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Manfrotto 701/500 or 502 head with GH2
  • Hey everyone,

    I've been heavily researching tripods and tripod heads to get some smooth panning and tilting with my GH2 and have read so much I've ended up going around in circles becoming probably more confused than when I started.

    My setup weight-wise at the moment is literally just a GH2 with a 25mm 1.4 pany prime or a 12-35mm pany zoom. Although this is my current setup, I do not want to purchase a tripod/head that will restrict me from building a rig if I decide to do so within the future.

    I originally intended on buying 190PROBX legs with a 701HDV fluid head for my video work. However, after doing some research I've come to the conclusion that it will probably be better to pay a little more and go with the more sturdy 055XPROB legs to minimise vibrations, enable a little more future-proofing and also make my tripod more stable when extended. Correct me if you believe otherwise.

    The part I'm most confused about is the head. I need a fluid head which will be smooth for video work for sure, but throughout my research I've come across people who have slated the 701HDV for not having control over the drag of the head and a few other reasons (which I can't quite think of right now - I'm very tired). My search also brought me to look into the 501 head, but I read that a number of people were actually shocked at the 501 head performance coming in below the 701HDV, which was a shame. The 501 also (according to my research once again) isn't actually a true fluid head like the 701 and actually works on grease or something instead.

    Then I've been looking at the 502 head (which I think is great looking btw), but I have a number of concerns about that. Firstly, the size of the 502 seems to be extreme and whilst size doesn't put me off a huge amount if it's worth the performance, I'm wondering if a tiny GH2 on its own (and in the future the slightly larger GH3) will be completely wrong for this head. Is the 502 simply excessive for my camera (even if I decided to rig it up)? This leads me to my next concern which is counter balance - what's up with that? I've read about the counter balance potentially causing many issues with a GH2 because it's too light to work properly in a number of ways.

    So as you can see, I'm having a bit of an issue making this decision. I'm looking for a head that will give me that flawless panning etc that people seem to attribute to the 502's performance (and I like the extra control that the 502 has), but is it overkill? Is the 701HDV really a contender against the 502? Can I achieve the same performance with that head and will it be a longer-term investment like the 502 could be?

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  • You may also wish to consider weight and physical size and how that might effect your intended use.

    I have two tripods: one with an older 501 head and one with a lighter 701HDV head.

    I have an older 501 head on the Manfrotto 3221WN tripod legs. This weighs around 9.5 pounds (about 4.3 kg). I prefer using this for its excellent stability and smooth operation. I have used it with pairs of cameras including pairs of GH-2s (I sometimes shoot 3D). I have also used it with a Canon XH A1 and other larger cameras.

    But when I am out and about, hiking, or just shooting something where I am "mobile" and moving around a lot, I use the 701HDV head on a lightweight Ravelli carbon fiber set of legs. I have shot a lot with paired GH2s on this set up too, but I don't think it would work well with the XH A1.

    In a general sense, I can usually do what I want with either set up, but I prefer the sturdier feel and smoother operation of the 501 on the 3221 tripod legs.

    For portable/lighter weight: 701HDV on lightweight carbon fiber legs. For maximum sturdiness and smoothest operation: 501 head on heavier 3221 legs.

    I concluded long ago there is not a "one size fits all" tripod solution so I use either one, depending on the scenario.

    Hope that helps!


  • Hmm. If other brands are also ok: Check out the Benro S6 and S8 heads. Way better than the 701HDV for example (though: Don´t know the 501 THAT well - Just used it once for a few minutes - Nothing special in my opinion).

    Btw. (for explanation): I am recommending the Benro heads, because you get WAY more control over the counterbalance - The 701HDV has a fixed counterbalance spring (which you cannot disable). The 501 and 502 are too equipped with just one step (for a specific load) - Though you can disable it at least at the 501 (at the 502 I am not sure actually - I think it´s fixed too and you cannot disable it - Like with the 701HDV). The problem is: With very low payload the head is always leveling vertically (tilting wise) - Which is quite annoying. On the other hand: With the Benro heads (S6 and S8) you can adjust the spring strength. You can use for example ZERO for very light loads (like your GH2 + lens only) and step 1 to 3 for heavier loads (if you get a small rig in the future - Or if you use other accessories). And you get a seperate tilt lock too - Like with the 502HDV - Not a combined drag / lock knob like with the 701HDV (for the tilting) - The problem with such a combined knob: You always loose your drag setting with those if you want to lock down the head vertically - Thats not the case with a seperate lock.

    Btw. (so you know the differences): The S8 is bigger than the S6 - With more max. payload (and it´s more expensive). BUT: You get a panning / horizontal drag control too. And you get a larger / longer QR plate on top (so it´s easier to balance out larger rigs which are front or back heavy - Because you have more space on the QR plate to mount the baseplate of your rig more to the front or to the back). So the S8 is even more future proof (and easier to use - According the horizontal drag control) than the S6.

    BUT to be honest: Actually you don´t need a bigger head. With the GH2 + a lens alone it´s just not necessary. I personally use a Manfrotto 128RC head + Benro A2570T legs for such purposes - To travel as lightweight as possible. And I can recommend both without hesitation for loads up to 1 kg (maybe even a little bit higher). The 128RC is not equipped with a counterbalance spring (but you don´t kneed it with such low loads). And it´s quite smooth (more than just ok for it´s price - Especially used on Ebay for example). And the "classic" tripods from Benro are stable AS HELL - The base (where the legs are connected) is very stable and rugged - And the leg connections AND the screw locks are very stable and stiff - No play - WAY more stable than my old Manfrotto 190XProB for example - Maybe you can also find a used on on Ebay - I paid just 60 euros for a like new one (for the already mentioned A2570T). Very nice kit to start with (!) And you can still upgrade the head later (or change the heads as you wish and use the same tripod). Btw.: Even the big S8 head is usable on flat base tripods - So no problem there (for a future upgrade). And if you want something even more stable, just get one of the A35 benro tripods - Also "fit´s" better to the bigger heads like the S6 or S8.

    pfft. Ok. Sorry for the long text. But it was necessary to explain a few points ^^.

    HTH (hope that helps) ^^

  • Thanks guys. I wouldn't mind going for another brand at all, I just want to ensure that I'm not going to regret something later on. The Benro heads sound like a great buy. Do you think the lack of panning drag control will be something I regret later on? I mean I know it's all about how I use it, but I would like to get some great pans and on heads that I've used (at university and things like that) I've always enjoyed having quite a bit of drag on my pans as I've found it just feels a bit more weighty and stable.

    From experience how loose would you say the pan is on the S6? Do you think that the lack of pan drag control is something a person can just get used to and with enough practice it wouldn't have any impact on the quality of the panning?