It is no secret that Vanguard’s Pistol Grip Ball heads are a big favorite of mine and I use the GH-100 more than any other tripod head and now that they have brought out an update to it with the new GH-200 Pistol Grip ball head, I was really tempted to get one as it looks to be even better.
The only real gripe that I have with these and similar pistol grip ball heads is that they are relatively bulky and heavy compared to a standard ball-head, which when you are looking to travel a light and compact as possible which is often the case on safari, it is not ideal and that is where something like the new Vanguard BBH Ball heads really have the advantage.
Vanguard BBH Ball Heads
There are three different sizes of the top-of-the-line Vanguard BBH Ball heads, the smallest is the BBH-100 that has a max load of 10kg, then there is the BH-200 that can carry 20kg’s and the largest being the BBH-300 that as you would have guessed by now is rated to carry 30kg’s. Apart from their size and weight difference, they all look and work in a very similar way.
Naturally and as you would expect they all come with the standard ball head controls that give you a huge freedom of movement, but the BBH heads also have a few unique features that really makes them stand out from the competition:
Rapid Level System
Something that really interested me and was one of the main reasons I chose to get a BBH ball head was Vanguard’s unique “Rapid Level System” – By just pushing the orange slider on the front of the tripod head you can quickly lock your camera in place to be perfectly level with the base.
Trying to get your camera perfectly level especially whilst in the field or on safari using a ball head has always been a bit of a painful and fairly slow process, this is especially true if like me you use long telephoto lenses and your set-up is less than perfectly balanced. So how well do the heads and their “Rapid Level System” work? Well below is my full review of the Vanguard BBH-200 Ball Head.
Vanguard BBH-200 Ball Head
With a wildlife hiking holiday on the horizon, I was looking to go as lightweight and compact as possible with my equipment, but did not want to sacrifice at all on stability or usability and that is what lead me to the BBH-200 ball head that is fairly compact and lightweight but is still rated to carry a load of 20kg’s which would be fine for my needs.
Main Specifications & Highlights
- Weight: 0.53kg
- Height: 11cm
- Swivel: 360°
- Tilt: -30°~90°
- Two spirit bubble levels
- Supports up to 20kg (44 lbs)
- Open body design
- Solid Magnesium Construction
The first thing I noticed upon opening the box is that the BBH-200 is packaged really well using a high quality foam that has been cut to the exact shape of the tripod head. Most people may not give this a second thought but for me it is significant for two reasons:
1) It shows a good attention to detail and that Vanguard really care about and believe in their product.
2) You can use this foam cut-out by fitting it into one of the sections in your camera bag. This way when you are not using the head, it can be stored really securely within your bag ensuring that there is no chance of it damaging itself or more importantly more delicate equipment within your camera bag during transportation.
First Impressions & Build Quality
Handling the BBH-200 for the first time, I was immediately impressed with it’s build quality. Without testing it to destruction, it looks and feels as though it has been built like a tank, but with enough style to compliment any camera.
I hope that my photos do the BBH-200 justice as the engineering that has gone into the main body of the head looks to be second to none, this relates to a very smooth movement of both the pan and the ball itself and from first impressions, this Vanguard BBH Ball head just oozes quality.
The Vanguard BBH-200 Ball Head is made from solid magnesium which has the properties of being very strong, yet lightweight and has been described as being the “lightest useful metal”. Because they have used such a strong metal, they have also been able to cut away much of it and so this “open body design” reduces it’s weight even further.
It actually weighs 530g which for a mid sized ball head and one that is rated to carry 20kg’s is fairly light – for comparison and to put this into context the best Manfrotto pro ball head, the 054 Magnesium Ball Head which is designed for their carbon tripods weighs 674g and it must be said has max load of only 10kg’s.
Or compare this to the Arca-Swiss Monoball Z1 Ballhead, one of the best (and most expensive) tripod ball heads on the market which weighs 680g, but it must be said that it is rated to carry 55.3 kg off-axis.
Main Lock Lever
Located on the left side of the head is the main locking lever (image above), this layout means you can lock and unlock the ball with your left hand whilst keeping a firm grip on the camera with your right hand. This is a sensible and intuitive layout that works very well giving you great confidence, especially if you are shooting with a telephoto lens attached.
The lever is made from a type of hard plastic, which is not as deluxe as metal ones, but it does have the advantage of being a bit lighter.
I found it very smooth to operate and it’s length offers good leverage to tighten quickly and easily, with only a slight movement of the lock handle enough for secure tightening and when locked down, it is really solid and I experienced no creep whatsoever.
It is fairly large, giving you plenty of leverage and so which makes tightening it securely really simple. The size also makes it very easy to use even with thick gloves on, perfect for those who need to shoot in cold conditions.
