Ball Stem Height0.55"(13.8 mm)0.43"(10.8 mm)0.50"(12.7 mm)
Ball Lock Knob Max Diameter1.64"(41.5 mm)1.86"(47.3 mm)1.63"(41.2 mm)
Tension Control Knob Max Diameter0.74"(18.8 mm)0.71"(18.0 mm)n/a(n/a)
Panning Brake Knob Max Diameter0.81"(20.4 mm)0.87"(22.1 mm)0.92"(23.4 mm)

The RRS BH-40 is rather compact and lightweight and the BH-30 is considerably smaller yet.

The BH-30's small numbers position it ideally for long term carry and for light, compact packing. The BH-30 is the perfect match for the small Really Right Stuff TQC-14 Carbon Fiber Tripod as well as 1-series and traveler tripods from many other manufacturers. This head is still a good choice for 2-series models for those wanting wanting to shave some weight over more commonly-chosen 2-series ball head models.

Really Right Stuff BH-30 Ball Head on Tripod with Camera

If you are following this site, you know that I recently tested the BH-55 and BH-40 and was left impressed with their ability to hold my 170 lb (77 kg) nearly 90° off-axis. The BH-30 could never do that, right? While I was extremely skeptical and knew that I could break the head, I couldn't resist trying the same thing with the BH-30 and, remarkably, this tiny head can do the same thing!

Exceeding the manufacturer load capacity may void the warranty and may cause damage to the head, but in this case, I think the load rating is a comfortable one.

I'll provide more-specific gear capacity advice later in the review, but at this point, hopefully you have determined if the Really Right Stuff BH-30 Ball Head is appropriately-sized for your application.

Really Right Stuff BH-30 Ball Head Tour

As with the other RRS ball heads, the BH-30 gets a simple name with meaning: "Ball Head" and "30" mm ball.

Let's take a closer look at this beautifully-designed head. Mouse over (or tap) the numeric labels under the product image to see a variety of views of this head.

Really Right Stuff BH-30 Ball Head

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

Most ball heads are similar in overall design and the Really Right Stuff BH-30 Ball Head is normal in this regard.

Less common is Really Right Stuff's meticulous attention to detail and uncompromising design decisions. All components, including the knobs (all are captive), are machined from solid aircraft aluminum or stainless steel for a superior strength and a high-precision fit.

As with all of Really Right Stuff's products, aesthetics were also not compromised. The Really Right Stuff ball heads are very sharp-looking with a much-desired clean, simple design. The quality black matte finish is very nice and optimal for avoiding reflections (though marks from fingernails, branches, etc. readily show). Silver knobs provide an attractive touch of contrasting color.

Really Right Stuff BH-30 Ball Head Top

Body, Chassis, Main Casting

A significant ball head part is the body (chassis, etc.) which is of course required to hold the ball in place. Like its siblings, the Really Right Stuff BH-30 Ball Head's body is very-strongly and precisely CNC-machined from aircraft aluminum.

Ball Lock Knob

As usual, the ball lock knob is the biggest knob and you will spend plenty of time with it in your hand. These knobs are generally rounded or in a lever configuration. On compact heads, a lever is typically required for the longer throw radius they provide while avoiding interference with other parts. While round knobs are generally easier to roll with fingers, they cannot be made large enough on a compact head. The extra length is needed to comfortably provide the torque necessary to lock a ball tightly and, like the BH-40, this head gets the lever.

Perhaps the most significant issue with levers and their length is that they can impact the clamp, tripod base or even camera parts. Helping to resolve that issue is the spring-loaded design that easily permits easy lever orientation change. The clamp can still impact the lever, but it remains free from impacting other parts of the head and that gives a lot of area to work with.

The BH-30's ball lock lever (called a T-knob) is very long relative to the size of the head, measuring 1.63" (41.2 mm) in maximum diameter. That dimension is about equal to the significantly-larger BH-55's ball knob diameter. This knob provides very substantial pressure on the ball with only modest effort. The machined shape is a very comfortable one, including no sharp edges.

I talk about some of the ball head aspects that can be discerned using the lock knob and I'll cut right to the chase here. This ball locks very tightly with only modest pressure and, again, it can hold tight with my full weight applied off-angle.

