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    The Sachtler CineDSLR Fluid Head: An In-Depth Review
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    The DSLR revolution has changed the way we work. However, with every revolution comes a new set of needs. Never before have so many relative newcomers had access to the dream of filmmaking as has been provided by the lowly single lens reflex camera in it's most recent incarnation. This has spurned an overnight industry in accessories and a burning desire from many novices to understand what they need to go out and make their masterpieces. Of course they always want to know the same thing, "what's "best" and can I have it cheap, and can it be sexy too?"

    The least sexy thing and the single most important item I can recommend to them does not come cheap. That is a good, solid video tripod. No single item will accompany them longer and maintain it's value over time as this 3 legged friend. It will outlast your camera, your dog and probably your current partner if you live anywhere in the western world.

    A while back I had the opportunity to test the new CineDSLR fluid head from Sachtler. My intention was to do a review of it, this review in fact. What I found was that it was mechanically sound, and yet not quite there yet. What I realized was that even though it was destined for DSLR users, this new breed was still an unknown quantity. The actual needs of a DSLR user were unfamiliar, even to such a solid, virtually iconic manufacturer like Sachtler.

    In many ways Sachtler has become the defacto reference by which a lot of other manufacturers compare themselves. Yes, there is O'Connor, but then again that falls into the category (and pricepoint) of royalty these days. You only need to hear "it's as good as a Sachtler" three or four times before you begin to wonder "hmmm, maybe I should check out the reference, before I buy the copy?". What I have consistently found is solid mechanics, great engineering, super smooth movements and incredibly well damped fluid heads. No matter if it is entry level or the most heavy duty piece of visual artillery you will ever have the pleasure of using.

    So I was a bit surprised when I found initially that they hadn't quite nailed it. To my even greater surprise they not only listened in a very gracious manner, but actually stopped production, changed their design and brought to market a product which any reviewer anywhere can sincerely, wholeheartedly recommend. Show me many manufacturer's who are willing to do that in order to get it right!

    What I told them was, that as a DSLR user if there was one single thing we need and which we can't find anywhere, it is greater POLYVALENCE than a traditional video or film enduser. In English, Polyvalence is a term used in chemistry, meaning: "Acting against or interacting with more than one kind of antigen, antibody, toxin, or microorganism." In French, however the term has come to mean having more than one usage or skill, and doing it well. In this case we need to have a fluid head which can really do several things well.

    A LITTLE BACKGROUND

    Traditionally, video tripods come in specified weight ranges. 2-5 kg, 7-15 Kg, 1-4kg, etc. This is because the mass is concentrated around the main body of the camera, which is often a rectangular box with so many built in aspects to it that it's weight does not fluctuate greatly from one enduser to another. That is a boon to fluid head manufacturer's because getting the weight ranges right on a spring based counterbalancing fluid head is far easier if you only have to stay within a relatively limited weight range. It becomes merely a question of finding a set of springs with a particular resistance, that do not need to be compressed or extended too greatly. In the cramped interior of a tripod head, space is at a premium and keeping the weight down is a priority.

    By contrast, a friction based head needs merely to have two disks in a fluid medium and a sort of collar which closes around a column, similar to disk breaks in a car. However, friction based heads are generally very poorly damped and it is more difficult to get a controlled movement without micro stopping and starts or speed fluctuations. These heads are often called "continuously adjustable" (as if that was an asset) and aside from some very high end offerings, they are generally a poor substitute for true fluid based spring systems. If obtaining a good fluid movement has to depend too heavily on your hand and arm, the head is probably not doing it's job.

    Many DSLR users today are relative newcomers to video. They often go with what they know. Usually this means Manfrotto. But Manfrotto offers mostly friction based or at best hybrid solutions. Their new "Bridging" technology doesn't live up to it's promise. The partially friction based counterbalancing mechanism on the 504 is not adequate for what they need most - it's weight range is too high. The only bridging going on here is their marketing department bringing in new customers from another area of the industry.

    As I stated before what most DSLR user's most need are tripods with greater polyvalence at a reasonable price point, and also to try out a real fluid head to FEEL the difference. The first is a smart manufacturer's responsibility to respond to a changing the market, the second is the enduser's responsibility to his or her craft. Going cheap is going nowhere without being informed in a KINETIC way as to what the difference is.

