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Archive 2009 · Photo Clam ballhead impressions

  
 
dcains
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Photo Clam ballhead impressions


The proprietor or www.reallybigcameras.com, Kerry Thalmann, recently asked me to review one of the Photo Clam ballheads for members of this site. Iíll guess Kerry asked me because I have been a somewhat frequent poster here (much less lately, though), and Kerry made it clear in his email communications that he wanted my objective opinions about the product. I received a Photo Clam PC-44NS on loan, and have had several chances to use it in the field before I wrote my review. For reference, I currently own and frequently use a Markins Q3 and an RRS BH-40, both on Gitzo tripods. In the past Iíve also owned ballheads from Bogen/Manfrotto, Kirk, Gitzo, Acratech, and Arca-Swiss. Now, on to the review, and hereís a link to the spec sheet for the PC-44NS:

http://reallybigcameras.com/PhotoClam/PC-44NS.htm

Might as well begin with the finish and build-quality, and Iíll say right away the Photo Clam looks and feels like a high-end product. Had I been sent a PC-44NS and a Markins M10, each unbranded, Iíd have quite honestly been hard-pressed to tell which was which. The ball diameter is the same 44 mm, and there is only a 2 gram weight difference (according to each makerís spec sheet). Not to say that the Photo Clam is a clone, but the quality of each seems at the same high level. All the finished surfaces of the Photo Clam are beautifully anodized, and have that same matte, smooth finish of the Markins, or an Arca-Swiss, for example.

The large friction control knob operates smoothly, and has its smaller minimum friction stop control wheel built-in. The rubber grip is firm and doesnít slip on the knob, and thereís also a numbered scale ring between the knob and ballhead body. The scale can be rotated so you can set the zero point to match the minimum friction youíve set, and the scale doesnít easily move on its own once set. Oddly enough, even after using my Markins Q3 for a few years I never learned to use that minimum friction stop, but felt the need since I promised a fair and thorough review. In short, it works perfectly on both the Photo Clam and the Markins, and itís really a useful feature. It prevents loosening the main friction knob enough to let the ball flop over accidentally, and itís easily adjustable for various camera/lens combinations.

The panning base also operates smoothly and is locked by a fairly small knurled metal knob, which is very similar to the Markinsí feature. Thankfully, unlike the Markinsí panning base, the Photo Clamís locks much more firmly, and the knurled ridges on the knob have their sharp peaks knocked off, so the skin stays on your fingertips. A rubber grip would have been nice, or maybe even a four-pointed knob, such as on the RRS BH-40. There is a silk-screened degree-scale on the panning base, calibrated in 5-degree increments, with a 30-degree notch cut into the base to expose the numbers. One tiny detail flaw is that the pointer on the ballheadís base is just a small radial groove, uncolored, and itís a bit hard to see. If I owned this ballhead, Iíd use a toothpick and some thinned white enamel to fill in the groove and make it more visible.

That leaves just the ball itself, and the supplied clamp. The ball and its stem are machined from a single piece, and the ball is at least to some extent hollow. I removed the clamp easily, as there was no Loctite used on the screw, and found the top of the stem to have a raised tongue, much like on the RRS ballheads. The tongue fits into a groove on the underside of the clamp, and of course, it prevents the clamp from twisting. I was pleased to find the tongue, and also the screw, to be the same size as their RRS counterparts, which means swapping the original clamp for an RRS lever-clamp is quick and painless. Thatís not to say youíll necessarily want to swap the original clamp, but the RRS lever-clamp is a very popular upgrade applied to many brands of ballhead. The original clamp is as good as any other screw-clamp youíll see, and better than some. The knob has a firm rubber grip, as on the ballheadís main friction control knob. The clamp has a built-in safety stop, which works fine with all of my RRS and Kirk body and lens plates. There are two small, linear levels (at right angles to each other) built-in to one edge of the clamp. So, theyíre visible with a camera mounted, but because theyíre each very small, and the fluid is nearly clear (rather than that typical bright fluorescent green-yellow), I didnít find them to be very useful. A two-axis hotshoe-mounted bubble level has always worked best for me.

