One of the most critical components of any camera system is the fluid head tripod system. It has two parts – the tripod and the fluid head. Both are equally important, and must join along with a camera rig as one happy ménage à trois.

In this article I will highlight 12 fluid head options for every budget, from $80 to $5,000+.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free swipe file on how to shoot night scenes well (PDF file optimized for mobiles and tablets).

Important criteria to select a fluid head

I am assuming most shooters will have two weight ‘needs’. One low-weight option (DSLR+lens, e.g.) and one full-rig option (read the Comprehensive Guide to Rigging ANY Camera for details).

For one, you almost always never buy a tripod for one camera+lens combination. A good fluid head tripod system will last you at least 3-4 cameras, and its utility is measured in decades. For this reason, before purchasing a fluid head tripod system, you must consider the following:

  • Budget
  • Current lowest weight of your rig, and what kinds of cameras you’d like to work with in the future – this determines your lowest payload
  • Current maximum weight expectation, and how future cameras will be affected – this determines your maximum payload
  • The base – you have two main options – bowl or flat base
  • The weight of the fluid head – if you travel and hike a lot, this is a serious consideration

I will ignore the tripod itself, as that is for another article. One important aspect I want to expand upon is the base. As far as I’m concerned, you can manage with either a bowl or a flat base design, and both have advantages and disadvantages. However, if you’re a fast shooter and need to move to various setups quickly, I highly recommend the bowl base. Here are some very good reasons to go bowl (you can go bowling after you have read the article!):

  • Quick leveling by adjusting just one screw
  • Can take higher loads while doing the above

The negatives are:

  • It adds to the height and weight of the fluid head
  • You always have to find a matching tripod and/or bowl adapter for various other uses like high-hats, jibs, etc.

What makes a good fluid head?

In brief:

  • It must be a TRUE fluid head, and not a friction head, though this is hard to do at low budgets.
  • It must offer a camera plate that allows you to balance your camera. A quick release mechanism is a must, except for really heavy cameras (which we’re not considering, as they are going into oblivion).
  • It must allow for counterbalance with fine steps (doesn’t matter if it’s continuous or stepped), enough to make your life easy.
  • It must allow for drag control in both pan and tilt, from really smooth to ‘stiff’ – whatever your needs are.
  • Obviously, it must not have any major backlash, jerks, loose joints, noise, play, etc.
  • Must be rugged and well-built, and can take any weather you’re going to throw at it.
  • It must offer a 360º pan rotation if possible.
  • It must offer a 90º tilt rotation in both directions if possible.
  • Must have a tilt and pan lock.
  • It must have as low a counterbalance weight as possible, 0 lb/kg would be great. The maximum would be payload capacity.
  • Have an illuminated level bubble.

All said and done, a fluid head is only as good as its operator. There is really no perfect system. For some, a model might be the perfect choice, and the exact same model might be a nightmare for others. We all have different body structures and skills, and the only real way to know which to buy is to test it firsthand.

Therefore – never buy a fluid head without testing it!

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Cheapest fluid head for video

If you’re starting out, and you have a sub-$1,000 DSLR or mirrorless camera and a couple of lenses, then you obviously won’t be looking to spend a lot on a fluid head. You should, but maybe nobody told you your tripod is equally important to your camera. You won’t believe it, but there’s a wise saying about tripods:

The fluid head tripod system must be equal to the price of your camera.

I made that up, but it’s true for some strange reason. In any case, I do not recommend the following fluid head, except as a starter for noobs. Spend as less as possible, and save up for a really good one. Here it is:

Important: Prices and specs might be inaccurate or wrong. Please refer to manufacturers’ websites for correct information.

Weifeng/CowboyStudio/Fancier/”Whatever it’s called” 717 Pro:

Specs:

  • Approximate price: $75-95
  • Counterbalance range: 0-13.2 lbs (0-6 kg)
  • Counterbalance system: Continuous
  • Tilt/Pan drag system: 3-Step+zero
  • Pan range: 360º
  • Tilt range: -85º/+90º
  • Weight: 2.42 lbs (1.1kg)

Notes:

The whole idea of owning a fluid head is to have the ability to perform repeatable moves without problems, in any condition, for years. Don’t be under the illusion that this will do.

