Manfrotto 502HD Pro Video Head Review MVH502AH

May 14, 201318 Comments

Manfrotto 502HD Pro Video Head with Flat Base

Manfrotto 502HD Pro Video Head with Flat Base

Lately I’ve been a little obsessed over finding a very affordable, and I mean practically cheap fluid video head for a slider and jib. I hate it when this happens to me but my insanity might benefit the readers of this blog. See what I do for you! My first try was the Fancier FC-270A tripod. For only $149 it really is a good system if you have very little money to spend. Yes it has some issues so please read the review for more on the Fancier. I really only wanted the head but at that price I went ahead and bought it with the legs. After the Fancier didn’t work out for me I decided to go more mainstream and ordered the Manfrotto 502HD Pro Video Head.

Using a C300 On Manfrotto 502HD For An Interview

Using a C300 On Manfrotto 502HD For An Interview. Drag Control On The Left For Tilt.

This is the new Manfrotto 502 MVH502AH that has the patented Bridging Technology Ball-bearing drag system inherited from the 509HD and 504HD heads. Its much bigger than the 501 and 701 heads that have been discontinued. The 502 is considered an entry level pro fluid head by Manfrotto.

Manfrotto 502HD Top-2

Manfrotto 502HD Quick Release and Top

The top plate is very wide and long and uses a longer camera plate as well. The 502 head is very smooth with both pan and tilt. Much improved over the 501 and 701 models that this one has replaced. It’s designed for HDSLR cameras to give them more surface to sit on. As you can see with the C300 mounted to the head I have a lot of extra surface left over. The quick release is classic Manfrotto.

Manfrotto 502 pan drag control

Manfrotto 502 pan drag control

The drag controls for the pan are in a proven and perfect position right at the base of the head. Super easy to get to. The drag controls don’t have a numbered click-in setting. It turns smoothly to fine tune the amount of drag you want. It works well but if you like heads that click-in and you get used to the number that works best for you then this might be an issue or at least take some time to get used to.

Manfrotto 502 lock on wrong side

Manfrotto 502 locking Knob

The tilt settings has less fine control of the drag but is easy to set it with the amount you need. It also is a dial and not a numbered setting.  Just keep turning until you get the amount of drag you want. No counterbalance settings are available. I wish it had at least three. Manfrotto states that the head has a fixed counterbalance set at 8.8 lb. Setting the tilt drag works okay to keep the head from bouncing back but it wasn’t ideal.

Manfrotto 502 Specifications

  • 12.2 lb Weight Capacity
  • Counterbalance Supports 8.8 lb
  • Bridging Technology
  • Spring-Loaded Counter Balance
  • Continuously Adjustable Pan/Tilt Drag
  • Pan Bar & Sliding Plate Included

 

Manfrotto 502 reach around

Manfrotto 502 reach around

I found a couple of big problems for me with the 502 fluid head. The tilt lock knob is on the wrong side of the head. It’s on the right side. I Have to reach around the front and lock it if I’m shooting and controlling the camera with my right hand. This was very difficult and I couldn’t get used to it when I was shooting.

Manfrotto 502 pan lock

Manfrotto 502 pan lock

The other issue I had is the pan lock is to deep inside the bridge and hard to get to and you cant see it when operating the camera. It’s also a strange oval shape that is clumsy to handle.

Manfrotto 502 with 100mm half ball

Manfrotto 502 with 100mm half ball

I tested the flat base model that doesn’t come with a 75mm half ball. I wanted to see how well it worked with both the 100mm and the 75mm Manfrotto half balls that I already owned. They work perfect! This is a big plus. I mounted the head to my Miller two stage tripod and man was that system nice and light with the 502 attached. I also tried it with a Gitzo 75mm bowl set up and again very nice. This makes the head very versatile for mounting to sliders and jibs as well.

The 502 is a big step forward from the 501 and 701 fluid heads and the price is very reasonable at $199. The only down side was the ergonomics of the design. You cant have a tilt lock on the right side of the head unless you operate from the left side and I’m right handed. If Manfrotto fixed this by switching the drag control and tilt lock then this would be a all around winner. The MVH500AH fluid head got it right as far as the correct place for the tilt lock. Maybe I should try this one out. I think for me this would end up on a slider or jib only. The ergonomics made the head clumsy to work with on a tripod. The head really is super smooth and with practice I’m sure you could dial it in and get good balance with your camera. It’s a fair priced head with a couple of flaws.

