Manfrotto…it doesn't exactly roll trippingly off the tongue now, does it? Must be the name of the guy that invented it—probably Italian.
I can imagine this little factory near Lake Como where everyone eats pasta and drinks Chianti and this Manfrotto fellow drives up in his red Ferrari.
Well anyway, I'm used to the Hollywood tradition of tripods so heavy that I'm glad I don't have to carry them any more. That's what those young assistants are for.
SMALL CAMERAS REQUIRE DIFFERENT MOUNTS
However, recently I became fascinated with some of the smaller (at least to me) state-of-the-art cameras from Sony, Panasonic and Canon. And I needed a responsive, super smooth, versatile tripod that I could carry all day by myself. In my world, we generally carry standard legs that go pretty high, along with "baby legs" for the lower work and a special "hi-hat" to get the camera close to the ground. We also need a spreader to keep the tripod legs in place.
I shopped around and was quite impressed with Manfrotto's three-section carbon fiber model 535 MPRO legs that extend at three different angles without a spreader. They incorporate little cams where each leg attaches to the plate that mounts the tripod head. Just by pressing a lever, I can control the spread of each individual leg. That means if I'm on a steep hill, I can have two legs rigidly locked at a steep angle downward and the third leg rigidly extending almost flat into the high side. I can do the same thing on stairs. If I want to approach a "hi-hat altitude," I just contract all three legs as flat as possible and put it on the ground. If I use the leg cams to narrow the angle and extend the legs, the height goes well beyond my head and then I'm looking for a chair or at least an apple box to stand on.
The legs are large diameter and quite strong, but due to the ultra rigid carbon fiber construction, they are so light that I don't have to hire a young hulk to carry the thing.
IT'S ALL A BALANCING ACT
I'm also very happy with the Manfrotto 519 head, which has two interchangeable springs, allowing it to be used with a large weight range of cameras. It quickly gets you to that magic place where the spring exactly balances the weight, and the camera stays wherever you tilt it, with only finger tip pressure being necessary. This allows me to control such cameras as the Panasonic AJ-HPX3700, the Sony PMWEX3, or a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with the same head and get perfect balance with each. I like the little touches too, such as being able to store both 1/4-inch and 3/8-inch tripod screws safely in the head where they don't get lost. I also have their wonderful zippered case with which I can carry the whole shebang with its shoulder strap, ship it as baggage and just pull the tripod out and start using it.
Perhaps the best part though is that I really like the top sales guys at Manfrotto/Bogen because they sincerely want to listen to professional cinematographers. They take our suggestions seriously and try to integrate them into the next product revision. I don't know if the original Italian guy is still alive, but if he is, he's got to be grinning from ear to ear as he steers that Ferrari through those beautiful Italian roads.
Bob Primes, ASC, has been involved in filmmaking for more than 45 years. In addition, he has also lectured and conducted seminars at various schools, and at the Rockport, Maine international film workshop. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For additional information, contact the Manfrotto Group division of the Vitec Group at 201-818-9500 or visit www.manfrotto.com