Updated: May 22, 2020
Having gone through a few different ball heads in my time I had started to look for something new as my old battered Manfrotto was showing not only its age but also its limits in terms of performance and what I wanted from a ball head.
I have always put and incredible amount of emphasis on the need to have a good stable support system underneath your camera set up ever since my early days when getting home with what I thought were fantastic photographs only to be bitterly disappointed due to the lack of sharp edges due to camera shake in wind.
I was confident in my current tripod system but since I had often been using very heavy long lenses for my landscape photography it had highlighted that my existing ball head was just not up to the task.
With a Canon 100-400mm lens and a Canon 5D MK III it was suffering from the dreaded "sag" or "Lens Creep".
Tightening up the existing levers on the Manfrotto ball head really didn't seem to have much effect when it came to long glass and because of it, carefully framed compositions were soon lost as soon as you tightened up and then watched in horror as the composition shifted a few degrees towards the floor, shooting at 400 mm only emphasised this point even more.
Couple that with the annoying plate system which came loose constantly and I was left with no choice, It had to go.
I had two main requirements that I absolutely wouldn't compromise on for the next ball head, It had to have an Arca style mounting plate as I intended to start using an L bracket type mount for the new Canon EOS R and the vast majority of after market plates and brackets produced them in this style, plus I really like the locking system on them.
The other condition was it must have a pan option separate to the usual ball head action as I had recently found myself shooting a lot more panoramas and I wanted to have precision movement without losing any height of the framing.
Obviously all other requirements were also sought, stable, well made, wouldn't break the bank etc.. but the first two really were a must have.
While looking around at various reviews and trying various ball heads in shops I came across the Benro range.
I was already familiar with Benro as a market leader in the tripod & head field amongst other things but for those of you who aren't I will give you a bit of background on them.
Benro was founded all the way back in 1995 in China with the manufacture of tripods, photographic heads, camera bags & optical filters. What started as a smaller operation quickly grew to a huge empire which now has distributors in over 40 different countries.
Benro are renowned for their ultra strong but exceptionally lightweight carbon fibre tripods which can boast that the carbon fibre tube, QIHM-8X is the world's highest intensity carbon fibre tube (QIHM-8X has eight multi directional composite technologies)
An innovative company that has been recognised within the industry with a seamlessly endless list of accolades and awards that I wont even try and list here, but it was safe to say a company with impeccable pedigree and confidence was assured.
One thing which I actively look for now is a company that is ethical and committed to environmentally friendly products and Benro fits that bill nicely. They use things like natural rubber, green magnesium alloy material and recyclable packaging.
I have a lot of time for companies that help to preserve the environment that we all enjoy walking and photographing so much.
So, after much looking and reading about the product I decided that the Benro B4 ball head met my needs perfectly.
All the features I was after and then some, so an order was placed and I eagerly awaited for it to arrive.
I've decided to do a long term review as initial impressions can change over time so I will split it below into first impressions, initial use, one month review then a 6 months plus update.
A smartly presented box arrived in the company blue colour of Benro.
Upon opening it I was pleased to see there was no polystyrene in the box, instead the ball head was securely held in place with two cardboard slats.
The first thing that struck me when I took it out of the packaging was the feel of it, I was instantly confident in the product.
It felt very well made and solid and I really liked the matt finish. The ball head came with a PU 70 Arca style mounting plate, an allen key for tightening securely and an adaptor for tripods/cameras with smaller screw threads along with the usual instructions.
Starting with the PU 70 Arca style plate which was made from top quality magnesium.
On the camera side of the plate there are 6 rubber pads to aid grip and stop the camera sliding around.
Underneath the plate had the usual screw to mount to your camera but this one had 3 options to tighten.
The allen key slot, a coin slot and a flip out lever as well so no matter what the situation, you were able to tighten it while out in the wilderness even if you left your allen key or a coin at home.
Two centre marks on either side of the plate showed a true centre to keep perfect balance of the camera.
The underside of the plate also has two small allen bolts which will stop the camera from ever being accidentally dropped from the head if you undo it (The B4 ball head also has a failsafe on the control)
Neat touches like this confirmed I had made a good choice.
Moving on to the Benro B4 ball head I was pleased to see it was larger than my old Manfrotto and according to the specification it was able to support up to 40 lbs which was way more than I was planning to put on it.
