When you’re shooting still images, keeping the camera absolutely rock-steady is critical. Everyone knows this. When we handhold, we recognize that we’re working in a suboptimal manner and we do what we can to mitigate the inherent issue of camera shake by using higher shutter speeds and image stabilization. We do what we can to steady the camera with anything available because, at the moment of exposure, we don’t want any movement at all. For most pros, a big, solid ballhead is the tool of choice when shooting stills on a tripod.
That’s not always the case when it comes to shooting video. Sure, there are times when the camera just stays perfectly still on a tripod, but more often than not, you want to have the ability to pan and tilt with the action. And when you move the camera, you need to be able to do it smoothly. Ballheads are a poor choice in these situations because, by design, they move in all dimensions when loosened. To be able to move the camera smoothly, a fluid head is the proper tool.
The fluid head is so named because it has a viscous material built into it that lubricates the moving parts and creates a uniform resistance throughout the system. By making adjustments to the drag settings, you can make it easier or harder to move the camera platform. Because they’re designed for video, most fluid heads orient the camera only in the horizontal position. This makes them perfect for video, but not as useful for still shooting when we often want the flexibility to shoot vertically or horizontally on the fly.
The Gitzo Series 2 G2380 fluid head features pan and tilt locks and separate friction controls that are positioned on the same side so photographers and videographers can make changes quickly. The pan lock is also a good solution for long telephoto lenses that are susceptible to vibrations. The head can be set up for right- or left-handed operation, and there’s a dual-direction quick-release plate for removing the camera from the front or the rear. Estimated Street Price: $299. Contact: Gitzo, (201) 818-9500, www.gitzo.us.
The Manfrotto 504HD video fluid tripod head includes a PAN axis rotation unit that uses ball bearings for reducing vibration during movement. The Fluid Drag System (FDS) is available on both the PAN and TILT axes independently. The CBS counter-balance system includes four presets for accommodating variable camera weights, and the 504HD is the first to feature Manfrotto’s Bridging Technology, which adds a wider top plate and longer sliding plate for fitting bigger camera setups comfortably. List Price: $400. Contact: Manfrotto, (201) 818-9500, www.manfrotto.us.
The Sunpak VideoPro M2 tripod system is a compact setup suited to lighter-weight DSLR/lens configurations. It includes a true fluid head with a quick-release platform. The floating ballhead system keeps your camera level in the studio or on location, and the legs also include retractable spikes and quick-release leg locks. Estimated Street Price: $119. Contact: Sunpak (ToCAD America), (973) 627-9600, www.sunpak.com.
Fluid Heads From The Pro Video Industry
If you’re going to get heavy into video shooting, you eventually may want to invest in a pro-level video fluid head. These models are very expensive, but they’re also designed to handle any camera and lens combination you throw at them. Because they’re primarily pro video and film tools, the heads can handle capacities in the neighborhood of 30 to 50 pounds. Obviously, they’re overkill if you’re just using a midweight DSLR with “normal” lenses, but if you’re thinking about using a really big, fast telephoto on a regular basis or if you want to have the flexibility to use a heavy-duty video or motion-film camera, these models are good choices.
The OConnor 1030HD midsized fluid head includes the company’s sinusoidal counterbalance system for accurate balance throughout the tilt range. The pan and tilt fluid drag can perform tracking with just the fingertips, and a tilt-locking pin holds the head still for camera changes. The head can be configured for left- or two-handed operation, and it will support up to 39 pounds. Estimated Street Price: $5,600. Contact: OConnor, (818) 847-8666, www.ocon.com.
Sachtler’s Video 18 S1 and Video 20 S1 100mm fluid heads are designed for high-end video and motion-film professionals. The Video 20 S1 has a capacity of up to 55 pounds, and the 18 S1 can handle up to 40 pounds. For HD DSLRs, the minimum capacity has been reduced from the previous incarnations to accept camera/lens setups as light as 4.4 pounds. There’s a 16-step counterbalance system for exact alignment of the camera and smooth panning and tilting, thanks to Sachtler’s Speedbalance technology. Estimated Street Price: $9,465 (Video 18 S1); $11,685 (Video 20 S1). Contact: Sachtler, (845) 268-0100, www.sachtler.com.
