this is SunwayFoto DB-44LR Ballhead review from dcains.
There is yet another player looking to grab part of the higher-end ballhead market, attempting to join the likes of Arca-Swiss, Markins, Kirk, Really Right Stuff, PhotoClam, and a few others most of us are familiar with. SunwayFoto is based in Shenzhen, China, and I was contacted by one of the company principals requesting my review and honest criticism of this ballhead – The DB-44 with DDC-50LR clamp mounted.
Here’s a link to the company’s ballhead page, although the ballhead I received has a lever clamp mounted, rather than the pictured screw clamp:
To start with, this ballhead is of the “traditional” design, dating back to the Arca-Swiss B1, and it appears similar to the Markins, Kirk, and PhotoClam products as well. Size-wise (500g), this ballhead places about even with the Markins Q10LR (aka M10 @ 490g), and is a tad heavier than the RRS BH-40LR (480g). This mid-sized class of ballhead is often paired with a Series-2 (to use Gitzo’s reference scale) tripod, and the combination is usually considered stable with lenses up to the size/weight of a typical 300/4 or 70-200/2.8.
The ballhead appears to be of very high quality, in both the materials used and the finishing of the exterior surfaces. All the alloy parts appear to be anodized, rather than painted, for a smooth hard finish, although I’m no expert on such details. It’s not quite as shiny as the painted PhotoClam, nor quite as matte as the anodized Markins or RRS. This is a two knob design; one for the panning brake, and another for the ball friction control. The small panning brake knob has sharp axial grooves for an easy grip, while the larger friction control knob has a fine diamond-point knurling pattern. Both work well bare-handed or with gloves, and the friction control knob also has a smaller thumb-screw built into its face for setting a minimum drag level. There is a numbered scale on the friction control knob, next to the ballhead body, but that scale is not adjustable, so it’s just for reference, not absolute value. The two knobs are spaced 60-degrees apart on the ballhead body. The ballhead panning base has a 30-degree window, with a painted white arrow to indicate rotation around the degree scale fixed on the ballhead body in 5-degree increments. Finally, the ballhead body has double drop-notches spaced 90-degrees apart, and when the ball shaft is dropped into a notch, it rests at 90-degrees from vertical.
Now the details about how this ballhead behaves in real-world use. For testing purposes the ballhead was mounted on my Gitzo G2541LVL tripod, using a 3/8″ stud and the standard Gitzo Safe Lock mounting plate.
* As already mentioned, the knobs are easy to grip and use, with precise control of the ball friction and minimum drag settings.
* Build-quality, fit and finish are excellent.
* The lever clamp does what a good lever clamp should do. It releases and clamps quickly, and has a halfway position to allow adjustment of the lens or camera plate without a complete release. Safety notches will keep the plate from sliding out of the clamp, if the plate has safety screws installed. The clamp has a bullseye level on the side opposite the lever, so it can be easily seen with a camera mounted. As with the recent lever clamps from Markins and A-S, this clamp has an adjustable closed position, so like a screw clamp, it will work with virtually any plate within a reasonable tolerance of the A-S standard dimensions. Nonetheless, it’s not advisable to mix and match too many different brands of plates, because the clamp adjustment isn’t something you’d want to perform every time. A small knurled knob nests inside the clamp body, between the lever and mounting screw hole. Finally, the lever arm itself is reversible, so you can flip it 180-degrees either way, to match your preference, and there is a small sliding button on the end of the lever. This is a nice safety measure, and addresses the concerns of those who fear a lever clamp’s unintended opening. Generally, a very serviceable clamp, and out of the box it was perfectly adjusted to secure my RRS and Kirk plates properly. The adjustment did not seem to change on its own, during my several weeks of use.
* The panning base, with the brake released, is firm to adjust and very smooth, with its degree scale easy to visualize.
* This one is a big pet peeve of mine, yet it seems common to just about every ballhead based on this “traditional” design. The panning “lock” slips, which is why I have been referring to it as a panning “brake”. The knob can be tightened until you’re tearing skin off your fingertips, and still the base will slip under some conditions. For example, getting the ballhead screwed tightly to the tripod (or unscrewing it, too) can be an issue, because if it’s not tight enough you’ve got two different areas which might allow the ballhead to pan when you don’t want it to. Having a long lens mounted, because of the leverage it can apply to the panning base, can also cause some slipping. The smaller the ballhead, the more prone to slipping its panning base seems to be. So, the Markins Q3 seems worse than the Q10, and this Sunway feels about the same as the Q10 or PhotoClam PC-44 of similar size. I should probably just get over it, but the RRS BH-40 has spoiled me in this regard.
