Reader Roy P writes:
My research on these for video has led me to a very interesting conclusion: the fluid heads these days are much nicer than the ones they made even 4-5 years ago. They make them in a huge range of size, weight and capabilities, and they can be used very effectively for still photography, for pretty much all genres. I'm beginning to like these much more than any ball head, gimbal, or my FlexShooter - these are terrific for pretty much any use case that does not require a geared head.
I'm testing a few different fluid heads (Sachtler, Manfrotto, Leofoto) right now, and from what I've seen so far, I will likely end up standardizing on one or more fluid heads except for the times when I must have my ARCA Cube. I've already tested the Sachtler, and it's absolutely fabulous. I will probably get a second one, a much smaller and more compact head for more casual use.
Sachtler Ace XL Fluid Head is just superb. There are others like the AKTIV and FSB series, but those are for more hard-core videographers. They are bigger and heavier, and also cost $1000 to $1500 more.
The ACE XL costs $584 + another $98 for the RRS clamp, for a total of $682. Not cheap, but it does so much more than a BH-55, which costs $489. Of course, it’s much bigger and heavier than a ball head. The weight as shown is just about 3.75 lbs without the handle, which I won’t be using most of the time.
But this is so much nicer to use than any ball head or gimbal or the FlexShooter. For my use cases, the Sachtler as configured below is a keeper.
BTW, the Manfrotto 500AH is very popular amongst videographers because it’s cheap ($200). But it is hideous – it is bulkier, almost a pound heavier, not as nicely made as the Sachtler, and with much weaker functionality compared to the Sachtler.
I have another cheapie (Leofoto Mini Fluid Head) also coming in and I’ll see how that goes. It has a lower load rating and has fewer features, but it might have its use cases, too (e.g., long hikes – it weighs only about 1 lb). It comes with an ARCA clamp, too.
Last item, for $89, this NiSi Macro Focusing Rail NM-180 is tremendous value, and the quality is excellent. It would be great value at 3x the price – just a good pano clamp alone would cost more than $89! I ended up buying two of these.
[DIGLLOYD: a few days later]
On a different note, the Leofoto BV-5 arrived, and while not bad for video, it is easy to get spoiled by the Sachtler ACE XL, and it is REALLY hard to go back to any other fluid head, other than even higher-end Sachtler models!
But the BV-5 weighs only 418 g without its handle, and it replaces a gimbal or the FlexShooter very effectively for lenses like a Sony 70-200/2.8, 100-400 or even the Sony 200-600 (say tele lenses weighing up to about 6 lbs). Its load capacity of 9 lbs can comfortably handle these lenses + camera. Of course, it’s good for some casual video with these lenses, as well.
It can also be used as a ball head, but it can’t turn it down 90° forward or backward, so you couldn’t take photos of your shoes from a tripod. Another problem with all fluid heads is that they have long clamps (60mm or longer) pointing fore-aft. So if you have a camera with a form-fitted L bracket, you would need an extra clamp to orient the lens to face forward. Not too onerous, if you use an RRS 40mm or 55mm dovetail plate + a light-weight clamp, but it’s a bit of a nuisance. Or you could put an RRS panning clamp as a permanent clamp over the BV-5, for a total price of $175 + $235 = $410 and total weight of 418 + 310 = 728 grams, and that should be a good all-round head, albeit with restricted tilt up or down.
A correction and a comment: I had mentioned that the Leofoto BV-5 was unable to tilt down 90° — that was operator error on my part. Most of these smaller fluid heads have an asymmetric up and down tilt. In one direction, they go 90°, but only about 70-80% in the other direction, where they typically place the pan lock screw knob. The Leofoto BV-5 does this too. So that does indeed make the BV-5 usable also as a general purpose ball head, of course limited to its max load capacity of 9 lbs. I still like this best as a very lightweight (0.9 lb) dedicated monopod head.
Its best use might be as a very light head for a monopod, though. For monopods, this is really an excellent solution. This is probably how I’m going to end up using it most of the time
DIGLLOYD: follow the links above, my feed is not showing all items in the ad below.
Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum writes:
You may not know of the story of the fluid head inventor, Chadwell O'Connor, Walt Disney, and steam locomotives ...
He also built the replica transcontinental railroad steam locomotives for the National Park Service.
DIGLLOYD: just in case I am ever on Jeopardy.
Jorin H writes:
You may want to check out this product too: iFootage Komodo K5 Fluid Head
One of the best lightweight and inexpensive video heads I have had my hands on.
John R writes:
I had a different use for a video head: until my boys went to university, I photographed a lot of canoe sprint and surf lifesaving. Using a ball heads for the necessary speed, I was plagued by sloping horizons which my OCD had to correct.
I got a Manfrotto video tripod with spirit levels, set it up flat and could happily pan to follow the action in one axis with the other two axes kept aligned by the video head. No more sloping horizons and downhill lakes.
DIGLLOYD: lots of tripod heads can pan on level; I use the Acratech pano head with leveling base as my preferred hiking head.
Paul B writes:
After a long search for a high-quality two-way head, I found one during the last Photokina at the booth of Fa. Berlebach—the Model 553 with its high precision mechanics and a neatly processed friction allows the camera versions to glide very precisely and securely without the tiresome tilting of many ball heads. Another elaborate 3-way model Pegasus is also available (up to 15kg), but the 553 met my requirements.