Nice Head Light
Manfrotto released its 503 tripod head a while back, then updated the design, added a few features and dubbed it the 503HDV. As usual with Manfrotto, you can purchase most of the parts separately, so, if you have good legs, you might need to upgrade only your head. We’re reviewing everything the tripod came with, but we will focus mostly on the 503HDV Pro Fluid Video Head.
With image stabilization now common, you might not want to bother with a tripod, but there are times you must lock that camera down, and you need a reliable tool. Extreme long shots will highlight even the tiniest hand-shake. Stationary subjects require a tripod.
The Head is Everything
The 503HDV head is more than just a modified 503 design. The 503s we used in our first vidcasts in 2005 were sturdy, but they took a beating. For the year that we aired our show, the tripods carried camcorder, direct-to-edit devices, two heavy XLR mic cables and teleprompter. The tripod plate let us balance the load well, but, over that year, the head couldn’t take the weight and abuse and became inoperable. The new 503HDV head design is for larger, more robust camcorders or those that carry accessories like mics, lights, teleprompters or big lenses. It weighs a bit more than four pounds and is wider and sturdier than the original. (We were happy that the original plate fits this head.)
The main tilt, lock and drag function is now on the left side, which is meant for efficiency, not to be PC for left-handers. Most shooters stand on the left of a tripod-mounted camera, to see the viewfinder and use the left-sided camera controls. It just makes sense that the tripod controls are also on this side, so you don’t have to play hide-n-seek for those most-used controls. Traditionally, tilt locks are on the left, and tilt drags are on the right, while both lock and drag for the pan are on the left.
The pan lock on Manfrotto’s tripod heads are on the back of the head, and the pan drag is directly under the mount plate, a bit cumbersome to reach. The pan drag dial is smaller than on the 503 and was harder to adjust. Large fingers might struggle a bit. Tilting the head forward before mounting the camera gave us easier access. We like the tilt drag on the left, since this is the button you grab often while shooting, especially if your subject is in motion.
At right is a built-in fixed four-step counterbalance spring for camera balance – nice if your load changes often.
Our favorite new accessory is the illuminated LED leveling bubble, with a low-power disc battery. What a great idea! Too often we’ve searched in dark locations to set the level button.
The final change to the 503HDV head is the telescopic arm control. Assembled for right-side use, the arm can move to the left side, or those who use LANC attachments (Local Application Control Bus System) can add an extra arm. You can easily remove the arm to return for repair or replacement, so you don’t have to send the entire head.
A Leg Up…and Up
The 503HDV head came equipped with the 535mpro 3 Section Single Tube tripod. The legs are carbon fiber and magnesium, lighter but stronger and more durable than aluminum, and are sturdier and thicker than those on our older 754 model. Fully collapsed with the short center pole, the 734 is 6.5 inches shorter than the 535. Raise the legs to max height, and you’re shooting way higher than everyone else. Fully extended, the tripod with head is more than 6 feet high. The 503HDV looks like a solid giant standing next to our older 754 tripod, which reaches 4.5 feet with the center pole at its lowest level or fully extended at 5.4 feet.
We can’t tell which angle leg locks we prefer. Our 734 legs had push-button releases on the sides, and the 535mpro has front-to-back levers. The spiked feet on the 535mpro retract for soft flooring.
Pole and Bag
We liked the shorter pole; you can get the camera quite low to the ground. (Before buying parts, note that at some point, the pole design changed from round to slightly hexagonal, so an older tripod bowl won’t fit a newer pole, and vice versa.)
Finally, this tripod came wrapped in a custom padded tripod bag, (model MBAG100P). It has a strong lid to protect the head and is sure to wear well.
Manfrotto’s 503HDV has the solid support that meets the needs of heavy HD camcorders or those carrying accessories. If you cherish your camcorder, you’ll need a tripod that won’t lose its load. The 503HDV delivers.
Weight: 4.29 lbs.
Max Load: 17.6 lbs.
Balance Control: 4 step from 0 to 8.58 lbs.
Flat Base: 3/8″ female thread to mount on 75mm flat top tripod
Pan Handle: Telescopic pan handle
Sliding Quick Release Plate: Supplied with 3/8″ and 1/4″ camera screw
Leveling Bubble: Illuminated
Tripod (Without Head)
Closed Length: 28.94″
Leg Angles: 23°, 50°, 70°
Leg Sections: 3
Legs Tube Diameter: 34.2mm – 29.2mm – 24.8mm
Load Capacity: 44.09 lbs.
Maximum Height: 67.32″
Minimum Height: 10.63″
Weight: 5.07 lbs.
- Lighted bubble level
- Left side controls
- Extra counterbalance support for larger cameras or those carrying accessories
- Pan drag control sits under camera support plate
Improving on the 503, the 503HDV head accommodates the larger pro camera’s weight and girth. A new button design is ergonomic, and the lighted spirit bubble is a fantastic feature.
Jennifer O’Rourke is Videomaker‘s managing editor.
Bogen Imaging, Inc.
565 E. Crescent Avenue
Ramsey, NJ 07446
$365 head alone, $1,053 full kit with bag