Here's an initial first thoughts of the Benro B-3 head.
My Benro B-3 head has finally arrived. I was in the market for a replacement head (and eventually replacement legs) for my Manfrotto 190XB/804RC tripod, which has been great for using with my lighter lenses. However, having recently purchased a weighty Sigma 500mm lens, the entry to mid level combination was just not a strong enough for the heavy lens and camera and so I spent a little time looking for firstly an alternative head and eventually, I'll replace the legs when funds allow.
Another requirement for my new head was that it was to be a ballhead. The Manfrotto 804RC uses separate thumbscrews for adjusting the tilt and rotation - one for front/back tilting, another for left/right and the final for rotating. In the field, it's a lot of time and work to accurately position the head to your requirement. You are also limited to how far forwards and backwards you can tilt the Manfrotto 804RC - only 30 degrees either way.
I was initially interested in a Kirk BH-1 but also looked at products from Really Right Stuff and Arca Swiss. These were all priced in the $350 and upwards bracket which was really out of my price range. I probably could have spent some time saving up for the Kirk or Arca Swiss heads but patience and the need for a new head sooner as opposed to later got the better of me, and having discovered a budget alternative in the way of the Benro head, I threw down $150 for their B-3 head.
Possibly taking on a risk, Benro has had mixed reviews and photographers have mixed opinions of the company. They're reputed to take products from other manufacturers and simply rebuild knock off versions. The older Benro KJ and KS ballheads have had favourable reviews. The Benro B-3 is the very latest head to come out of the Benro factory and is similar to the Kirk BH-1 and Arca Swiss Z1 heads. It is compatible with the Arca Swiss system and so any quick release plates, L plates and other Arca Swiss compatible accessories should work fine with the Benro ballhead.
Taking the head of it's box, I was surprised how high a quality finish it seemed to have. It feels absolutely solid and is fairly weighty without being unreasonable. Loosening the thumbscrews, the ball makes a little noise in it's socket but it moves smoothly everything feels well put together. Having picked up and played with the Kirk BH-1, the head moved a little smoother and quieter in it's socket but not overly so.
The Benro has three thumbscrews, the main screw locking the ballhead in place with a smaller friction screw and then a final screw at the base of the head to allow 360 degree panning, and has a marking along the base to show how far round you have rotated it, which would be very useful for taking panoramic photographs.
I haven't worked out the best way to use the combination of the locking and friction screw - it's probably designed to use the friction screw for more accurate adjustments. Once you've tighted up all the thumbscrews, the ball locks absolutely solidly in place and there's no moving it.
When I ordered the ballhead, I mistakenly didn't order a quick release plate and so have not been able to use this head in anger but plan to purchase one at the end of the week and so will update this review then with some sample images.
One feature that's disappointingly absent is a spirit level on the clamp. This would have been very useful and so I will probably have to purchase an additional hotshoe spirit level, or alternatively stump up for an Arca Swiss/Kirk clamp.
Excepting the missing spirit level, so far, so good. It was significantly cheaper than the Kirk and Arca Swiss alternatively so it could have been a case of buying cheap/buying twice. However, the construction of this head is 99% as good as the Kirk head with a saving of $200.