Supporting HD

Fluid heads are the best choice for smooth panning and tracking, whether shooting stills or video
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Now that DSLRs are offering video capture, it’s time to reexamine some of the gear that you may need. For stills, ballheads and three-way heads are great for locking in a shot, but video requires the camera to be able to move steadily as you capture action or follow subjects. With a still, a fast shutter speed will freeze the action, but video is very susceptible to any aberrant movement, and fast camera movements or shaky video can be jarring to a viewer. Fluid heads are the ideal choice for photographers who also are interested in recording video, as they allow camera operators to move the camera evenly while keeping the picture steady, perfect for cinematic pans and tracking shots.

A fluid head contains a viscous liquid, often specialized grease or oil, that’s used to lubricate the mechanics of the head. This fluid offers a uniform resistance to pressure and torque, which means that it slows down movement to a point that it becomes easily controllable. This reduces sudden or jerky camera adjustments, and helps panning and tracking starts to be cleaner.

As you practice with a fluid head, camera movements become more and more precise, especially because most fluid heads have different levels of drag. By setting drag, you can tailor exactly how fast or slow that you’d like to pan or tilt. Counterbalance systems also are an important advantage to fluid heads, as they allow your camera to stay in the same central position when tilting or panning. This keeps your composition and your focus from shifting. In order to control fluid heads, pan arms are ergonomically designed to give you a lot of leverage, which gives a lot more power over slow or fast pans and tilts.

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Davis & Sanford FM18

Davis & Sanford
The Davis & Sanford FM18 video head supports up to 18 pounds, enough for a full-sized camcorder or a DSLR with plenty of extras. Drag can be set and locked independently for pan-and-tilt, and a sliding quick-release plate can be adjusted for the best central balance. Estimated Street Price: $105. Contact: Davis & Sanford (Tiffen), (800) 645-2522,

Gitzo Series 2 G2380

The Gitzo Series 2 G2380 fluid head features pan-and-tilt locks and separate friction controls that are positioned on the same side so that photographers and videographers can make changes quickly. The pan lock also is designed to stop any unwanted movement dead in its tracks, making it an ideal solution for long telephoto lenses that are susceptible to vibrations. The head can be set up for right- or left-handed operation, and there’s a dual-direction, quick-release plate for removing the camera from the front or the rear. Estimated Street Price: $299. Contact: Gitzo, (201) 818-9500,

Manfrotto 504HD

The 504HD video fluid tripod head from Manfrotto includes a pan axis-rotation unit that uses ball bearings for reducing vibration during movement. The Fluid Drag System (FDS) is available on both the PAN and TILT axes independently. Easy link connectors also are provided for flexible accessory attachment, thanks to two 3⁄8-inch female heads, the standard for photo and video accessories. The CBS counterbalance system includes four presets for accommodating variable camera weights, and the 504HD is the first to feature Manfrotto’s Bridging Technology, which adds a wider top plate and longer sliding plate for fitting bigger camera setups comfortably. List Price: $400. Contact: Manfrotto, (201) 818-9500,


The Sunpak VideoPro-M2 tripod system includes a true fluid head with a quick-release platform. The floating ballhead system keeps your camera level on uneven terrain, and the legs include retractable spikes and quick-release leg locks. Estimated Street Price: $119. Contact: Sunpak (ToCAD America), (973) 627-9600,

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Fluid-Effect Heads
Fluid heads have historically been more expensive due to the specialized construction and the materials involved in creating a hydraulic system. These days, they’re a lot more affordable, and while some of the entry-level models are true fluid heads with hydraulic construction, others simulate the advantages of fluid heads by changing levels of drag through friction. This method isn’t as smooth or precise as true fluid heads, but you can’t argue with the price.
The fluid-effect Giottos VH6011-658D mini-video tripod head features independent pan-and-tilt locks and a quick-release plate that slides forward or backward for better balance of your camera. It can hold up to 6.6 pounds, and the pan handle can be placed on either side of the head for righties or lefties. Estimated Street Price: $99. Contact: Giottos (HP Marketing Corp.), (800) 735-4373,
The only head in its class to offer three axes instead of two, the Slik 504QF-II fluid-movement head pans and tilts on horizontal and vertical axes, as well as a 90-degree vertical orientation, otherwise known as portrait mode. The head is quick-release with a leveling bubble. Estimated Street Price: $69. Contact: Slik (THK Photo Products), (800) 421-1141,
The 3 Section Video bi-post tripod from Tiltall includes a 2-way spring counterbalanced head with a quick-release plate for removing the camera easily when you want to go handheld. It holds up to 15.5 pounds and extends to a maximum height of five feet. Estimated Street Price: $149. Contact: Tiltall (Adorama), (800) 223-2500,

