For landscape videography, a fluid pan/tilt head is almost a must have accessory. Used discerningly, panning and tilting shots can add much to what would normally be only static shots.
In the past I struggled with what I thought was a good tripod/head combo that I had purchased at Best Buy. I think I paid around $125.00 for it, and it was a heavy aluminum tripod with a mostly plastic head, and the combination was a pain to carry around. This combo served its purpose for my still photography, but when used with a video camera it was impossible to get smooth pan/tilt shots. I needed a better solution.
About this time last year I purchased a Manfrotto 190XB tripod with a 390RC2 Pan/Tilt head. This combo worked very well for photography and static video shots. The 390RC2 is not fluid, so I couldn’t use it for video panning, but the tripod/head combo was much lighter than my old setup and served me well last fall.
As Spring 2009 approached I decided I wanted a second tripod/head combo, so that I could shoot photos/timelapse and video at the same time. This time I purchased a Manfrotto 190xprob tripod (I’ll have a review soon) and the 701HDV head .
The first thing that struck me about the 701HDV was the quality. The head is made for smaller camcorders, and in my experience a lot of accessories for small camcorders aren’t the best quality. The 701 HDV definitely doesn’t fit into the cheap category. It weighs two pounds, and is made from heavy aluminum. It is really solid and you won’t be worried that something on the head will break, causing your expensive camcorder to tumble to the ground.. It has a large tilt handle, and you have the option of buying a second handle to achieve even smoother shots.
The plate that attaches to your camcorder is also solid, and includes an adjustable slot so that you can properly balance the center of gravity before placing it on the head.
Once on the head, your camcorder is protected from sliding off by tightening a screw, and by a button release that locks the camera plate to the head. My only quibble with the button release is that if you’ve placed the camera plate too far forward on the head, it can be a pain to get the release to work properly.
There are controls to adjust the drag for both panning and tilting, and the pan bar is adjustable to several different positions. The head has a bubble level and will support camcorders up to almost nine pounds.
If you’ve done some research on fluid pan heads, you’ll know that they are quite expensive, so I had a bit of trepidation that the 701HDV wouldn’t be all that great for its relatively low price. I found the head to work really well, and it is a joy to use. It’s one of those products that once you have it, you wish you had purchased it long ago. It’s a product that adds another degree of professionalism to your videography.
Below is a video of my first shots using the head. Like any new piece of hardware, it takes a little practice to make shots look smooth, so you’ll see some slight pauses in a couple of shots. Any stuttering you see is a product of Vimeo recompression. The video also has a couple of glidetrack dolly shots, so if you’re fairly new to videography you should notice the difference between dolly, panning, and tilting shots. If you’re interested, here’s the shot-type breakdown:
- Shot One – 00:00 – 701 HDV pan
- Shot two – 00:10 – Static
- Shot Three – 00:18 – Static
- Shot Four – 00:25 – Glidetrack Dolly Left
- Shot Five – 00:35 – Static
- Shot Six – 00:42 – Glidetrack – Tilt up, push forward
- Shot Seven – 00:51 – Static
- Shot Eight – 00:56 – 701HDv Pan
- Shot Nine – 01:06 – Glidetrack – Dolly Left
- Shot Ten – 01:12 – Static
- Shot Eleven – 01:21 – 701HDV – Tilt Down
- Shot Twelve – 01:21 – Glidetrack Dolly Right
- Shot Thirteen – 01:39 – Static
- Shot Fourteen – 01:45 – 701HDV – Tilt Up
- Shot Fifteen – 01:54 – Static
- Shot Sixteen – 02:02 – Static
- Shot Seventeen – 02:09 – Post Processed Digital Pan Right
- Shot Eighteen – 02:23 – Static