11 Fluid Head Options for Every Budget – from $80 to $5000+

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+.

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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.

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.

I go into a lot more detail in this video on why you need a fluid head.

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!

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

1 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:

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

717H fluid head

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.

Link to purchase: Amazon

2 The lowest grade fluid head that I will recommend

Manfrotto 504HD

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.

Link to purchase: (AmazonB&H)

3 $500-800 fluid head

SCG T8

scg t8 fluid head.png

Specs:

  • Approximate price: $596
  • Base: 75mm bowl
  • Counterbalance range: 2.2-17.6 lbs (1-8 kg)
  • Counterbalance system: 8 steps
  • Tilt/Pan drag system: 3 + 0 steps
  • Pan range: 360º
  • Tilt range:  -90º/+80º
  • Weight: 4.8 lbs (2.18 kg)

Notes:

SCG (Smooth Camera Gear) is the new kid of the block, as of 2019. I have reviewed this fluid head and it offers excellent value for money. If you want to learn more, read and watch my full review here.

Link to purchase: SCG Store

4 $1,000 fluid head

Cartoni Focus HD

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.

Link to purchase: (AmazonB&H)

5 $1,500 fluid head

Miller CX6

Specs:

  • Approximate price: $1,356
  • Base: 75mm bowl
  • Counterbalance range: 0.41-26.4 lbs (0-12 kg)
  • Counterbalance system: 16-step (15 + 0)
  • Tilt/Pan drag system: 3 + 0
  • Pan range: 360º
  • Tilt range: -75º/+90º
  • Weight: 4.9 lbs (2.2 kg)

Notes:

You’ll hear only good things about Miller. I don’t think there’s a better fluid head at this price point. Note how the CX6 combines the qualities of a continuous counter balance system with a stepped system.

Link to purchase: Amazon | B&H

6 $2,000 fluid head

Miller CX8

Specs:

  • Approximate price: $1,733
  • Base: 75mm bowl
  • Counterbalance range: 0.41-26.4 lbs (0-12 kg)
  • Counterbalance system: 16-step (15 + 0)
  • Tilt/Pan drag system: 5 + 0
  • Pan range: 360º
  • Tilt range: -75º/+90º
  • Weight: 5.1 lbs (2.3 kg)

Notes:

See notes above. This one is ideal for a camera kit and a rig.

For higher payloads, the alternative is the CX18.

Link to purchase: B&H

7 $3,000 fluid head

Sachtler FSB 10T

Specs:

  • Approximate price: $2,700
  • Base: 100mm bowl
  • Counterbalance range: 8.8-26.5 lb (4-12 kg)
  • Counterbalance system: 10-step
  • Tilt/Pan drag system: 5-steps+zero
  • Pan range: 360º
  • Tilt range: -70º/+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.

Link to purchase: Amazon | B&H

8 $4,000 fluid head

Sachtler DV 12SB

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 fluid head is one of the legends, period.

Link to purchase: Amazon | B&H

9 $5,000 fluid head

Miller Arrow X5

Specs:

  • Approximate price: $4,274
  • Base: 100mm bowl
  • Counterbalance range: 4.4-46.2 lbs (2-21 kg)
  • Counterbalance system: 16-step (15 + 0)
  • Tilt/Pan drag system: 7-step+zero
  • Pan range: 360º
  • Tilt range: -75º/+90º
  • Weight: 7.5 lbs (3.4kg)

Notes:

Many swear by this system. Miller has kept their quality high at a reasonable price point.

Link to purchase: B&H

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

OConnor Ultimate 1030D

OConnor 1030D

Specs:

  • Approximate price: $7,063
  • 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’.

Link to purchase: B&H

11 The ‘Industry standard’ fluid head

OConnor Ultimate 2575D

OConnor Ultimate 2575D

Specs:

  • Approximate price: $16,311
  • 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 it is the industry. It’s the fluid head I use when I rent Arri Alexas or Red Monstro cameras. Nothing beats it. It is the gold standard by which all other fluid heads are measured.

Link to purchase: B&H

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 below.

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

  1. I record my son’s high school sports varsity football,basketball,baseball i use a nikon D7000 dslr which is ok for video ,the 1st three you spoke about are probably in my range,what do you recommend for tri-pod,what would be a better upgrade dslr camera&lens for shooting video in the $1,000 range thanks

  2. Informative, insightful and unbiased (or professionally biased because of his insight). This is the article you wish you have read before you invest for a fluid head.

  3. 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?

  4. 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.

  5. 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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