A review of the budget Arca-Swiss compatible Pig Iron BH-1M ballhead. Are you curious if it was able to withstand the very demanding Icelandic weather? Read on to find out.
In September 2015 I’ve had the pleasure of travelling to Iceland for the second time, following the first photo-trip in 2014. (Iceland Portolio here) Following what I’ve learned in 2014, I seized the opportunity to load up with new gear, including a new tripod head. I’ve always used ballheads instead of pan/tilt heads, as they are much more intuitive to use and ergonomic. Until mid 2015, the Manfrotto MH055M0-Q6 ballhead, a sturdy magnesium ballhead that offers great stability, had been my companion for a long time, but after switching to the Sony a7R in 2015, and discovering the wonders of an L-plate, I decided to look for a lighter ballhead with Arca-Swiss support.
As I’m sure you know, ballheads can get extremely expensive and, even though there are probably many advantages to a top end ballhead, I’ve learned very quickly during my photographic career that sometimes lower-priced items offer similar performance, assuming you are not using them beyond their specified tolerances.
After doing a quick browse for Arca-Swiss compatible ballheads, I came across Pig Iron products in Amazon. My setup is very light, as I use a Zeiss 16-35mm f4 with my Sony a7R 99% of the time, so the whole camera, battery, L-plate, lens, wireless receiver, filter holder and filters hardly surpasses 2kg. Considering this, I got curious about Pig Iron as they seemed to offer interesting specifications, low price and Arca-Swiss compatibility.
I checked their website, which is quite minimal, but it had important information to me, namely a 5 year warranty backup accompanying the low price tag, made possible due to low investment in marketing. I took the plunge and decided to ask the company for more info about their products, and on the second email we were already discussing the possibility of doing a review of one of their ballheads. I ended up choosing their BH-1M model, due to a great load capacity/weight ratio. The BH-1M is made from premium anodized alloy construction, offers a 6kg load capacity, Arca-Swiss and Kirk Enterprise compatible quick release plate system, Anti-slide camera plate, Dual ball controls (1 control locks the head, the other control adjusts drag), 360º fluid rotation with position lock and degree markings, built in spirit level, rubberized grips on control surfaces, teflon coated ball, female 3/8” base connector with 1/4” adapter, 36mm diameter ball, 48mm base diameter, 95mm overall height and a 400gram weight.
As you can see, the ballhead is loaded with interesting features and, in case it arrived in time, I would take it to Iceland, along with my Manfrotto ballhead, to see if it would be able to resist the Icelandic harsh conditions.
I know many readers are disappointed when they realize that reviewers got their gear for free, which might influence their judgment about a product. I know the internet is filled with payed-for false recommendations, and I’ve had some well known photographers recommending me gear which wasn’t clearly suited for my specific situation, apparently because they were sponsored by a specific brand. Considering that I need to plan my budget spendings with great care, due to the neverending european economic crisis, I hate to be given bad recommendations, and that is why I try to find if cheaper gear can still deliver the goods, and inform the public about it.
Moving on to the actual experience of using the tripod, well, there isn’t a whole lot to write about using a ballhead, as I think it either works or not. When you shoot landscapes in extremely harsh environments like Iceland or Portugal’s beaches and their unpredictable waves, you need simple, effective and reliable gear. I use a ballhead as a way to quickly and smoothly reposition my gear, and make sure it keeps its position sturdily. Additionally, having the ability to control drag is important for the security and stability of your gear, and having 360 degress smooth rotation is a welcome add-on, even though I rarely use it.
After spending 15 days in Iceland, shooting non-stop during the day and most of the nights (you can check my still growing Iceland portfolio here), I can gladly say the BH-1M never left my tripod. It makes a great difference in my tripod’s total weight (and, consequently, on body pain!) and it just works. Adjustments are precise and the ballhead is absolutely sturdy, even during strong Icelandic winds. The ball is coated with teflon, which is great to avoid attracting sand, and the Arca-Swiss compatibility was a great plus.
Since no product is perfect, I had some occasional problems with the rubber grip of the main locking control, where it would lose the grip with the underlying metal knob, keeping me from achieving full lock strength. This was a problem on some occasions, allowing some unwanted movement of the camera. I don’t know if this was related with the very harsh conditions of the Icelandic climate, but I’ve since then contacted Pig Iron, and this seems to be an already identified and to be corrected issue. As soon as they correct this flaw, I can safely say that this is an absolutely recommended ballhead, with a fantastic value for money.
To wrap up this review, here are some of the images made during this year’s Iceland Photo-Trip, all shot with the BH-1M tripod: