Points in Focus Photography

Manfrotto Micro Fluid Video Head Review

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The Manfrotto Micro Fluid Video head is a two-way fluid head for lightweight cameras and lenses.

Note: A quick note about the head depicted in this post. My head was purchased used, and predates Manfrotto’s change in model numbers there will be several slight differences between the head depicted and what you’d get if you bought a head new now.

For those unfamiliar with tripod heads, the functionality breaks down like this. A two-way, or two-axis, head constrains the camera’s motion to only two directions. These are pan, movements to the left and right; and tilt, movements up and down. The head prevents the camera from rolling (rotating around an axis parallel to the lens axis). For still photography, this type of head isn’t especially desirable. It’s far more continent to use something like a ballhead where you can point the camera in virtually any direction at will. However, for video work, controlled camera movements are a desired operation, and the frame rolling while a pan or tilt is being made isn’t desirable. In this scenario the two axis head, allows you to pan and/or tilt with a subject as they move though the environment, and stops the camera from rolling in the process.

The second aspect is the fluid in the bearing. Unlike simple friction head, fluid heads allow one to make smooth starts and stops when making pant and tilt movements. However, unlike high-end fluid heads, the Micro Fluid Video head has a much less control over the drag for those motions, though there is some. Tightening either of the lock knobs will adjust the drag to some degree, and ultimately lock the head in position. However, the range of control is relatively limited, and the drag cannot be precisely set based on known information like camera weight. A full turn on the knob is about all it takes to go from fully locked to minimum drag.

My fairly old micro fluid video head (note the model number predates the change to 128LP/RC), in my configuration wiht a custom handle and a Wimberly C-10 clamp bolted to the RC2 plate.
My fairly old micro fluid video head (note the model number predates the change to 128LP/RC), in my configuration wiht a custom handle and a Wimberly C-10 clamp bolted to the RC2 plate.

The Micro Fluid Video head in two configurations; a quick release version that uses Manfrotto’s RC2 quick release plates, and “standard” lens plate design where you merely mount your camera to the top of the head using the captive 1/4-20 bolt. The head depicted in this review is the RC variant, though both the LP and RC variants use the same fluid bearing mechanism and should perform similarly in all other respects.

The RC version uses a lever action mechanism to secure the Manfrotto RC2 plate, which is further bolstered by a safety lock pin (brass pin) that prevents the lock lever from turning. It’s a nice touch, though it’s a feature I’ve never found much use for, as the locking lever is quite tight on it’s own and not in a position I find it’s easy to release accidentally.

Detail of the 128RC's release lock and safety lock (unlocked). (Note the actual RC2 plate is the light gray bit under the Wimberly C-10 clamp.)
Detail of the Micro Fluid Video head (RC version) quick release lock and safety lock (unlocked). (Note the actual RC2 plate is the light gray bit under the Wimberly C-10 clamp.)

The head ships with a padded handle for controlling the action. Though like most of my shoestring budget video hardware, when I got this head used it didn’t come with the handle so I had to improvise. While it may seem trivial, a handle is quite important to achieving smooth pans and tilts. By moving your hand away from the pivot point, the handle has the effect of multiplying the force you apply to the movement while minimizing the impact of small shakes and vibrations. As a result, the head can have a higher amount of drag, which further dampens imperfections in the movement.

Manfrotto 128RC Pan lock, handle clamp, and quick release level w/ safety lock (unlocked).
Manfrotto Micro Fluid Video head pan lock, handle clamp, and quick release level w/ safety lock (unlocked).

There’s only one mounting point for the handle, on the left side of the head if you’re looking at the nameplate. In normal use, assuming you put the quick release lock towards the back, this would put the handle on the right side and the tilt lock knob on the left. If you want the handle on the left, you merely need to turn the head around and mount the camera backwards. The RC plates aren’t directional in that sense and work perfectly fine at pointing the camera in either direction.

Of course, at $105 for the RC version and $85 for the regular version, this isn’t a high-end fluid head, and there are a number of places where that catches up with you. Manfrotto rates the load capacity at 8.82 pounds (4Kg). However, that’s not especially meaningful to me, at least in my experience. The head will easily support more than 9 pounds if the weight is centered and the head is kept mostly level.

However, with an off centered load, and especially once you start tilting forward, it takes far less than 8 pound for the tilt axis to start slipping even when tightened down. In my experience, even when mostly balanced, a gripped 5D mark III and a EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens on a really right stuff lens plate shifted as far back as possible will cause the tilt axis to slip unless the lock knob is extremely tight.

Paired with a Canon Rebel or Nikon D5200 and a general-purpose zoom (16-85mm), any of the mirrorless cameras, or consumer camcorders, the head should provide more than enough to get someone started. If you’re looking to go higher end, with a full frame SLR, bigger f/2.8 lenses, and accessories like a rails, a follow focus, an EVF, external recorder, and so on, the Micro Fluid head is very much on the small and light side, and something like a Manfrotto 504HD Pro fluid head would be more appropriate.

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