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Camera Stabilization
There are some disadvantages to taking video with a DSLR, most noticeably the form factor of a camera that’s meant for capturing intimate handheld stills one at a time. Because video involves long clips that extend beyond the click of a shutter, there are a variety of hardware solutions available for steadying your camera during lengthy takes and adding extra accessories that can make your video look even better.
Culminating with the FLYPACK1 DSLR Bundle, ikan has an assortment of gear available to turn your HD DSLR into a fully realized video rig. Beginning with the Starter Fly kit, which includes one handle, one arm and a cheese plate (for attaching to the camera), the Elements series includes modular parts that you can put together as needed. The Basic Fly kit provides enough for a two-handled tracking kit, while the Deluxe Fly and Super Fly include extra attachments for adding a monitor, microphone, light, power supply or other gear. List Price: Begins at $119 (Starter Fly); $1,845 (FLYPACK1). Contact: ikan Corp., (888) 556-9331,
The Norbert from K-Tek introduces a flexible camera accessory-mounting system that frames your HD DSLR while it sits on the top of a tripod. It can be used as a handheld device by attaching the optional Dual Handle Kit, and the lightweight frame contains numerous threaded holes in the standard mount sizes of most popular camera accessories. K-Tek also offers a selection of clamps, mounts, brackets and other extras for completing the kit as needed. The frame is quick-release, and the angled design is built to keep the setup balanced even with heavy attachments. Estimated Street Price: $385. Contact: K-Tek, (760) 727-0593,
Steadicam Merlin
The Steadicam Merlin is a lightweight, handheld video-stabilization system for cameras and camcorders. With the ability to balance cameras from a half pound to five pounds, the Merlin weighs only 12.8 ounces itself, so it doesn’t wear on your arms. The caliper hinge folds for easy stowing, and there’s a Merlin Arm and Vest available for long shooting days. List Price: $849. Contact: Tiffen, (621) 273-2500,
Redrock Micro
Redrock Micro manufactures a variety of stylish pro accessories for video-capable DSLRs. The Cinema bundles are modular, meaning that parts can be added and subtracted as needed. These kits include add-ons like follow-focus units for keeping subjects sharp even when in motion and matte boxes for managing lighting situations. Available in two packages, the Cinema Bundle comes with a baseplate with 12-inch rods, quick-release plate and dovetail, microFollowFocus, microLensGears pack, a top microHandle, DSLR cage with side arms and top rods, and a microMatteBox Deluxe Bundle. The Field Cinema Bundle includes the same options, but drops the microMatteBox in favor of a microShoulderMount Deluxe Bundle for handholding. Estimated Street Price: $1,995 (DSLR Field Cinema Bundle); $2,445 (DSLR Cinema Bundle). Contact: Redrock Micro, (888) 214-3903,
The 320DProKit2 from BushHawk is a sniper-style, shoulder-mount setup that will keep your camera steady for video. The double-handled kit includes a trigger and shutter release cord for taking stills, and the neoprene grip strap is adjustable for either right- or left-handed operation. There’s a BushHawk Window Pod for mounting your HD DSLR to car windows, and a black, nylon carry bag keeps it all together. List Price: $315. Contact: BushHawk, (877) 325-8542,
The FlowPod from VariZoom is unique in that it offers a handheld stabilization system in three configurable setups. The Monopod Mode allows you to use the device as a standard monopod, setting the foot on the ground for panning. The Stabilizer Mode steadies your handheld video as you walk, and the Low Mode is ideal for macro shots and ground-level shooting. List Price: $399. Contact: VariZoom, (512) 219-7722,
Zacuto’s HD DSLR offerings include three DSLR Gunstock Shooter rigs, as well as a generous selection of add-ons and modular products. Aimed at run-and-gun photographers, the kits provide a setup that fits snugly against your body, stabilizing the camera while allowing you to compose through the viewfinder. The Rapid Fire, Quick Draw and Tactical Shooter brace against your shoulder or your hand, leaving the free hand to adjust the lens for focus and zooming. List Price: Begins at $580 (Rapid Fire). Contact: Zacuto USA, (888) 294-FILM,

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Pro Video Fluid Heads
Companies like OConnor, Sachtler and Vinten have been designing tripods to meet the specific needs of video and movie cameras. These fluid heads are built for professional performance, and these systems also have higher payloads for supporting big, heavy camcorders (as well as video-capable DSLRs—watch for minimum capacities, though). They can carry lots of extra accessories, like large-capacity batteries, microphones and sound-recording units, as well as pro video gear like follow-focus units and matte boxes. For photographers capturing video of wildlife and birds, these setups can balance the largest telephoto lenses on the market.
The 1030HD midsized fluid head includes OConnor’s sinusoidal counterbalance system for accurate balance throughout the tilt range. The pan-and-tilt fluid drag is smooth enough for fingertips to perform tracking, and a tilt-locking pin holds the head still for camera changes. The dual pan-arm rosettes can be configured for left- or two-handed operation, and the head supports up to 39 pounds. Estimated Street Price: $5,600. Contact: OConnor, (818) 847-8666,
Sachtler’s Video 18 S1 and Video 20 S1 100mm fluid heads are designed for video professionals, so they have a wider payload of up to 55 pounds (40 pounds with the 18 S1). For video-capable DSLRs, the minimum capacity has been reduced since the previous models accept setups as light as 4.4 pounds. There’s a 16-step counterbalance system for exact alignment of the camera and smooth panning and tilting, thanks to Sachtler’s Speedbalance technology. There are seven horizontal and vertical grades of drag and an ergonomic turning knob. Estimated Street Price: $9,465 (Video 18 S1); $11,685 (Video 20 S1). Contact: Sachtler, (845) 268-0100,
The Vinten Vision 100 Fluid Head with 100mm Ball Base will support up to 44 pounds. The drag mechanism uses noncontacting, thin-film technology to achieve consistent drag and performance, even throughout a temperature range of -40 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The drag knobs are backlit with grooves for locking in precise settings, and the head uses an infinitely variable spring mechanism that gives it Perfect Counter Balance throughout the full tilt range. Estimated Street Price: $4,700. Contact: Vinten, (845) 268-0100,