A nice touch is the ability to have the main locking lever positioned exactly the way you want – so if the handle is in an uncomfortable position, you just have to pull it outwards and you can rotate it freely without releasing or tightening the ball joint and replace it in a position that is more comfortable/convenient for you.
Panning base lock
At the front of the ballhead there is a smaller lever that is for locking and unlocking the pan base (image above), which you have to turn it about 90° to go from fully loose to securely fastened. Even when this lever is fully loose, the pan base still has some smooth resistance against spinning which is great as if you forget to tighten it, the camera usually remains stable enough and does not rotate by itself.
Rapid Level System Switch
As you would expect the Vanguard BBH Ball heads come with the standard controls that give you a huge freedom of movement, but they also have their unique “Rapid Level System” that is operated by pushing the orange slider on the front of the tripod head (see image below). What this does is enable you to quickly lock your camera perfectly level with the base. So once you have levelled your tripod, you no longer have to fiddle about and use the bubble level every time you move the camera and then want to return it to the level as you do with all other ball heads.
In use, it basically feels like there is some kind of notch at the center point for the ball head and you just wiggle the ball around a bit until it notches right into the center position.
This feature is excellent and really makes these Vanguard BBH Ball heads stand out from the competition as trying to get your camera perfectly level especially whilst in the field on safari using a ball head has always been a bit of a painful and fairly slow process. In practice it works really well and saves you a ton of time, but you do still need to tighten the main lock lever once it has clicked into place as there is a small amount of play when locked, but with the ball still loose within the head.
As with all ball heads, you get a huge freedom of movement because the design utilizes a ball and socket joint to allow movement of all axes of rotation from a single point. On top of this these BBH heads also have a separate panoramic rotation axis on the base of the head.
Completely loose, the ball moves very freely and easily within the head, but what I like is that it is fairly simple to adjust the main locking lever to give you just a little amount of friction that enables you to tweak the position of your camera to get it just right.
Vertical drop slot
There is one vertical drop notch on the right side of the head (some ballheads have two), this is basically a cut out that you can position the ball neck into and which allows you to position the camera in the portrait/vertical orientation. It can also be used if you need to shoot at a hard downward angle.
I should also mention at this point that a good tripod and careful setup should be used when using the drop notch, especially with heavier cameras and long telephoto lenses as the off-center weight can tip an inadequate or inadequately-positioned tripod over – leading to costly repairs.
If the problem of not having the weight of the camera centered over the tripod is too great for your set-up, you should consider getting an L-Plate. With one of these L shaped plates mounted on the ball head, you actually have two plates in one: one for horizontal shots and one for verticals.
There are actually two ways of panning using the BBH-200 Ball Head:
The standard way is to use the panoramic rotation axis on the base of the head. To pan you just release the Panning base lock at the front of the head which frees up this axis. Even when this lever is fully loose, the pan base still has some smooth resistance against spinning which is great as if you forget to tighten it, the camera usually remains stable enough and does not rotate by itself.
Another way of panning using this Vanguard Tripod head is to lock the camera in the level position using the Rapid Level System Switch, but don’t then tighten the main ball lock lever. This way the ball can swivel 360° within the joint, but will remain level with the base which I found with my lighter set-up worked really well.
Quick Release Plate
The camera is attached to the ball head via a quick release plate and the BBH-200 comes with a Vanguard QS-60 universal quick shoe included. A thumbscrew on the side of the plate loosens or tightens the clamp as desired which also has a safety pin (shown on the image above) to prevent the universal quick shoe from accidentally sliding out of the plate – which could be a very costly mistake!
The quick shoe can also slide forward and backwards about 2.5cm within the plate before clamping it, helping you to get your set-up nicely balanced.
On the plate there are two bubble levels – one for finding the level when the plate is in the standard position and one for when you are shooting portrait shots and the ball neck is in the vertical drop notch.
This Vanguard BBH-200 Ball Head gave me everything I was hoping for and more:
The Rapid Level System is for me an excellent feature and one that really sets this head apart form the others that I was considering. Movement and adjustment of the ball is fast, smooth and accurate as is the panning base.
Fully tightened it is secure as you like and I never experienced any creeping at all even with my longer telephoto lenses attached or when I tested it using my heavier and longer spotting scope.
The quality and workmanship of it is great and it is lighter than most of it’s competitors and is far lighter and more compact my favourite Pistol Grip Ball head and so I shall definitely be using it where these features are important like on long hikes or walking safaris.
Video of the Vanguard BBH-200 Ball Head
The video below was created by Vanguard and highlights some of the main features of the BBH Ball Heads:
Cost & Where to buy
The BBH-200 currently costs about £200 in the UK and about $200 in the US: