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Old March 3rd, 2014, 01:17 AM   #1
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Newbie With Questions on a Video Head

I am a newbie when it comes to videography or really video of any type. I've recently starting filming and I have been using whatever cheap video equipment I can get my hands on / borrow.

I have experience with still photography in both film and digital SLR form and have a good still photography tripod and ball head that I use with it.

I have just completely my first project with both taking video and video editing and I am looking at getting some sort of head for video.

As I am currently just getting into video and trying to see how much I like it, I don't want to spend a lot of money on gear so I have been looking at purchasing a Manfrotto 500 or 502 head to use with my existing equipment.

The video camera that I have been using is a Canon Vixia HFS21 which weighs about 500g.

I want to use my existing still camera tripod (single extension, no center pole)

I want to use my existing still camera monopod

My budget is less than $200 for a video head, it should have a spirit level and pan / tilt functionality.

If I get into videography as much as I did photography then a proper video tripod and a heavier camera+gear are potentially in my future but it really depends on how much I enjoy it. I'm trying to keep my costs low until I know if I like it or really like it.

All of the research I have done has indicated that the 502 head is a good head for my budget and will allow me to grow into it. Local shops have seemed to agree with this saying that the 502 is a good entry head. The 502 has a counter balance and adjustable drag that the 500 does not.

I have a few big concerns with the 502 head (and some with the 500) that have been keeping me from pulling the trigger on it.

1. The 502 has an 8.8 lb counter balance spring that cannot be disabled and is not adjustable. Is this not VERY heavy for a 500g camera? Could this not result in a head that I have to fight with to use because the counter balance is too much?

2. Am I dreaming that I can buy a head now for my 500g Camera that I am using that I could potentially use with I get a different camera (un-determined) such as the Canon 5D, 6D, 70D (if I go DSLR) or potentially one of their video-centric cameras?

3. I have been leaning towards the 500 head because of the non-adjustable counter balance with the thinking that if I do upgrade in the future I can probably still use the 500 head. My current SLR + Lens weighs in at 2.2KG, if I go the 5D, 6D, 70D route I would expect the weight to go up a little bit as (the 5D and 6D at least) weigh at least a little more than my current camera.

4. My last concern is that the camera has an adjustable custom dial at the front bottom left of the camera. This will sit against any plate of any head that is long (such as the 500 and 502.) If I sat the camera right at the front of the plate how bad will this affect the head performance? The weight will not be properly balanced but it is just a 500g camera.

5. Would there any negative side effects if I added a 1-2 cm spacer on the camera so that it sat higher in on the mounting plate and so that I could more easily use the custom dial? I realize that this would affect the center of gravity and the way the camera tilts, but will this be noticeable in the video or physically with a 500g camera?

6. The concern about not being able to reach the custom dial is less if the head is usable with whatever future gear that I choose. I know that the 502 head is supposed to support weight above what I plan to every really run.

Lastly, this is a hobby for me, something I look to enjoy doing and not get paid for.

Last edited by Brad Remedios; March 3rd, 2014 at 01:20 AM. Reason: Incorrect Level Type Specified
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Old March 3rd, 2014, 02:29 AM   #2
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Re: Newbie With Questions on a Video Head

Brad, you are correct – if the camera is too light for the counterbalance spring you will be fighting against it on tilts. If you raise the camera as you suggest thereby raising it’s centre of gravity there will be less of a fight against the spring. However if you want to fully compensate for the strong spring you might find you need to raise the camera several inches. If you plan to use a microphone attached to the camera you can mount it on an arm above the camera and raise the c.o.g. with that also.

If you plan to work close up you might find raising the camera above the tilt axis causes problems as when you tilt as the camera moves closer to the subject when you tilt down and further away when you tilt up.

I have some experience with the Weifeng 717 which has been described as
'cheap but not nasty’. They are within your budget and are sold under many names. The counterbalance is non-adjustable and because I use it with a 500 gm camera I changed the spring to a lighter one. I can achieve good balance by adding a riser of ~ 75 mm. With a custom flexible handle (crazy handle) I think they work very well but I have no idea as to their life expectancy but it will certainly be long enough to see if you like videomaking.
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Old March 3rd, 2014, 04:30 AM   #3
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Re: Newbie With Questions on a Video Head

I've had a couple of Manfrottos and the Vinten badged look-alike and they are great for holding a camera locked off nice and steady. Frankly, they're horrible things. Unless your camera has exactly the right mass, they will fall forwards or backwards (often without any warning) or constantly try to return to horizontal. The stiction of the pan and tilt are different, so diagonal shots are always tricky, and the gungy vaseline type grease inside often 'gives' - you gently let go of the pan handle and it stays where you left it, but then the grease gives and it gently starts to move. They are better than something really nasty, but I really do not believe they deserve the kind of recommendations they seem to receive. If you spend the money on a second hand (and quite old) Vinten, Satchler or Miller head, there's a HUGE difference. Simply incomparable.

