March 18, 2013 —
Tripods are one of the most important tools used by photographers to ensure optimal sharpness. It’s no less the case with when it comes to using an HDSLR for shooting video. Tripods are actually more important in this instance because unlike a still photograph (which is captured at a fraction of a second), a video is recording continuous moments of time, and the quality of that video can be diminished by even the slightest camera movement. That’s why a fluid head for your tripod becomes an important part of your kit.
Unlike the pan-tilt head or ball head you may already possess with your existing tripod, a fluid head is designed for varying degrees of resistance, which helps produce smooth movement from the left or right or up and down. This resistance helps the photographer to produce jitter-free and controlled movement, which eliminates any distracting shakiness when watching the footage on a big screen.
Fluid heads come in a wide variety of prices to satisfy virtually any price point. However, as with choosing a good set of legs, you want to invest in the highest quality fluid head that you can afford. Not only will you get a better “feel” for panning and tilting, but you also will gain the benefit of additional features such as adjustable friction controls, multi-function quick-release plates, built-in bubble levels, etc.
How a fluid head works in your hands is an important consideration and, if possible, you should evaluate a head with your recording equipment. It will provide you the best means by which to evaluate how well it will serve your needs, such as how smoothly you can begin and end a pan/tilt or how easily and quickly you can change counterbalance, which become important considerations when you’re in the midst of a busy and hectic shoot.
Below are a few fluid heads to consider for your video work with your HDSLR.
Manfrotto 700RC2 Composite Video Head
This affordable fluid head from Manfrotto is lightweight and compact with a 2-movement head. It provides a 360-degree pan and a +90/-75 degree tilt, and can accommodate HDSLR with a variety of focal lengths, including long telephotos.
Its smooth movement on both axes is achieved by a fixed system of fluid cartridges. It includes independent pan and tilt locks, and a quick-release plate. Price: $99
Manfrotto 504HD Pro Fluid Head 75
This pro-level head combines robust construction with smooth, consistent performance. Its design features the use of ball bearings to produce smooth, vibration-free movement even using it with a heavy camera and lens. You are able to control the degree of friction to contend with different load weights of up to 16.5 pounds and for working under different temperatures. Its counter balance system provides four presets to accommodate a wide range of cameras. Its two 3/8-inch top plate provides the ability to attach both a camera and monitor without additional accessories. Price: $482
Gitzo Series 1 Soulid 238 Quick Release Fluid Head
The G2180 is an ultra-compact fluid head that manages to maintain excellent performance in a small form. Supporting a load capacity of up to 8.82 pounds, the head weighs only 1.26 pounds, its light weight achieved by the use of a special polymer, which is 30 percent lighter than magnesium. This allows it to provide vibration dampening despite its relative light weight. It includes a well-designed and customizable counter-balance system to accommodate a wide variety of video cameras and HDSLR/lens combinations. Price: $278
Gitzo Series 2 Aluminum Quick Release Fluid Video Head
Supporting load capacities of up to 11.2 pounds, the G2380 is a lightweight and compact system of head pan and tilt locks. Separate friction controls, which are based on a fluid cartridge system, are located on the same side of the head for easy access and convenience. Its special locking mechanism eliminates the unwanted vibration when locking the pan and tilt, providing an important benefit while shooting. It weighs just 3.09 pound and features a +/-90 degree tilt range.
Slik Digital Balance Pro
This head provides affordability with the core features needed for solid support and smooth movement for recording video. Weighing just 2.9 pounds, it offers a maximum load capacity of 11 pounds, providing support for virtual cameras/combinations including long telephoto lenses. It features full +/- 90-degree tilt range and a spring-loaded counter balance system. It includes a rubber sliding quick-release wedge plate to accommodate most video and HDSLR systems. Price: $199.95
Sachtler ACE-M Fluid Head
The ACE-M Fluid head provides a five-step counterbalance feature, which makes fast setup easy. With three vertical and three horizontal grades of drag, it offers precise and smooth control over panning and tilting. It features a tilt range of +90 to -75 degrees and offers a load capacity of up to 8.8 pounds. The head also supports smaller HDV cameras as well as HDSLR with virtually any lens combination, including super-r-telephotos. Its glass fiber reinforced composite material delivers excellent dampening in a compact and lightweight design. Price: $640
This head provides a lightweight design while maintaining smooth, controlled movement—all for a very affordable price. The two-way fluid head includes dual safety locks and ergonomic locking knobs. It includes a quick-release system with a standard quick shoe. The long handle with a rubber grip can be from either the front or the back, providing great flexibility for controlling the pan and tilt of the head from virtually any position. It supports a maximum load capacity of 4.4 pounds. Price: $69.99
Designed to support up to 17.5 pounds, the fluid head features a spring counterbalance, which includes adjustable drag tension to provide the videographer smooth pan and tilt functionality. The adjustment of the counter balance is achieved with the flip of a switch for quick and easy adjustments. It utilizes a magnesium alloy construction for both durability and stability. It comes with two quick-release shoes. Price: $149.99
Ibarionex Perello is a photographer, writer and educator. He is the author of Chasing the Light: Improving Your Photography Using Available Light and 5D Mark III: From Snapshots to Great Shots. He is also the host and producer of The Candid Frame photography podcast, which can be found at www.thecandidframe.com.