Light weight video pan/tilt head

Discussion in 'Video' started by ppenguin, Oct 19, 2020.

  1. Hello,

    I am looking for suggestions for a lightweight, compact pan/tilt head for recording wildlife (otters and birds etc) on my Panasonic HDC-SD80 video recorder. I has to be lightweight otherwise it won't get taken out with me when I go walking, and I cannot carry a lot due to ill health. I bough at very lightweight tripod ( sirii T-025X) which has improved things massively.

    The ball head that comes with the tripod is no use, and I have cheep “Andoer Aluminum Alloy Q08 Video Tripod Ball Head 3-way Fluid Head” which does for the moment but is fundamentally cr&p.

    I have had the head apart in an attempt to smooth up movement but it is not a long term solution.

    I realise that lightweight and tripod etc are generally classed as opposites on the quality scales but someone may have a great idea for my needs.

    I am not trying to shoot award winning video, I just want to record wildlife as well as possible.

    Many thanks
  2. I'm most familiar with Manfrotto heads, and any of the less expensive models may suit your needs, within certain limitations.

    manfrotto fluid head | B&H Photo Video

    With inexpensive heads you lose the ability to balance the load and compensate for the center of gravity when you tilt the camera. The fluid damping won't be as smooth as in larger and more expensive heads. However, you can compensate by keeping control of the handle, or locking the head. Steadiness improves if you keep one hand on the tripod while the other is on the handle.

    The advantage of a video head is a single control arm, smooth transitions, and easy panning with 2-way action. It also means you must level the tripod to take advantage of this simplicity. Manfrotto, RRS and others make leveling devices which fit between the tripod and the head. With 7 to 15 degrees of movement, a leveling head means you can level the legs by eyeball and finish with the leveler in less time than it takes to describe the process.
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2020
  3. Thanks for the reply Ed-Ingold.
    Following your suggestion I have come around to liking the look of the "Manfrotto MVH400AH Befree Live video head" which is also lighter at 380g than the cheapo head I have which weighs in at 450g
  4. I hope to avoid the excess of spending other peoples money needlessly.

    Video heads for still photography with long lenses, and wild life are useful, with few demands are placed on them for smooth motion. Even semi-serious videography is different. In the $500 category, I like the Manfrotto Nitrotech heads. They use a gas spring for counterbalancing, which is infinitely adjustable. There are two models, one for a camera rig heavier than 8 pounds (a Sony A7 with cage, rails, video battery and a 200-600 zoom approaches 12 pounds). Heads with ball bearing pivots and a true fluid drag system start at about $2K. I never imagined I would spend that much on a head, but I'm not sorry. I shoot a LOT of video, and the Nitrotech heads loosen up a bit and wobble at the base after 2-3 years of heavy use. They get very stiff in freezing weather, whereas fluid heads can be used to -10F or lower.
  5. Hi all,

    Reporting back on what I did with the advice given to me on this thread.
    I eventually got a very good deal on black Friday for a new "Manfrotto MVH400AH Befree Live video head" 20% less than some were fighting for one on ebay!
    Having used the head on my lightweight tripod ( sirii T-025X) a few times while creeping up on otters I have the following observations.

    The panning arm weighs in at 100grams and produces enough turning moment with its mass and length that I cannot position my video camera on the mount so that it balances and does not tip upwards when not held manually. This was overcome by making my own panning handle out of an old artist paint brush handle weighing all of 7grams. Now it is in balance.

    The panning motion is smooth and the resistance is quite stiff but manageable. I do need to hold the tripod firmly or hang weight on it. The two axis screws are just for locking the head not adjusting friction. I suspect using them as friction adjustments could lead to scraping damage and jerky motion.

    Finally I suspect the viscosity of the fluid (silicon grease?) means there is a small amount of rebound at the end of a pan, i.e. the head springs back a small amount which means following moving targets is not as smooth as you would wish for. Having said that this is a fairly inexpensive and very lightweight (380g) piece of equipment and I am generally very happy with it.

  6. There are two ways to balance the camera. The traditional way is to use a longer plate so the camera can be moved further forward (or backward). Secondly, lower the angle of the arm. It's important that there be no lost motion between the arm and the head, or smooth motion becomes very difficult.

    The pan and tilt knobs are intended to adjust drag, and only secondarily to lock the axes. There will always be some reaction force which causes spring back, especially with a very light tripod. Try holding the top of the tripod firmly with your left hand while panning with the right. That will give you more control and reduce torque on the legs.
  7. Isn't there a light fluid head, cheap for a P&S pocket camera that doesn't "stick" as you pan?
  8. I wish I could help, but light, smooth and affordable seem to be mutually exclusive. Mechanisms to create smooth drag tend to be large and expensive. The size is partly due to physics - keeping the Reynolds number low. A Manfrotto Nitrotech head if one of the best sub-$500 head I've used. The skeleton frame is relatively light but bulky. If you're looking for a 2-way with benefits, the best answer depends on your goals and budget.

    You might also consider a gimbal mount. Wimberly is the one which comes to mind, but Really Right Stuff makes a gimbal with adjustable drag. With a gimbal, you balance the camera and lens. The camera rotates freely on two axes, pan and tilt. It's an ideal solution for birds and large critters, and could do well with video too (each axis can be locked).

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