The Vinten Vision 100 Fluid Head with 100mm Ball Base will comfortably support a rig up to 44 pounds. The drag mechanism uses non-contacting, thin film technology to achieve consistent drag and performance, even throughout a temperature range of -40 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The drag knobs are backlit with grooves for locking in precise settings. The head also uses an infinitely variable spring mechanism that Vinten says gives it Perfect Counter Balance throughout the tilt range. Estimated Street Price: $4,700. Contact: Vinten, (845) 268-0100, www.vinten.com.
Other Camera Stabilization
|There are plenty of times when a tripod just isn’t going to work for your shoot. These devices look elaborate, but once you try them, you’ll find that you quickly get accustomed to their use. In this article, we’re looking at lighter-duty models, but all of the companies below also have a broad variety of products to handle any camera and lens rig.
The Steadicam Merlin is a lightweight, handheld video-stabilization system that will balance camera rigs from a half pound to 5 pounds. The Merlin weighs only 12.8 ounces itself, so it doesn’t wear on your arms. The caliper hinge folds for easy stowing, and there’s a Merlin Arm and Vest available for long shooting days. List Price: $895. Contact: Tiffen, (621) 273-2500, www.tiffen.com.
The FlowPod from VariZoom offers a handheld stabilization system in three setups that you configure. In Monopod Mode, it works like a conventional monopod, the Stabilizer Mode steadies your handheld video as you move around, and the Low Mode is ideal for ground-level shooting and working up close to your subject. List Price
Culminating with the FLYPACK1 DSLR Bundle, ikan has an assortment of gear available to turn your HD DSLR into a fully realized video rig. The Starter Fly kit includes one handle, one arm and a “cheese plate” (for attaching to the camera). The Elements series includes modular parts that you can put together as needed. The Basic Fly kit gives you a two-handled tracking kit, and the Deluxe Fly and Super Fly include extra attachments for adding an auxiliary video monitor, microphone, light, power supply or other gear. List Price: Begins at $119 (Starter Fly); $1,845 (FLYPACK1). Contact: ikan Corp., (888) 556-9331, www.ikancorp.com.
The Norbert from K-Tek introduces a flexible camera accessory-mounting system that frames your HD DSLR while it sits on the top of a tripod. It also can be used as a handheld device by attaching the optional Dual Handle Kit, and the lightweight frame contains numerous threaded holes in the standard mount sizes of most popular camera accessories. K-Tek also offers a selection of clamps, mounts, brackets and other extras for completing the kit as needed. The frame is quick-release, and the angled design is built to keep the setup balanced even with heavy attachments. Estimated Street Price: $385. Contact: K-Tek, (760) 727-0593, www.ktekbooms.com.
Redrock Micro manufactures a broad variety of stylish pro accessories for HD DSLRs. The Cinema bundles are modular, so parts can be added and removed as needed. These kits include add-ons like follow-focus units for keeping subjects sharp even when in motion and matte boxes for managing lighting situations. Available in two packages, the Cinema Bundle comes with a baseplate with 12-inch rods, quick-release plate and dovetail, microFollowFocus, microLensGears pack, a top microHandle, DSLR cage with side arms and top rods, and a microMatteBox Deluxe Bundle. The Field Cinema Bundle includes the same options, but drops the MatteBox in favor of a Micro Shoulder Mount Deluxe Bundle for handholding. Estimated Street Price: $1,995 (DSLR Field Cinema Bundle); $2,445 (DSLR Cinema Bundle). Contact: Redrock Micro, (888) 214-3903, www.redrockmicro.com.
Zacuto’s HD DSLR offerings include three DSLR Gunstock Shooter rigs, as well as a wide array of add-ons and modular products. Targeting the on-the-go, run-and-gun photographer and videographer, the kits fit snugly against your body, stabilizing the camera while allowing you to compose through the viewfinder. The Rapid Fire, Quick Draw and Tactical Shooter brace against your shoulder or your hand, leaving the free hand to adjust the lens for focus and zooming. List Price: Begins at $580 (Rapid Fire). Contact: Zacuto USA, (888) 294-FILM, www.zacuto.com.