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ARCA-SWISS Monoball Mania

The Care and Feeding of Your ARCA-SWISS Monoball Head

Introduction
Monoball Chronology
Frequent Misconceptions
Traveling with a Monoball
Protection from the Elements
Cleaning and Servicing
Attention!
Troubleshooting
Using the Flip-Lock
Downloadable PDF Manual
Resources
User Reviews

ARCA-SWISS Cameras

Introduction

Numerous attempts have been made to copy and improve upon the ARCA-SWISS Monoball. Obviously, competitors see the Monoball as an aspirational product. So far, none has achieved the smoothness or quality of the Monoball. Don’t take our word for it – check out the various Internet forums and search engines – you’ll see that time and again leading professionals come back to using their Monoballs after experimenting with other brands.

In “The Care and Feeding of Your ARCA-SWISS Monoball Head” we have attempted to expand upon the original “Monoball Users Manual” while providing additional information based on our years of experience. We’ve also incorporated responses to the questions and comments we have received from our customers. Please forgive our redundancy but some things bear repeating. Note that some terminology is used interchangeably by different sources. For example: tension screw, friction screw, and thumb screw are synonymous.

Monoball Models and Version Chronology

“Old Style” – Large, single-function lock knob, separate tension screw with spring, 3 1/2" (8.8cm) diameter panning base plate. Was available with 1/4", 3/8", or Quick Set Camera Platform. Most had a black anodized finish. The earliest ones had a polished aluminum finish.

“Old Style” Monoball Current B1 Monoball
“Old Style” Monoball
Current B1 Monoball

First version B1 – Multifunction main knob with black “non-captive” friction screw and gray crescent-moon shaped cover plate. 2.9" (7.3cm) diameter panning base plate. Non-removable camera platforms, available with 1/4", 3/8", or Quick Set Camera Platform. B1e model has a fixed, non-panning base. All versions have a black anodized finish. B1g version is the same as the B1 except the housing, ball, and platforms are larger in size. Quick Set platform is 84mm long instead of 60mm.

Second version B1 – Same as first the version except with a “captive” friction screw (“captive” means that it utilizes a “stop” that prevents it from unscrewing all the way and becoming lost.)

Third version B1 – Same as the second version except with user-removable camera platforms, delineated by a countersunk hex bolt.

Fourth version B1 – Same as the third version except for a silver/gray friction screw. Versions with the silver/gray friction screw feature an internally redesigned multifunction knob that cannot be locked-up.

Fifth version B1 – Same as the fourth version but with an interior two piece lower calotte that allows easier panning with the ball. Designated as a PMF Monoball (Progressive Motion-related Friction-control), its exterior is identical to the prior version. It started shipping in the the Fall of 2003 and the only indication that it is the PMF model is a small slip of paper inside the box.

B2 – Bi-axial tilt mechanism features an inner and an outer ball that move in different axes. All B2s have the Quick Set Camera Platform.

B1g Monoball B2 Monoball
B1g Monoball
B2 Monoball

The B2 is the same size as the B1g, with a 3.85" (9.8cm) diameter panning base plate. Both models went through the same series of changes as the B1.

New Flip-Lock

The new Flip-Lock platform can be retrofitted to all B1, B1g, and B2 heads. Contact us for details.

New Flip-Lock

Frequent Misconceptions About ARCA-SWISS Monoballs

One: “My Monoball gets stiffer when I move it to the vertical position.” It’s supposed to! The ball itself is aspherical. It is designed to offer a progressive increase in resistance as you move it to the vertical position.
 
Two: “The numbers on the multifunction knob don’t line up anymore.” They never did! The numbered reference ring is a user-controlled function. It runs on a film of heavy grease and is designed to be difficult (but not impossible) to turn by hand to reduce the likelihood of inadvertent rotation. The operator may position it anywhere for the purpose of referencing different friction settings. 
 
The most common way to use it is to position the zero at your minimum friction point (set by the friction thumb screw) and hence be able to instantly set varying tensions based on needed movements or camera weight. For example, turning the Multifunction Knob until you reach the 2 or 3 might set a desired friction for a given movement with a 35mm camera and light lens, while turning the knob to 4 or 5 would give you the desired friction for using a heavier medium-format camera. 
 
