If you are are photog, or you know one well, you will know that, after cameras and lenses, their gear obsession is often directed at finding the perfect bag and the perfect camera support. You will also know that it is an unending quest that results in a closet full of more bags than Carrie Bradshaw, although significantly less stylish in design. It also results in a stack of sticks and heads that can be combined in an infinite number of combinations depending upon the, the situation, the subject, the camera and if the capture is for still or moving images.
It’s that last issue that trips up many photogs who start playing with making movies. In general, their existing camera, lenses, camera bags and tripod legs will all be adequate for video but their existing tripod head will not be useful for anything other than locked off shots. Still tripod heads often have an infinite number of movements to get the camera’s viewpoint exactly in the position the photographer wants but no smooth way of getting there. Video heads are generally limited to 2 axises but they can move very smoothly within them to create gentle pans and more complicated camera movements all film makers want.
A dedicated movie tripod may be the ideal for video work but they can be heavy and expensive and not always what the combination still/movie creator needs. One tripod is heavy enough – who wants to lug around two? Better to maybe take your favorite still tripod legs and head and a fluid head in addition in case you need it.
This is where the Manfrotto 701HDV seems to come in. It’s a head that fits on a standard tripod legs 3/8″ screw rather than a video tripod bowl. This in itself is both an advantage and a disadvantage: it’s an advantage in that it will mount on your existing tripod’s legs but it’s a disadvantage in that, without the bowl, it’s a lot more tedious to get level. A dedicated video tripod has the head mounted in a bowl so you can set the legs and then level the head ready for use. The head must be level if you want to avoid slipping of an axis during a pan. With a video head on still legs you have to set the legs and head level at the same time by altering the relative height of the three legs independently which can be fiddly. The 701HDV does have a built in bubble level to help in this task.
Once the legs are set the next job is to get the camera on and balanced. This is achieved through setting the included quick-release plate in the correct position on the head. The 701HDV’s plate has enough travel for most circumstances; if you need more travel a longer plate is available as an accessory. It has a screw lock on the right side of the head to set it’s position and it has a red release button on the left when you want to remove the plate from the head. This means you should accidentally drop your camera when setting it up. The plate only exits from the rear of the head which is different from my other video quick release plates that can be removed from the front of back of the head.
This is a true fluid head and the drag is locked via a prominent lock screw for the up/down axis and a less obvious finger screw for the left to right movements. The drag itself is fixed but seems balanced for HDSLR use. A nice, long, adjustable handle to provided for controlling your camera’s movements and it can be fitted to either side of the head depending upon your preference. You can fit 2 handles at once if you prefer that configuration and an additional handle is available as an accessory. It takes a little practice but you can achieve nice, smooth and steady camera movements with this head.
There are cheaper alternatives to the 701HDV but not many and very few with this build quality. The little Manfrotto is manufactured in Italy and is very solid with no plastic components that I could see. It is finished in the Monfrotto standard black with with red accents from the Monfrotto logo and the quick release button. Its street price is about $150 which is very reasonable. If you’re a still photographer just getting into video this is on piece of equipment you won’t outgrow very quickly. Even when you do get a dedicated video tripod you can still use the 701HDV for your second camera or when you want to travel light.