Head to Head Tripod Test: Fluid VS Non-Fluid

A fluid head tripod is considered an essential tool by most professional videographers. Can you tell the difference between a fluid head shot and an inexpensive tripod bought from a box store? In this segment we put two tripods with vastly different price tags to a simple test to find out.


Great way to test.

steve4505's picture

The diagional test should show the obvious problem with the cheaper tripods.  I have a $125 "fluid head" that is sold on Amazon that "fails" this test.  I used it once on a paid shoot and I was embarassed by the results.  I was following a speaker at a conference who was stepping on an off the stage at diagonal.  I have tremendous problems following him.  Oddly though the event had provided us tripods and mine was still better than theirs (so there is a lot of very poor tripods out there).  If you have a fish scale you can pull the tripod head sideways, vertially, and diagonally.  If it has adjustments the force/weight on the scale should be able to adjsuted to the same in every direction.  The professional tripods can be adjusted to compensate for the vertical weight, whereas as you go down the chain in price they can't.  Imagine trying to compensate for a 30lb 80x zoom!  I have a lot of store bought tripods and yes even the weight of around 5 lbs is very scary on them.  One of mine snapped off at the connection from the plastic head to the aluminum center post. Of course it was not rated for a 5lb load and my 5d was not on it.  It may have just broken in transport.

The real question

While I'm certain that I don't speak for everyone, I feel fairly confident that what people are really asking is, "What is the least expensive tripod that I can purchase in order to get satisfactory results?"


While "under $600" may sound like a bargain to some of you out there, many of us simply can't afford to spend that type of money on a single piece of our kit.


With that being said, are there ANY tripods out there for $200 or less that would be a wise investment for someone on a real-world beginner budget?

Less than $200.00 Tripods

There are a lot of different tripods out there and I have tried several different inexpensive tripods. the one I tend to go back to and use Is some version of the Velbon fluid head. The head is pretty good for the money. I don't recomend extending the center post because there tends to be some backlash. Having said that, if you adjust the tension to fairly light it's not very noticeable.


I have been using this tripod for all sorts of shooting for years. One word of caution don't leave it in a hot car I ruined one by doing that, the grease leaks out and makes a mess. Here is a link from a reputable dealer...... http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/366741-REG/Velbon_DV_7000_DV_7000_... I am considering moving up to this tripod .... http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/842086-REG/Magnus_VT_4000_VT_4000_... i just don't need to right now.   


i hope this helps.

Define 'Fluid Head'

itskeef's picture

I do feel that one should first understand the difference between a tripod marketed as a 'fluid head' ...and one that is actually a fluid head. A true fluid head uses a very different (expensive) system to those that, although described as fluid, mearly use friction plates lathered in grease.

I still have a 20year Sachtler that outperforms any friction device. Sadly its just the head that has survived...so it does get handed around on my various pods, trollys and dollys.

Tip: with any tripod place a rubber band (10mm wide x 150mm) over end of tripod arm the other over the end of your finger. For a really smooth start/finish on a simple pan.

With CMOS chip cameras keep the shutter speed low to avoid 'digital' jitter and jello when panning.

btw due to the vagaries of the video codec and the streaming your video demo is looking jerky anyhow. 

the last point

Mike Moore's picture

I was about to say the same thing. I thought it might have been my computer, but I couldnt tell the difference between the fluid head and 'cheap tripod'.  Having said that, this type of story is a 'real video story'.  It's one thing to read about tests, its another to see them in action. In fact, being a moving picture site, I hope we get to see a few more examples of testing and comparisons. Keep up the good work Videomaker, Im from New Zealand and I always look forward to getting my magazine in the post and watching your enews...Mike

Good buy for the money

I personally have a few copies of the tripod linked at the end of this post and have never had a single problem with any of them. I couldn't find anything that even came close to the build for the money. It's under $80 USD and gives me very smooth pans, but the tilts are still a bit tough. That's why I was looking for something a bit more pro without breaking the bank.


Strangely enough, I moved up to the linked tripod from the cheap one that Greg reviews in the video. I now keep the ultra-cheap one in my trunk for emergencies. :)



You don't need to break the

You don't need to break the bank in order to obtain a professional grade tripod.  Ebay is the way to go.  Good used ones can be found all the time.


The choice was a simple one for anyone who has an eye for professional video.  If you want professional results, don't expect that you can get by using a "toy" tripod that costs $40.

Fluid Head

AbarthBill's picture

My father was a motion picture producer/photographer in the 40's thru the 70's.

He bought a "MILLER HEAD" for over $500 in the 50's, which was big bucks back then but was worth it, as fellow Travelogue producers marveled at his smooth pans. Wonder if Miller is still in business?


Looked the same

Barry's picture

I noticed that both had stops and starts but someone said that was the video not the tripods

I say if you want to save money like me. Get something better than Best Buy tripods but not as much as the fluidy ones. I was lucky to get a used Manfretto that does a lot but is not fluid for 135. Half Price at the place everybody buys stuff from.

Pans work. I have no one to work with so am in front behind and everywhere else. So I created something that goes around my waist and is connected to the Man and I can walk around and the camera follows me smoothly. Tripod too


Head to Head Tripod Test

carlmart's picture

Both movements were quite similar and both were mediocre. Whether it was the video's fault, then it's impossible to judge and pick one. Both looked unsteady when moving.

Pity the video doesn't have an HD option to look at it. The way it is now, it tests nothing.