In other words, if the knob is tightened and you want to slightly reposition the camera, you only want to loosen the knob enough to allow yourself to make that adjustment. If you loosen it too much and lose your grip, the camera can flop down and strike the side of the Monoball housing causing damage to the camera, lens, and/or the Monoball. So by noting that you have a 35mm-camera with a heavy lens on it, and knowing from previous experience that if you loosen the knob to “3” you will feel the desired resistance, you can safely reposition the camera where you want it.
 
It’s up to you – the reference ring can be positioned wherever you want.
 
Three: “I never use the friction thumb screw because it makes my Monoball lock up.” In fact, the original B1 was not equipped with the “captive” feature and some people recommended removing the screw and putting it back with an O-ring washer under it. They believed this would keep it from locking up. Wrong! That did nothing but remove the friction screw from its usable range.
 
Multifunction Knobs “lock-up” because users become rushed, don’t understand, or aren’t comfortable with how the knob and friction thumb screw work. They try to instantly loosen the ball all the way and forget that they have set a minimum friction point. In their haste, they put all their strength into loosening the Multifunction Knob and simply jam the internal mechanism against the tip of the tension screw. Note: Remember that this applies only to the black tension screws. The silver/gray screws indicate a later version that has a different internal design that shouldn’t lock up under any circumstances.
 

Traveling with Your Monoball

We highly recommend that you treat your Monoball as you treat your camera! It is a precision instrument built to exacting standards. It should go in your camera case – not in the trunk of your car. But we also realize that many photographers prefer to leave their Monoball attached to their tripod, so here are a few suggestions:

If you are driving from location to location and want to leave your Monoball mounted to your tripod, lightly tighten the Multifunction Knob (to keep the platform from flopping around) and lay it across your back seat. If you must put it in the trunk, lightly tighten the Multifunction Knob, wrap it in a towel or foam padding, and with the tripod still attached, stick the head in a large Ziploc® or similar plastic bag. A good lens wrap won’t protect from moisture as well as a plastic bag, but it is an effective method of padding your Monoball. Lens wraps are an easy-on, easy-off solution, with hook-and-loop tabs. Also keep in mind that many tripods have a removable center column. Removing the center column with your Monoball attached is often easier than unscrewing the Monoball from the tripod itself.

Set your minimum friction (or drag) and use it. Don’t let the ball flop around loose. It is important to always maintain a small amount of tension on the ball. With the weight of a camera mounted on the ball, the rim of the housing may be damaged when the camera and platform freefall (flop down), causing the ball stem to strike the rim of the housing. This may result in a dent in the rim of the Monoball housing, and if the dent is large enough, it may press down on the “upper calotte” and cause the ball to bind. Starting in the year 2000, ARCA-SWISS reinforced the rim to reduce this potential damage but it is still advisable to take precautions.

Don’t store your Monoball in the loose position. Contrary to popular belief, storing your Monoball in a tightened condition will not increase the likelihood of lock-up. Always store your Monoball in a slightly tightened condition. (We have seen conflicting advice online and in print. Our advice is based on our experience working on hundreds of Monoballs.)

When the Monoball is in use, with the additional weight of a camera and lens makes it especially important to maintain some tension on the ball so if you lose your grip the assembly won’t flop over. So set your minimum tension (or “drag”) and use it until you are comfortable with how it works. Practice until you know exactly what to expect every time you turn the Multifunction Knob. It will eventually become second nature, and you will never worry about lock-up again. Once you understand the Multifunction Knob you will work more quickly and with complete confidence.

Protection from the Elements

Protect your Monoball from exposure to sand, dirt, and moisture whenever possible. We realize that exposure to the elements is often unavoidable. The following suggestion will help to minimize the harmful effects: Cut a small hole (tripod screw size) in the center bottom of a one-gallon heavy-duty plastic bag. Pass the camera plate screw through the hole from the inside of the bag before you screw it to the camera. With the plate attached to the Monoball you now have a bag draped over the Monoball. You can reach up inside the bag to make adjustments while affording reasonable protection from the elements. Of course your camera is exposed, but you can do the same thing for your camera – just locate the opening of the bag around the lens opening. There are many variations of this method, limited only by your imagination.