A differentiator is how smoothly the ball can be adjusted as it approaches fully locked down. While I'm not going to call this one silky smooth, the slight slip-stick behavior the BH-30 exhibits under pressure is not bad and has not bothered me.

Another differentiator is how much the ball moves as it is tightened. It is very frustrating to carefully frame a scene only to watch the framing drift as the ball head is tightened. With tension properly-adjusted (snug), there is slight movement when tightening the main lock knob. The amount is usually only slightly noticeable at 400mm and basically not noticeable at 100mm.

The BH-30's body surrounds the ball with Delrin, a dimensionally-stable engineering thermoplastic ideal for high precision parts that require high stiffness and low friction. Delrin provides a smooth surface for the ball to move against and protects the ball stem from metal-on-metal impact at the edge of the body.

Ball Tension Control Knob

Ball tension control knobs are a common feature on quality mid and larger-sized ball head models. These permit the minimum drag/friction level on the ball to be set. When heads get as small as this one, that feature is usually omitted and that is the case with the BH-30.

I have mentioned before that I typically find that the ball tension should to be comfortably-tight for the least amount of ball movement on lockdown. The movement is most-readily seen in longer focal length lenses and these larger lenses are typically more usable under stronger tension than smaller ones. So, that issue mostly works itself out naturally – if there is a tension adjustment knob. Without this knob, the main ball lock knob can be adjusted to create the tension you desire. Still, the amount of ball movement on lockdown seems somewhat random, but relatively minor.

Drop Notch

Because the chassis must contain the ball, the chassis must extend adequately over the max diameter of the ball. The ball stem coming into contact with the chassis is typically the limiting factor for the clamp's max angle of tilt, a 45° angle for this head. While an L-plate-equipped camera or lens plate-equipped lens often does not need a significant amount of head tilt, a base-plate-only-equipped camera needs to be able to tilt a significant amount, especially to accommodate vertically oriented image capture. And, even cameras with L-plates sometimes need more range of motion for photographing up or down at strong angles. To accommodate these needs, most ball head bodies, including this one, provide a notch wide enough to permit the ball stem to drop down to a 90° angle, effectively handling any situation encountered.

The position of the drop notch can be differentiating, though I can't recall using a travel-sized ball head with a drop notch not positioned in the front and the BH-30 follows the standard. Drop notches on the front of a head are optimal for shooting downward and shooting upward means that the ball lock knob is going to feel like it is on the wrong side of the head for most photographers. If not using an L-plate or lens-plate-equipped lens, visualize the camera and main knob positions when the camera is in vertical orientation to assess the design of a ball head.

Really Right Stuff BH-30 Ball Head Bottom

Panning Base

Most ball heads feature a panning base, allowing the head to be rotated independent of the ball adjustment position. Reasons for rotating the base include orienting the ball lock knob for comfortable use, for panorama capture and for simply moving the subject framing side-to-side.

The panning base's brake feature is often a ball head design weakness, but not on this one. The Really Right Stuff BH-30 has a machined aluminum panning brake lock knob and the panning base rotates smoothly until locked tight, is evenly damped during a full rotation and it locks up tightly with only modest torque applied to the knob. While the shape of this knob is not round and is not meant to roll in the fingers, the 0.92" (23.4 mm) flared-square shape (similar to the BH-40's) provides a sure grip that facilitates a very tight lockdown.

The Really Right Stuff BH-30 Ball Head's panning base measures 1.6" (41 mm), noticeably narrower than the BH-40 at 2.1" (53 mm).

Another common feature on the panning base is an index. Indexed bases are most frequently used for precision panorama captures and this head has this feature with marks laser-engraved at 2.5 degree intervals.

The Really Right Stuff BH-30 Ball Head's thread mount size is 3/8"-16, the (substantial) size most commonly offered by tripods.

With the panning lock loosened, the BH-30 rotates very smoothly, but there is noticeable slip-stick action experienced when the lock is snugged.

Clamp

Ball heads minimally require threads on the ball stem and ideally they have a quick release clamp for convenient camera mounting. The BH-30 clamps are compatible with the highly-desriable Arca-Swiss standard.

Also of high importance is how the clamp's locking mechanism works. This head is available with a lever-release or screw-knob clamp. The screw-knob is a large CNC-machined aluminum design that works great. However, I fell in love with the Really Right Stuff Lever-Release Clamp long ago and have these clamps on most of my supports. That the BH-30 is available with the RRS lever-release makes clamp selection easy for me.