The lowest grade fluid head that I will recommend

Manfrotto 504HD

:

Specs:

  • Approximate price: $300-360
  • Base: 75mm or flat base option available
  • Counterbalance range: 0-16.5 lbs (0-7.5 kg)
  • Counterbalance system: 4 Step
  • Tilt/Pan drag system: Continuous
  • Pan range: 360º
  • Tilt range: -60º/+90º
  • Weight: 6.39 lbs (2.9kg)

Notes:

It is important to have a counterbalance setting that goes to 0 lb/kg, because a light-weight DSLR and lens might be less than 1 kg (2.2 lbs), and if the fluid head can’t take this low weight you will always be fighting its counterbalance. Many people miss this fact, and many manufacturers don’t mention it, hoping you won’t find out.

I realize when you’re new the price of this head might seem steep, but I assure you, I don’t consider anything less a good enough option. In fact, for serious and daily professional use (lots of travel, banging around, rentals and/or tough weather), I won’t recommend this one either. Moreover, it is not a true-fluid head, but a friction head.

For the solo filmmaker it’s a great start, and if you have the money, go for this one so you understand how fluid heads are supposed to work.

$500-800 fluid head

Vinten Vision Blue

:

Specs:

  • Approximate price: $850
  • Base: 75mm bowl
  • Counterbalance range: 4.6-11 lb (2.1-5.0 kg)
  • Counterbalance system: Continuous
  • Tilt/Pan drag system: Continuous
  • Pan range: 360º
  • Tilt range:  -90º/+90º
  • Weight: 5.3 lb (2.4 kg)

Notes:

Vinten is one of the big names in the industry, right alongside OConnor and Sachtler. This version (there’s the 3 series and the more expensive 5 series) doesn’t break the bank, but delivers outstanding value. Where it lacks, is low payload capacity, especially if you want to rig up your camera.

If payload capacity is a concern, the next one is a killer deal.

$1,000 fluid head

Cartoni Focus HD

:

Specs:

  • Approximate price: $1,125
  • Base: 100mm bowl
  • Counterbalance range: 0-26.4 lb (0-12 kg)
  • Counterbalance system: Continuous
  • Tilt/Pan drag system: Continuous
  • Pan range: 360º
  • Tilt range: -90º/+90º
  • Weight: 4.4 lbs (2 kg)

Notes:

You’ll read only good things about this one, except of one big negative – plastic knobs that break easily. However, the rest of the fluid head delivers the performance of heads worth twice or thrice its price. Also, you can counterbalance to 0 lb/kg, have a full 90º tilt range, have continuous adjustments; and it only weighs 4.4 lbs (2 kg)!

This would be my first ‘long-term’ investment fluid head, assuming the plastic parts don’t give out first.

$1,500 fluid head

Miller Compass15

:

Specs:

  • Approximate price: $1,500
  • Base: 75mm bowl
  • Counterbalance range: 4.41-19.8 lbs (2-9 kg)
  • Counterbalance system: 4-step
  • Tilt/Pan drag system: 5-step
  • Pan range: 360º
  • Tilt range: -75º/+90º
  • Weight: 5.5 lbs (2.5 kg)

Notes:

You’ll hear only good things about Miller. I don’t think there’s a better fluid head at this price point.
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$2,000 fluid head

Miller Compass20

:

Specs:

  • Approximate price: $2,000
  • Base: 75mm bowl
  • Counterbalance range: 4.41-26.46 lbs (2-12kg)
  • Counterbalance system: 4-step
  • Tilt/Pan drag system: 5-step
  • Pan range: 360º
  • Tilt range: -75º/+90º
  • Weight: 6 lbs (2.7kg)

Notes:

See notes above. This one is ideal for a camera kit and a rig, and is something I’m seriously considering at present.

For higher payloads, the alternative is the Compass25.

$2,500-3,000 fluid head

Sachtler DV 10SB:

Specs:

  • Approximate price: $2,700
  • Base: 100mm bowl
  • Counterbalance range: 2-26 lb (1-12 kg)
  • Counterbalance system: 12-step
  • Tilt/Pan drag system: 5-steps+zero
  • Pan range: 360º
  • Tilt range: -75º/+90º
  • Weight: 5.9 lbs (2.7kg)

Notes:

Sachtler is one of the great names in the tripod industry. You can see how the bowl size has grown to 100mm. Why is it more expensive? Compare it to the Miller20. This one offers the same payload, but with ‘improvements’ of 1 kg minimum counterbalance and a 12-step counterbalance system for finer refinements.

