Test Bench: Manfrotto 754 MDeVe Carbon Fiber Tripod and 501 Fluid Head

The number one accessory that we would recommend for your camcorder is a decent tripod. If you budget is extremely tight, a cheapie from the MegaMart is better than nothing, but a good tripod with a true fluid head will never let you down. And your tripod will probably last you the rest of your life or at least longer than your current camcorder. As with most quality tripods, the Manfrotto system (distributed by Bogen in this country) we review here comes in two parts: the 754 tripod legs and the 501 Fluid head.

Carbon Fiber Legs

The 754 tripod legs are made of a high-tech carbon fiber material, which is both lightweight and strong. The weight of the tripod is not much less than an equivalent, high-quality, lightweight aluminum tripod and the manufacturer reported maximum load is not any higher either. We did not run any stress-to-failure tests on the legs, but the strong and flexible nature of the material make it unlikely that you could accidentally damage them. The tripod has a slight bounce to it with the legs fully deployed, although you will not experience this during actual use.

The legs telescope in two sections to a height of 56 inches using six (two each leg) standard flip-clamp locking latches. There is a spring-loaded pin at the top of each leg that restricts the angle that the legs spread in two stops. While an actual spreader would be preferable for quick setup, the locking pins are convenient, very light and very sturdy. The locking pins also allow the tripod to get very low to the ground. At the bottom of each leg is an unremarkable rubber cap.

The center column has an oiled ball joint on top of it with a mounting plate on top of that. This device, along with the inlaid bubble level, allows you to level the tripod no matter how the legs are configured or how rough the terrain. The actual mechanics of loosening and tightening the leveling ball system are a bit odd at first, but it isn’t complex and it works.

Stability v. Portability

As far as stability is concerned, heavier is better. The professional tripods in Videomaker‘s studio have cast iron mounting plates and thick aluminum spreaders. Clearly, weight is not an issue for a tripod that will remain in the studio. It is also not an issue on location when you are near a parking spot or on a shoot that has a full production crew that includes young, low-paid assistant camera operators. For most of us who can only afford one really good tripod, we need to literally balance stability against portability, heavy against light.

The 754 is definitely a light tripod to bring in your baggage to Bora Bora and beyond. It is unquestionably strong and will support any sub-$5,000 Mini DV camcorder. Like all lightweight tripods, once you get a substantial camcorder on top of it, with the legs extended to their full height (and with the center column up), the center of gravity of the entire contraption is rather high. This means that you need to be extra cautious about knocking your camera over. The carbon fiber legs are matte black and most of the hardware on the tripod is also black, so due caution is advised at dark (and drunk) wedding receptions, parties and events.

501 (3433) Pro Video Head

The 501 Pro Video Head (catalog number 3433) attaches to the top of the tripod legs via a standard 3/8-inch screw mount. Mechanically, the head pans, tilts and has both pan and tilt tension controls. The fluid head allows for very smooth starts and stops and has a great feel overall. The quick release plate is fantastic, sliding into place with a satisfyingly secure click. Once attached, you can slide it back and forth to precisely balance your camcorder on the tripod, keeping it centered even if you change the lens, microphone or battery configuration. This lets you keep the tilt tension as low as possible. Conveniently, you can attach the pan handle to either side of the head, for lefties or righties.


Together

Clearly, you’re going to need to upgrade to a decent tripod at some point and it is going to cost you some money. Fortunately, a good tripod is an investment that should last forever. The 754 Carbon Fiber tripod legs are somewhat pricey. Granted, you could spend a lot more on tripod legs, but what you are paying for here is the lightweight and carbon fiber chic. Bogen makes a perfectly fine set of aluminum tripod legs (756B) that are only a few inches shorter and weigh only a half a pound more, for about a third of the price of the 754s. If Bali Ha’i is calling, weight is critical and cost is not really an issue, go for the 754 carbon fiber legs. In any case, the most important part of the tripod is the head, and, with a street price of around $150, the Bogen 501 Pro Video Head is a basic model that is well worth the reasonable price.

D. Eric Franks is Videomaker‘s Technical Editor.

TECH SPECS

754 Carbon Fiber Tripod Legs

Load Capacity: 9.8 lbs.

Leveling Bubble: yes

Leg Sections: 2

Minimum Height: 23 inches

Maximum Height: 56 inches; w/ center column extended: 64 inches

Mount: male, 3/8-inch

Folded Length: 30 inches

Weight: 4.2 lbs.

501 (3433) Pro Video Head

Load Capacity: 13.3 lbs.

Balance Plate: sliding

Leveling Bubble: yes

Mount: female, 3/8-inch

Height: 4.2 inches

Weight: 3.4 lbs.

$1,061

Bogen Imaging Inc.

565 E. Crescent Ave.

Ramsey, NJ 07446

(201) 818-9500

www.bogenimaging.us

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