Clamp size is somewhat of a differentiator. The larger the clamp is, the greater its potential gripping power becomes and the more rigid its construction can be. The BH-30 is available with full-sized clamps and a compact version of the lever-release clamp is available. While I have the full-sized clamps on all of my other heads (and other supports), I opted for the compact lever-release clamp for my BH-30. The smaller-sized clamp is still substantial and provides more head clearance than the larger option. Those looking for a weight savings will find the smaller clamp shaving off a minor 1.4 oz (41 g), 15.7 vs. 17.1 oz (445 vs 486 g)

Other RRS clamp features include an index and a spirit level (omitted on the compact lever-release clamp). While both of these options can be useful (such as when capturing precision panorama images using the nodal point), I mostly use the index to center my camera in the clamp and I use the electronic level in the camera for ideal leveling. The BH-30 clamp is end-user removable in case you change your mind or simply want to switch between the clamp types. RRS clamps are grooved to facilitate the use of safety stops on plates and brackets, helping to prevent gear from sliding out of a slightly-loosened clamp. The RRS lever-release clamps open to a position that permits gear adjustment without release and the safety stops are especially helpful in that position.

There are a lot of camera and lens plate options and you will need one for the BH-30 (none is included). I recommend an L-plate for cameras and a lens plate for tripod-ring-equipped lenses.

The panning clamp is not offered for the BH-30.

Cold Weather Performance

Just because a ball head works well at room temperature does not mean that it will work well in the cold. Ball head operation is sometimes negatively impacted by very cold temperatures, so ... the BH-30, along with its siblings, spent a cold night outside. The temperature had risen to 7° F (-14° C) by the time I brought them in the next morning and aside from the discomfort of the extremely cold head in my bare hands, they all worked flawlessly – similarly to when warm.

Using this head with gloves is not a problem and the ball locking lever is especially easy to use with gloves on.

Gear Capacity Recommendations

Generally, ball head manufacturers provide load capacity specs and expect you to figure out what gear will play nicely together with their respective heads. While that can work, I'm generally not comfortable using weights approaching max load capacity with vibrations and load manageability being primary issues.

To gain my comfort level, I used a Canon EOS 5Ds R mounted to a Canon EF 600mm f/4 L IS II for a 12.0 lb (5.4 kg) load and a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens combination that weighs 6.3 lb (2.9 kg).

When evaluating the BH-40, my expectation was that the huge 600mm lens and camera combination would be overwhelming to this little ball head. I was pleasantly surprised to find the load being easily managed and vibrations being quite low and while the BH-40 handles that load better than the BH-30, the difference was surprisingly small and the BH-30 held that load solidly at any angle I could put it in, including nearly seated in the drop notch. Though I prefer a larger, stronger head for that setup, the BH-30 can do the job.

With that report, I'm sure that it is no surprise to hear that the BH-30 easily handled the 100-400. The 100-400 (similar in size and weight to 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses) of course felt better-proportioned and should be considered the upper limit for use on this head.

Note that, with the BH-30's narrow base diameter, a large lens being carried on a tripod and head generates a significant amount of gravitational torque on the base and that can cause the head to twist loose. It is often best to carry the camera separately when using any small head.

Really Right Stuff BH-30 Ball Head Case

Price

Really Right Stuff gear is purchased for its value and great performance (and great looks), not for its low price. Those who understand and appreciate the value of quality buy RRS products without hesitation.

Really Right Stuff defines customer service excellence. It is very easy to reach an RRS representative via email, chat or phone and this company stands behind their products. RRS offers a limited 5-yr warranty on the BH-30 and I expect that this head will last a lifetime.

A useful Padded Cordura pouch with drawstring closure is included in the box. I frequently use this cover for ball head protection when carrying the tripod uncased in the field and simply leave it on when casing the tripod.

The reviewed Really Right Stuff BH-30 Ball Head was purchased online/retail.

Alternatives

Two very good ball head options with BH-30-similar capabilities are the Acratech GP-s and the Gitzo GH1382TQD.

Here is a comparison table with the other RRS BH models included.

