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In The Last Day

Review: Foba Superball Ball Head (BALLA)

Posted 3/25/10 by Steve Denton
Last Updated: 4/29/10
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 This article is part of the following Gear Guide(s): 
 Tripods and Support | Studio Lighting 

The Foba Superball (BALLA) is the absolute top-of-the-line precision professional ball head from the Swiss company Foba, and is in use worldwide by professional photographers using everything from DSLR's to medium-format, and even large-format cameras.

The Foba Superball is substantial, weighing in at 3 lbs (1.4 Kg), with a diameter of 76mm and 130mm tall, making it perfect to pair with something like a 3 series or 5 series Gitzo tripod for maximum stability. Its load capacity is rated at 33 lbs (15 Kg), although we believe this number very conservative – it's generally regarded as one of the strongest tripod heads on the market today (indeed Wimberley rates it as capable of supporting their Sidekick with the biggest lenses, ahead of other ball heads with much higher load ratings – see full details on their Wimberley Sidekick Ball Head Recommendations page).

The Foba Superball comes in two variants, the BALLA (reviewed here) with an Arca-compatible quick release clamp, and BALLO with a reversible plate that has both ¼" x 20 and 3/8" x 16 tripod studs. At the time of writing, the BALLA Superball retails for just over $600 from B&H Photo

Foba Superball BALLA

All the standard controls you'd expect on a top of the line professional ball head are present – an independent locking panning base, an independent tension (also known as "friction" or "drag") control for the ball, and a locking control, in this case a lever. The Superball allows you to tilt the head beyond 90 degrees (to quickly switch to portrait-orientation shots with a DSLR, and also permits the use of Gimbal adapters like the Wimberley Sidekick and CB Gimbal Basic). The massive 2.5" ball sits on a Teflon collar for ultra-smooth rotation.

The oversized Arca clamp is 3 ¼" long, and while it doesn't support the safety stops found on plates from Kirk, RRS etc., it does feature a removable safety stop plate on one end, and a spring loaded one on the other (Red in color in the picture above – simply press down with your thumb to slide the plate in or out). The clamp also does not open far enough to allow an Arca plate to be dropped in from above – sliding a plate in is your only option. This means a camera plate or L-Bracket that is 3 ¼" or shorter is fully captive within the clamp and is extremely safe, even if the clamp works loose. A longer plate (e.g. some lens plates, Arca Rails etc) may require removing the safety stop plate with a screwdriver.

In the interests of full disclosure, this Superball used in this review is a demo unit provided to us directly by Foba for long term testing. As such, we will be updating this review periodically, detailing how it holds up over time under heavy use, and in some cases extreme conditions.

Installation, Fit and Finish

The Foba Superball comes packaged as shown below:

Foba Superball BALLA

Installation is straight forward, it simply screws onto a 3/8" x 16 tripod stud. Being a fairly substantial unit, this head would dwarf anything much smaller than a 3-series Gitzo tripod.

The general build quality is astonishingly good, the ball movement is super smooth and amazingly light with no friction set. The panning motion is smooth. If this unit has one weakness though, it's the knobs. The knobs and lever are made from plastic, and none of the three knobs are captive (which means if you keep unscrewing them they will come off).

Foba Superball BALLA

Performance

Based on our initial testing, the Foba Superball is a dream-come-true. The big advantage of a ball head is speed, they allow you to very quickly position the camera and keep up with a fast-paced environments, and this is where the Superball comes into its own. The lever is much faster to use than the typical knob you find on ball heads, going from locked down to completely loose is less than a quarter turn of the lever. The length of the lever allows you to really lock down the ball solidly (at least as solidly as any other head we've tested).

By pulling out the spring-loaded lever slightly, you can rotate it into any one of 24 positions, allowing you to position it where it is most comfortable to use. Locking the ball can be achieved by either pulling or pushing the lever, with a middle position being "loose".

The friction or tension control is very linear, and appears to work by raising and lowering the "cup" the ball sits in slightly. This also means the tension control automatically compensates for wear over the life of the ball. However, only a light to moderate tension can be applied using this control, its no-where near strong enough to lock the ball (that's what the lever is for).

The panning base is smooth and very strong. It's marked in 5-degree increments and locks solidly. After using the clamp for a while, having a clamp that won't drop your camera even if the clamp is backed out all the way is a very nice feature, especially when the gear it's supporting can cost more than your car. Removing a camera or lens by releasing the clamp and pushing the thumb-operated safety stop out of the way is easy and intuitive.

In a studio environment, the Foba Superball is a dream come true, I can say without hesitation this is the best ball head I've used in this environment – the combination of strength, smoothness and the speed at which it can be used has to be experienced to be believed.

Foba Superball BALLA

It will be interesting to see how it performs out in the wild over the coming months. Because of its bulk, when paired with our Gitzo GT5541LS it's part of a car or short hike combination, it's certainly not a carry anywhere light-weight set up. Initial testing with a Wimberley Sidekick and CB Gimbal Basic showed a lot of promise – the very strong locking combined with the large (almost 3") panning base makes it an excellent base for a gimbal adapter with longer lenses. The friction control barely allows enough friction to use a large telephoto lens directly on the head, but then I'd never do that anyway, I'd always use the gimbal adapter. My only potential concern, possibly unfounded, would be some of the knobs vibrating loose when being used on trips on unpaved roads, however all the controls seem to be based on ¼" x 20 bolts, so rigging up a knob from something in my gear case (steal a screw out of a camera plate for example) would keep the ball head operational in an emergency.

With that (possibly unfounded) reservation about the knobs aside, the Foba Superball is stunningly good, but then it should be for $600. As a studio head, it is simply brilliant. We have high expectations of it as an outdoor nature/wildlife head also, we'll report back after we've done a couple of big trips with it and update this review then.

You can buy your Foba Superball at B&H Photo.

 This article is part of the following Gear Guide(s): 
 Tripods and Support | Studio Lighting 


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