They also tend to have just enough slack in the wedge and mechanism so that when locked off, and the lens on a long focal length, you are hard pressed to make contact with the pan bar without a tiny jolt - just the accumulated slack in everything, I guess. If you look at the reasonable price the head, and a set of legs cost - what value does the head itself have? Maybe $150 max? You are perching a lot of money on top of something really not up to the job.

I've had a Libec of similar price to the Manfrottos, and they are a lot better - still not properly counter balanced, but much nicer in use.

I really think that because they are popular, and many users have not tried others, they mistake solidity and weight for decent performance. It's damn tiring having to hold a camera against gravity all the time!
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Old March 3rd, 2014, 07:52 AM   #4
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Re: Newbie With Questions on a Video Head

SOME OUT OF THE BOX THOUGHTS: FWIW

Is panning and tilting really important at this stage of your journey? It's very expensive compared to something that you can lock off. At your budget, you might be able to get a head that nicely locks off where you put it (many rebound a little). But at your budget, I'm afraid you will be frustrated trying to get perfect pan and tilts out of your head and legs (there's skill as well as equipment needed).

Storytelling and editing are things you could set about learning before panning and tilting. And really, even if you need an occasional pan/tilt, isn't it OK they aren't perfect while you are learning? Just some thoughts..... YMMV
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Old March 3rd, 2014, 08:10 AM   #5
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Re: Newbie With Questions on a Video Head

Take a look at the Benro S6 flat bottom head. Also leveling a flat head can be a pain. Something like a half ball leveler between the tripod and head can make set up a breeze. http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/cont...=REG&A=details or
Sunwayfoto DYH-66i Leveling Base DYH-66I B&H Photo Video
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Old March 3rd, 2014, 02:44 PM   #6
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Re: Newbie With Questions on a Video Head

Brad - Les has an interesting approach and I like his thinking.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Les Wilson View Post
SOME OUT OF THE BOX THOUGHTS: FWIW

Is panning and tilting really important at this stage of your journey? It's very expensive compared to something that you can lock off. At your budget, you might be able to get a head that nicely locks off where you put it (many rebound a little). But at your budget, I'm afraid you will be frustrated trying to get perfect pan and tilts out of your head and legs (there's skill as well as equipment needed).

Storytelling and editing are things you could set about learning before panning and tilting. And really, even if you need an occasional pan/tilt, isn't it OK they aren't perfect while you are learning? Just some thoughts..... YMMV
By the way, the HFS21 is the camera I really wanted for my first videocamera. Hope you like it.

Anyway, I was in your situation back when the '21 first came out, trying to figure out (a) if I had a future with digital video, and, if so, (b) what gear to add to a video kit. The priorities are (a) how to keep cash outlay to within a reasonable amount, (b) decide what to acquire, then to prioritize the items on the "To-Buy List". The fist item has obviously been done and that was to acquire the camera, but based on personal experience I can tell you that this is just the tip of the iceberg!

Some MORE OUT OF THE BOX THOUGHTS:
What kind of video(s) do you want to take? Knowing the answer to that question would help to tailor the equipment list but just brainstorming along for now ...

Computer gear (hardware and software) for digital processing - seems you already have this now but will need more hard drive space for file storage. Maybe additional applications?

Reference materials - books about video 'stuff'. Les mentioned "storytelling" - this is a very important part of video and, actually, a subject not really talked about much here. So important, in fact, that the story can be about 85% (based on what I just read by an author/director) of what makes a good video. Some reference books on this subject, and storyboarding, would be a good acquisition.

Audio: Half to 2/3rds of good video is good audio (again, based on what a couple authors said), so good audio gear should be on the list. One of my first acquisitions was a JuicedLink pre and a mic because my first mic used XLR cables, but this was a good accident because the JuicedLink had good "low noise" compared to the camera. A step prior to this one might be to go with something like the Røde stereo video mic that can be mounted on the camera (gasp! - audio guys don't like camera mounted mics. Sorry guys. Forget I said that).

Lighting: Camera light, three-light kit, reflectors, stands, .....

Tripod: My first tripod was a holdover from my still camera days. Used ones good enough to just to hold the camera are easily available for $20 or so at garage sales. Something like that could get you by while you figure out what is the best kit item to acquire. When you do get "the" tripod and head the old tripod could always be used as a support for something else, maybe even the B-cam. Oh, haven't got that yet???

$$$ are we having fun yet?

For a fun read, look at another thread, something like "I've got $500 to spend" - Got $500 to spend.... got over 80 replies so far! Someone going down a $imilar path as you.

Remember what Cher (of Sonny & Cher fame) said: Money is meant to be kept in circulation.

