I have owned a couple inexpensive Ballheads in the last 2 years. Never really thought much about them they worked ok. Vanguard is the name brand. Bh-100 and I can't remember the other. I purchased a Kirk Bh-1 used here for 90.00. It is AMAZING. I thought I had a quality Ballheads in the Vanguard but omg. The Kirk is unbelievable. I could not afford a new one at almost 400.00 but darn. I never thought there could be so much difference.
If you got a Kirk BH-1 for $90, you got a steal. Even beat up and used they typically sell for a lot more than that. New it costs $385.
I've been using a BH-1 for twenty years and it IS a very good ballhead. Kirk makes a lot of really good products. I have several other items they made, too.
However, I've also got a $90 Smith-Victor BH8 ballhead that's nearly identical and works just as well.
- Size, weight and functionality are virtually identical.
- Both are rated to support up to around 50 lb.
- Both have Arca-compatible quick release platform.
- Kirk BH-1 worked perfectly right out of the box and flawlessly ever since. It's on my most frequently used tripod and hasn't had an "easy" life, by any means.
- S-V BH8 had very stiff panning movement when new. I disassembled it (just a few screws in the base) and replaced the heavy axle grease on the bearings with a heavy oil (actually bicycle chain oil). Now that works just as well as the BH-1.
- S-V BH8 came with a "safety stop" in the QR platform that would have required using their proprietary QR plates on everything. It took 15 seconds to unscrew and throw that away.
- Kirk BH-1 is pretty much all metal. Even the knobs are solid metal with knurling for grip.
- S-V BH8 had little rubber grips on the all the knobs. Worked fine when new. But after some years of use those tore or stretched and loosened, eventually falling off. I simply cut some strips of thick, rubberized grip tape (as used prevent slips on steps, etc.) and wrapped that around each knob. Works fine and makes for good grips on all the knobs.
- S-V no longer offers the BH8. I don't think they offer any large ballhead now. Only smaller ones are listed on B&H (who have or can get pretty much everything).
- If ever needed, I doubt that I could get the S-V ballhead repaired. The 20 year old Kirk, on the other hand, is very probably serviceable and repairable. (Current model appears to be the same, except it uses a different QR platform. The newer one now has a built-in bubble level. My old one doesn't.) Both these ballheads are way past any original warranty period. The Kirk is now warranted for five years. While they state their products are warranted, I couldn't find a specific, set warranty term for S-V tripod heads.
- I have no idea where the S-V head was made... I would guess China or India. I'm pretty sure most or all of Kirk's stuff is made in the USA.
So, yeah, the BH-1 is a very good piece of kit. It's a solid "standard" type of ballhead (nuthin' fancy, not some newfangled design) that works very well right out of the box. Their smaller, lighter, slightly lower capacity and lower priced BH-3 is similarly excellent. Kirk makes a variety of other good photo-related stuff, too.
But, I gotta say, despite a few minor short-comings that were pretty easily fixed and while it's nothing special, the Smith-Victor BH8 also does the job quite well.