Cleaning and Servicing Your Monoball

Water Damage: If your Monoball is accidentally immersed in water it will need to come in for repair. Some internal parts are steel and will quickly rust. After it has dried, it may seem to function, but if it is left in a rusting condition, eventually fragments of rust will work themselves into the clamping mechanism and start scratching the ball itself. The sooner you send it to us for repair, the less expensive the repair will be.

Sticky or Grabby Ball: There seems to be a lot of incorrect advice going around about cleaning your Monoball. It is acceptable to wipe the ball with a lint-free rag slightly dampened with denatured alcohol, though this will seldom loosen a sticking ball. The most common problem or complaint about the Monoballs is the lack of smooth action when panning with the ball (not the panning base). It has been described as “jerky,” “grabby,” “sticky,” etc. This is almost always caused by a foreign substance on the ball: soda, juice, or some other sticky fluid. Because most of these drinks are water based and loaded with sugar, alcohol will not break them down. Worse, once the substances work into the mechanism, only complete disassembly and proper cleaning will help. If you suspect a sticky substance has splashed on the ball, try wiping it with a slightly dampened, lint-free rag using warm water instead of alcohol. If it is still “sticky,” ship it to us for service.

Faulty Lower Calottes: Around the end of 2001, a batch of faulty parts found their way into the production process. We also received a batch as replacement parts and unknowingly installed them in a number of Monoballs. This part is called the “lower calotte.” If your Monoball has one of these parts, it may exhibit “sticky action” as stated above; or it may seem fine under normal use but start sticking only in cold or humid environments. Cleaning will not alleviate this problem. Only we can confirm whether your Monoball is equipped with a faulty part. We are sure that most of these faulty parts have already been replaced but there may be a few still out there. If we determine that your Monoball is equipped with one of these faulty parts, our repair is free of charge.

Do Not Immerse your Monoball in alcohol. We have seen a number of Monoballs come in for repair after being immersed in alcohol and even acetone, thanks to some bad advice circulating the Interrnet. At best, alcohol will thin or wash out the factory-installed greases and leave your Monoball grinding away at itself. At worst, an agent like acetone will actually melt the critical plastic parts such as the upper and lower calottes.

Never Attempt a Repair Yourself: There are tricks you must know to properly disassemble and repair a Monoball. Special lubricants are required and special alignment jigs are needed to correctly assemble and adjust the mechanisms. Precision Camera Works is the only company in the USA equipped to properly service your Monoball.

Attention!

Attention


A note about terminology: In the original Monoball Users Manual, the word “friction” was used to describe only the action of the “Friction Thumb Screw.” The term “tension” was used whenever the text referred to turning the Multifunction Knob.

Troubleshooting

Should you have a problem in the field there are a few things to try before you “take the pliers to it” – and cost yourself an expensive repair and even more aggravation.

One: If the Multifunction Knob becomes jammed or “locked up,” read our notice called “Attention!.” This will guide you through the proper steps to free up the mechanism and help you understand it a little better.

Two: If you have already applied a lot of elbow grease to the knob, and it is really locked tight, please don’t use pliers. Use a strap wrench instead. They are commonly available at hardware stores. They are a lot lighter to carry, plus they won’t damage your Multifunction Knob. If you don’t have anything like a strap wrench handy, and you have to use your hands, wrap your shirttail, a towel, or any clean cloth you might have around the knob to give yourself a better grip.

Typical Strap-on Wrenches
Typical strap wrenches

Three: Just remember to follow the instructions in the “Attention!” notice; nothing will work if you are turning the knob the wrong direction.

Four: ARCA-SWISS covers all Monoballs under a generous three-year warranty. Be mindful of those things that will void your warranty. It’s really pretty simple; don’t dunk it, drop it, take pliers to it, or play with it in your sandbox.
 

Using the New Flip-Lock

Using the New Flip-Lock

Downloadable Adobe Acrobat PDF Manual

Monoball Manual

Download the printable manual
for ARCA-SWISS Monoballs (10 kb)

Get Acrobat Reader

Resources

Really Right Stuff: High-quality after market accessories and plates for Monoball heads. Nice folks.

User Reviews

David Paris’s review
Paul Butzi’s review


We welcome your comments and would like to hear your thoughts and ideas about Monoball use.
 
Send your comments via email: help@precisioncameraworks.com

ARCA-SWISS Monoballs: often copied, never equalled
The Care and Feeding of Your ARCA-SWISS Monoball head
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