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About the Author ()

I'm a broadcast DP In San Diego. I enjoy sharing what I'm working on and testing new equipment. This blog is also part of giving back. I've learned so much from so many people.

Comments (18)

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  1. Serge Ilyn says:

    While I totally agree with your mostly critical observation regrading ergonomics, I disagree strongly with your statement that “head really is super smooth” – it’s not. Not even close. The response to the force applied (especially when panning) is not consistent. It has a tendency (like virtually all cheap heads) to push back when you stop. My 502 after six months of occasional use developed what I would say a very serious problem – when panning, the drag is not engaged immediately, it has about 0.3 – 0.5 degree of free movement. The problem persists at any setting.

    I cannot say if its price justifies all these problems (following the concept you get what you pay for), but I would never expect anything like this from any video head. And, yes, if you have nothing or no budget, something is better than nothing.

    • Erik Naso says:

      Thanks for your comments. I do stand by mine since thats what I experienced. Regrettable that after such little use the head is performing so poorly.

  2. John Marc Green says:

    I bought this head as part of a tripod kit with a bag and legs and didn’t realize until I got it home and was setting it up the way I liked that I realized the tilt lock was on the right side. I wanted to scream! I remember sitting there looking at it for about five minutes trying to figure out a way to make this work, but after 10 years shooting broadcast TV news, I realized there was no way I was going to be able to start operating the handle with my left hand since most video cameras are built with all the controls you need to get to quickly on the left side. This design decision just does not make sense unless he were deliberately trying to offer something to left handed operators. But not even that makes sense because of where all video cameras put the controls. It’s just ridiculous! Anyway, I took it back and ended up buying the more expensive tripod kit with the tilt lock on the left where it belongs.

  3. Martin says:

    One major benefit of this head is that you can screw in articulated arms on both sides. Very convenient for attaching an HDMI monitor or audio recorder.

  4. Dave says:

    I agree with your review’s positive and negative points. Its a good head for the money, but ergonomically it can be frustrating. One issue that bugs me to no end is that the screw for positioning the arm constantly binds up on me when I loosen it. Many times I have had to completely remove the arm and reposition the bound up screw. It takes a LOT of time, and the scraping against the arm is only making it happen more often. I need to get the arm, bracket and screw replaced. This issue and the ergonomics take away from the value of this head, but when working properly, it performs quite well.

  5. Adam says:

    I checked one of these out at the local Calumet today after reading your (fantastic) review. You’re right, a massive size and quality increase over the 701 (which I own). A little plastic-y and the ergonomics are odd but solid. Maybe I’m wrong but it kinda seems like the perfect “backup head”. In my case, I’m looking for something light and portable for travel that also could be used as a main head for my C100.
    I am considering the 502 but might have to step it up to a 504 or a Miller DS-10/20. If it weren’t for airline weight restrictions, I’d already have the 504.
    Whoever decided to lower standard baggage weight to 50lbs gets my vote for Worst Person of the Decade LOL.

    • Dave says:

      I have been using the 502 head for almost 2 years, and it has held up well. The pan lock is hard to reach and I prefer the tilt lock on the left, so I turn the head around (backwards) and find the 502 is much easier to operate. The tilt arm can be repositioned so that it works in this manner. The only other issue I have is that the arm binds in the fixture that it mounts to. Its a poor design that I struggle with on a few other tripod arms. All in all, the 502 is an affordable video fluid head, and I’m happy with mine.

      • Erik Naso says:

        Hi Dave.
        Thanks for your feedback. You found a good way to make the 502 head work better. It really is a quirky design.

      • Adam says:

        Thanks for info Dave. Operating the 502 backwards was definitely thinking “outside the box”. What sort of sticks are you using with it btw? Erik recommended the Miller Solos (which look great) and I was also intrigued by the Manfrotto 535/536. The 535 goes up to 5’7″ and only weights 5 lbs.

        • Dave says:

          Turning the head around was a minor revelation, and I haven’t gone back to “normal”.

          I have an old pair of Manfrotto 190XPROB sticks. They’re fine for my light GH3 camera and cage mounted stuff, but I need to get a better tripod for more support when I use my 4 foot jib.

