Monday, January 31, 2011

Upgrading a Markins Ball Head with a Really Right Stuff Clamp


My wife has a saying that she likes to give to brides-to-be, it goes; "Don't buy you man anything you can't afford the accessories for". So true. She bought me a Nikon D70s DSLR and a lens, from which I suddenly found I needed more lenses, a flash, a handful of filters, remotes and a tripod and ballhead.

Like you, I read a few dozen articles on buying tripods and ball heads and I finally made my decision. If you haven't read anything, or would like to read some more, I strongly encourage you to read Thom Hogan's Tripod 101 article, the Nikonians Article on Tripods, the Nikonians Article on Markins, as well as this comparison. Seem's as though I am biased on Gitzo and Markins, but I can also recommend Really Right Stuff products - amazing quality - a step up on Gitzo Tripods and Markins Heads in my humble opinion.

Personally I have Gitzo GT-2531 legs and a Markins Q-Ball M-10 head. I love them both, they are quality products, will last a long time but, I have one small complaint - the screw knob on the clamp of the head is a pain. It's just too slow to use in the field and top loading is non-existent. So I decided it was time to upgrade to a Really Right Stuff B2 Lever Release II 60 mm clamp with dual mount. At $120 I winced a little, but once I had it in hand and was reminded of the quality of RRS's engineering, I was ok with the purchase price. I also got the 3/8-16 stud they recommended.


The technique described below will most likely void your warranty. I tried and tried to use leverage to remove the clamp before thinking through the process and coming up with using heat. No doubt if you used excessive force or heat you will damage the finish of your ball head, as well as possibly deforming the shape of it. So be careful, you've spent enough money getting here and I'm not willing to answer to your angry wife because you ruined a $400 precision ball head. This technique also depends on heating up metal to decompose the threadlocking glue. Which means you can potentially burn yourself on an open flame or hot metal so be careful.

What You Will Need

RRS B2 LR II clamp
RRS 3/8-16 stud ** I never used mine - read why below **
A blow-torch of some description, I used this one but you could use a larger model with due care.
Some thick leather gloves or even better welding gloves.
Loctite 242 or Permatex blue.

A piece of wood to clamp in the jaws of the clamp or,
A very large adjustable wrench

So Here Goes

First up, I apologize, normally I put many more photo's up but all I had was my iPhone at the time and most were not very good so I wont post them. Below is my tripod & head. First thing you will want to do is tighten the lock mechanism down. It's going to need to be tight enough to hold the ball while you manually unscrew the clamp by hand.

**Don't tighten down the panning base as it's not designed to hold the forces you would otherwise put on it**

Use a propane torch to work at heating up the stainless steel bolt that holds the clamp to the ball head. I was very cautiously and worked in a slow circular motion to try any evenly distribute the heat. Keep in mind that the steel bolt will heat at a slower rate compared to the aluminum clamp because of a difference in heat capacity, so be patient as you heat.

Try intermittently to loosen the clamp. This is where you'll need those leather gloves. Turn the clamp counter clockwise when looking from the top. Tighten the ball head if needed.

It took me about 5 minutes to get the threadlock used by Markins hot enough to break down. By the way, my sample had red threadlock on it - medium strength. Hold the ball head with one hand while turning with the other.

Alternates are to have someone hold the ball head with both hands (and gloves) while you unscrew the clamp, or, clamp a thin piece of wood in the screw clamp for leverage, or use a large adjustable wrench to give that extra bit of leverage. Use a brass or steel brush to remove the excess glue. Be careful not to ruin the nice finish of your ball head.

**When I got mine off, something unexpected happened, the threaded stud connecting the ball head to the clamp remained in the ball. There should not be anything wrong with this. I simply put threadlock on the exposed and cleaned threads and screwed the RRS lever clamp on. Don't crank the clamp tight, rather snug it on and then let the threadlock set for 24-48 hours.

Job done. I should note, that even though I was very careful the bubble level in the Markins screw clamp still gave way under the expansion due to heat. It's really only a problem if your going to reuse the clamp for something else. It's almost like you have a new tripod ;-)