In this video I explain what the different kinds of tripod heads are, and why we need fluid heads. Then I review the new SCG T8 fluid head.
Full disclosure: I was sent an SCG T8 fluid head and AL2 tripod for review by Smooth Camera Gear (SCG). I believe I get to keep both in return for the review. I have tried my best to be as honest and fair as possible.
Comparison of features
The fluid heads I’m comparing in this review are:
- SCG T8 (Official Store)
- Manfrotto 504HD (Amazon, B&H)
- Cartoni Focus HD (Amazon, B&H) (This is a 100mm fluid head, and is my de facto tool of choice)
- Sachtler Ace XL (Amazon, B&H)
- Sachtler FSB-8 (Amazon, B&H)
- Secced SC-DV10 (Amazon, B&H)
Here is a comparison chart of the all the important features:
|Feature||SCG T8||Manfrotto 504HD||Cartoni Focus HD|
|Tilt Range (degrees)||90/80||90/60||90/90|
|Temperature Range (Celsius)||-40 to 60 C||-20 to 60 C||-40 to 60 C|
|Lowest Weight||1 kg||0 kg||0 kg|
|Highest Weight at 100mm||8 kg||7.5 kg||12 kg|
|Weight of head||2.18 kg||2.77 kg||2 kg|
|Counterbalance steps||8||3 + 0||Continuous|
|Pan steps||3 + 0||Continuous||Continuous|
|Tilt steps||3 + 0||Continuous||Continuous|
|Quick release system||Manfrotto, Side load||Manfrotto, Slide load||Cartoni, Top load|
|Warranty/Returns||2-year warranty, 2-week return policy||5-year warranty||5-year warranty|
|Feature||Sachtler Ace XL||Sachtler FSB-8||Secced SC-DV10|
|Tilt Range (degrees)||90/75||90/70||90/75|
|Temperature Range (Celsius)||-30 to 60 C||-40 to 60 C||N/A|
|Lowest Weight||2 kg||1 kg||0 kg|
|Highest Weight at 100mm||8 kg||9 kg||9.6 kg|
|Weight of head||1.7 kg||2.1 kg||3 kg|
|Counterbalance steps||7 + 0||10||7 + 0|
|Pan steps||3 + 0||5 + 0||5 + 0|
|Tilt steps||3 + 0||5 + 0||5 + 0|
|Quick release system||Sachtler, Side load||Sachtler, Touch and Go||Sachtler, Side load|
|Warranty/Returns||2-year warranty||2-year warranty||1-year warranty|
SCG T8 vs Manfrotto 504HD
The 504HD isn’t a true fluid head, though it might have some fluid in it. I don’t have first hand experience with it so if you know for sure, let me know in the comments below.
But other than that, here are reasons why the T8 is probably a better fluid head:
- It is a true fluid head that can withstand extreme cold up to -40 degrees Celsius.
- It has a better tilt range.
- It is lighter.
- It has more counter balance steps for a more precise counter balance.
If I had to purchase one or the other based on this information alone, I’d pick the SCG T8 (Official Store).
SCG T8 vs Sachtler Ace XL
If Sachtler can send me an Ace XL I’ll be happy to do a proper comparison. The specifications are close:
- The SCG T8 has a better temperature range, tilt range, minimum payload weight, and two-week return policy (at the time of this writing).
- The Ace XL is lighter, has the Sachtler brand name (which counts for a lot), can be purchased through multiple dealers and online stores and is slightly cheaper.
The reality is, most people won’t get to test both these systems side by side.
Which is the smoothest fluid head?
In my tests (shown in the video), I tried to follow a simple S-curve. The laser pointer and the video combined can reveal a lot. Between the Cartoni Focus HD and the SCG T8 I also did a macro test, following an arc.
Look for these things:
- Vibrating laser dot is bad
- Jerky motion is bad
- A jerky start and a jerky stop is bad
- Wavy motion is bad. Instead it should be straight as possible.
The tripod ball head and cheap friction head were terrible. They couldn’t even follow a straight line. This is expected.