          BTW, the Benro QR6 quick release plate fits the 502 head, and cost $26 compared to Manfrotto’s 504PLONG $70 replacement plate. The QR-6 is slightly shorter, but provides plenty of support and recognizes the 502′s safety latch. I just noticed a 3rd party 504PLONG replacement from Hong Kong on ebay for $37.90.

          • Adam says:

            Interesting that you bring up the 190XPROB up, B&H sells the 502 in a kit with those sticks but I was worried that there would be too much “play” in the legs while panning with the 502 on higher drag settings. Have you had this problem at all?
            If not, that combo could meet my needs as a portable C100 tripod.
            Great tip on the Benro RP. Many thanks.

          • Dave says:

            I bought the 502 head long after I purchased the stick. I haven’t had any stability issues with pans as my camera is fairly light and doesn’t require a lot of drag. I can see how that would be a problem with a heavier camera/long lens combo. BTW, adding a counter weight under the center of the tripod helps on unstable surfaces and in windy conditions. The 190 sticks are adequate for my needs, but I do want to invest in something better.

            Lastly (sorry for hijacking this thread), don’t make the mistake I made…buy the ball mount version instead of the flat mount version. Ball mount is the ONLY way to go.

          • Adam says:

            Doh! I was actually looking at the 055xprob kit sticks, not the 190′s – I actually have the carbon fiber 3 stage 190′s as a portable stills tripod. It’s fantastic and really light but too short and unstable for video work for something the size of a C100.

          • Adam says:

            I’m with you Dave, hope Erik doesn’t mind us hijacking the thread. I shot a few boutique luxury hotels last summer in Bangkok and Japan – it was both a stills & video gig. We had the 190 sticks and a 701 as our only video tripod. No ball head leveling is the worst! After wrestling with the legs for two of the locations, I bought the Manfrotto 438 compact leveler. It’s $85 and made my life SO much easier when shooting with a flat based mounted head. I travel for long periods of time with a decent amount of gear – so when I need to keep things light and compact, that 438 is a real life saver. You might wanna check it out.

          • Dave says:

            Yep, I added the 438, too. Great minds think alike (or is “misery loves company” more appropriate?)…

            Ha! The saga of hijacking Erik’s web site continues…sorry, Erik!

          • Erik Naso says:

            I’m glad you guys can help each other. All good!

      • Adam says:

        Dave (and Erik)-
        Quick follow up. I ended up taking a flyer on the new Benro s8 kit.
        http://www.benrousa.com/products/classic-single-leg-video-tripod-kits—s-series-heads/benro-a373fbs8.aspx

        Got the aluminum version for $445.
        It’s likely heavier than your setup at a legit 13 pounds but it is incredible value for the money. From my limited experience with 502′s drag pan and tilt controls, this one feels as good if not better. Also it has all the locks and knobs on the operator side. Big bonus. Has three stages of counter balance, a telescoping arm and removable 75mm ball head so you can take the kit apart and mount a slider in between.

        Kinda fits my needs perfectly because the single column legs are just 6 pounds on their own and once I take the head off, the legs fit perfectly inside my medium sized 24″ suitcase. Amazing as the whole thing goes up to around 5’7″ fully constructed. Also it gets pretty low without a spreader – maybe around 8″-10″?

        Comes with a nice-enough padded bag and some spike screws you can replace rubber feet with. I’m not crazy about the mounting plate system – doesn’t come off or go on quite as smooth as the Manfrotto equivalents. Construction quality is good – at first glance seems like 95% of what you’d get from Manfrotto – and of course I have no idea of how it will hold up long term. Loving it thus far. You might wanna check it out.

  6. Dave Patterson says:

    Adam – That Benro tripod/head looks like serious kit. I did a close comparison between the Benro A48FBS4 and Manfrotto 561BHVD monopods, and think the Benro products offer essentially the same quality at a much better price. I bought the Benro A48FBS4, and it has held up very well. I do like Manfrotto gear, but for this level of mid-range video gear, I think Benro is giving Manfrotto a lot of competition. Its nice to have options, ya know? Good luck with your new tripod! When I’m ready to upgrade to a better tripod, I will certainly give Benro a serious look.

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