The top quality magnesium finish in matt black looked gorgeous and the adjustable knobs were a really good size and all different sizes making them very easy to distinguish between without taking your eyes from the viewfinder.
They all had a nice rubber surround which had flattened edges to aid grip with cold fingers or even when wearing gloves.
There were three adjustable controls. Panning, drag/friction & ball lock.
Each was very easy to operate and incredibly smooth, the panning control was at the back of the head which made sense as it was the least used of the three but easily accessible.
The medium size control was for the amount of friction you wanted on the head itself, I felt this had one slight downside in that it didn't have a tension spring in it so once you have moved from maximum friction to something slightly less it could possibly be moved in error as it was fairly free moving but time would tell as you obviously need a fair amount of friction when working with heavy gear but it was almost like an on off switch and could have done with a little more variation in the amount of tension but this could also be worked via the ball lock control too so wasnt a big issue.
The final control was the largest, this was the ball lock and it felt perfectly placed on the right hand side and adjustments were fast and easy to control.
On the base of the B4 ball head there is a numbered panning scale for procession movement and a full 360 degree rotation was possible.
The ball itself moved very smoothly and there was a large degree of control on the friction and it felt solid and safe all the way through.
A 90 degree cut out resides on the left hand side should you wish to shoot in portrait mode and again the ball head locked nicely in place to it.
Moving up to the mounting plate holder I was pleased to see a spirit level bubble on the plate rather than on the head itself which would be pretty pointless as unless you know the ball head is sitting 100% straight to the base itself the camera wont be straight.
A rubber edged chunky but unobtrusive control knob points towards the photographer and this is fitted with a safety mechanism which you can undo with one full turn of the clamp which will allow the camera to slide left or right for precision alignment with the safety of the two allen bolts underneath stopping the camera from coming free.
In order to remove the camera fully you must pull the control towards the photographer and twist which will fully release the plate, a really handy safety feature especially for people like me who tend to go at 100 mph when the good light comes.
The plate snaps in very nicely and has an exceptionally smooth movement for fine adjustment of the centre with the reasuring lock at either end. A further twist of the control and everything is rock solid.
Once again confidence in the Benro B4 ball head was felt.
The B4 ball head weighs in at 1.4 lbs so its not super lightweight but neither is it heavy but you can get lighter smaller versions but this is the big boy of the range and is designed to carry heavy gear so its a personal choice I made and I'm happy with it.
It comes with a 3 year warranty as standard but if you register it on the Benro website you will get a further 2 years extended warranty for a total of 5 years, which makes the RRP of £190 inc VAT well worth it if you were to only have it for the period of 5 years then it works out at just £38 a year.
Mounting the Benro B4 ball head to my tripod was simple & solid and it felt very stable and good to use.
I started off with a fairly light weight Canon EOS R and RF 24-105 which it handled with absolute ease.
It locked very nicely and no lens creep was noticed at all while locking it after composing.
I then tried the Canon 5D MK III with Canon 100-400 which was mounted via a lens collar and a spare PU 70 mounting plate, This would be the true test and once again it seemed to handle it with ease, I was really looking forward to testing this in the field.
I was convinced there would be lens creep with the heavy gear but none whatsoever was detected.
So that concludes the unboxing and initial impressions of the Benro B4 Ball head.
Roll on the weekend for the initial use field tests.
First Time Out
I was itching to give the Benro B4 ball head a try and as usual at this time of year the conditions had been challenging to say the least, grey sky and flat light wasn't what I was after but it was all that seemed to happen every weekend.
There was some seriously heavy winds forecast on the Sunday, between 40 & 50 mph, not conditions I would usually be too keen to go out in but it did mean I could test the Benro B4 in an extreme situation which is exactly what I was after.
Sunday came around and the weathermen had for once played a blinder and it was indeed very windy, so much so my fence came down.
I wanted to have a variety of conditions to test the B4 ball head so I decided to head to Worbarrow bay in Dorset, This had a very high and hugely exposed cliff with some lovely views across Kimmeridge Bay which would work well on a long lens and would be in the teeth of the gale as well as some nicely sheltered areas just in case the wind was too much plus it had some very uneven and craggy surfaces which would be good to see how quickly things could be adjusted.
I set off full of excitement and decided that the cliff top would be biggest test as the wind was howling in.