* There is another issue which may bother me more than others, but which also may ultimately be resolved. The ball friction knob provides very precise adjustment, and it’s easy to set an “ideal” friction level which will allow the ball to move only when touched, yet stay in place on its own. To me, this is the true benefit of using a ballhead, rather than a pan-tilt or geared head. The issue with this ballhead (and some others) is that when the ballhead is set to this “ideal” friction level, intended movements of the ball are not especially smooth. In the case of the RRS BH-40, I’ve found the same issue, and RRS has addressed it with two responses. One is to allow some time for the ballhead to “break-in”, and after some many hours of use, my BH-40 did improve in smoothness and feel. The Sunway DB-44LR also has improved over the past weeks I’ve been using it. The other response from RRS is that some form of lubrication can be applied to the ball friction surface (they recommend a light machine oil or WD-40), with the caution that this is not reversible and may require additional friction force to maintain the ball’s position. I took a chance, and a few years ago first tried the application of some synthetic polymer automotive wax to the BH-40 ball. The smoothness improved immediately, right up to the level of the best I’ve ever used – the Markins ballheads (which are buttery-smooth right from the box). The wax would wear off fairly quickly, though, so I tried something else, which turned out to be a spray silicone lubricant:
I applied a good bit to a paper towel and applied the wet lubricant to the ball while spinning it in the drop-notch. This product has a solvent base which evaporates very quickly, so I did nothing to dry the ball, and there is no visible residue left on the ball. The silicone lasts for a good several months on the RRS, and after application of the same to the Sunway, I now had three ballheads with that silky Markins feel (one of which is the Q3). I’ve found no need to increase the friction setting, at least that I could notice, which was a surprise, and if there is a downside to this particular lubricant in this application, I haven’t found it. I have spoken to SunwayFoto about this, and they are currently investigating the same lubricant, and may apply it during assembly of their ballheads, if they feel a benefit can be realized. So, this con perhaps isn’t a real issue, but I felt compelled to bring it up, and provide what may be a very viable solution.
* I should also briefly mention that when tightening the friction knob from that “ideal” friction level to fully-locked, initially there was some noticeable movement of the camera’s position. If the camera/lens was front-heavy the lens would aim down slightly, or if the combination was rear-heavy the lens would creep up. After initial break-in and subsequent lubrication, this has all but disappeared, and the ball remains static when locking it firmly. So, another con which is not likely to be consequential.
As mentioned, this market is becoming somewhat crowded, and for one of these companies to stand proud of their competitors is becoming more difficult. There is an obvious convergence where ballheads are all starting to look the same, feel about the same, and be priced about the same (excepting RRS, of course). In this regard, the SunwayFoto DB-44LR fits into the pack discretely. Considering my experiences with the ballheads from Markins, SunwayFoto, and PhotoClam, I’d rate them as best to worst in that particular order. That is not to say the differences are great, but they are palpable. The SunwayFoto is very close to the Markins in fit and finish, and a bit better than the PhotoClam. But, the Sunway is closer in operation (“feel” might be a better term) to the PhotoClam than either is to the Markins. Remember, the Markins is silky-smooth and rock-solid right from the box, with no “break-in” or lubrication required, while both the SunwayFoto and PhotoClam are a little “draggy” and can show some minor slippage as ballhead friction is adjusted.
As far as I know, SunwayFoto does not have a formally-established US-based distributor at this point, although I have been told there is one potential company in talks. So, it appears that eBay auctions are the only US-based source right now, and a current auction from a Texas-based vendor has a “Buy-It-Now” price of $248 shipped. I don’t have any information regarding the warranty for SunwayFoto products, but I will inquire about the terms during my next contact with the company.
Recommended, or not? That’s the big question I don’t have a definitive answer to. I liked using the DB-44LR and will continue to use it. The DB-44LR, if the price of $248 is realistic, is potentially a very good value against the alternatives I’ve mentioned, particularly if one is fond of using a lever-type QR clamp. The PhotoClam PC-44NS with a screw-type clamp is $269 + shipping, while the Markins Q10 with a lever clamp is $369 + shipping, and the Markins Q3 with a lever clamp is $309 + shipping. If you seen my posts in this FM gear forum, you’ll rarely find a word recommending anyone save a few dollars now on a piece of photo gear destined for the long-term use, whether it’s a ballhead, tripod, or quick release system. Of course, if a good value can be had, I’m not one to necessarily pass it by just to spend more money, either. The unknowns in the SunwayFoto equation include long-term durability, the current lack of a US distributor, and potential warranty repair issues.
I haven’t had the time to do a tear-down of the DB-44LR, but will do so shortly. My only reservation is that I might not be able to get it back together, and I’d like to have this ballhead around for continued long-term testing.
Questions, comments? Please feel free to post to this thread, and I’ll answer what I can. I’ve been impressed by my communications with SunwayFoto, and believe the company is sincere in wanting to both improve their products and in their desire to be made aware of any limitations that currently exist. I’ll be sure to pass any such information along, and I think SunwayFoto will be following this thread as well.
Just as an aside, I’ve seen it mentioned that I’ve got some fellow flashlight enthusiasts here on FM. SunwayMan, a sister or parent company to SunwayFoto, makes some interesting LED flashlights, which are available from a variety of US vendors. This is not a paid endorsement (nor is my ballhead review), but the fact that they’ve already established a viable product line in the US can be a positive indicator of their business experience here.
Finally, some detail pictures, which should be obviously self-explanatory:
Sunwayfoto – Ballhead DB-44LR(2)
SunwayFoto DB-44LR (4)
SunwayFoto DB-44LR uk(5)
Sunwayfoto – Ballhead related products:
Low Center of Gravity XB Series Ball Head XB-44
SunwayFoto DB-44LR Ballhead Review article from http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/1097065/0