$3,500-4,000 fluid head

Sachtler DV 12SB:

Specs:

  • Approximate price: $3,500
  • Base: 100mm bowl
  • Counterbalance range: 2.2-31 lbs (1-14 kg)
  • Counterbalance system: 12-step
  • Tilt/Pan drag system: 5-steps+zero
  • Pan range: 360º
  • Tilt range: -75º/+90º
  • Weight: 6 lbs (2.7kg)

Notes:

This one does everything the 10SB does, but offers you a payload of up to 14 kg (31 lbs).

$5,000 fluid head

Miller Arrow 55:

Specs:

  • Approximate price: $4,650
  • Base: 100mm bowl
  • Counterbalance range: 22.0-55.1 lbs (10.0-25.0 kg)
  • Counterbalance system: 4-step+zero
  • Tilt/Pan drag system: 7-step+zero
  • Pan range: 360º
  • Tilt range: -90º/+90º
  • Weight: 7 lbs (3.2kg)

Notes:

Many swear by this system. But there’s one ‘negative’. You’ll notice the counterbalance range starts at 22 lbs, which is okay for heavy setups but never for run-and-gun kind of work. For that, I recommend the next option.

The ultimate fluid head a filmmaker can own ($5,000+)

OConnor Ultimate 1030D:

Specs:

  • Approximate price: $6,700
  • Base: 100mm bowl
  • Counterbalance range: 0-39 lb (0-17.7 kg)
  • Counterbalance system: Continuous
  • Tilt/Pan drag system: Continuous
  • Pan range: 360º
  • Tilt range: -90º/+90º
  • Weight: 8.7 lb (3.9 kg)

Notes:

This is the ultimate fluid head for solo shooters, and is what I really want, if I had the money. It can go all the way down to 0 lbs/kg, and has continuous counterbalance and drag adjustments. It can tilt 90º both ways and can take almost any rig you can throw at it. If you want heavier, there’s also the OConnor Ultimate 1080HDS, which increases the load capacity.

Compare the features of this camera to what a good fluid head should be, and you’ll see what I mean. On top of it, thousands of operators swear by the ‘OConnor feel’.

The ‘Industry standard’ fluid head

OConnor Ultimate 2575D (shown on top):

Specs:

  • Approximate price: $13,000
  • Base: 150mm bowl base
  • Counterbalance range: 133 lbs (60.5kg)
  • Counterbalance system: Continuous
  • Tilt/Pan drag system: Continuous
  • Pan range: 360º
  • Tilt range: -90º/+90º
  • Weight: 22.9 lbs (10.4kg)

Notes:

Maybe it’s not right to call it the ‘industry standard’, because OConnor is mainly found in the US, while the rest of the world shares between Sachtler and Vinten. All three of these manufactures make excellent tripod systems in this price range. All I’ve given is a suggestion so you know, by this price point, all that matters is the payload and size.

That’s it. I hope this list will help you find a great fluid head for your tripod system that will last you decades. If there are options I’ve left out you feel are important, please let me know in the comments section below.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free swipe file on how to shoot night scenes well (PDF file optimized for mobiles and tablets).

5 replies on “11 Fluid Head Options for Every Budget – from $80 to $5000+”

  1. I am looking for a budget fluid head. I came across one which says it is counter balanced, but  could not find the term fluid head in it’s cover or manual. Does the term counter balanced implies it is a fluid head? Or can we have non – fluid head (ball heads/pan-tilt heads etc) with counter balanced technology?

  2. The head is sprung so always returns to the level position unless something heavy is on it. Even then it should be mounted evenly but I’ve uad a 5D on it and a fully rigged Sony F5 with no problems.

  3. I bought a secondhand Vinten Vision 10 for about 250 dollars. Solid as a rock, cheap as chips! Needs a bit of work doing to one of the dampeners but it’s never let me down on a shoot.

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