One of the benefits of downsizing broadcast and digital cinema cameras is the size and cost of much of the support gear needed to make them fully functional can also be downsized. A prime example of such is Miller’s compact Air head/Solo 75 tripod combo.
Air head pairs with Solo 75 tripod, and includes a carrying bag with padded strap.
At first glance, Miller’s Air Tripod system seems designed more for stills than for video or cine apps due to the Solo 75’s tubular legs. Rated for payloads up to 11 pounds, it can obviously support more than average-sized DSLRs with stock lenses and looks fairly impressive for a tripod system under $1,200. The Air head, with its magnesium alloy housing and precision components, mirrors Millers’ DS fluid head, except with fewer options.
For example, it has only two counterbalance levels and singular pan and tilt levels, which are touted as “constant at all temperatures.” It also supports the same payload range as the DS, from 4.4–11 pounds. The Air head is paired with Miller’s Solo 75 tripod, which features a 75mm bowl, 90 to minus 75 degree tilt range, a base height ranging from 9.5–63 inches, with three leg sections. The upper leg stage has a thick, supple neoprene coating for comfortable, sure gripping, especially when moving the camera and tripod short distances. The hard rubber feet on the lower legs have retractable steel spikes. The Air head includes a quick release camera plate with 60mm of sliding range, one pan handle with a dual pan handle option, a padded carrying strap and a soft bag. It comes in either metal alloy or carbon fiber packages.
Initially, I tested the Air Carbon Fiber Tripod with a Canon camcorder/lens package, weighing at the upper end of Air’s payload at 9–10 pounds.
Frankly, I was surprised at how well the Air head handled the 9-plus pound camera at first try. Panning was fluid and smooth, which made following large flying birds like geese, ducks, and gulls easy and efficient at the fairly low default drag level. Faster subjects like flying robins or speeding cars posed a greater challenge, and I often over-panned for lack of sufficient drag.
There was no option to shift to a high drag level, so I improvised to add drag by wrapping one hand around the head while using the other to push the panhandle for a manual drag to compensate for the lack of this option. It was certainly do-able, but not desirable. Fortunately, a workaround wasn’t necessary when counterbalancing the 9-plus pound camera once I pinpointed the center of gravity on the adapter plate. The higher of the two counterbalance options proved sufficient to keep the camera stable at various angles when released.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn’t need to manually add drag when panning—or tilting—with a much lighter camera, weighing 5-plus pounds. The default low drag level provided sufficient braking for fairly slow pans and tilts without manual workarounds. Basically I was able to let the Air head provide all the speed dampening needed versus having to work it in manually.
Counterbalance-wise, the lower, slacker level was sufficient for the lighter camera, although the higher level also worked well with it, but was stiffer. A 4-pound camera had comparable results, but with even slower, smoother pans. This payload was comparable to that of many DSLRs with base lenses.
Tripod-wise, the Solo 75’s three stage telescoping legs locked and unlocked with a twist of the wrist and kept the tripod stable whenever it was firmly locked. They did slip slightly a few times when I didn’t snug them sufficiently. In each case simply relocking them remedied the slippage
With its legs fully extended and locked, Solo 75 topped out at 68–69 inches, which put the viewfinder of most cameras at or close to eye level for me at 6-feet tall.
What really sets it apart from the pack, though, is its ability to virtually flatten into a spider-like footprint by locking its legs in an almost horizontal position, whereby the bottom of the bowl is around 10 inches above ground level. This extreme low angle posture is quite rare among pro-tripods and may be this tripod package’s killer app.
This feature proved invaluable when shooting in roughly 1.5-feet of dense snow as I did several times during the test period. The flattened spider-like position often enabled me to ‘float’ the camera and tripod atop the packed snowpack without having to dig into solid ground with all three tripod feet on every setup. This accelerated the setup time for all shots, particularly low angle ones. Whenever the legs were outstretched to the max, the crest of the airhead was roughly 15 inches above ground level, low enough to facilitate many unique low angle shots.
The rubberized shoulder pad on the carrying strap was a big bongus, sparing lots of pain and irritation, particularly when without a cart or tripod-bearer. The padding was thick enough to protect my collarbone when laying camera and tripod over/on my shoulder. Without the camera I could comfortably hang the tripod on one shoulder, with the legs under my arm, while counterbalancing them with the camera hung on my other shoulder.
Leveling the Air head was fairly fast and efficient, thanks to the long, knobby, fastening pin—for leveling ball—which mostly held tight as long as needed after a quick, but firm, twist of the wrist. The Air head also has a simple bubble level; however, it’s not florescent, so you’ll need some sort of light to use it in the dark.
Of the three cameras tested with the Air head, the two at the low end of its payload range yielded the best results, and required virtually no compensatory workarounds when panning, tilting or counterbalancing. In contrast, while I was able to achieve fairly slow and smooth pans with the 9-plus pound camera, pans and tilts required me to add drag manually for consistently good results. This was not true for counterbalancing. where the higher of two levels supported the heavier camera adequately. An additional, stiffer, drag level or two for panning and tilting would greatly improve overall performance at the upper end of its payload range, and would be worth paying a bit more for.
Nevertheless, Miller’s Air Solo carbon fiber system offers a simple, affordable, no frills tripod solution for pros and serious amateurs on a tight budget, particularly when shooting with a camera in the lower of its payload range. It is also fairly lightweight for carrying afield and it can fi t into a duffel bag when traveling. It is hard to beat for extreme low-angle shooting by supporting a camera roughly 15-inches from ground level. It also tops out just under six feet for use in a wide range of pro applications.
Carl Mrozek operates Eagle Eye Media, based in Buffalo, N.Y.. Contact him at email@example.com.
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Pan & tilt fluid head with constant drag in all temperatures; dual level counterbalance; three stage carbon fiber legs with retractable spikes & 75mm bowl & sure grip fastener; padded legs & strap; height adjustable; low angle support
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