Nice build-quality is one thing, but if it doesnít translate into good performance in the field, whatís the point? The sum of the parts in this ballhead, fortunately, does result in very good performance. As already described, all the controls operate smoothly, which translates into a great feel when using the ballhead. One thing I like about a quality ballhead is the ability to adjust the ball friction to a very specific level, which of course has to vary with the equipment supported. My preference is to set the friction to a high enough level to hold the camera/lens steady if Iím not applying any force. At the same time, the friction has to be set low enough to allow movement of the camera/lens if a small amount of force is applied. That equilibrium relies on a physical principle which tells us that the coefficient of static friction is higher than the coefficient of dynamic friction. In example, when youíre trying to push that heavy anvil across your workshop floor, youíve got to apply a higher force to get it moving than is needed to keep it moving. Many ballheads Iíve tried, even costly ones, fail to function in this manner, for whatever reasons, and in my opinion, that becomes their failing point. This Photo Clam head is as good as any Iíve ever used, though, including the silky smooth Markins heads, and one of my all-time favorite ballheads, the Gitzo G1278M (Teflon-coated ball and friction blocks). Itís simple to feel when the friction is set ďjust rightĒ, and to get it set with precision.

Another failing point of many ballheads is slippage of the camera/lens position when locking the ball. With a long lens, even a tiny amount of movement translates into a large variance when multiplied by the distance to your target. I didnít experience any movement when locking down the ball on this Photo Clam. I still prefer the separate friction and locking knobs, as youíll find on the two larger RRS ballheads, but a single knob for both functions does seem to work just as well, in this case, just as it does on the Markins, Arca-Swiss, and others. Personal preference, or habit may prevail for some users, but Iím happy with either setup in the end.

Considering all the above, and the Photo Clamís price of $269, Iíd be very comfortable recommending this ballhead to a fellow photographer looking for a great buy on a higher-end ballhead. By comparison, the Markins M10 is $340 (+ $71), and the RRS BH-40, another ballhead in the same class, costs a little more still, at $356 (+ $87), all exclusive of shipping costs. Cost of a ballhead in this upper class, may not be the deciding factor for all users, though. Personal preferences for appearance and feel, and even brand loyalty all come into play at this level, but itís always good to see a new competitor offering a quality product at a lower price. I would have actually been more interested to test the Photo Clam PC-36NS ($209), as it seems to be the closest competitor to Markinsí Q3 ($269). That class of ballhead may be the biggest market segment, if one can make that assumption based on the questions posted here on FM by those looking to purchase their first ďgoodĒ ballhead.

There are a few remaining questions, none of which I have an answer to. First, the longevity of this ballhead is certainly untested, and I was not about to tear apart the one Kerry loaned to me. Nor did I do any other sort of destructive testing, such as hanging 100 pounds off the clamp to see if it would snap. I used the ballhead in the same manner that I use any other piece of gear I own. Second, what about warranty service? The warranty is mentioned in the included Userís Manual, but the period isnít stated, nor instructions provide on how to file a clam. The Really Big Cameras site doesnít seem to mention the warranty at all, so perhaps Kerry will respond with a post to this thread, or add that info to the site?

Finally, Kerry also sent along a Photo Clam camera plate (part # PC-76-up2) for my Canon 5D. Itís a nicely-machined piece, specifically contoured to the 5D body, rather than being a ďuniversalĒ plate. It has cutouts on both ends for use with a handstrap (such as my favorite - from Camdapter), the screw fastens with a flat-bladed driver, and the dovetail is square, which allows the plate to be mounted either parallel or perpendicular to the long dimension of your clamp. A big plus is that this plate fits my RRS lever clamp properly, unlike the Markins plates (which are slightly too narrow to clamp tightly). The only thing Iíd change about this plate would be to improve the included screw. The screw doesnít appear to be made of a very durable alloy (might even be aluminum, rather than stainless steel), and itís tough to apply enough torque with a flat-bladed driver (as opposed to a hex wrench) to get the screw really tight. Iíve got no idea what this plate sells for, as I couldnít find it listed in the Really Big Cameras site. Iím also a little unclear about how this plate is labeled on its packaging, which calls it a ďuniversalĒ plate, although it clearly isnít. (That language barrier issue also comes to the fore in the Userís Manual, but itís not such a big deal with a product as simple as a ballhead.) Kerry mentioned to me, in an email, that Photo Clam makes camera-specific plates for ďmany Canon and Nikon camerasĒ, so perhaps theyíll be added to his site soon.

