This is the second in a quartet of system reviews that cover the light to medium HD camcorder support market, the first being of the Vinten Vision Blue, which was published some months ago. One on the Manfrotto 504HD/ 546B combo, then the Sachtler FSB 6/ Speedlock 75 CF setup, will closely follow this one on the Libec.
In a slight change to the format to make for tidier presentation, pretty well all hard facts, figures and nitty gritty details have been removed from the review itself and collated with the same data for the other systems. I hope this will eventually become a valuable database allowing easy comparison across manufacturers and ranges. The database can be found here.
Now, before diving into this review, a quick Vision Blue (VB) Redux is in order. Having handled and extensively worked the other three systems in this quartet, alongside and in competition with the VB, I have had the opportunity to reappraise the VB’s specifications and handling characteristics against more realistic competitors than at the time of the original review. At that time the only system I could measure against the VB was one costing nearly four times the VB’s street price.
Having given it a great deal of consideration, it has occurred to me that my original review may not have stressed adequately just what a strong feature set the VB actually has. The distillation of this reappraisal produced just one, absolutely killer question: “What features, if missing from a system, would be an unacceptable compromise at any price, TO ME?” Having asked the question, I proceeded to list them:
- Sticks – as close to a concrete block as it’s possible to get whilst still easy to carry. Easy to use would be a bonus.
- Head – Smooth as a baby’s butt in use. Continuously variable counterbalance, pan and tilt drag. Side/ drop load would be a bonus, not a deal breaker.
- System – built to last and built to work.
Not much of a list, is it? In the end I figured that everything else is either bling or bonus. Side/ drop load head notwithstanding, the VB system ticks every “must have” box and adds one heck of a lot of both bling and bonuses as well.
That said, let’s get on with reviewing the Libec RS 250M. The standard system consists of a RH25 pan/tilt head, a RT30B tripod, a BR-2B mid level spreader, RC30 padded vinyl case and a set of rubber boots, FP-2B. Available separately is the AP-1 Adapter Plate, allowing the use of the following tripod adaptors:
- Sony VCT-14 & VCT-U14
- Panasonic SHAN-TM700
- Ikegami T-200V & T-201V
- Victor/ JVC KA-511U(T)
Please Note: All measurements and angles quoted in this review are with the tripod at maximum height unless otherwise specified and are as accurate as my test instruments will allow, so should be taken as approximate.
RH25 Pan/ Tilt Head
The RH25 is a conventional slot load design in a very small package; in fact it’s physically the smallest of the four heads on test. The layout is pretty standard, well-chamfered slot load for easier loading, pan and tilt locks on the LHS; tilt drag and slide plate lock lever on the RHS, with the slide plate safety release button, infinitely variable counterbalance knob, pan drag control and levelling bubble on the rear face.
The pan, tilt and slide plate lock levers have stops preventing them from being accidentally unscrewed from the head. In addition, the slide plate lock lever has a 90-degree throw from horizontal against the “off” stop to vertically downward, which keeps it from swinging above the head plate, which would prevent it locking with some of the more “hippy” camera rigs. Should that change due to wear, it is adjustable using an Allen key. Interestingly, that lever shows no signs of self-locking during transit, which is a big plus, but its position down behind the RH pan bar rosette and lever is the usual pain for access.
The head is very easy to level, perhaps the easiest of the bunch, as a result of having exceedingly smooth finishes to both the head ball and the receiver bowl, in combination with a very jitter free levelling bubble and a “bubble centre” dot aiding correct alignment, IF you can get a hand to the clamp knob, which I’ll go into later.
Both the pan and tilt drag knobs have two positions, neither however have an “off” setting, so there’s always a fair bit of drag even at their lowest setting. This throws up some problems with the initial setting up of the head and whenever the rig configuration is changed, as follows:
When setting the correct balance point for the camera rig/slide plate, the procedure goes thus:
- Load camera/ slide plate to approximately the centre of the head plate, engage the slide plate lock, ensure tilt lock and drag are “off” and tilt the head both forward and backward to observe the tilt rate. Adjust the position of the camera/ slide plate till the tilt rate is equal in both forward and backward directions.
- So far so good, except that because the tilt drag can never be completely disengaged and is, in fact, quite substantial even at the lowest setting, the head/ camera can appear to be in balance but is, in truth, creeping, glacially, more one way than the other.
- If the counterbalance is now cranked up to the correct level, whilst a tilt in one direction will hold, as it should, you will notice that in the other direction the system exhibits the same glacial creep as during balancing.
- Once you do get the balance point right, it would be a good idea to paint/ draw a white line or mark on both the head plate and slide plate to indicate the correct load point. The slide plate does have gradation indents on both sides, but being black on black it’s like seeing a black cat in a coal cellar.