When I get to the top it was pretty hard to stay upright and I suspected it would be far too extreme for any shots but I was going to try anyway as that was the whole point of it.
I set up, clicked the camera into place and gave the locking plate a twist and all felt rigid and satisfying.
I started off with the 24-105 lens to give me a reasonable range of focal lengths and decided to up the ISO to 200 to try and cope with the wind, It was fairly bright so I felt comfortable with that.
As fabulous light swept over the cliffs I happily clicked away and checked the images, they looked surprisingly sharp, upon zooming in I was pleasantly surprised too see they were still pin sharp and not suffering with the dreaded wind judder, The Benro B4 was doing the job nicely.
*Please not the images are heavily compressed and reduced in size for this blog and don't show the true quality.
24mm, F11, ISO 200, 1/100th
I decided to give it a real test and got the Canon 100-400 mm lens on, starting at 100 mm and working up, I felt this is where the first stumble would become apparent.
Again I was really surprised to see that throughout the focal range the images were all really sharp even at 400 mm in 40 mph winds on the top of a cliff edge, I was really impressed.
100mm, F8, ISO 100, 1/160
I took over 100 images and examined them all closely at full zoom and there were only two that exhibited any signs of lens judder which was probably the fault of the photographer rather than the ball head.
I had even dropped the ISO down to 50 to really test it and I was getting great results.
I was absolutely shocked with how rock solid the Benro B4 ball head was, my older Manfrotto would have been all over the place in even half these conditions.
400mm, F8, ISO 200, 1/100th
I moved further down into the bay to get a bit more shelter and set the tripod up on some really uneven ground, The Benro B4 was super fast to adjust and the controls all felt like they were in the right place and easily used without looking.
The pan facility was smooth and simple and did exactly what I needed and the lock knob was fast & smooth and reassuring as it hit full tension.
I was still a little dubious over the drag knobs lack of spring and I did catch it a couple of times while adjusting the other controls, It didn't cause an issue but I did feel it could have been better with the inclusion of a better tensioning system.
The ball itself had a very smooth action to it and never felt anything other than silky and easy to control.
The magnesium body was very solid and gave a reassuring feedback while using it. The B4 is rated to carry up to 40 lbs but it felt like it could do a lot more frankly.
I really liked the short length between the ball and the mounting plate, it would naturally make things more stable and less prone to moving as the distance to travel was vastly reduced.
The weight of the Benro B4 was no issue either and I spent the day hiking up cliffs and never once felt it was heavy. It all felt very balanced on the tripod and with the camera and long lens on.
24mm, F8, ISO 200, 1/40
General feeling so far is that this is a really good quality product, strong, but extremely well engineered and at this price I'm exceptionally impressed.
The bottom line here is an Arca Swiss with mounting plate will cost you over £400 but the Benro B4 is under half of that and I really couldn't feel any difference ? (£190 RRP including VAT at time of print which includes the PU 70 mounting plate)
I have used the Benro B4 for all my trips since this one and its the same story so I won't list them all individually but I will revisit this review in 6 months time to let you know how I've got on and if the performance is still as good but as it stands I'm super happy with it and have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone.
I'm sure you can tell I'm totally sold on the Benro B4 and Benro as a company and really have been not only pleased but pleasantly surprised on just how good it is.
Build quality and fluid movement are absolutely top notch and the value for money is exceptional.
This could have quite easily scored a full 100% but I have to be fair and knock off a few points for the lack of tension in the drag adjustment, while it doesn't cause issues while using I just feel it should have been there to complete the product so I'm giving it a 95% score based on that.
The bottom line is if you want Arca Swiss performance and quality without the price, then buy Benro. You wont regret it.
TOTAL SCORE 95%
One Month On.
There's no point in repeating myself here really as my initial thoughts all ring true still after a month of solid testing. This is a fantastic product and i'm exceptionally happy with it and I strongly suspect my 6 month revisit will be exactly the same.
As always, Happy Shooting.
Thank you to Benro UK for supplying the B4 Ball head for review purposes, I liked it so much that I purchased it with my own hard earned cash so you can be sure the review is without bias or influence.
You can read my review of the Benro Geared GD3WH head HERE
Benro products can be viewed by clicking HERE
Social Media for Benro
Instagram - @BenroUK
Facebook - @BenroLetsGo
Twitter - @Benro_UK
A few images captured while using the Benro B4 ball head
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