So, thatís about it. Iím sending the ballhead back to Kerry in the next few days, and I hope this review is useful to anyone looking for a new ballhead. Here are some quick pics I just took (Iím not a product shooter by any means):

http://deanwcains.smugmug.com/photos/603066038_Jb8jc-L.jpg
http://deanwcains.smugmug.com/photos/603065936_6T84W-L.jpg
http://deanwcains.smugmug.com/photos/603064957_QRu9a-L.jpg
http://deanwcains.smugmug.com/photos/603064580_HTHzx-L.jpg
http://deanwcains.smugmug.com/photos/603065273_2TCq9-L.jpg
http://deanwcains.smugmug.com/photos/603065618_TjrdL-L.jpg
http://deanwcains.smugmug.com/photos/603064249_F3Bwa-L.jpg
http://deanwcains.smugmug.com/photos/603063831_HHyQM-L.jpg



Jul 27, 2009 at 04:28 AM
Greg Feldman
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Photo Clam ballhead impressions


Interesting. I'll admit that when I first saw the name and pricing, I dismissed it.


Jul 27, 2009 at 12:28 PM
eos-m42guy
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Photo Clam ballhead impressions


Nice thorough and interesting review Dean. Thanks.
btw - I think you did a very good job as a product photographer.

Don



Jul 27, 2009 at 03:01 PM
adam613
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Photo Clam ballhead impressions


Very interesting...thanks for going through all of that for us

Kerry was pushing the PhotoClam ballheads on me when he first started carrying them...I passed because I didn't want to be an early adopter. Now I'm kinda regretting it...



Jul 27, 2009 at 04:07 PM
dcains
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Photo Clam ballhead impressions


Yeah, very nice ballhead, with an odd name. I think there's a great business opportunity for someone (me?) to consult with numerous Asian companies regarding both their choice of product names, and in writing proper English product manuals. I don't mean to be anti-Asian by any means, but I've been told English is very difficult to learn as a second language, and especially without total immersion in an English-speaking culture.

BTW, Kerry sent me an email, and mentioned he'll be updating his site to answer some of the questions I raised regarding warranty issues and details about the various camera plates available.



Jul 28, 2009 at 07:18 AM
Phocus
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Photo Clam ballhead impressions


I had a very hard time deciding on which would be my first ballhead. I was torn (as many on this forum are) between Markins and RRS. Then I started hearing about PhotoClam. I ultimately went with Markins because there just wasn't enough feedback on the PhotoClam ballheads. I figured as long as I'm spending hundreds of dollars, I may as well spend a little more for a product with a proven track record in the field, that I know won't be inferior to PhotoClam, and for piece of mind. Even with this positive review, I don't regret spending the extra cash for the "proven" ballhead, but it will be interesting how PhotoClam's reputation grows, good or bad, when I decide on a different size ballhead to add to my kit.


Jul 28, 2009 at 08:26 AM
Kenj8246
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · Photo Clam ballhead impressions


I take it that the mounting plate is extra, as is the case with Markins, etc.

Kenny



Jul 28, 2009 at 10:37 AM
dcains
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · Photo Clam ballhead impressions


Kenj8246 wrote:
I take it that the mounting plate is extra, as is the case with Markins, etc.

Kenny


Correct, and as mentioned, I don't know the cost.



Jul 28, 2009 at 12:23 PM
Kenj8246
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · Photo Clam ballhead impressions


Just took receipt of a Photo Clam PC-40NS ballhead and PC-52-up2 universal plate. First impressions: build quality is very, very good. Finish is flawless. Ballhead movement is smooth and effortless and the plate is a good fit. Have yet to mount anything on it, so can't speak to operation yet. That will come shortly. I think it will have to be special to supplant my old Bogen geared head, but, if first impressions mean anything, this one will be a pleasure to use.