    What do I mean by greater polyvalence for DSLR users? I mean that an enduser may go from a barebones DSLR body with only a tiny lens all the way up to a virtual Christmas tree of a rig, with various accessories adorned like so many technological ornaments on it's limbs in the SAME shooting. More than ever this is a completely different way of working than many traditional ENG or camcorder specialists are accustomed to. This can be complicated too by a much higher, off balanced center of gravity on some of these home-made beasts, which acts like added weight on a fluid head.

    How on earth then can a fluid based head accommodate such a contrasting weight range in this, the lightest part of the video/film industry universe? We know that it can be done easily from 35-70kg for instance, but going from virtually nothing (around 650 grams for example) all the way up to 9kg? That is particularly challenging for this part of the spectrum, because a strong spring (or several) is going too have too much resistance. This is why many heads don't start below 1-2kg - far above current DSLR's like a 60D or the Panasonic GH2 with a pancake lens.

    To be clear what we are talking about here is mostly the Tilt function of a head. Panning is less of an issue, but clearly better on a good fluid head. A user needs to be able to tilt the camera all the way downwards towards the ants at his feet or the opposite direction all the way up to the plane flying overhead and wherever he stops the head stops too. Immediately. Without bouncing back or drooping. This needs to happen in a controlled fluid way, without fighting the head, which is what typically happens with most friction based systems.

    The Sachtler CineDSLR does all this and not only does it exceed my expectations, but it even exceeds the listed specifications for the fluid head on many reseller's sites. Sachtler really got it right.

    As proof of this I have embedded a video showing the head in action with the two extremes, the barebones minimum for me and a silly, poorly configured, overweighted rig. (I used gym weights to arrive at the proper counterweight scenario 2.5Kg). In order to show that there is no friction involved I actually completely remove the friction knob for each test as well. In order to illustrate this scenario on the heavy side, I needed to approximate the usage of someone who might go from the shoulder directly to the tripod in the middle of a shoot. In actual working practice however, I probably never would place an H4N recorder above the camera, or have a monitor placed in such a lopsided manner on the front of the rig.

    The first thing I do in this video is re-center the column with the bubble on the head, dial out the counterbalancing completely, disengage the friction and then place the camera on the side-loading fluid head. I then adjust the camera and it's baseplate as best I can until it is suspended balanced horizontally without any help from the head itself. Once the center of gravity has been determined I lock it down and now I know that I will get a balanced movement both front and back when tilting. I then dial in resistance until I do not have any rebounding or sagging. In this case, I used the absolute minimum and maximum settings in order to determine the full weight range of the head.

    Check out the video, I think you will be surprised.



    What the video shows is that not only does it handle a simple 5DMII camera body and small lens (a vintage Olympus 24mm f2.8) without any difficulty at all, but it actually works efficiently all the way up to 9.7 Kg ! No rebounding or drooping. This is extraordinary because the listed weight range on many sites like B&H's for instance is 1- 5kg. To my knowledge there is not a single true fluid head out there in this price range or lower, that comes anywhere close to such versatility. The CineDSLR will fulfill almost any DSLR users needs and can definitely accommodate them even if they decide to move into a more traditional camcorder form factor, which falls exactly in the middle of this weight range. This is great for A/B cam scenarios where both kinds of cameras are in use, like the Panasonic AF100 and the GH2 with a small prime lens. In order to approximate the GH2's weight, I included a third shot of a 5DMII body only (no lens) on a smaller baseplate to give an idea of how well that performs too. No issues at all. Further, my experience of this head is that it can go even lighter by almost another 200 grams (to 0.65 kg) without rebounding. So, therefore 0.65 kg to 9.707 Kg. - incredible.

    SOME DETAILS AND OTHER TECHNICAL STUFF

    The Sachtler CineDSLR fluid head has a 75mm bowl, weighs 2 kg and has a tilt range of 75 - 90 degrees. It has the same shell as Sachtler's other FSB series heads and weighs somewhere between and FSB4 and FSB6.