ModelLoad CapacityWeightHeightBase Diameter
Acratech GP-s25.0 lb(11.3 kg)14.4 oz(408 g)3.9"(98 mm)2.1"(53 mm)
Gitzo GH1382TQD24.3 lb(11.0 kg)13.8 oz(390 g)4.1"(104 mm)1.4"(35 mm)
RRS BH-5550.0 lb(22.7 kg)31.4 oz(889 g)3.7"(94 mm)2.9"(74 mm)
RRS BH-4018.0 lb(8.2 kg)17.1 oz(485 g)3.0"(76 mm)2.1"(53 mm)
RRS BH-3015.0 lb(6.8 kg)11.2 oz(318 g)3.0"(76 mm)1.6"(41 mm)

The Acratech GP-s is another CNC-machined ball head model I currently own and use with some frequency. Thanks to its attractive skeletal design, it is also frequently featured in the site's lens product photos. The Acratech head is larger and a bit heavier. It tilts to a modestly-stronger angle and has a tension control knob which is missing on the BH-30. The Acratech has a rubberized rounded ball lock and panning brake knobs vs. the RRS's CNC-machined aluminum lever ball lock and flared-square panning brake knob.

The Acratech has a higher load rating and it is slightly smoother in use, but I cannot lock the ball as tightly as with the RRS. Acratech GP-s vibrations take a bit longer to subside and it moves the ball noticeably more than the RRS BH-30 when locking down. The RRS head is considerably less expensive.

The Gitzo GH1382TQD is another great compact head and if using a traveler-style tripod, especially a Gitzo model such as the awesome little GT1555T, this is probably the better head option. The GH1382TQD is significantly taller and its base is much narrower, permitting the traveler tripod's legs to completely fold over it for an extremely compact overall size. Along with the Gitzo's taller size comes better clamp freedom with clamp self-impact not possible, though it does not tilt quite as far (40° vs 45°). The RRS clamp is nicer with the Gitzo clamp being rather sharp on the inside edge.

The Gitzo ball remains smoother under load and easily locks tight enough for normal use, but much more torque is required to make it really tight and it cannot be locked tightly enough to handle the maximum load that the RRS head can. The RRS shows less vibration with big camera and lens combinations mounted.

While the RRS is CNC machined, the Gitzo is primarily cast-molded. The Gitzo uses ribbed-rubber-coated round knobs while the RRS uses machined shaped knobs and levers. Both function very well and which head has the nicest appearance is up to personal taste. I think they both look great.

In general, there are three reasons to go with a smaller tripod head.

1. To save weight
2. For the smaller physical size
3. Usually, for a lower price

The downsides to a smaller head are typically:

1. Reduced load capacity
2. Modestly-reduced ease of use

For those not certain that the BH-30 is enough head for them, the Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ball Head is a great option. The BH-40 is not greatly larger or heavier, but it is a more-capable head. For general purpose use, I recommend the BH-40 (or better yet, the BH-55).

For those needing an even smaller head, the RRS BH-25 is probably the right answer. However, keep in mind that this head is likely going to be found under-sized for DSLRs and larger MILC cameras. It is better-suited for tiny cameras and accessories.

Really Right Stuff Tripod Comparison

Above, the BH-40 is shown mounted on the TVC-24L with the BH-55 and TVC-34 combo to the left and the BH-30 and TQC-14 combo to the right.

Really Right Stuff BH-30 Ball Head on Tripod

Summary

The Really Right Stuff BH-30 Ball Head is essentially a smaller version of the most-loved RRS BH-55 and near-as-loved BH-40. Those two heads are, at review time, the #4 and #6 (respectively) best-selling ball heads at B&H. The BH-30's position on that list? Number 8 out of 329 options, despite the fact that it is a compact head and that it costs considerably more than any of the higher-ranked non-RRS heads. People know the value of this head and, like its larger siblings, the BH-30 is enjoying a very rapid inventory turnover rate like its siblings.

The Really Right Stuff BH-30's performance defies its size and it has become my favorite tiny ball head. My BH-30 is moving on to its foreseeable permanent home – on top of my Really Right Stuff TQC-14 Carbon Fiber Tripod. It's a great match and the BH-30 is a great option for many other small, light tripod models, including many tabletop options.

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My Recommended Really Right Stuff BH-30 Ball Head Retailers

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B&H Photo
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The Tip Jar
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