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Gear Test: RRS TVC-34 Series 3 & BH-55

Really Right Stuff TVC-34 Series 3 Tripod & BH-55 Ball Head

 
We all know what we want a tripod to be: solid, very sturdy and of high quality. The RRS TVC-34 Series 3 Tripod & BH-55 Ballhead have such a reputation, so, we asked Mark Bauer to run a field test. Here are his thoughts

It’s difficult to make tripods sexy. Just look at the language we use to describe them – solid, sturdy, steady. These are not sexy adjectives. Really Right Stuff (RRS), however, has had a very good stab at changing the image of tripods.

RRS-TVC-34-Series-3-Tripod-&-BH-55-Ball-Head-2RRS is a family-run American company. They will be familiar to photographers in the USA, but less so to Europeans, although their products are starting to become popular on this side of the pond. They are premium products, which command a high price tag, but also ooze quality.

For the last few years, I have used Gitzo tripods and currently use a Systematic Series 2 4-section model, which I have been very happy with. The RRS tripods are outwardly similar to Gitzos, and occupy the same price bracket, so I couldn’t help but make a few comparisons during the review period. The model I tested was the carbon fibre TVC-34 Series 3, which has 4 leg sections, folds up to a minimum length of 54cm and extends to a height of 148cm – though, as with the Gitzo Systematics, a centre column can be added. Spiked feet are also an option and it has an impressive load capacity of 23kg.

My initial impression was that it looked and felt like a slightly more refined Gitzo – an impression which stayed with me. For example, the leg angle stops operate just a little bit more smoothly – whilst still clicking into place with a positive action. In a similar way, the leg locks are more comfortable to grip than the Gitzo’s, thanks to the use of semi-hard rubber, and turn easily. The legs are quite chunky – a fair bit thicker than the (equivalent) Series 3 Gitzo; I have small hands and found that it wasn’t always easy to keep my hands wrapped around the tripod when carrying it. Photographers with proper man-sized hands won’t find this a problem; however, for photographers with dainty hands like myself there are the Series 2 tripods.

The big question is, of course, how does it perform in the field? The simple answer is: very well indeed. I used the TVC-34 in some challenging conditions in Northumberland and it coped extremely well. In high winds, I set up more in hope than expectation, but when I processed the pictures, I was pleasantly surprised to see that all of them were sharp. The other main quality you want from an expensive tripod is longevity, even if you thoroughly abuse it over the years. The only way to test this is to use the tripod for a few years and see how it copes, and sadly, Really Right Stuff want this one back, so I can’t comment on this with any authority. It certainly feels as if it should last well, however.

When it comes to heads, I can never quite decide whether I prefer the simplicity of a ball head or the precision of a geared head, but at the moment I’m leaning towards geared heads. The BH-55 ball head has been around for a few years and has established a reputation as one of the best of its type. I had never used one in the field before, so I was keen to give it a good workout.

It’s certainly one of the best-looking heads out there – beautifully engineered and features a design which successfully combines form and function. There are three knobs – the locking knob, panning lock and friction control. They are all sensibly placed and operate smoothly. The action of the ball is very smooth and suffers from no ‘droop’ when you lock it down. At the beginning of the test, however, I was disappointed that the movement was a little jerky, but it became smoother with use – as the instruction manual claimed it would. With the right amount of friction applied, it’s possible to make very accurate small adjustments to composition – though no ball head is ever as accurate as a geared head.

I normally prefer screw clamps to lever clamps, but I liked the design of the BH-55 clamp; it locks down positively and there is little danger of accidentally catching it and undoing the clamp. I’d recommend using it in conjunction with one of the Really Right Stuff quick release plates rather than another brand, as there can be slight differences in the width of different manufacturers’ Arca Swiss style clamps and plates. I’d also recommend using an L-bracket if possible, as this makes switching from landscape to portrait orientation much quicker and easier.

The BH-55’s excellent reputation is fully deserved; if you have a preference for ball heads, you certainly won’t be disappointed with one of these.

In short, the RRS TVC-34 Series 3 Tripod & BH-55 Ballhead is an excellent combination – solid, sturdy and steady, superbly engineered and rather sexy. Highly recommended.


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About Author

Mark Bauer

Mark Bauer is one of the UK’s leading landscape photographers with work published worldwide. He is the author of 3 books, including ‘The Landscape Photography Workshop’ (with Ross Hoddinott).

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