    It has 3 different settings for quickly dialing in the preferred amount of resistance. One 0-3 step setting for panning horizontally on the base of the head and 2 other adjustment dials for vertical adjustments: A 0-3 step vertical damping setting directly on the head itself, and a small dial at it's base with 10 steps for refined counterbalancing. For the vertical settings in the above video I used the extreme ends of the spectrum, a 1+1 (the minimum settings) for the lightest setups and 3 + 10 for the heaviest.



    The head itself is for the most part solid machined metal, with only a few plastic elements, such as the knobs. It is mechanically superb and the sideloading plate is great because it offers great flexibility in range and snaps in easily. Sliding a rig into a head can be a risky venture because there is always the danger of not getting one of the sides in properly and being unable to see the slot because the baseplate is directly under your rig. This quick release system works and the baseplate safety catch does it job too.

    Sachtler furnishes a special plate with the head. This is longer than the traditional baseplate and can be very helpful when balancing with longer lenses or crazy rigs where the center of gravity extends beyond a classical plates length. This is also very helpful with extremely light cameras which need to be extended forward considerably to find the exact center of gravity in relationship to the head. Further this baseplate has a removeable anti-twist brace which helps to lock the camera in place, as there is no pin system located in front of the lock down screw hole, which we traditionally find on most camcorders.



    When using a shoulder rig like Redrock's, with it's high arching shoulder pad this long plate would normally come in very handy. However, the higher center of gravity from this particular shoulder mount means there will be a trade-off in terms of how much stuff you can load it up with and I also find that this plate unfortunately extends into the shoulder pad itself. Better to go with the smaller, more traditional baseplate and shoulderpad in this scenario. (That same rebranded baseplate is also available from Manfrotto.) As one classical scenario for DSLR users is being able to go quickly from shoulder mount to tripod, I definitely would recommend a flatter shoulder profile, more like the Zacuto pad which I show in my video. This also keeps the center of gravity of the rig as low and close to the fluid head as possible, thus maximizing the weight range.



    A FEW CAVEATS

    Ok. Some minor things.

    The long plate can be problematic with lenses which have abnormally wide diameter (thus the focus ring bumps the plate) or otherwise it can obtrude into the field of view of very wide angle lenses. Thus, in these situations I need to turn it around and use it in the opposite direction with the shorter end in front. However, their is no numbering on the other side of the plate, so the advantage of precise repeated placement for quick balancing is lost. Sachtler should number both sides and perhaps raise the height of the camera mounting position of the plate even higher. This would give clearance for certain large lenses and also provide a touch higher center of gravity (thus reinforcing mass) for superlight DSLR cameras like a barebones GH2 with pancake lens. They might want to consider offering the choice of a traditional plate as an alternative for those who don't want or need the DSLR plate for whatever reason too.

    In terms of balancing I would have preferred to see that the counterbalancing dial (with 10 steps) did not start at 1, but rather at 0. The reason for this is that when finding the exact center of balance of a rig, it is better to completely disengage all of the springs so that a true equilibrium can be established. At setting 1, there is a risk that even this small amount of resistance will hamper finding the exact balancing point and create to great a range where it could be "more or less" balanced. In the case of light weight setups, this is especially a possibility, but if you pay close attention you can usually find it anyhow. I spoke to Sachtler about this originally and they are aware of it, but the design changes would be too great to accommodate a completely disengaged "0" setting. The 0 setting on the other vertical adjustment does at least disengage completely the damping however.

    My other minor beefs are that the centering column feels a little like it is made of cheap plastic. This is strange considering the mechanical solidity of the head itself. I am certain this is not just an economic concession but also a way to reduce weight. However, compared to the solid rubberized metal column of many of the Manfrotto offerings for example, it could do with a tweak. Additionally it would be great if the centering bubble on the head itself could be illuminated. For night work and in many dark situations this would always be helpful. We find this on many modern, even inexpensive tripods today.