Last edited by John Nantz; March 3rd, 2014 at 04:26 PM. Reason: video > good video, add $500 link
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Old March 4th, 2014, 12:54 AM   #7
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Re: Newbie With Questions on a Video Head

Quote:
Originally Posted by Les Wilson View Post
Is panning and tilting really important at this stage of your journey? It's very expensive compared to something that you can lock off. At your budget, you might be able to get a head that nicely locks off where you put it (many rebound a little). But at your budget, I'm afraid you will be frustrated trying to get perfect pan and tilts out of your head and legs (there's skill as well as equipment needed).
If I am completely honest about it panning and tilting are not as important right now just you had mentioned, however there are a few things that I do want to include in a video where my existing tripod is just too heavy. For those types of shots, I like the idea of head on a monopod as it is much lighter than my existing tripod and can help steady some of those shots. The monopod with the Manfrotto 500 head is approximately 4.5 lbs whereas my tripod alone is 7.5 lbs.

If I'm totally honest with myself I could get by with just my ball head for now and just lock down the camera for static shots and hand hold the remainder of the shots (such as anything with a tilt) that I cannot use with my existing setup. I mention tilt because my ball head actually has a pan functionality in it in addition to the ball head itself. No its not fluid, but better than a strict hand-held pan I would believe.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Les Wilson View Post
Storytelling and editing are things you could set about learning before panning and tilting. And really, even if you need an occasional pan/tilt, isn't it OK they aren't perfect while you are learning? Just some thoughts..... YMMV
I completely agree, things I really need to learn and get more experience with are exactly as you mentioned but I also need more experience with audio as well. I'm a big fan of trial by fire and my plan is to try different things in both my video taking and video editing to determine what I like and what works well.

I noticed right away with my video editing how much I have to learn. By the time I finished my first video there was so many things that I found that I wanted to re-do that I had done earlier in the film.
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Old March 4th, 2014, 01:31 AM   #8
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Re: Newbie With Questions on a Video Head

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Nantz View Post
By the way, the HFS21 is the camera I really wanted for my first videocamera. Hope you like it.
I like the camera a lot so far and it is treating me well. It currently does everything that I need of it. If you were to ask me if I had complaints its that I find the zoom dial a little sensitive (but I dial it in before I do any shooting) and the hand strap is a little short (I find that I have it at its maximum size.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Nantz View Post
Anyway, I was in your situation back when the '21 first came out, trying to figure out (a) if I had a future with digital video, and, if so, (b) what gear to add to a video kit. The priorities are (a) how to keep cash outlay to within a reasonable amount, (b) decide what to acquire, then to prioritize the items on the "To-Buy List". The fist item has obviously been done and that was to acquire the camera, but based on personal experience I can tell you that this is just the tip of the iceberg!
That is a very accurate description of my problem, I'd say my biggest problem outside of I have a lot learn right now is to reduce the amount of shaky camera work that I do.

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Nantz View Post
What kind of video(s) do you want to take? Knowing the answer to that question would help to tailor the equipment list but just brainstorming along for now ...
That is a good question, and I can say that I honestly don't have an clear answer. I'm going to take an approach that I took when I started getting into photography and that is to just try different things.

I know that for photography I really enjoy nature, night and portraiture and that is really where my focus lies when it comes to stills.

My first video was sports, my second (I am currently planning) is to do a short documentary (less than 5 minutes.) I am currently in the planning / information gathering stage of that project. I am also planning to do some additional sports video in April / May (I forget which month.)

I can say for sure though that I want to take videos when we go on trips or vacations. Unfortunately most of our trips require us to pack light with length restrictions of about 21" on our gear which is even too short for the monopod unless I get another one.

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Nantz View Post
Computer gear (hardware and software) for digital processing - seems you already have this now but will need more hard drive space for file storage. Maybe additional applications?
For software I am currently using Adobe Premiere Elements 12. I tried demos for both that and Sony Movie Studio 12 and I liked the interface a little better for Elements.

In terms of storage I am set for the moment, I have about 4 TB of storage that I can dedicate for video before I have to start trimming them.

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Nantz View Post
Reference materials - books about video 'stuff'. Les mentioned "storytelling" - this is a very important part of video and, actually, a subject not really talked about much here. So important, in fact, that the story can be about 85% (based on what I just read by an author/director) of what makes a good video. Some reference books on this subject, and storyboarding, would be a good acquisition.
This is a very good point (and a good point by Les as well). I'll probably be doing some searching through this site for posts on recommendations but do you have any off the top of your head that you would recommend as being good.

