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Benro KS-1 Ball Head - initial impressions UPDATE

kocho

Metro DC, US
1756 posts

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kocho Basic Member
Wed 16-Jan-08 01:23 PM

Got my KS-1 ball head today. It took 12 days to arrive to the US from China/Hong-Kong. Cost - $129 shipped, including a second QR-2 plate.

These are my initial impressions.

Visual inspection:
- Tight tolerances on all visible parts with very good fit and finish
- The release QR plates fit very securely in the head without any movement
- Comes with one QR-1 (I think) plate included and I had ordered one more (a QR-2) which is a little longer
- The QR plates are also very well made without any visible imperfections
- A carry pouch is included as well as a two sized wrench to attach the plates to the camera. Not sure what the smaller size on the wrench is (probably to remove the QR mechanism from the ball).
- There is a good quality 2-3 pages of a printed manual. There are also some credit-card sized and another plastic label that, were they not in Chinese, would make justice to any expensive product. No cheap, barely visible printed instructions here . The head has a serial number on the bottom of the QR mechanism. If I could only read Chinese I’d tell you what they say, but it looks like the stuff one can infer from the www.benro.cn web site… All came well packaged in retail boxes that looked like any other off the shelf US-sold product (except most text is in Chinese).

As soon as I mounted it on the tripod, I noticed what some other users of Benro heads have noticed too:
- Panoramic movement was a little too stiff for my taste, due to the thick grease (easily fixed as described later by replacing the grease)
- After all knobs are reasonably tight, there was a small amount of lateral (panoramic) play left (again, easily fixed as explained below)

Following the advice of other users, I removed the head from the tripod and proceeded to disassemble it so that I can replace the thick grease with lighter one.

There are three screws on the bottom that require a star-shaped screwdriver (readily available in hardware and “all for a dollar” stores in the US). As I suspected, these were barely tightened, which explained the little play mentioned above.

After removing these three black “special” screws, the bottom plate literally jumped-off the base. There is a spring inside, so keep your hand on the plate to remove it safely and without dropping it. The spring is not that strong, but enough to hit you in the eye if you are close and (worse?!?) to propel your precious ball base to the floor and scratch it

After removing the bottom plate, the spring can be taken out – nothing holds it inside. There is another aluminum-looking base affixed with four Philips-head (#1 I think) screws. This has a large hole in the middle where another disc lies to which the first plate has been secured with the three screws. This second disc has the opening in the middle where the spring rests.

Both of these come out easily (again the four screws were barely tightened).

After taking these out, you may, if you wish take out any or all knobs buy simply unscrewing them out of the base. Once the knobs are out, you can take out the two cones that cover the ball from below. The outer one is metal (looks like some light-weight aluminum alloy), the inner one with the same shape is plastic. The way the head works is that the knobs’ screws push the metal cone up which in turn pushes the plastic cone against the ball and freezes it.

I carefully cleaned all these from the lubricant (including all screws and the three knobs, all of which had greasy threads). Then put all back together applying grease only where I thought it is needed (rather than almost everywhere , as it was before). I used a very high quality fully synthetic brake caliper grease. This grease has proven to work extremely well in my cars’ brakes and keeps its consistency over a wide range of temperatures. It is not going to loosen nor become thicker with normal tripod use (I hope). Not sure about low temp handling, but high temp stability is assured

I put very little of this grease on the surfaces where the two inner discs fit within each other, and also on the outer surface of the metal cone and the tips of the knob’s screws.

I put blue thread locking fluid on all seven screws when I put them back and tightened them to taste. Careful as you do not want to damage the threads!

As a result, the panoramic rotation is a easier now, though still very damped (my grease is rather thick, though not as thick as the one used before). If you use lighter weight lubricant you can have the head move even easier. I would not use liquid lubricant as it will come out and also attract dust more easily.

The lateral play due to the three lose screws is now gone.

I did not have much time to use the head, but I noticed the following:
- The locking is positive and secure. There is no play anywhere when secured. No excessive force is needed to tighten it and the knobs are comfortable, though I do not feel they are very well positioned.

- The panoramic movement is smooth with the camera mounted and allows for fine adjustments without stickiness. The thick grease helps here, I think. There is no wobble or unwanted movement.

