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Vanguard SBH-300 and SBH-250 Ballhead Review

Vanguard SBH-300 and SBH-250 Ballhead Review - David Clapp puts the Vanguard SBH-300 and SBH-250 Ballheads to the test.

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Category : Tripods, Monopods and Other Supports
Product : Vanguard SBH-300 and SBH-250 Ballhead
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Vanguard SBH-250 BallheadFor landscape photographers, the tripod head is personal preference, but if you haven't yet tried shooting with a ballhead, then it's time to reconsider.

Vanguard SB100 and 300 ballheads bring quality high spec ballheads into an affordable sphere, with features and build only found on expensive niche products until now. If you're a considering an upgrade and the choice seems overwhelming, then start by considering the Vanguard range as you'll be in for some surprises.

The Vanguard SBH-250 and SBH-300 Ball Head Review

d SBH-300 Ballhead
The mighty SB-300 Ballhead with its generous tripod plate can accomodate larger DSLR's and big lenses without compromise.

As a long term user of ball heads, ever since I kicked a Manfrotto carbon fibre and 3way head attached down a waterfall, I must admit I find it difficult to consider any other product than the one I bought three years ago, the Kirk BH-1. Although this love is now tested regularly as airport scanners misconstrue its almost military construction as a possible explosive, I've dropped it off ledges, swung it into rocks and even head butted it (believe me you don't want to do that!) and still it performs flawlessly.

When asked to test these tripod heads, the Vanguard SB-250 and SB-300, I was simply convinced that trouncing the behemoth was not possible. Yet one aspect still keeps me window shopping - its weight. At a hefty 1kg, I literally always carry my lightweight tripod upside down because of this excessive load, swinging it by the leg (lookout hoodies). I have been happy to compromise with this problem since I bought it, but travelling light on city shoots is now the biggest part of my professional life. I was happy to take these heads onboard for a test, to see if I could be happy with the lighter SBH-250 ballhead in particular.

d SBH-300 shwing generous machining
Excellent - huge ball and super thick column, the weak point in many ballhead designs.

Quality Design
The first thing that really amazes me on opening the box is the build quality. Having seen other companies such as Gitzo and Manfrotto's attempts at ballheads, I was never massively convinced. The Gitzo's in particular are quirky looking and never appealed at all. When choosing the BH1 three years ago, all the Manfrotto's and Gitzo's seemed questionable and to be honest so I was not expecting too much from the Vanguard range. Again, how wrong I was.

 

Feel and Design - The first thing to really grab you as you take either tripods out of the box is the balance and weight. Both feel extremely solid and very familiar to what I know already. The design is classic Arca Swiss - a plate mounting on the top of a substantial ball with a generous column, the weak point in many ballheads. The paint feels textured and therefore non slip, which gives confidence on contact.

Controls - The operation is beautiful and precise. Three classic controls - one large control locks the ball in place, the second tensions the ball, giving an increase smooth dampened operation. The third smaller knob locks the lateral turn, left to right. All feel confident and tighten smoothly to the biting point.

Plate - The tripod plate is secured with another control knob and an additional orange safety lock triggers when the plate slides into place. The plates have a rubber surface contact point so they don't scratch your beloved SLR, but thankfully this is not excessive. Why designers don't sort this problem out is beyond me.

Spirit Bubbles - The tripod also has two inbuilt levels on each side plate mount. This feels far more precise when setting up a levelled camera than the conventional bubble level method.

d SBH-300 Ballhead side view
Generous plate size and superb reactive controls make the SB300 ideal for all manner of shooting styles.
d SBH-250 Ballhead saftey lock
The lock found on the ballhead.

Unbelivable Price
Ok, now lets look at it subjectively - none of this is a revolution. Literally all tripod heads, whether three way or ballheads, have these features and functions. It is essentially a clone, but this is the point that sets it apart, it's a good clone and it's CHEAPER than anything else that boasts the same spec and design on the market (that I am aware of).

I was completely taken back when I realised that the SBH-300 wasn't touching £300, nor £250, it was actually an unbelievable £119. That's a whopping £220 cheaper than a new Kirk BH1. If only it had been around at the time.

The SBH-250 also astonishes, with a street price of around £90, simply nothing of this quality and cost springs to mind. Again its direct competitors are the Manfrotto and Gitzo, both which just can't compete for build vs price, the Markin Q Ball range (£220+, Euro purchase only as no UK distributors) and the Kirk BH-3 (£245).

Yet I won't buy one either
Does that surprise you? Well here's why - there's an Arca Swiss mount version on the way. I have been a long time user of L brackets ever since my first Canon EOS 5D. The speed of attachment, the 'metal-on-metal' approach (vibration is non existent), keeping the weight central over the tripod at all times and creative approach. I can make shifted panos using tilt / shift lenses by sliding the camera left and right. All these reasons tie me creatively to this platform and I am extremely happy with it.

I was utterly delighted to hear that Vanguard are making an Arca Swiss mount version and I would buy either of these ballheads because they are that good. The SBH-300 is army spec, feeling durable and capable of even the biggest lenses and pro bodies. The SBH-250 is without a doubt the answer to my travel requirements and makes a fantastic compliment to the previously reviewed Alta Pro 283CT. The system becomes balanced and maintains strength with functionality, exactly what I need for my travel kit in particular. Surely an inbeatable team.

The L bracket principle, the Really Right Stuff system, extortionately expensive here in the UK.

The future is L shaped
Yet again Vanguard will be making a huge step into a niche market that photographers view as far too exclusive. Not only are all Arca Swiss mount tripod heads limited purchases in the UK, (with Kirk being the only company that sells these products in Britain through Warehouse Express) they are all ludicrously pricy. Markin only sell from Europe (we all love the Euro don't we) and Really Right Stuff, the last word in L Brackets, don't sell in the UK, meaning import duty, VAT and again excessive cost.

If Vanguard can produce a product of this calibre with Arca Swiss mounts, the strangle hold will be released and landscape photographers can enjoy L Brackets without the crushing expense.






 
 

FEATURES
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PERFORMANCE
PRICE VALUE
OVERALL

For more information on the Vanguard SB100 and 300 ballheads visit:

Vanguard World Website
Vanguard SBH Ball Head Range

Review by David Clapp.

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