It’s important to remember that for tripod and fluid heads, the ones you don’t notice while shooting are the best kind. Although tripod systems aren’t the sexiest gear to read (or write) about, you’re probably well aware that a stable tripod system is the best investment a shooter can make since a subpar tripod system can ruin a "once-in-a-lifetime" shot. Unlike using a ballhead for still photography, smooth and steady camera movement from a good fluid head really separates the two mediums.
In the past few years, we’ve seen an array of new digital motion-picture cameras that are compact and extremely lightweight, such as the Sony F5/F55, RED EPIC, Canon EOS C500, etc. But a push for smaller camera systems doesn’t mean you can use a subpar tripod system. Here, we take a look at the latest fluid heads, as well as tripods, that are suited for today’s digital motion-picture cameras.
VINTEN VISION BLUE PAN AND TILT HEAD SYSTEM
Based out of England, Vinten (www.vinten.com) has been creating cinema products for more than 100 years. Their pedestals for broadcast studio work have long been an industry standard. Vinten has a new head that should appeal more to indie filmmakers: the Vision blue Pan and Tilt head.
The head contains a 75mm tripod mount ball, with a maximum capacity of 4.6 to 11 pounds, which should suit filmmakers using DSLRs or compact camcorders like the Canon EOS C300. For balancing of varying camera weights, the Vision blue Pan and Tilt head utilizes Vinten’s Perfect Balance knob that can be adjusted according to the camera’s payload and center of gravity height.
The head has infinite adjustment of both counterbalance and drag, with a full plus or minus 90 degrees of tilt motion. You’re able to reduce counterbalance by turning the Perfect Balance knob counterclockwise, and if you want to lock the camera in any position, the head has both pan and tilt brakes that can be quickly and easily secured.
In terms of mounting the camera, the slide plate is supplied with a 1⁄4-inch screw and pin assembly. Also, in keeping with the name, the blue-illuminated leveling bubble comes in handy.
The Vision blue can be packaged with a two-stage Pozi-Loc tripod, ground or mid-level spreader and a Petrol Bags case. The Pozi-Loc legs have an easy-to-use clamping system to quickly make changes in height. All in all, the Vision blue Pan and Tilt head system is a no-frills, workhorse-type system.
SACHTLER ACE L FLUID HEAD SYSTEM
One of the largest manufacturers of professional camera support gear, Sachtler’s Ace M (www.sachtler.com) was one of the company’s biggest-selling fluid heads for low-budget filmmakers. They’ve since expanded the Ace line to include the new Ace L Fluid head designed for small camcorders or DSLRs.
The Ace L contains a 75mm ballhead, has a larger payload range of up to 13 pounds (compared to up to 8.8 pounds for the Ace M), and enables you to use a fully rigged camera with accessories like an LCD monitor, a recorder, a microphone, etc. Cool features of the Ace L include seven steps of counterbalancing and a patented SA (Synchronised Actuated) drag damping with three vertical and three horizontal grades of drag.
The camera plate of the Ace L is longer (104mm) than fluid heads in its class so you’ll be able to quickly counterbalance your camera. The fluid head has a tilt range of +90 degrees to -75 degrees. Like many of the Sachtler systems, the Ace L contains an illuminated bubble leveler.
For the tripod, Sachtler is offering three different carbon-fiber legs, which weigh much less, are stonger than aluminum and offer lower torsion. Also, all Ace L tripod systems come with a carrying bag that has a convenient grip and carrying strap.
MILLER COMPASS TRIPOD SYSTEMS
Australian-based Miller Camera Support (www.millertripods.com) holds the very first patent for fluid head design, back in 1946, and since then they have still provided innovative camera support products for some of the best camera operators in the business. Miller released a new line of fluid heads, the Compass 12, in their award-winning and more budget-friendly Compass series, which includes the 75mm Compass 15, Compass 20 and the 100mm Compass 25. Miller designed the Compass fluid heads to have the same selectable drag components as their well-regarded Arrow fluid head line, which will enable super-smooth pan and tilt moves, as well as the ability to stop pans and tilts on a dime.
The Compass range also has an illuminated bubble level like most new fluid head systems. The Compass 12, 15 and 20 fluid heads have a payload range between 4 and 22 pounds, and they’re designed to work with HDV, DVCAM, XDCAM, P2HD, ENG and DSLR cameras. The 100mm Compass 25 head has an 8- to 30-pound payload range and can be used with ENG or studio-based camera systems.
The Compass system lets you choose from the 2-stage 75mm or 100mm alloy tripod to the 2-stage or 3-stage Solo DV/Solo ENG tripod. Speaking from experience, the Solo DV tripod is great for single operators and run-and-gun shooters. Since it doesn’t contain a spreader, it’s great for adjusting to different heights. For you low-angle shooters, you can quickly lower and secure your camera position down to nine inches.
In the past few years, Japan-based Libec (www.libecsales.com) has been broadening their business by offering professional pedestals, jib arms and remote-controlled heads, but their main focus is still tripods and heads.
This year, they have announced their flagship tripod system model, the RSPLUS, which is a new tripod and pedestal system that’s designed for studio or digital cinema production. The 100mm ballhead (RHP85) can take a payload of up to 55 pounds and comes with both a standard plate and a long sliding plate. (For ENG shoulder work, the RHP75 is better suited because it’s 30% lighter and has a 37-pound payload.)
Like all of the models in Libec’s RS series, by adjusting the outerbalance knob, the head contains good counterbalance between the camera’s weight and the innerspring tension at various tilt angles. Libec has created the Balance Stabilizer Mechanism and Smooth Balancing System in order to achieve perfect counterbalance. The Balance Stabilizer Mechanism reduces even the slightest wobble caused by the spring-back effect when stopping a tilt.
One unique feature on the fluid head is that the camera plate can be attached and detached with just one touch, which makes it easier and more efficient. The rugged tripod case can be transported as check-in luggage for air travel and has two wheels, which can be pulled with the side handle grip.