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Old December 20th, 2012, 07:27 PM   #1
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Location: Riga, Latvia
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Fluid head auto return to neutral position

Hello everybody,

Are there any benefits or drawbacks of having a spring assisted mechanism with function of auto-return to the neutral position for vertical tilts vs manually adjustable counterbalance?

I have no experience with fluid heads, so I would really appreciate your feedback, as it might help me with decision making which fluid head to get.

I was close to order Sachtler ACE due to very positive reviews (especially inspired by Philip Bloom), but after visiting photo show got interested in Sirui VH-20 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhPTythj7MY ). Though it is a new Chinese company, the quality seems to be very high. I'm very satisfied with Sirui monopod and a tripod that I bought recently.

As we do not have Sachtler ACE available in Latvia I have no chance to compare Sirui head with ACE, but to my taste Sirui is much more fluid than Manfrotto 504 and especially than 501 head, that I had a chance to try in local stores. So I assume it might be more or less similar to the well-reviewed ACE.

But I really can't find anywhere the info if vertical auto-return function is a benefit or it is better to have an adjustable counter balance, ACE has adjustable counterbalance, Sirui has only auto return.
Andris Andrejuks
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Old December 20th, 2012, 09:03 PM   #2
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re: Fluid head auto return to neutral position

Hi, Andris.................

The system you describe as "auto return to neutral" is actually a fixed spring counterbalance.

As such, you have more chance of winning the lottery than actually having the camera correctly counterbalanced.

If the camera is not correctly counterbalanced, every move in the tilt plane must be constantly controlled by keeping your hand glued to the pan bar.

As soon as you let go, the camera/ head will either droop or lift depending on whether the spring is too weak or too strong.

This not only looks terrible in the finished video but is exceedingly tiring, and if shooting HD almost impossible to hide.

Fixed spring is an exceedingly bad system.

Variable counterbalance is infinitely better, but comes in a number of different flavours, some better than others.

There's "limited step" CB, like the Manfrotto 504HD, which only has 3 actual CB settings. You're back to winning the lottery with this as well.

Then there's multi step like the Sachtlers, which I believe have 10 step CB, they're better in that there are more options, but again, the chances of it being "perfect" aren't great, but people rave about it, great bearings too!

Then there's "continuously variable" a la Vinten and Libec. With either of these, as long as the camera rig is within the weight and centre of gravity limits of the head, it will CB perfectly by winding up the CB knob.

Perfect CB means that, once the camera rig has been properly centred on the head and the appropriate CB dialled in on the knob, no matter where you tilt the camera/ head to, you can simply let go of the pan bar and it will stay there for ever, no tilt locks, no tilt drag, nothing.

This is a very good thing.

So, you need to decide which way you want to jump and how much you're prepared to pay, the better the system, the more it will cost.

The Sachtler Ace head got pretty reasonable reviews, 10 step (I think) CB, stepped tilt and pan drag, but the sticks are a bit iffy if you're shooting HD, though I remember seeing somewhere they were bringing out a revised version, can't remember whether that meant better sticks or not (I'm sure someone can provide more details).

The Libec RS series heads are pretty good, again, good bearings and continuous CB, stepped pan & tilt drag (not many options though), pretty diabolical spreader on the sticks make them a bit iffy as well, though they may well have redesigned the spreader since I did my review a year or so ago.

The cream of the crop is the Vinten Vb series for continuous CB, they also have continuously variable tilt and pan drag which is MASSIVE! Sticks are rock solid, though by now you're up in US$1200 territory.

You didn't mention what rig you're shooting with so I can't make any reccomendations - best to check out the relevant web sites to see whether your rig will work with whatever takes your fancy and matches the thickness of your wallet.



Last edited by Chris Soucy; December 20th, 2012 at 10:09 PM.
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Old December 21st, 2012, 02:03 AM   #3
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re: Fluid head auto return to neutral position

Dear Chris,

Thank you VERY MUCH for a very fast and so detailed reply, wow!

Actually at the moment the fluid head is for my personal use only, not for business, at least until I have some good skills. My rig is Canon 60D with EF 70-200 2.8 II being the most heavy option, the other lenses are EF-S 15-85 and some primes, Rode Videomic, Z96 LED light. In the nearest future I would like to add a slider (Konova K2 or K3). So basically it all fits in the payload of Sachtler ACE. The budget is 700-800 USD for the fluid head max.

