Davis Sanford Provista Airlift Tripod with FM18 Head Tripod Review

Solid as a Rock

A solid foundation for good video production should be built on, well, a solid foundation. And investing in a sturdy tripod is one of the best ways to increase the professional look of your wedding, industrial or educational productions. The problem with most heavy-duty tripods is that they are just that heavy. However, the new Davis & Sanford Provista Airlift tripod fitted with an FM18 fluid head combines light weight with solid performance.

Like the name implies, the Provista Airlift is light. Reasonably priced and less than 13 pounds (with FM18 fluid head), the Airlift is easy to grab and go. And this really is a big deal. If you’ve ever lugged a 30 pound tripod around during a long shoot, you probably found yourself doing more handheld scenes toward the end of the day. But the Airlift gets its name because of a very cool feature that raises the center post on a pressurized cushion of air with a noticeable, head-turning, “psssst” — guaranteed to impress friends and clients.

For our tests we focused on overall ease of use and function, build quality and stability using two camcorders; a 2 pound JVC DVF11U and a Canon XL-1 weighing just less than 7 pounds. And while a tripod must function solidly as a whole, we also looked closely at key components including the head, the center post, leg sections and locking hardware.

Quick ‘N Easy

The Airlift is easy to use and set-up is simple. You only need a half-turn to fully unlock the 3-section legs using the heavy-duty plastic locking levers, a solid design, but not as quick as other much heavier tripods with features like button release auto-extending and leveling legs. The lower section of the center post supports a lockable mid-level spreader that connects each leg with a support brace. This provides extra stability but it doesn’t allow you to disconnect the braces to splay the legs flat to the ground for extra low angle shots.

Of course, using the Airlift’s air-powered auto rising center post makes fine tuning camera height a snap. Unlock the center post with a quarter-turn of the lever and watch the center post lift your camcorder to its maximum extension. If you don’t need that much height, simply hold onto one of the two small handles as you unlock the center post and adjust as needed.

On top of it all is the compact FM 18 fluid head that includes a quick-release camera plate to attach your camcorder to the tripod. This plate slides into the head and a safety catch pin automatically engages. This allows for some front or rear adjustment for balancing, while preventing the camcorder from sliding off the head before you can fully lock it in. For our tests, this plate attached to the JVC at a perfect balance point but the Canon’s connection is well to the rear. This made the Canon front heavy and required us to be careful about tightening the tilt lever before taking our hands off.

Adjustable locking levers on both tilt and pan serve as friction controls, providing more or less resistance to input. And two angled control arms with toothed locking adjustments give you a very positive sense of control.

Rock-Solid Quality

The legs are made of thin-walled aluminum with a non-glare black anodized finish that not only makes the tripod look very sleek but also keeps unwanted reflections from hitting your subject. The design of the two struts on the upper leg section gives added stability and resistance to twisting. The lower two sections have a flat edge on otherwise round tubing to keep them from rotating and throwing the angled rubber feet out of alignment. You may need to pull the lower sections down after unlocking since the legs are so light they don’t extend automatically.

For our stability test, we fully extended the legs and center post. This put the camera plate at 72 inches. If there was going to be any instability, it would be most noticeable on this full extension. We found the FM18 fluid head provided very smooth tilts and pans with both of our test camcorders up to 20x telephoto settings. Zooming much more than this increases operator error and vibration and too much caffeine or nervousness will become apparent. We were also very impressed with how little the Airlift twisted even with high-tension settings on the tilt and pan.

The FM18 head is compact so there isn’t a lot of room between the control arms and the tilt and pan tension levers. Depending on how you have the control arms set, some of the locking levers can get in the way. And the control arms do not easily slip out of the connectors so you will have to find settings that may be a compromise in comfort.


A Solid Foundation

You can measure a good tripod by what it won’t do for you: it won’t twist, bend or tip over; it won’t transmit vibration; and it won’t stay in the trunk. The Provista Airlift avoids each of these pitfalls admirably while providing smooth tilt and pan movement. And since a well built tripod is expensive and can outlast many camcorders, it’s a good idea to get one with slightly more capacity than you currently need. The Provista Airlift might just be the solid foundation you are looking for.

TECH SPECS

Maximum Height: 72″ (w/FM18 head)

Minimum Height: 34.5″ (w/FM18 head)

Max. Load: 10 lbs.

Weight: 12.75 lbs. (w/FM18 head)

Head: FM 18, fluid head

Strengths

  • Sturdy
  • Light
  • Very smooth tilts and pans
  • Bubble level
  • Cool air cushioned/pressurized center post

Weaknesses

  • Placement of tilt and pan friction levers can be awkward
  • Lowest setting not very low
  • Poor printed materials

SUMMARY

A well-built light-weight tripod that offers smooth pan and tilt movements.

Brian Peterson is Videomaker’s Editor in Chief.

Davis & Sanford, Distributed by The Tiffen Company, LLC

90 Oser Ave.

Hauppauge, NY 11788

(631) 273-2500

www.tiffen.com

$340

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