They are gaining a lot of popularity but what is a fluid head exactly, and do you really need one?
The technical definition: A head, made for tripods and monopods, that contains a fluid chamber within its design, to dampen the sudden movements and vibrations of the camera to get smooth video pans and smooth tracking.
The broader definition: A head that is made for tripods and monopod, usually with a long handle, to make gentle and smooth pans and tracking.
Whether you're using a dedicated video camera or your standard digital camera in video mode, a well-built fluid head will allow you to achieve the smallest of movements. You'll get clean stopping and starting, and be able to do smooth pans without any jerkiness.
Any fluid cartridge, whether it's used in a tripod or a monopod head, or even at the base of a monopod for its feet, will dampen the effects of camera movement.
Many photographers unknowingly use heads that are really "fluid-like" and actually are friction heads that use a series of plastic washers to smooth the movements.
I am not an expert at all on the high-end models like the O'Connor heads. They're way above our requirements and our price level, but there are a few features of fluid head tripods worth being aware of.
1. Counterbalance. A system in a fluid head that allows your camera to remain at the angle you leave it set to within its range
2. Fluid Drag. That grease or oil material, that is trapped between those plates within a sealed pack, act as torque dampers instead of using friction to create that drag.
3. Handle length. The longer the handle is, the easier it is to make subtle, smooth movements. One trick to make a cheaper head work better is to slide a small PVC or other light-weight pipe over the handle to extend its length.
4. Tension control. You want the ability to adjust both the panning tension and the tilting tension
5. Weight. Heavier heads can handle heavier cameras. It's that simple.
The following video from my friends over and B+HPhoto and Video is worth watching. You'll get to see those desirable features I just mentioned.
Mia covers how the fluid head tripod works, shows you fluid head locks, how the tension adjustments control drag, and how a counter balance control will keep your camera stationary. You'll learn a lot in a few minutes.
Does it work to your satisfaction? Isn't that what really matters? Whether it is a true head filled with fluid or not, we all just want equipment and camera accessories to work, to help us create great photos without spending a fortune on cameras and gadgets.
Use caution when buying your tripod or monopod head and be aware of the mechanism used for dampening.
With that said, it's important for you to define your exact use of a fluid head. Most photographers who use a simple point and shoot are relatively satisfied with a head that uses a "fluid-like" system for their video.
Advanced hobbyists might prefer an entry-level actual fluid head made by a company like Benro or Manfrotto that has a great reputation for affordable, yet high quality photography gear.
High-end professionals use heads costing thousands of dollars with gears and knobs galore for controlling their camera movement in a variety of ways.
One of the best ways to research finding the right monopod or tripod head is to read the opinions, both positive and negative, about specific models of fluids heads written by consumers.
I am certainly not the only one who takes advantage of all of the free information Amazon has to offer when it comes to buyer reviews. I started using it so much I became an Amazon Prime member.
Fluid heads range from around $80 to $10,000, so it's hard for me to recommend just one or two. Use the link below if you'd like to research some more about fluid heads.Opinions and Reviews About Fluid Heads at Amazon.com
You can budget your purchase by searching using the term "best fluid head tripod under $200" or something similar for your own price range. Buying your fluid head from one of the vendors below helps me keep the site going. I appreciate your support.
Have a blast with your photography!
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