A word about service: Kerry Thalman is a very accommodating fella. I paid for the product on Saturday and received it today. By my count, that's four days, two of which are weekend days. About as quick as one can reasonably expect anything these days.

Kenny



Aug 05, 2009 at 09:01 AM
Billdev
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · Photo Clam ballhead impressions


I have been using the PC-33NS since January of this year on my Feisol 3441-S tripod, both purchased from Kerry. Ordered on Friday afternoon and had delivery on Monday morning - excellent service.

After using this ballhead for 7 months now, I am very impressed with the quality. Easily as good as my Markins M-20



Aug 05, 2009 at 01:55 PM
twnotter
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · Photo Clam ballhead impressions


OK, i have to ask.... I know very lil' about the specs on the ballhead other than weight capacity.

I looked at the figures for the ballhead and maybe I never noticed it before. The one critiqued has a load capacity of 110 lbs.

Is there a need for having a head that can load up 110 lbs.?? I am not sure if all my gear together weighs that much!!




Aug 05, 2009 at 06:30 PM
godzakka
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p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · Photo Clam ballhead impressions


twnotter: someone will inevitably say that the weight ratings are pretty BS when it comes to ballheads and other similar things...but I would agree that the rating is trying to convey that it can easily carry big, heavy lenses and stay locked, no creeping involved.

To all: I myself just bought the PC-36N, so along with dcains' review of the PC-44NS, Mr. Green's review of the (I think) PC-40NS, and Billdev's testimonial about his PC-33NS, we are starting to build a good collecting of opinions and hopefully I can add my good impressions with the quality and usability of the PC-36N.

As for the service from Really Big Cameras: top notch. I bugged the tar outta Kerry and yet he just kept answering my silly questions and helping out until I decided what I really wanted. And he shipped out my order super fast, too.



Aug 05, 2009 at 06:45 PM
lowbone
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p.1 #13 · p.1 #13 · Photo Clam ballhead impressions


I took delivery on a PC 40NS from Really Big Cameras last week and I am very impressed with the smooth action and good build quality of this head and also the good service from Kerry.


Aug 06, 2009 at 06:01 AM
justruss
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p.1 #14 · p.1 #14 · Photo Clam ballhead impressions


I just asked my friend in Korea to send me a PC-30N, so hopefully I can post my experience with it shortly.

It would be great to see a breakdown, or partial breakdown, of one of these.

Russ



Aug 06, 2009 at 06:06 AM
cspratt
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p.1 #15 · p.1 #15 · Photo Clam ballhead impressions


Are these available in Canada? If so who carries them?


Aug 15, 2009 at 12:40 PM
Fisher JD
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p.1 #16 · p.1 #16 · Photo Clam ballhead impressions


Leo's camera Supply in Vancouver has had them along with Kirk.


Aug 15, 2009 at 03:41 PM
jcameron
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p.1 #17 · p.1 #17 · Photo Clam ballhead impressions


Anyone from Canada buy one from ReallyBigCameras? What did you buy and what was your total cost to your door?

They list the 36NS for $209. Leos wants $399 CAD (about $380 US today)

I'm curious about the price difference obviously.

p.s. Leos recommends the Kirk BH3 @ $435 CAD



Nov 12, 2009 at 11:37 AM
TimmyTheTAG
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p.1 #18 · p.1 #18 · Photo Clam ballhead impressions


I just got my PC-40NS and a Manfrotto 055XPROB yesterday. Can't wait to get out this weekend and play!


Nov 19, 2009 at 12:26 PM
jcameron
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p.1 #19 · p.1 #19 · Photo Clam ballhead impressions


Leos does not stock the PhotoClam
B&H has Kirk BH3 with plate for 265 US (281 CAD)...



Nov 19, 2009 at 12:45 PM
MrGreen
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p.1 #20 · p.1 #20 · Photo Clam ballhead impressions


cspratt wrote:
Are these available in Canada? If so who carries them?


Lens and Shutter sells them, but for a much, MUCH higher cost than you can buy from RBC in the USA and get shipped up.



Nov 19, 2009 at 07:12 PM
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