Installing Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ballhead on Tiltall Tripod

Dave Anderson

This weekend, having collected and fabricated the necessary parts, it was time to upgrade the head on the venerable Uniphot tripod that I purchased around 1988. The tripod has served me well for all these years, though really the dual-handle head tilt mechanism isn’t always ideal. Often it moves when tightening, and while I have learned to mentally compensate for this my recent forays into shooting panoramas have sometimes been frustrating because of this. Getting my node rail properly leveled was much more fiddly than it needed to be. I’m shooting longer lenses these days(and wider sometimes, but that’s another story). When trying, for example, to get a shot of the moon with a 500mm lens the tiny bit of movement upon tightening the head makes for quite a shift in the image centering. Below are some details and pics…

To start the conversion I purchased a replacement center column from Gary Regester here. I also purchased a Really Right Stuff BH-55, though this mod would provide a more stable platform for any large ballhead.

Next I needed a plate to not only provide a stable support for the base of the ballhead, but to allow the column to bottom out on the rubber bumper inside my custom strap fitting without metal-to-metal contact. Below are all of the pieces that I needed to make the change.

Pieces ready for assembly

Basic Assembly, ready for ballhead.

In the first pic above, there is the new column from Gary, but the stud that he provides in the column end plug has been removed and the plug bored out to 3/8″ and deburred. The bottom side of the new mounting plate has a .200″ deep pocket in it so the end plug will not protrude and get hung up in the strap fitting. This column was about 0.006″ larger in diameter than my original column so I needed to hone away some material from the ID of my strap fitting, the black piece on the lower left of the first pic. Also pictured, the grade 8, 3/8-16×1.25 bolt and grade 8 washers that hold it all together and the socket with extensions I used to position the bolt in the hole and then tighten it to the ballhead. The second pic shows these pieces assembled and ready for the ballhead.

Ballhead installed on column

Above, the ballhead has been installed and tightened down.

Everything comes together…

Below, some overview pics of the fully reassembled tripod and ballhead. I was fortunate that my custom end plug with strap fitting and leg retention fingers fit the threads in the new column. I could have modified the one Gary sent if needed, but I was spared the trouble. Sorry about the P&S camera output, but it gets the point across…

Ready to carry on a shoot(minus the cordura drawstring cover that comes with the ballhead)

Front oblique view

Rear View

Here are some closer views of the head and tripod.

Side view showing main clamp knob and lever release on ballhead, column rotate lock on tripod.

Side view showing, top to bottom, tension knob, rotation brake, column lift lock.

Rear View, showing tension numeric indicator

One of the reasons for the upgrade - Sony 70-400G lens with a900... ~5.5 lbs.

First impressions:

This ballhead is a night-and-day improvement over the original Tiltall head. I haven’t even shot any pictures with the setup yet, but I have played with it some. With slight tension on the ballhead, I can position the camera easily without having it flop around. A quick twist of the main clamp knob on the ballhead, using very light force, and the ballhead is locked solid as if it were welded in place, even with this fairly heavy lens and camera(Sony a900 with 70-400G, ~5.5 lbs). A bit more of a twist and I’m sure something else would break before it moved.

I have lived with the shortcomings of the original head for many years, because once locked down it was very stable and overall the tripod has been trouble-free. With this upgrade I think I’m going to be very happy. The one downside is that with such a shiny ballhead on it, now I want to grab a toothbrush and clean the dirt build-up from the rest of the tripod. 😀

7 Responses to “Installing Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ballhead on Tiltall Tripod”

  • private student loan Says:

    well written blog. Im glad that I could find more info on this. thanks

  • Donald MacLeay Says:

    Great job! I came looking to see if the head of the Tiltall could be taken off, and now I see it takes major surgery to convert the head to a general purpose one. But you did exactly what I would have done and somehow that makes me feel better.
    Perhaps a used Gitzo Reporter is out there waiting for me.

  • Dave Anderson Says:

    Thanks Don. Actually, if you just pick up a column from Gary you can install it in place of your existing column and mount any ballhead on it. I tend toward overkill on many things — in this case I had dropped a fair amount of coin on the ballhead and wanted it to have the best possible connection to the column.

  • Ken Shaw Says:

    Hi Dave
    I was searching for information on converting a Leitz Tiltall to accept a ballhead. Google brought me to your blog on converting your tripod to accept a RRS ballhead.
    I like the concept but need further information on the top plate you got to go between the replacement column (I had already found Gary’s part before I found your blog) and the new ball head.
    Where did you get it? How can I?
    Appreciate your help in this project.

    here is reference text from your article…

    Next I needed a plate to not only provide a stable support for the base of the ballhead, but to allow the column to bottom out on the rubber bumper inside my custom strap fitting without metal-to-metal contact. Below are all of the pieces that I needed to make the change.

    • Dave Anderson Says:

      Hi Ken,

      The plate was custom made by a friend with a lathe. You may disregard the text about “My custom strap fitting”, which is shown in my About My Tiltall Tripods post, the fifth and sixth photos. If you have a standard Tiltall and you buy the column from Gary Regester then all you will need is a metal disk that has a pocket in the underside to fit tightly on the top of the column. Or you could just mount the ballhead straight to the column without this plate. I added the plate just because I have a penchant for overkill. 😀

  • Ed Kreiser Says:

    I’m looking for a headless center column for my Tilt All tripod in black finish. I have been unable to reach Gary Register in Colorado who sells these items and I was hoping that you might have a contact for this item. Thanks.

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