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.