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Nantz View Post
Audio: Half to 2/3rds of good video is good audio (again, based on what a couple authors said), so good audio gear should be on the list. One of my first acquisitions was a JuicedLink pre and a mic because my first mic used XLR cables, but this was a good accident because the JuicedLink had good "low noise" compared to the camera. A step prior to this one might be to go with something like the Røde stereo video mic that can be mounted on the camera (gasp! - audio guys don't like camera mounted mics. Sorry guys. Forget I said that).
Audio is something that I actually want to figure out how to do right for the documentary that I want to try to do next. I actually already have a good mixing board and some good XLR microphones however they are designed to be used for singing and not designed necessarily for this purpose. I am honestly not sure if they would be good at a distance where they are essentially off camera, I will need to do some testing with this to see how they behave.

My audio setup however is not portable, it requires a table and AC power to run.

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Nantz View Post
Lighting: Camera light, three-light kit, reflectors, stands, .....

Tripod: My first tripod was a holdover from my still camera days. Used ones good enough to just to hold the camera are easily available for $20 or so at garage sales. Something like that could get you by while you figure out what is the best kit item to acquire. When you do get "the" tripod and head the old tripod could always be used as a support for something else, maybe even the B-cam. Oh, haven't got that yet???
For the meantime any gear such as lighting or a video tripod are pretty far off in the future for me. Outside of my wife surprising me with some new fancy gear I can honestly say that only books, a video head and potentially a better XLR mic could be in my immediate future. Total cost of whatever (if any) that I choose to get would be in the $200 range.
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Old March 4th, 2014, 01:44 AM   #9
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Re: Newbie With Questions on a Video Head

Thank you to everyone for their replies, there was a lot of good information included in these replies and in some of the posts linked in everyone's replies.

In the short term I'm going to be doing the following:
1. Finding good material to read on storytelling
2. More video editing.
3. Determining if my existing XLR Mic will do the job
4. Trying to find a place to demo the 500 head.

The only rentals spots around me have the 701, 504 and a Wimberley head for rent. Most local stores do not carry video heads other than the Manfrotto 502HD. They can special order them but not to just check out.

Thanks again,
Brad.
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Old March 4th, 2014, 12:38 PM   #10
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Re: Newbie With Questions on a Video Head

Brad - thanks for coming back with some good replies.

With regard to books:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brad Remedios View Post
This is a very good point (and a good point by Les as well). I'll probably be doing some searching through this site for posts on recommendations but do you have any off the top of your head that you would recommend as being good.
Here is a page with some books: Books | Kitsap Videography Club

First off, "The Library is your friend", friend. It can save you valuable money. And, while these may not be in your library, there are hopefully some other good ones in the same Dewey Decimal system neighborhood. That goes for DVD videos, too.

The "Movie Making Course" is a really nice overview for making a video, from the very beginning, the "idea", to the end, marketing.

"How to Shoot Video That Doesn't Suck" - this has a lot of good ideas and two of them he mentions that are germaine to your post is to minimize panning and minimize zooming. Actually, very, very close to suggesting not to do it but obviously there is a time and a place. Most of what he says is ~ common sense but there is nothing like a little reinforcement. Like the major players in the Audio section on this board he agrees to have the mic up close to the sound source, use a wired mic in lieu of wireless, and he isn't a fan of using a shotgun mic in lieu of a wired mic up close.

Talking about mics, since you like outdoor stuff some wind protection for the mic would be a plus.

Mics are kinda like tools in the mechanics tool box. It helps to have a lot of different kinds for all the different jobs. You mentioned doing a documentary so the vocal mics might be useful for doing narration.

"Storyboarding Essentials: SCAD Creative Essentials (How to Translate Your Story to the Screen for Film, TV, and Other Media)" - saw this in a bookstore and it looked interesting. A comprehensive guide to visual storytelling from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

"Storyboarding: Turning Script to Motion (Digital Filmmaker Series)", ditto this one (looked interesting).

"Storyboards: Motion in Art, Third Edition", ditto again.

The proposed documentary would be an excellent place to try a storyboard, especially in combination with Stockman's book above when it comes to allocating time for the different scenes.

Monopod: This was mentioned and here is an experience I had. Early last year I had a few camera items for sale on this board and two of them were mic holders for a Panasonic camcorder. Apparently the ones I had were hard to find and someone wanted them so we did a trade. He asked if I would accept a monopod and until then I hadn't even thought about getting one, but since a monopod would be potentially useful, as the mic holders weren't, I went for the trade.

In hindsight that was a fortuitous deal. I've used the monopod a lot while my tripod I've used very little. In fact, the tripod is a bit of a pain to use. The monopod is easy to travel with and if we go somewhere where I might take some video, especially, say, a family thing, the monopod is easy to take along. It is nowhere as solid as the tripod but Final Cut Pro has a stabilization feature that makes short work of some slight camera movement, so that works.

We're also into the outdoor stuff - sailing. What I want to do more of is sailing videos and up in your back yard - Georgia Strait, Queen Charlotte Sound, and so forth. West Coast Vancouver Island? Tofino?
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