August 8, 2009

Smooth Moves

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With the advent of hybrid DSLRs, i.e., still cameras that shoot quality video, I’ll be peppering this site with the occasional video-related post. Here’s one on video and smooth moves.

If you’re someone who loves the jerky look of MTV video, skip this post. But if you want to be able to eat dinner and then sit down and watch one of your own videos without throwing up due to motion sickness, keep reading.

When you shoot with a still camera on a tripod, chances are you use a ball head, a gimbal head or a panning head. For video, you’ll need a panning head, and most experts prefer what’s called a fluid head.

A fluid head uses viscous oil between the mechanical components that allow the smoothest movement. This makes panning, starts and stops all record more smoothly.

Unfortunately, fluid heads can be very expensive, running into the thousands of dollars for those that need to support very large video cameras.

For the average consumer video camera, there is one inexpensive fluid head that I’ve tried and can recommend. It’s the Manfrotto 501HDV Video Head. Most stores sell it for well under $200. It supports more than 13 pounds (much more than any consumer camcorder would weigh) and offers a stable way to pan your camera.

Some of my favorite features of this head are that it offers variable friction on both the pan and the tilt axis. You can vary the friction. It offers a sliding camera plate and it is set up to work for either right or left-handed shooters.

One negative for the 501 is its weight. It weighs 3.5 pounds. If you carry a one pound camera and need a 3.5 pound head, chances are it might keep you from bringing the head along at all. But fight that temptation. All video gear of this nature suffers this problem. You can get carbon fiber heads that weigh less, but they will cost much more.

It’s well built and Bogen offers a five year warranty to support the product.

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