Both the pan and tilt lock levers stay within the heads body outline at all times, saving them from more than their fair share of knocks and battering. Should the worst happen however, they both look easily replaceable. The pan arm is a good length with a very comfortable handle and the action of the pan bar adjust mechanism is as slick as any I’ve used. Finally, there are screw parks for both a ¼” and ⅜” screws on the head plate in the slide plate slot, though, and this is bizarre, all three heads that have screw parks only allow for one ⅜” screw! The Vinten avoids this by having no screw parks at all.
I’ll go into how well it all works when I get to the full system test a bit down the track.
RT30B Tripod, BR-2B Mid Level Spreader and FP-2B Boots
The tripod is a standard 2:2:1 tube design, as are the Manfrotto and Vinten, but compared to the latter two, the Libec looks strangely tiny. Further scrutinizing confirmed that, although the receiver is almost exactly the same size as the Vinten, though not nearly as chunky as the Manfrotto, the tube spacing and diameter of the legs was significantly less, with the minute BR–2B spreader only enhancing the effect.
At 150 mm from centre to leg attachment; it is significantly smaller than the Vinten at 215 mm and totally dwarfed by the Manfrotto at a massive 325 mm. Interestingly though, it is almost exactly the same dimensions as the Sachtler spreader, though as the Sachtler is a much slimmer 2:1:1 design, it doesn’t look quite so out of place.
With the tripod and spreader weighing in at 2.95 kg, as opposed to 3.25 kg & 3.75 kg for the Manfrotto and Vinten respectively, and a leg angle of 77° with the spreader retracted, compared to 74° & 70°, it occurred to me this could be a lively little number in use and perhaps not the most stable beast in “straight out of the box” mode. Making a mental note to see how this spreader actually works out in practice, I moved on to the rest of the unit.
The leg lock knobs are triangular, requiring an anticlockwise twist to undo, almost identical to the Vinten, but there the similarity ends. Whereas the Vintens only require a 90-degree twist and have a most reassuringly audible clunk – click open – close action, the Libec requires a 270-degree turn and the only sound is the knob workings hitting the end stops at full release. When locking there is no sound whatsoever, but there is a raised nib on the handle centre which lines up with a depressed recess on the leg brace moulding to indicate fully locked. I found it quite easy to miss the target if I wasn’t extra vigilant, and for a lock to be only partially twisted home. No doubt it is something an owner would get a grip on with use.
The double spike feet are a similar pattern to both Manfrotto and Vinten, so any feet fittings that fit one should fit all three. Of note though is the outer, metal spike (the inner one being plastic). The outer spikes comes standard fitted with spitball sized little rubber boots which, when removed, reveal a huge chromed spike nearly 20 mm long. It looks as if it could really do some damage if it came into speedy contact with a wayward foot or toe.
The leg closed lock system is almost exactly the same as the Vintens, a plastic hook on a pull out bungy cord, and works equally as well, with my usual reservations about longevity. I cannot coax it into impeding the legs stage closing, which is a big plus. The spreader attach/detach is seamless, squeeze the grey horizontally opposed buttons inward, lift and it’s off. Spreading is equally simple; rotate the lock knobs less than 90 degrees anticlockwise and slide the inner legs out, rotate again to lock. The system also includes the FP-2B boots, which use the usual rubber thong to attach to the feet, nothing to get too excited about there. I can find no provision on the tripod for a system carry strap, nor any mention on any web site of such an item, so guess there isn’t one.
RC30 System Case
In the melee that ensued with the arrival of all this kit, I hadn’t really given this case any close scrutiny till just recently and now, having done so, have discovered what an interesting beast it is. With the two central handles and the usual Velcro cuff, twin end handles, carry/ shoulder strap and internal Velcro closed pocket, it looked just like, er, a case. Then I started playing with it and got a surprise.
You can open it just using the lengthways zips to each end and simply lift the system in and out, coffin style…
…keep the zips going at both ends right around the circumference of the end panels, whereupon the whole bag totally dismantles and lays completely flat…
…(and this one’s cool) just unzip either the head end panel whilst the bag is standing on the feet end, grab the head plate and simply slide the system straight out…
…unzip the feet end panel, stand the bag on the feet end and lift the bag straight off the tripod, leaving it standing on it’s feet, magic!
There’s no magic to figuring out which is the head end of the closed case by the way, the central handles aren’t positioned to balance the weight of the head correctly, so it’s decidedly lop sided to carry. Yeah, I know, if I can get this enthusiastic about a case, maybe I should get out more, but this really has been well thought out and implemented, and it should be a dream to work with in the field.