If you want to eliminate shaky footage while filming, you can use a tripod with a fluid head system. These heads have a fluid chamber that uses a hydraulic damping system to reduce vibrations or jerkiness when capturing video. In this guide, we will take you through some of the best fluid head tripod models and what to look for when buying them.
Fluid head tripods are just like pan/tilt heads except they take smoother and steady videos compared to the mechanical heads. The fluid head tripod system has two main parts: the fluid head and the rest of the tripod body.
The head comes with a camera rig that you can attach to the camera while shooting. These kinds of tripods are useful for cameras such as camcorders that are sensitive to vibrations. So if you are looking to take steady and professional videos, below are some of our top fluid head tripods.
While the Manfrotto 502 video head might be slightly heavy for people who value portability, it packs some valuable features that make it worth every penny.
The fluid head supports a maximum payload of 15.4 pounds with an 8.8 pounds counterbalance. This makes it versatile for different camera sizes and any other equipment that you will need while filming.
The top camera attachment area comes with ¼-inch and ⅜-inch screws for attaching your camera. This, along with the Easy Link connectors, make attaching filming accessories is super easy.
The top plate is wide and long to offer your camera extra stability while filming. This blade is designed in such a way that it can quickly detach and adjust so your camera can easily balance. On the other hand, the fluid drag ensures easy ergonomic operation.
You will also get a 360° pan in combination with a + 90° / – 85° front head tilt for flexible and smooth footage. So, while the 3.53 pounds might seem cumbersome for travel photographers, it means that you get a stable tripod head that can support your camera and accessories without caving in.
However, in case anything happens, you shouldn’t worry because there is a 5-year warranty backing this Manfrotto 502 video head.
Benro offers a selection of high-rated tripod heads in their S series (which go from S2 to S8). The Benro S6 fluid video head is one of the more expensive models in the series, towering over lesser options. This makes it the best option for the money if you are looking for a tripod head that strikes a great balance between price and functionality.
The 13.2 pounds maximum payload capacity is a little less than that of the Manfrotto 502. However, at 2.6 pounds, you will be getting a much lighter fluid head compared to the Manfrotto option. It’s also noteworthy that this payload is not common with tripod heads at this price point.
Just like the Manfrotto 502, the Benro S6 offers a full 360° pan that allows for smooth panorama footage. It also has quick-release camera plates that provide superior balance both forward and backward.
However, the pan and tilt locks tend to be a bit loose. Overall, the Benro S6 gives you all the necessary features for just the right price.
If you are looking for an affordable fluid head tripod without sacrificing essential features, we recommend the Magnus VT-4000 Tripod System. The head comes with a fixed counterbalance spring of 3.3 pounds to allow for smooth tilt motions while comfortably supporting the camera.
This fluid head seats on sturdy tripod legs that you can easily adjust from 27.6 inches to 59 inches. This allows you to shoot at different heights without having to carry the tripod. The head can support only 8.8 pounds of camera weight which is much lower than that of the Manfrotto 502 and Benro S6.
It also has a fixed pan with a quick-release sliding plate for your camera. You can install the plate using a 1/4-inch screw with a video pin that locks the camera to prevent unnecessary gyrations. The fluid head supports a tilt angle of +90° / -60° and +20/-25mm Slide Range.
The tripod also comes with retractable rubber feet. These come in handy when using it indoors where floors are delicate. The whole tripod weighs about 10.8 pounds which is a bit bulky. So, if you travel a lot and want something lighter, you should consider the Benro S6.
Before buying a fluid head tripod, you need to make sure that it is the right fit for your camera. Consider the size of your tripod, the fluid head’s minimum and maximum payload, and the overall weight of the whole tripod.
Aside from those, below are some other factors you should put into consideration.
This is where the camera seats on the tripod head. A good camera plate should have a quick-release mechanism. This lets you quickly detach and remove the camera from the fluid head without removing the plate.
So, unless you are on a really tight budget you should never buy a fluid head that doesn’t have this mechanism. All of the fluid heads in this guide come with quick-release plates.
The quick-release camera plates come in handy if you have one camera and need to quickly alternate between tripod and handheld shooting. The good news is you can buy quick-release plates and bases separately, so even if your fluid head doesn’t come with it, you don’t have to worry.
If you need to balance uneven payloads (for example when you have a camera with a long lens), you should buy balance plates that come with a sliding range such as the Benro S6. On the other hand, if you are using a bulky DSLR camera, you might need to get wider plates.
The payload is the amount of weight a tripod can withstand before losing balance. In most cases, when people think about the maximum payload a fluid head tripod can withstand, they normally just consider the weight of the camera.
Instead, you should be thinking about such other factors as the size of the lens, the size of the batteries, and any other external recorders mounted on the tripod camera.
You should also consider other accessories such as microphones and lights that you might mount on the camera’s hot shoe. Whatever you do, make sure that you do not exceed your tripod’s rated weight capacity or you may damage the fluid head.
Also, when you exceed the recommended weight, you will affect the damping abilities of the fluid head and end up getting shaky footage. That is why you should always go for a tripod head with high payload capacity such as the Manfrotto 502 video head
Counterbalancing is the fluid head’s ability to keep a camera stationary despite the tilt angle. To do this, the fluid head provides a counterforce that ensures there is a balance between the camera and the tripod you mount it on. This way, you won’t have to hold the camera with your hand while taking shots at an angle.
We find that fluid heads with lower counterbalance weight such as the Magnus VT-4000 are easier to work with. For this reason, although it is not easy, you should look for a tripod head with a counterbalance weight that is as close to zero pounds as possible.
Otherwise, high counterbalance weight such as that of the Manfrotto 502 is sometimes necessary especially if you are using heavier cameras.
Fluid heads are actually advanced modifications of the pan/tilt heads. For this reason, you should take the pan and tilt angle into consideration when buying them. The tilt angle is the angle at which a camera can move in a vertical plane. In simple words, this is how far the camera can move up and down. Usually, we recommend a 90º tilt angle.
On the other hand, the pan angle is the angle at which a camera can move from side to side along a horizontal plane. You can use this in nature shots when you want to capture a skyline or a panorama. In other words, you can use the pan to capture extra content that you cannot capture in a single shot.
The best pan angle is usually 360º although you might get cheaper ones with 180º or lower. Generally, the more you can control the pan and tilt angle, the more professional images you can get.
Sometimes you might find cheap tripod head models that are not true fluid heads. Instead, they are friction heads that may not offer smooth shots and good overall performance. So, when buying (even if your model is billed as a fluid head) check to ensure that it is actually a fluid head.
Usually, you can tell by the difference in price. Friction heads are cheaper and a little bit shaky.
Getting smooth and professional shots may be as simple as getting the right fluid head. Make sure you consider such factors as payload, camera plates, tilt and pan, and the counterbalance. Also, ensure that you are getting a true fluid head by checking the overall performance and price.