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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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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