The cheap E-Image head was good for straight lines, and is a well-worn fluid head. This explains why E-image is extremely popular, as I’ve written in the 11 Fluid Head Options for Every Budget – from $80 to $5000+.
Where the E-image and similar friction heads fall apart are the starts and stops, and the turns. For fictional work this is not acceptable.
Between the Cartoni Focus HD (Amazon, B&H) and the SCG T8 the Cartoni wins. It’s pretty obvious. And it gets even clearer when you realize the T8 is a new system sent for review, while the Focus HD is years old and has seen a lot of abuse.
However, the Cartoni is twice the price, so you have to really need that extra precision and features.
Overall, I think the SCG T8 (Official Store) from Smooth Camera Gear is a worthy entry into the fluid head space. I really like the results, having tested it over the course of an entire day following a model. It performed flawlessly.
Q&A with Mandy Hu from Smooth Camera Gear
I did ask them a few questions that anybody looking to purchase might have, and here are the answers:
Why is there no manual?
We are working on the manual, which will be available very soon.
Will there be a telescopic pan-handle version?
Yes, we will offer upgrade for a telescopic pan-handle or list a telescopic pan-handle version.
What material is the grip on the pan handle and why did you choose this material for the handle? Is there any advantage?
The pan handle is made of metal and enhanced rubber. It is the result of ergonomics–to look good and be practicable at the same.
How will you service fluid leakage for customers, if it happens?
Leakage rarely happen with our head. But in the very unlikely situation when it does happen, we will call it back and repair or replace it. When we have some circulation, we will establish our service network by training and authorizing our local partners.
How confident are you the fluid head will retain this performance over 1-3 years of use?
We are confident the fluid head will retain this performance over 3-5 years, if it is handled the right away by the user.
Can you give me a brief history about the company?
Our company is new. But the people establish it is in the industry designing all sorts of camera support systems for 16 years. You can not build a fluid head to this level by newly entering the industry. We started our own brand because we found that high quality fluid heads are extremely expensive, while products with cheaper price tag are of low quality. We can made high quality head at more affordable price at the same time. So we move ahead.
We are confident we can produce fluid head with the highest performance and yet great affordability to normal professionals.
What is so special about the design?
1) We build a silk smooth drag mechanism, which neither deviates nor deteriorates over time and usage. And it do not variate over temperature change, too.
2) It comes with very well tuned counterbalance mechanism, which is built to last.
3) We perfected the head with every detail to the level that our competitors simply could not match. I will just mention two of them:
a) As you rightly notice, our rosette is DUAL, REPLACEABLE. Even after the rosette wears out, you change to the other one or buy part to replace it.
b) Our counterbalance setting is explicitly different from the vertically turning tilt drag setting, unmistakable even you are blind fold (while you are so focused on the shooting view, you would appreciate this design). Our competitors’ setting is very confusing with the counterbalance setting and tilt drag setting identical.
There are many Chinese models available in the market – Secced, Trix, E-Image, etc. What is different about SCG-Pro?
SCG is different in the following way:
1) our drag system, it can remain silk smooth over TIME, USAGE and TEMPERATURE VARIATION (-40?-60?) while our competitors’ drag system stiffen over time, usage and temperature drop. Throw a fluid head into the refrigerator below 0?, people will instantly know the difference. SCG’s drag remains the same while other brand stiffens.
2) SCG head is built to last. The head structure is made of metal, precision machined.
3) SCG head is built to be user-friendly with all little details taken care of. We aim to beat all our competitors in the $500 segment (and one of the best under $1500 segment).
This is a very confident reply, and I am impressed by how focused they are on the fluid head design. Entering into the fluid head space at this juncture is definitely risky, but with this attitude they will surely get far and stand out from their competitors.
I’m sure Smooth Camera Gear (SCG) will exhibit the new T8 and T6 heads at different events soon. If you do get the chance, check it out and see for yourself. To learn more about the SCG T8, click here.
If you have any further questions, please let me know in the comments below.