Filmmakers and videographers often don’t give much thought to the tripod legs. We mostly focus on the tripod head, and rightly so, since unlike in still photography, we actually capture the movement of our subject by moving our camera to frame them. How a head enables you to smoothly pan and tilt is at the very essence of basic camera movement.
Tripod legs, on the other hand, are more utilitarian; they simply hold up the head, your camera and accessories. In general, we buy whichever legs seem appropriate for the size and weight of the load we need them to support, as long as they are capable of reaching the maximum height we need and aren’t too flimsy.
However, utilitarian should mean easy to use, but this isn’t always so. That’s why I admire the design of Sachtler’s Flowtech 75 system. In fact, I believe Sachtler has moved tripod design and feature sets forward with this release.
How Product Design Can Affect A Shoot
Let me elaborate: I have owned several sets of tripod legs over my career, from inexpensive aluminum Manfrottos, to expensive Ronford Baker old-school wooden models, to my current set of legs, the Miller Solo DV legs, including a carbon-fiber set and an aluminum set.
I have no complaints about the Millers. They have been reliable during my shoots all over the world, from the searing heat and sandstorms of the Sahara to the pouring rain of the Brazilian jungle. I wipe them down, clean them up, and they are ready to go for the next shoot.
The only thing I am not crazy about is that each set of legs features two nylon locking rings to release and tighten each set of legs, which means for full height extension, I have to loosen and then tighten a total of six rings. If I’m in a hurry, it just takes too long. I don’t mind doing it, but it takes some time and impatient directors, producers and talent sometimes don’t like to wait.
Using The Flowtech 75 Tripod Legs
Sachtler recently sent me a set of its new carbon fiber Flowtech 75 tripod legs, along with a Sachtler FSB-6 fluid head. What’s impressive about the Flowtech design is that the system has just one clasp/leg lock for each of the three sets of legs. All you have to do is raise the clasp, and the two-stage legs will fall into position, aided by gravity.
To deploy the three legs, you simply loosen, then push down each of the three clasps, which is quicker than individually loosening, then tightening six locking rings on the Millers. Another significant design improvement is that the Flowtechs are constructed of rectangular lengths of interlocking carbon fiber. Not only does carbon fiber look cool, but it also has high torsional rigidity, is fairly heavy duty and tends to weigh less than other comparable materials (although the difference in weight isn’t all that significant).
Sachtler includes a nice range of height adjustment with the Flowtech 75, from a minimum height of 10 inches to a maximum height of 60 inches with a collapsed height of 26.8 inches. It also comes with a set of mid-level spreaders, which I quickly detached (I detest spreaders), but for those going for maximum rigidity with long focal lengths, the spreaders do help to stabilize your camera load.
Some reviewers have dinged the Flowtech 75 since it isn’t (yet) available in a 100mm bowl-mount version, only the 75mm version, but that misses the point. The Flowtech legs are clearly designed to be as light (6.4 pounds) and easy-to-carry as possible for ENG, documentary and event work. They have a weight capacity of 44 pounds.
So, if you do the math, you’ll quickly realize that if you’re carrying a camera package around that weighs more than 44 pounds (which would correlate with a 100mm version), it means you’re probably at the opposite end of the production scale as far as the need to run-and-gun.
To put it another way, if your camera is too heavy to be supported by the Flowtech 75, you would probably be happier with a larger, traditional Sachtler or O’Connor type of head and the corresponding traditional legs. This isn’t to say that Sachtler won’t introduce a 100mm version; it may at some point, but these days, if you are using a fully loaded VariCam, RED or Arri Amira, this is the wrong tripod for your needs. The trend in production cameras, especially at the mid-range and lower end, is clearly toward smaller and lighter. Sachtler is smart to have innovated where the lion’s share of the market is headed. High-end, fully crewed cameras have always weighed a lot, and while sizes and weights are shrinking, most features and episodic work are shot with a camera package that typically weighs in the 40-80 pound range. The Flowtech isn’t aimed at those users—it shines in applications ranging from mirrorless camera rigs that weigh just a few pounds all the way up to Sony FS7, Canon EOS C300 Mark II, BMD Ursa Mini or Panasonic EVA 1 type of setups that can range from just a few pounds up to 20-30 pounds fully loaded down with monitors, recorders, V-Mount batteries, baseplates, rods, follow focus, etc.
Three Different Shoots
I put the Flowtech to work on three different shoots: a documentary interview, followed up by corporate multi-camera shoot with speakers on a stage amidst a large audience, and finishing up on another documentary shoot with a crew putting together a new still at a distillery. In all three situations, I found the Flowtech 75 legs to be functionally excellent and quite intuitive to use. Production gear is most often used in stressful, quick-paced situations, where time is money and camera ops and DPs don’t want to put a lot of effort into something as elementary as their tripod; we just need it to work and work well.
I liked that I could quickly adjust the Flowtech’s height since my current tripod tends to take a long time to adjust. The rigidity of the Flowtech is excellent, even when used at full extension of 60 inches. I used my Canon EOS C200 on the last shoot along with a Zacuto VCT Pro baseplate, a Zacuto VCT-14 tripod plate, 15mm front rods, a lens support and the larger, heavier Canon BP-A60 battery for a total weight of about 14 pounds, and the Flowtech seemed to perform well with this weight range with no windup or backlash.
Sachtler put some careful thought into how pro video shooters actually use tripods. I was impressed with the rectangular design of the legs and the fact that Sachtler thoughtfully included a magnet on each leg so that the whole setup folds up and holds its shape without a stray leg flopping down as you carry it. The rectangle-shaped legs also ride on your shoulder more comfortably than the typical tubular design leg.
With smaller and lighter cameras becoming more popular, it’s obvious that more users will fold out the tripod, grab a shot, then fold the legs, keep the camera attached, and throw the entire rig over their shoulder to walk to the next location. For these type of shooters, this new design works quite well. In fact, two of my colleagues have purchased the Flowtech 75 tripod since its introduction and are very happy with their decision. The reason? I think it’s because Sachtler did its homework and designed a tripod that is not just utilitarian but also innovative and easy to use. The Flowtech 75 is well worth checking out when you are in the market for your next tripod.