IT’S THE MOST BASIC of kit but, in many ways, the most essential. It’s something we all have probably owned at least one of – whether it be for stills or video work – but the humble tripod has come of age in recent years and a new era of super-smooth, rock steady kits is now upon us.

Having a solid platform for your camera gear is absolutely critical – if you’re a stills photographer you already know this, but things are a little different once you start looking at the moving image. Lots of folk start off using a stills tripod for their video shoots thinking ‘well, it will do, ’ but this isn’t really ideal. Unless you’re only ever planning on using locked-off shots with relatively lightweight kit then the need for a bespoke video tripod will come calling pretty quickly.

As with lots of kit, the mantra of ‘buy once, buy well’ really does ring true when it comes to tripods. Don’t be lured into buying cheap stuff – it won’t perform well and, crucially, would you really want to trust putting all of your expensive kit on a platform that might fail or worse still – fall?

Enter the Manfrotto 645 Fast Twin Alu tripod, a substantial set of quick lock legs that form the base for the highly futuristic Nitrotech 612 fluid head. The latter is a stunning looking piece of kit but, of course, it’s not all about appearance – it’s what’s under the hood that really counts.

Let’s get down to basics. The head can take a load weight of 4kg to 12kg which, for me, is pretty much perfect. Sometimes I’ll be working with just a very basic set-up of camera/lens, but with all that leeway I can load the head up to accept a full rig with all the bells and whistles – including cinema lenses, a full teleprompt rig, camera monitor, wireless transmitter and even an external audio recorder if required.

In short, this is one tripod head that you’d be hard pressed to max out. It’s really important to think forward in this way when you’re looking at a set-up as a longterm investment. Your kit overall weight is important but always allow 10-20% extra ‘just in case’. You also need to consider that you might – like me – end up working with a range of different cameras, sometimes perhaps hiring them in depending on the job, and you need to be covered.

NITROTECH TECHNOLOGY

The Nitrotech part of the name comes from the impressive technology that’s tucked away inside the head. It’s based around a Nitrogen filled piston, which is used when counterbalancing your camera. The big advantage of this arrangement is that you can dial in the exact weight of your rig. Do this and you can leave the camera and it will be perfectly balanced.

This is where you’ll find the biggest difference between stills and video tripods. The video tripod will have fluid-dampened pan and tilt mechanisms and, in the case of the Nitrotech 612, also a piston, and all these elements work beautifully together to get you buttery-smooth pans and tilts with absolute precision. It’s designed to perform in all weathers too, so it won’t freeze or become too runny whatever the conditions you’re working in – it’s designed to keep on going from -20 through to to 50 degrees Celsius!

All the controls of the head are on the same side, making it easy to adjust whilst keeping your other hand on the pan arm. There’s even a little light that shows the spirit level clearly at night. The quick release plate also just drops in rather than you having to slide it across the head, which can be a little tricky with a heavy rig on top. You can of course adjust the drag of the pan and tilt as well as lock them down totally. The key to this is to make sure the camera is ‘balanced’ on the tripod – so after you’ve popped it onto the plate, the lock lever will snap into place. Take a look at the little spirit level and make sure the head is level. Next, adjust all the controls to their minimum and allow the head to be as loose as possible. Before you set anything else you’ll want to find the centre of gravity of the camera. The clever locking plate design allows it to slide but not come out of the mount, so move it along slowly back and forth until the head sits level and then lock off the tripod plate by pushing the lever back.

Now it’s time for the Nitrotech system to come into play and you can adjust how much counterbalance you want. Counterbalancing means you can position the camera in any position you like and it won’t tip back or down under its own weight. This means that with the perfectly balanced and counterbalanced strength you’ll get stunningly smooth movement with very little effort, and this will be through the entire tilt range. It’s time to say goodbye to droopy cameras!

Continuous counterbalance is fantastic and, once you’ve tried it out, you’ll see what I mean. Pull out the counter-balance control and start to turn it anti-clockwise all the way to the minimum (it’s printed on the handle) with the tilt brake unlocked. Keep one hand on the pan bar and start to tilt the camera forward then backward.

If it keeps moving when tilting forward you need to add more counterbalance, so turn the lever a little more clockwise. Make it too strong and the camera will then try to go horizontal again, and if this happens loosen off a little, which will decrease the piston power. It won’t take long to figure out and you’ll soon find the sweet-spot. You’ll know when this happens because the camera will stay locked in place for any tilt angle on the whole range.

The base of the Nitrotech 612 head is also flat, which is good news if you have a slider or jib. Just unscrew the head and then simply partner it with a different accessory if required. Of course, it can also be used with a ball attachment with the legs to deliver very quick levelling.

Another neat feature is the addition of a mounting thread on the side, which means you can screw in the likes of magic arms. Manfrotto has versions that will grip and not rotate, making them ideal for monitors. Mounting the monitor to the tripod head rather than the camera means it’s carrying less weight and the monitor won’t move when you tilt up or down, but will pan with you as you turn the head. Sometimes I also use this connection for an audio recorder, which ensures it’s at the perfect working height.

Overall this is a fantastic head on solid, fast setup legs, and it’s one of those accessories that’s going to stay with you for a very long time. If you fancy seeing the Manfrotto 645 Fast Twin Alu tripod and Nitrotech 612 fluid head in the flesh and trying it out for yourself then get in touch with CVP and fix up to visit their Newman House Showroom in London’s Fitzrovia: just enquire via the CVP website or call 0208 380 7400. On site you’ll find a room full of cutting-edge kit that’s just ready and waiting for you to get hands on, together with a team of experts full of equipment agnostic advice to steer you in the direction of the kit you need.

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