I first read about Arca-Swiss B1 in an early-1989 Modern Photography issue. That was when the Monoball B1 had just come out replacing the previous model, simply called Mono Ball. Why was the replacement called B1? There were two replacements to the popular Monoball, the B1 and the larger B2, which was actually roughly the same size as the original Monoball.
The Arca Swiss B1 Monoball head
What drew me first to the B1 were the glowing praises heaped upon it. Adjectives like “silky smooth”, “highly precise”, “extraordinary strength”, “even and controlled”, etc. As well, the fact that it was less than 2 lbs and so much lighter than my 4 lb Bogen 3047 head was a big advantage.
On the other hand, two things turned me off on the B1. There was the hefty charge. My FM2 was only slightly more expensive! In 1991, B&H asked for roughly $350 for a B1 with a quick-release clamp. And that’s without the tripod. People not in the know, and even a few people who know, would think it was quite larcenous! That amount alone was about three times what I paid for my complete Bogen setup, the trusty 3021 legs with a 3047 head. And so, while I dreamed about the B1, I knew I could not afford it then.
And there was another issue that, to my knowledge, cropped up only in the Internet era. News about the B1 locking up during field use was plentiful in photography newsgroups and mailing lists. The problem was real enough. I took consolation in the fact that there was an offered solution. It was solution that may have exacerbated the problem in the minds of many because it was counter-intuitive (i.e. to turn the main knob about 1/8 of an inch clockwise, which is the universal direction for locking most knobs!).
Although I could see the lockup as being a real problem, I could also see many long-time owners disproving each lockup complaint by claiming a problem-free usage.> Arca-Swiss Customer Support claims: “There was indeed a small number of Monoball heads in which a part (the “calotte” which clamps the ball) was used that sometimes changed its shape over time.” Arca-Swiss also claims that the aspherical or elliptical shape of the ball has nothing to do with lockup or jamming.
This led me to suspect that the problem was concentrated to a bad batch of B1’s made in the late 1990’s. Whether that was true or not, word came out in early 2002 that a new and improved B1 was coming out, one that fixes the lockup problem. These new models are identified by a silver serrated screw that locks in the minimum tension. Note: all previous B1 models had black thumbscrews.