Review: Sachtler Video 18 S2 Pan/Tilt Head & Tripod

Bigger is better. Yes, there are qualifications for that, but when you have a big job to do, the biggest, sturdiest tools will help you complete it the fastest and with the best results.
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Bigger is better. Yes, there are qualifications for that, but when you have a big job to do, the biggest, sturdiest tools will help you complete it the fastest and with the best results.

So it is with the Sachtler Video 18 S2 pan/tilt head and its matching carbon fiber tripod: It’s big, but powerful.

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My lightweight camera gear looks a little out of place on this tripod, but using it was not a problem.FEATURES
The Sachtler Video 18 S2 pan/tilt head comes with a sturdy SpeedLevel CF carbon fiber tripod with mid-level spreader and the SpeedLevel Clamp accessory. Also included is a carrying bag that is so strong that it’s probably grenade-resistant.

The combination of tripod and head weighs nearly 19 pounds, and add another four pounds for the well-padded and reinforced carrying bag. The system comes with both a typical screw-on leveling knob and Sachtler’s SpeedLevel Clamp accessory, which can shave a few seconds off the time it takes to level the pan/tilt head once you set up the tripod.

The combination of tripod and pan/tilt head can support about 44 pounds of gear, fully balanced and with proper fluid damping for pan and tilt. There are knobs to adjust pan and tilt drag, as well as spring tension for balancing. The mounting plate also slides 120mm to quickly get a perfect balance. All the knobs and levers are big enough to operate while wearing gloves.

The pan/tilt head comes with an extendable pan arm that can be moved to either side and a small bubble level on the head’s base lights up when you press on it. The pan/tilt head itself weighs about nine pounds and it has a 100mm ball mount so that it can be quickly installed on other standard camera support gear.

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The pan/tilt head has big and easy-to-read knobs for all adjustments. The SpeedLevel CF carbon fiber tripod is a three-stage system with a clever single-lever design to extend the legs. In other words, each leg has a single lever that is used to extend the two movable leg sections—this is the first time I’ve seen such a thing on a tripod, and it definitely speeds up deployment.

Wide rubber feet at the bottom of the tripod pivot to conform to a wide range of sloping surfaces, and they can be quickly removed to reveal metal spikes for soft surfaces. The mid-level spreader can be extended and disconnected to allow for a variety of angles for the tripod’s legs. This is useful to get a camera really low to the ground or placed in an odd multilevel location.

With the legs fully extended and the pan/tilt head atop tripod, the camera plate is at the height of my nose: 62 inches. All this precision engineering and strong construction doesn’t come cheaply: The Sachtler Video 18 S2 pan/tilt head and SpeedLevel CF carbon fiber tripod package has a list price of $8,900.

IN USE
I work small: small cameras, small accessories and small tripod. My “big” tripod weighs less than seven pounds, or about one-third of what the Sachtler Video head and tripod package weighs.

However, if I were to step up to the world of mid-level to high-end production, this Sachtler rig is the one I’d want.

Although Sachtler promotes the package for ENG work, it feels too big and heavy for most news crews today. However, if you’re shooting news features (think “60 Minutes”) where you have gear that needs the capacity of this setup, this is the best of the best.

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The carrying bag is tough and well-padded, with an over-the-shoulder strap. I see this pan/tilt head and tripod targeted at field production for sports, TV series and films, and it is perfect for those. This rig will hold a high-end camera with a massive lens, external video recorder, large monitor and multiple batteries, fiber transmitter and intercom unit, and have capacity left over for a matte box and remote focus servo system.

Another application for this camera support system would be for sports production with a 80x lens. There’s plenty of capacity to handle that, balance it perfectly and still have a deft fluid-soft touch for pans and tilts.

For my use, I loaded my mirrorless Micro Four Thirds camera, LED light and external monitor, and I swear the pan/tilt head turned to look at me and said, “When are you going to load me up?”

I shot some activity on a local soccer field and confirmed that the balance was perfect, the pan/tilt drag was exactly right for the situation and that the overall platform was rock steady. It was everything that a pan/tilt and tripod system could be.

Considering its weight, I wouldn’t want to lug the Sachtler Video 18 S2 pan/tilt head and SpeedLevel CF carbon fiber tripod package more than a half-mile into the bush. However, if you can drive to a location and set up the tripod next to your Land Rover, this is the tripod you want with you.

The SpeedLevel clamp works exactly as advertised, reducing the leveling process to a couple of seconds. The single flip levers to release all stages of the tripod’s legs are a NASA-worthy bit of design and engineering— it’s entertaining just to see it work.

SUMMARY
The Sachtler Video 18 S2 pan/tilt head and SpeedLevel CF carbon fiber tripod package is a gorgeous and sturdy camera support system that permits the most delicate moves with precision. It is well engineered, with thoughtful touches and features that enable quick setup and break down, and it comes with a carrying bag that could double as cover during a gun fight... it’s that invulnerable.

All that strength and engineering comes with enough weight to make this Sachtler system something you’d want to set up once and keep in place as long as possible before breaking it down and moving on. It’s not the first system I would think of for a lightfooted ENG shooter, but it’s perfect for field and stadium production.

FAST FACTS

APPLICATION
Field and stadium production for sports broadcasts, TV series and films.

KEY FEATURES
SpeedLevel CF carbon fiber tripod with mid-level spreader and the SpeedLevel Clamp accessory, carrying bag, screw-on leveling knob.

SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE
$8,900

CONTACT
Sachtler
www.sachtler.com

Bob Kovacs is the former Technology Editor for TV Technology.