Small cameras are great but there is no denying the quality you get from a large camera mated to a finely engineered lens. With such a combination, you need a strong tripod and pan/tilt head to hold the camera in place, especially when using accessories such as on-camera lights and a prompter.
There's been a lot of focus on small tripods for small cameras lately but obtaining the best video takes some serious hardware. That's why there will always be a place for a good tripod and camera head, such as the Manfrotto 526/536 tripod and pan/tilt head combination.
A tripod is the basic unit of camera support. The Manfrotto 536 tripod is a three-stage model made from carbon fiber tubes with magnesium castings. Tab releases permit the quick extension of the tripod's beefy legs. At the bottom of the legs are rubber feet that screw in to reveal metal spikes.
The legs on the Manfrotto 536 can be set to any of three angles, with each leg having individual adjustments. At the top is a standard 100 mm bowl. The entire tripod collapses down to 25.75 inches and stretches up to an astonishing 81 inches, the height of a tallish basketball player.
Carbon fiber three-stage tripod; fluid pan/tilt head supports up to 35 pounds
Bogen Imaging | 201-818-9500 | www.bogenimaging.us The tripod—without the pan/tilt head—weighs a bit more than 7 pounds, although it feels less. The rated carrying capacity of the tripod is 55 pounds.
The Manfrotto 526 pan/tilt head has fluid action for both pan and tilt. The fluid drag in both directions is quickly adjusted with thumbwheels large enough to easily turn while wearing gloves. There's also a large counterbalance adjustment knob, as well as the usual assortment of pan/tilt locks and a pan handle that can mount on either side of the head.
A large quick-disconnect plate locks into the top of the pan/tilt head. Removing it takes both a twist of a lever and a push of a button. There's also a spirit level and a quick-twist handle for fast leveling in the field.
The Manfrotto 526 pan/tilt head is made from aluminum, weighs about eight pounds and is rated to carry 35 pounds. The 536 tripod and 526 pan/tilt head were delivered in a tough, yet lightweight, carrying bag.
The Manfrotto tripod and pan/tilt head combination were completely intuitive to set up and use. The only mystery was the locks that controlled the angle at which the legs can be splayed out from the top of the tripod.
Within a couple of minutes, I had the tripod and head set up and was done with an initial fiddle of the various buttons, levers and knobs. As for those leg angle locks, each leg has a button just below the pivot point for the leg.
Since the 536 tripod has no spreader, I was immediately concerned with rigidity and any backlash that might occur during pans. However, the unit is beefy and there is virtually no pan backlash even at the stiffest pan drag setting.
Speaking of beefy, the 536 tripod is seriously underrated at a capacity of 55 pounds. With the tripod collapsed to its minimum height, I tested it with a significantly heavier load (about three times rated capacity) with no ill effects. This is a seriously sturdy tripod.
The author sets up the Manfrotto 536/526 combination at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va. Photo: Mary Ellen Dawley The Manfrotto 526 pan/tilt head is also generously rated and it's my impression that it can easily cope with more than its rated 35-pound capacity. I would have no trouble using this combination for EFP work with a large lens and prompter. With the combination of the counterbalance control and the sliding quick-disconnect plate, finding the right balance point for any camera takes just a few seconds.
I used the pair on a couple of HD shoots, most notably at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va. On a sunny, but cold and quite windy day, this combination tripod-pan/tilt head was easy to work with as I moved from shot to shot.
In particular, the legs on the 536 tripod adjusted quickly for a variety of surfaces, including stairs, ramps and gravel. The generous tilt angle allowed me to get smooth tilts from the ground up to the top of a tall arch at the memorial, and the pan/tilt head was a snap to level as I changed locations.
With the cold and windy conditions—the temperature was probably just a bit above freezing—none of the controls stiffened up and everything remained easy to adjust and set, even with quickly numbing fingers. The resulting video was firm and steady, befitting a location such as the National D-Day Memorial.
The Manfrotto 536 tripod and 526 pan/tilt head are an excellent choice for EFP and general production work. The 536 tripod is astonishingly versatile and certainly capable of coping with heavy loads. With the pan/tilt head mounted and the legs fully extended, the combination stands 87 inches tall, enough to get you over the heads of all but the stilt-walking team.
The 526 pan/tilt head matches the robustness of the tripod, and has easily found and gripped controls. This is a combination that works best with medium-sized ENG cameras up to a fully configured EFP system. Although it uses the latest materials and construction, it is not one of the recent lightweight camera support systems intended for three-pound cameras.
This Manfrotto tripod and pan/tilt head is aimed right at high-end ENG and EFP operations. As such, it is a rugged, smooth and reasonably lightweight combination.
Bob Kovacs is a broadcast engineer and freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.