Regarding the fixed spring counterbalance vs variable, I asked several video equipment shop representatives and the replies I got varied from "auto-return is a cool feature" via "don't know" to "adjustable counter balance is a great thing", unfortunately, nobody was able to provide any other, more detailed arguments, so once again thank you very much for clearing the things up.
Andris Andrejuks
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Old December 21st, 2012, 02:23 AM   #4
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re: Fluid head auto return to neutral position

I've seen people in various forums (fora?) talking about the great "return to level" feature.

Just remember... It's not a feature, it's a fault! A tripod head should stay where it is when you release your hand, not magically return to the horizontal!
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Old December 21st, 2012, 06:24 AM   #5
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re: Fluid head auto return to neutral position

Hi Andris,

A few months ago I purchased a new Weifeng 717 tripod complete with head and bag. It was $189 including delivery. As the price of the head and ball alone was about $70 I was not expecting much. For the task in hand I would have been happy if I could just use it for static shots. However I was pleasantly surprised.

The head contains a non-adjustable compensation system. The spring used is far too strong for my 460 gram Panasonic TM 900 and the camera was forcibly returned to the horizontal if I tried to tilt, that is the same problem that is concerning you. I had a similar problem when using the lightweight TM900 on my Blackbird stabilizer. In this case I made a “riser” block that raised the camera 63 mm and with this in place on the Weifeng I could tilt the camera a few degrees up or down and it would stay where I left it. To raise the centre of gravity further I made a rosette to fit the rosette of the spare pan-handle attachment point and fitted it with an arm to which I attached a microphone. I positioned the mic above the camera. This not only added weight and raised the c.o.g. but also moved the microphone away from the camera’s cooling fan.

With this addition I achieved balance so that I could utilize the full range of tilt with the camera staying wherever I left it. Of course if I had had a camera of the correct weight and c.o.g. height none of this fiddling would have been necessary but my point is that if you are prepared to fiddle you should be able to find a solution. I have also made a bracket so that I can mount 2 Panasonics side by side and so achieve balance. This allows me to make 2 recordings at the same time using different settings.

What do I think of the Weifeng? It has a few problems but overall it is surprisingly good. Of concern is the small diameter of the bowl that receives the 75 mm ball. The small size necessitates more tightening of the clamping system than would be required with a larger and deeper bowl. However smooth pans and tilts are possible even at the longest useable focal length of the TM 900.

The tripod has impressive torsional stiffness - a torque of 200 gm metres causing a rotation of 0.09 deg. The same torque applied to an antique and much heavier Miller LP produced a rotation of 0.06 deg. only a slight improvement over the Weifeng.
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Old December 21st, 2012, 12:55 PM   #6
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re: Fluid head auto return to neutral position

The new model is the Fancier 270a. Make sure you get the older legs as I am told that they are better than the new legs.
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Old December 21st, 2012, 04:02 PM   #7
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re: Fluid head auto return to neutral position


May I make a suggestion?

You're contemplating a reasonably expensive investment, and an important one it is too.

A decent support system should outlive maybe 4 or even 5 camera rigs during it's lifetime, if you get the purchase perfect it will even outlive YOU!

If you can afford to wait a bit time wise, may I suggest you fire mails to:

Barbara.Jaumann@VitecGroup.com - she's the Product Manager for Sachtler worldwide &

Andrew.Butler@VitecGroup.com - he's the (new) Product Manager for Vinten worldwide.

Ask them for a (free) test drive of the Ace and the Vision blue respectively, they should be able to get one of each delivered to your door in reasonably short order.

As I said, it's free, there's no hassle and there's no obligation whatsoever, they'll even pay for the return at the end of your play time.

Try them both out, see what fits, what doesn't and experience the difference between stepped everything and continuously variable everything at first hand.

Do discuss your camera rig and requirements beforehand, as they may suggest alternatives that better suit your situation.

Wallet alert notification: I am not aware of anybody who has actually test driven the Vb at home who has not subsequently bought one, even though it was double the cost of their original "last line" budget.

You have been warned!

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