My all time favourite tripod has to be my Miller Compass head on my Miller Solo Legs. This has proven to be an excellent all round tripod that is both light weight and extremely portable.
But for my recent Venice shoot I needed something a little bit more substantial so I decided to give the new Miller CX18 head on a set of Miller Sprinter II two stage carbon fibre legs.
The CX18 head is not radically different to any other tripod head. But it is a great, silky smooth tripod head. It uses the same type of fluid damping mechanism as my Compass head with 5+0 steps of silky smooth pan and tilt damping selected by click stop rings on the head. One thing that does differentiate the CX range from previous Miller heads is the range of the counterbalance system. My Compass head only has 4 counterbalance settings for a range of payloads from 2Kg to 9kg (4lbs to 20lbs). The new CX18 head has 16 levels of counterbalance and covers a payload range from 0 to 16kg (35lbs). So it can handle a greater payload range with finer more precise steps.
The counterbalance steps are selected via a main counterbalance selector ring which as 8 steps and the a secondary control adds an extra half step, giving a total of 16 steps. So even when swapping lenses on the camera between primes and zooms it would only take seconds to find the right counterbalance level.
The camera plate on the CX18 is a side mount plate, so you just angle it into the recess on the top of the tripod and it snaps down into place. No need to have to line up a sliding plate. This makes it much faster to release and reattach the camera if you are in a hurry.
Talking of being in a hurry. The Sprinter II legs feature lower leg release catches that are operated by levers that are attached to the lower leg clamp by a rod. This means that you don’t have to bend down to the bottom of the tripod leg to release the catch. Instead the large release catches for both stages of the tripod legs starts off up by the tripod bowl making them easy to grab and release when you are in a hurry. This is a really nice feature for new shooters.
The 100mm bowl sprinter legs are very stable with very minimal twist or flex at the bowl even when extended to a good height. the mid level spreader makes them really easy to use on uneven ground.
So if you are looking for a tripod with a pretty decent payload that doesn’t weigh a ton but remains nice and stable do take a close look at the CX18 head and Sprinter II legs. Miller’s tripod heads really are some of the smoothest tripod heads out there. My Solo is 5 years old now and just as smooth as it was the day it arrived.
The CX18 worked well with the Venice camera, although to be honest a fully loaded Venice is a pretty big lump to put on this size of tripod. However the CX18 took it in it’s stride and helped me get some silky smooth pans and tilts in some pretty windy conditions.
A package arrived in the mail from Transvideo the other day. In it was one of their rather nice base plates for the PMW-F3. This plate isn’t simply a plate that it is attached to the bottom of the camera. It is in fact a complete replacement for the bottom end of the PMW-F3. Transvideo are best known for their superb high end monitors, robust, built to last monitors you often find on movie sets as they they offer a range of highly accurate calibration tools and fully calibrated displays not found on many lower cost monitors. In addition Transvideo’s 3D monitors are the monitors of choice for many 3D productions and stereographers as they offer special monitoring options that allow for very accurate measurement of 3D offsets and geometry. This new base plate is a bit of a departure from Transvideo’s normal product lines. I suspect it’s come about because Transvideo’s 3D expertise led them to realise that one of the PMW-F3’s biggest issues for 3D is that the standard base plate isn’t particularly stable which can adversely affect alignment when used on a 3D rig.
This is a problem not only for 3D but also for use with long and heavy lenses as the camera can wobble and flex on the tripod. The two 1/4″ threads on the F3 are far from ideal and the third thread at the back of the camera is offset from centre making it hard to use. By replacing the original very thin base plate of the camera ( it is is really, really thin) with this much more robust base plate you spread the loads imparted on the tripod mounting points across the entire bottom end of the internal chassis of the F3, not just the 4 teeny tiny screws that hold the sony tripod mount in place. Fitting is very easy, 8 small screws are un-done to remove the original Sony base panel, which simply lifts off and then the new Transvideo plate, complete with beautifully CNC machined cooling slots simply attaches in it’s place. Now my F3 has a perfectly flat base with both 1/4″ and 3/8″ threads (hooray!!) as well as a large number of M4 threads towards the outside. Now I can fit standard Arri accessories without having to fudge together different plates and screws to make them fit.
Frankly this is how Sony should have done this in the first place, but well done to Transvideo, now my F3 is really starting to feel like a proper camera. The only very minor down side is that you loose your serial number plate as this is attached to the original Sony part. The fit is superb and it looks great too. The list price is €265.00. 10/10.
As well as the base plate I also received a little finger tab that attaches to the Sony PL mount. this little wing tab makes it much easier to remove and attach PL mount lenses as you can grip the lens with one hand and push the tab with you thumb to release the locking ring. It’s only a small thing but it makes the F3’s PL mount much more user friendly.
I’m a long time Vinten user. My first true, pro tripod was a Vinten 5 with alloy legs that I purchased in 1989 (I think). 22 years on I still have that tripod and it is still perfectly useable. Since then I’ve been the very happy owner of a fabulous set of Vinten FibreTec legs (still have them, still love them) and a new model Vinten Vision 5AS. All of these have been excellent, reliable and virtually indestructible. I’ve taken them up into the Arctic where it’s been -36c. I’ve taken them to the Arizona desert, into Hurricanes, Sand Storms and all kinds of extreme weather. I’ve even used them stood waist deep in the sea (not really recommended). Anyway, I’m waffling… When I needed a bigger tripod to support my Hurricane 3D rig I obtained a Vinten Vision 100.
The Vision 100 is not a new model, but it has a reputation for being able to take a quite remarkable payload for it’s size. You see the Vision 100 head is not much bigger or heavier than my Vinten 5, yet it can take double the payload (20kg). This means that I can still pack it in to my luggage when I’m travelling without getting crippled by high excess baggage charges.
One of the features that has made it particularly useful for 3D is the digital counterbalance readout that tells you exactly where you are within the heads very generous and continuously adjustable counter balance range. When swapping between the 3D rig and a conventional camera I can simply dial in the numbers that I know give me optimum balance and off I go. One minute I can have a 3D rig with a pair of F3 etc, weighing over 15kg, then after a few turns of the counterbalance knob I can mount just a single F3 weighing only 3kg and the tripod works beautifully well with either payload. The continuously adjustable drag adjustments for pan and tilt are easy to set and if you want you can get a lot of drag. I find this very useful when shooting air shows with long lenses as I like to have quite a bit of drag to work against to keep things smooth. The smoothness of this head is lovely with no sudden slips or tight spots, it’s a pleasure to use.
The legs I have been using with the Vision 100 head are the Vinten 3 stage carbon fibre Pozi-Loc legs. Even though these are nice and light, they are remarkably stiff. I also have one of Vinten’s clever Spread Loc mid level spreaders. I first got one of these with my FibreTec legs and I’ve never looked back. You can lock the spreader at almost any spread position with a quick turn of the single locking knob. If you need to get the legs down low there is a little button on each arm of the spreader that allows the arm to extend to up to twice it’s original length. The end result is the ability to get very low, even when using standard legs.
Tripods are pretty boring things really. Not as glamourous as a camera, but an essential piece of kit anyway. Get the right tripod and it will last you many, many years, almost certainly out lasting those glamourous cameras. All the Vintens I have owned have been superb. The Vinten 100 is a solid, well made piece of kit that I don’t even really think about when I’m using it. And that is after all what you want, gear that just gets on with its job.
I have written up a review of the rather impressive new Manfrotto 509 tripod head. This is a medium weight tripod head suitable for full size pro camcorders with a silky smooth fluid action. Click Here to read the full review.
Camera setup, reviews, tutorials and information for pro camcorder users from Alister Chapman.