    As a side note, you can modify the head for an 'integrated flat base' on a set of video tripod legs or for a Mitchell base, but don't plan on using this on your slider anytime soon. Probably too heavy, and unlike a Manfrotto the half bowl fitting is solidly attached to the head itself underneath the pan settings dial, rather than screwed in separately to the centering column like on a Manfrotto. Thus, you are going to have to save the Sachtler merely for what it was intended for - great camera movements from a fixed position.

    With regards to "sticks" (tripod legs), the packages vary, but I am less of a fan of their classic 75's (mid or ground spreader). Too long for easy transportability and not very refined. They do the job and to be fair, they are really, really inexpensive (even cheaper than many other brands), but they are clearly entry level. I much prefer the Sachtler carbon fiber speed lock legs. Compact, light weight, efficient, strong and well conceived, I really hope that Sachtler offers a package deal with the CineDSLR in the future for many endusers. This configuration would sell quite well. Any novices willing to stretch and spring for the head, would definitely make that extra effort if they knew they could go for these carbon fiber sticks as well. Invest once, invest wisely.


    CONCLUSION

    The price.

    This is the next step up folks. After you have gotten that Manfrotto kit for $600-$700 and one day gone to the video store and discovered the difference of how a true fluid head feels, suddenly the price differential doesn't seem so great. For $600 more you can have a head with the quality of movements costing thousands of dollars more. That's right, if feels absolutely as good as a $7000-$10000 tripod. (Yes, people pay that much and even more for good heads). I have tried them and I can say that while it doesn't have 10 - 12 steps of damping on pans and tilt's like a Panther or an O'Connor, or the much heavier payload capacities of many of Sachtlers other offerings, on the level of truly effortless, fluid movement it is absolutely on par with it's more expensive siblings. Friction heads can't hold a candle to it.

    So for about half the cost of a 5D Mark II (about $1250 at B&H with entry level sticks), you can have a tripod that will last at least 3 generations beyond your camera. That really strikes me as worth it. I frankly think it could even eliminate the need of some of Sachtler's other offerings in the same FSB range.

    As so many people have asked me about tripods, let me emphasize this. I know of no other offering out there that comes even close to this level of quality or versatility, at anything close to this price range.

    This is as about as sexy as it comes folks. It could well become your most reliable partner if you let it. Even if you two should decide to get divorced and go your seperate ways one day, it will definitely hold it's value and that alone is a great reason to consider it as a wise investment.

    If you desire a well designed, smoothly performing piece of mechanical mastery, which is truly adapted to the multiplicity of a DSLR user's countless and varied needs today, this is it.

    Someone finally got it right.

    Bravo, Sachtler.

    Last edited by yoclay; 04-11-2011 at 06:10 PM.


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    Thanks for the review.

    i tested the Cine DSLR head and found it really interresting how it performed with different setups, not having used it with a 9kg+ rig though. In your video is a quite minor bounce to see at around 4:27, which leaves the question if its a setup issue or simply an overweight issue.

    I agree that it would be nice to have a Cine bundle with the CF speed lock tripod.

    Anyway, after getting a real good prize on a CineDSLR Head/ 75 CF speed lock tripod / ML-Spreader i decided to buy one. Getting it in 14 days and hope that it results in the end of searching for a tripod/head.


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    Nicely done!


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    Senior Member J Davis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by yoclay View Post
    Someone finally got it right.

    Bravo, Sachtler.
    yeh ... if i flip my cartoni + cf legs it will be for sachtler
    J.Davis
    jdMAX.com


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    Glad to hear your impression is so good. Would be great to have camera POV video of difficult pans and or tilt motion.

    BTW, BH has it listed with "Self-illuminating Touch Bubble". Maybe yours wasn't working?
    Last edited by Gweilo66; 05-11-2011 at 06:06 PM.


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    plate is waaay too big


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    Senior Member arroway's Avatar
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    By far the best, most comprehensive review I've seen of this tripod.

    Couple Q's though:

    Would you recommend the Sachtler CINE DSLR over a Sachtler FSB-6? (The price difference isn't all that much if you buy the latter one used).

    If I buy a CINE DSLR now, what are the chances they come out with Version 2 in the next 6-12 months? Does Sachtler even do this?

    Any recommendations on a rail system to be used in conjunction with the CINE DSLR?



    Thanks.


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