- There is a pre-tensioner knob that does what it is supposed to do. The best results seem to be obtained when the pretentioner knob and the main knob are tightened about the same. It is easy to achieve balance in which the camera moves smoothly around but stays in place when left alone. The combo I tired (D70s with 18-200 VR extended to 200mm) would stay in place and not creep and still be able to reposition easily. Tighten the big knob too to fix it in place for multiple shots. The movement with the pretentioner engaged is relatively easy, but it is not appropriate for panning action of fast or erratically moving subjects. If you losen the knobs a litte, then the movement is free and easy and smooth in any direction though of course you can't let the camera off your hands or it will flop down . With lighter lenses or lenses with collars that balance better, you can rely on the petitioner alone quite well. On the other hand, if you add a heavier lens and a strobe, then I think creep will be unavoidable in all but the upright balanced position with the pretentioner alone, if an easy movement is to be maintained.

- The QR plate fits very nicely to the camera. The bolt tightenes with the included wrench (or a thick screwdriver or a coin, if you must) with a positive feel when it is tight enough (e.g. the tension noticeably changes when a secure position is reached). A stronger body might tolerate more torque, so that the plate gets more flush with the body rather than resting on the two pads alone, but I would not risk it with the D70s. The plate is very secure andd does not twist relative to the camera.

EDIT - MORE: After trying the head/plates a little more today, my conclusion is that the two insulator strips are better left where they are and they are. There is a little flex when the camera is mounted and I initially thought it was due to the rubber pads on the plates. Not so. The reason is the D70s plastic body! I shaved-off half a milimeter from the rubber from one of my plates so that the metal fits flush with the body and there is no play b/w it and the plate. The result is exactly the same in terms of wiggling - there is flex present and it is clearly due to the plastic body not being able to hold its shape well. Unfortuately, with the strips thinner, now the camera tends to rotate off the plate when the pretentioner is tight, which it does not do with my second plate with the original strips (even though it is about 30% shorter, a QR1 vs. QR2 plate). So keep the strips as they are . On a separate note, the two strips do not look like they are very securely glued to the plate - one end of one of them was loose, so prepare to re-glue them at some point in the future. Not an issue once the plate is mounted but you may loose them if the separate completely.

- The other thing I’ve seen mentioned by others was also true in my case. After positioning the camera (with the pre-tensioner reasonably tight and the locking knob barely loose) one needs to secure the camera with the big knob for best results. This fully tightening the big knob produces a very slight repositioning of the camera. At a distance of about 10 feet at 200mm the visible movement is about 2 cm or so at the target. So, with very long telephoto lenses and super precise framing this might be a problem. For most practical purposes one would leave some room in the framing anyway, so I do not think this would be a big issue.

EDIT - MORE: Used the head some more today (with the 50mm AF-D, 18-200 VR and the 180mm AF-D, all relatively light lenses). I did not notice the above mentioned movement off-target when tightening the main knob. I was testing for front/back-focus so I had to reposition the setup many times (probably at 30-50 times). I guess careful pretensioner use helps minimize the issue. It is still there if you look carefully, but I would not worry about this being a problem in practice. I'm attaching an image illustrating the amount of movement present (this image was not used for focusing tests!). This is shot at 200mm (150 or so effective) from a distance of about 12 feet (3 m). The target is about 7-8 inches in diameter (20 cm or so). The top image shows the position when shooting with the pretentioner set only and the main knob slightly loose. In this setting there is no camera creep in any position and movement and repositioning is possible with relative ease. The bottom image shows the shift in framing after the main knob is fully tightened. The move is minute IMO. After pretensioning carefully, I can now safely have the camera with the 18-200 fully extended in any position and still move it with relative ease and the movement is smooth and even. Basically, unless doing a series of shots and you want to ensure the camera does not move between them, the use of the main knob is not necessary - only use the pretentioner since the camera stays in place without creep and can still be repositioned quite easy. Only if you push on it it will change positions and that is when the main knob is needed. Quite good AFAIC

Overall, the head is quite secure and of good quality. If not need to track moving subjects, this head would do quite well within its rated load capacity (quick and smooth panning is possible with the panoramic control or in any plane if you do not let go off the camera and the pretentioner is losened).

If anyone has any questions, I’d be glad to answer as best I can. Since I’m new to tripods/heads, if you think of a test you would want me to do, let me know.

Regards,
Kocho

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