I am a tripod snob and I am very picky with fluid pan heads.
The tripod pan and tilt head is the most important part of the camera chain, in my opinion. If I put it all together in order of importance I would say, one tripod, two camera, three lens, and four viewfinder. Of course you can shoot all hand held, but for what I do and my style of shooting, the camera support is extremely important. The point I am trying to make is the fact that even if you have the best HD camera and biggest lens, you cant hold or compose a shot with a bad fluid head. The pan and tilt head then extends to slider, crane and dolly use as well.
When operating a television camera covering sports, the pivot point is most vital part. I need to know exactly what is going to happen when applying force to a pan arm. The pan head must be perfectly balanced and super smooth in tilting and panning, especially when doing both at the same time. The sum of these parts equals predictable and repeatable movement and the end result is exactly what I want.
The pan head I use to cover Boston professional sports is the Vinten Vector 70. I have been using the same Vector 70 for over ten years and it still performs like the day it left the factory. It is the secret to my signature shot, following the baseball super tight as it leaves the yard. The 70 model has been updated by the 700 and 750, but until the Vector 70 is taken away from me in Boston, it will be my personal favorite. (I actually wish Vinten re-releases the Vector 70TG …the “TG” stands for “Totally Great”, not what you may think…)
So…… there’s a brief glimpse into my tripod insanity. Until you understand the “feel” of the perfect pan head, you will continue to think I am crazy. Please read the rest of my blog before you watch the video blog review below.
You can download the waterfall video and look closely at the slow panning and tilting movement of the Vinten Vision Blue:
Vinten Blue Waterfall (54.3 MiB, 151 hits)
I have said many times before that I feel the tripod is the one television tool that I could not live without. I use a tripod as much as I use a camera and I use both almost everyday to earn a living.
If I am going to carry around all the extra weight that a tripod creates, it is going to be the best. And simply put, Vinten is the best.
Over the years, I have used many brands. Cartoni, Miller, Manfrotto (Bogen), Satchler, O’Connor, and Libec. The only head the comes close to the “Vinten feel” is the Satchler. The Vinten Vector series for large studio cameras and Vision series for ENG cameras are as good as it gets. The UK based company knows what they are doing and best of all, they are listening to crazy people like me!
In addition to the perfect balance and buttery action of the Vinten is the fact that the company makes a very durable product. When taken care of, a good Vinten will be the last pan head you ever buy.
I was discovered by Vinten a few years ago because of this website and since that day, Vinten has sponsored and invited me to NAB twice. I have spent time with people who work for Vinten and now I consider them my friends.
I asked the Vinten team last year if they were thinking about making a pan head for DSLRs. I was not totally happy with the feel of the Vinten ProTouch range they were marketing for light weight cameras. The ProTouch heads, in my opinion, were similar in design and feel to the Manfrotto 501 and 503 heads. I did not like the stick and slip feel of the ProTouch range when using cameras like the Sony EX1 and Canon 5dmk2. But, these heads were priced very low, so you get what you pay for even if there is a Vinten logo stamped on the front.
Avoiding the ProTouch range, I was using my expensive Vinten Vision 3 with the smallest user-changeable spring available to make it work with a DSLR. It did the job, had the “Vision Feel” I was after, but was not the solution for light weight cameras. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Vision 3!
I wanted a Vision range pan head that worked with lighter payloads, but could still be adjusted using the perfect balance knob (when the camera got heavier with accessories) and perhaps, was a bit cheaper. The HDSLR market may not widely adopt a pan head over $1000, no matter how perfect it was. But, the demands for a nicely balanced and professional level tripod head were present since the Canon 5dmk2 DSLR was being used in high end production. These DSLRs weigh in at about a pound when not loaded with accessories. So what tripod can perfectly balance such a light weight?
Vinten answered with the Vision Blue. This head is affordable and just under $700. You get a lot for your money here. This inexpensive Vision Blue model functions with a DSLR like a $5000 Vision head functions with a Sony F900 HDCAM! This opens the market to lower budget professionals who can finally spring for a professional tripod.
You can go to Walmart and see just how hard it is to pan and tilt a non-fluid head. If you are just using the tripod as a locked off shot, fine. But you can also use a rock or tree stump for that.
The next step up is to spend a few hundred bucks and get a fluid head that is not really that “fluid”! If you have been using an inferior tripod fluid head for years and you get on location with a Vinten Vision, you will finally understand the point I am trying to make. Once dialed in, It will change the way you use a tripod and the words “finesse” and “silky” will come to mind.
If you are a Kessler CineSlider or Pocket Dolly user, you will have a blast preforming pans and tilts as you dolly left and right. One of my favorite shots in television and film is when you focus on a subject, move the camera down dolly track and pan with the subject keeping it centered in the frame. It is possible to do this with the Vision Blue because of the perfect control you get. There is no sticking or slipping in this head and as you apply pressure, the move remains consistent all the way through the tilt or pan. The weight of the camera as it moves on the head is canceled out by the inner spring in the Vision head.
I have been using a Vinten Vision Blue prototype with my Canon 5dmk2 DSLR for about a month on various shoots. I am very impressed by the Vision Blue and I am happy Vinten is offering it at a lower price. I am also using a Petrol PCBP-1 hikers backpack to get the gear in and out of locations. For the first time, I used a magnifying eyepiece on my Canon 5dmk2 made by Letus called the Letus Hawk.
At the time of this blog review, the price at BH Photo and Video New York for just the Blue head is $697. The cost of the head and the 75mm tripod, floor or mid-level spreader and soft bag is $1199.95. This is much cheaper than the $2,300 I spent seven years ago on my Vision 3! And… I had to change my own springs inside the head when using different cameras!
To buy the Vision Blue, please use the links below:
Vinten VISION BLUE TRIPOD SYSTEM with Floor Spreader $1199.95
Vinten VISION BLUE TRIPOD SYSTEM with Mid-Level Spreader $1199.95
I tested the head with very little weight, just a bare 5dmk2 with battery and small prime lens. The Vision Blue’s perfect balance knob was set to its lowest point and just managed to balance the less than one pound camera. The only way you could find a problem with this is if you had a camera that weighed half a pound. The Vision Blue would still work, but you would feel the spring push back a bit. Not a big deal, but this tripod system was not built for the iPhone!
The tilt friction control was a bit tough to roll into when I got up around seven, eight or nine. This is also a problem with other Vision heads I have used. You can still get up there, it just takes a little more force to roll the dial. This has never been a deal breaker for me and part of the internal design of the head.
It is not necessary to buy the legs if you already own a set. The Vinten Vision Blue head is the most important part. You could use any 75mm sticks made of aluminum or carbon fiber from another company. I really like the Manfrotto telescopic carbon tripod legs. You can find them by clicking here.
When I tested the Blue with a matte box, monitor, Letus Hawk viewfinder and larger lens, I had plenty of spring left to match the added weight. The head counterbalance system canceled out the change in center of gravity when tilted up and down. The force I applied to the pan bar was equal though out the tilting action and it was very smooth.
This is all a big deal because until now, there was no Vinten Vision range pan head that could handle a tiny camera and still have the perfect balance. This is the first time the internal spring works with you and does not fight back.
Post any questions you may have to the comment section of this blog.