When I started testing lenses for ePHOTOzine, the tripod I had was not quite up to the job. It was not immediately obvious, but with larger lenses and a variety of cameras to mount, there was a tiny degree of movement that resulted in varying results. Both cable release and self timer shots were giving problems.
Holding a camera still for a single shot is relatively easy, the problem I had was to keep the whole rig in exactly the same place for a series of up to and over 40 frames! (see how we test lenses here)
Discussing the variations with a number of colleagues, friends and fellow ePHOTOzine members, one of them said “try this for a week” and loaned me a Manfrotto 055 along with a 468RC2 Pro-ball head.
The problem was cured instantly and I happily ploughed along, testing lens after lens without the slightest sign of further problems, until one day, disaster struck! The week had stretched into about two and a half months and my friend needed the beast back, and I needed a replacement!
A call to Manfrotto’s technical department, resulted in me finding out that the pro-ball head I had found so reliable and easy to use was no longer manufactured. The head had been upgraded to the new Hydrostat range. I was recommended to try the 468MG RC4 mounted on the latest incarnation of the ever-popular 055PRO-B tripod.
- Max load 6.0 kg (13.3 lbs)
- Max height 135 cm (53.2 inches)
- Max height w/Column 176 cm (69.3 inches)
- Min height 11 cm (4.4 inches)
- Closed length 65 cm (25.6 inches)
- Weight 2.4 kg (5.3 lbs)
They duly arrived and were assembled. Fitting the head onto the tripod takes just a few minutes and requires a simple screwdriver to tighten the locking screw onto the centre column stub. The centre column comes assembled, but is in two parts, requiring unscrewing from the bottom to release the 50mm stub from the remainder of the column. This enables the column to be removed from the leg section and, when required, mounted horizontally on the legs. The bottom of the centre column sports a strap loop to take one end of a carrying strap (not supplied). The other end of the strap mounts on the leg section. A single butterfly knob at the top of the leg section clamps the centre column.
The legs, in tubular steel with a black finish, are in three sections and each has a positive clamp to hold them in place. The legs have a ratchet mechanism at the top, allowing four spread angles to be achieved on an individual leg basis, so it would be hard to find terrain that this tripod would not stand in. A bubble is fitted to establish plumb.
The new head was the interesting part, having a completely new friction mechanism which, having played with it now for a few lenses of varying size and weight, works wonderfully well. The large main control knob has a smaller, click-stopped adjuster knob in its centre.
With the ball loose and supporting the camera, you adjust this until a smooth movement can be achieved with the camera, but torqued enough for the camera not to be able to flop about. A quarter of a turn with the outer knob then renders the whole rig rigid.
A second, lever type knob opposite the ball control knob, enables the whole head to rotate 360º and the travel on this between locked and loose is less than a quarter turn.
I have found that neither of the knobs need to be turned hard, or with any undue force to lock the equipment in place, and once locked it stays put until you need to adjust it for the next picture. (Or not, as in my case!)
The Hydrostat ball head comes in a six strong range of configurations, differentiated purely by the mounting plate fitted. The head is denoted by the 468MG followed by the mount plate, which in my case is the RC4, taking the 410 PL-14 mount plate. The 200 PL-14 quick-release mounting plate, which fits on the RC2, version is not interchangeable.
The whole set-up has now completed a number of tests as well as being dragged around harbours and nature reserves, been set up in town centres and churchyards and not yet lost that new sheen, so the coating is durable, to say the least.
The Manfotto 055 and 468MG RC4 combination has had cameras from a basic Canon EOS300D and standard lens through to a Sigma SD10 with a 500mm prime mounted on it and has performed admirably in every case. The heads vary in their maximum load capacity, going from 10-16kg but the limiting factor is the capacity of the tripod, in this case 6kg with the legs fully extended. Virtually all 35mm and digital outfits come inside this capacity, although with longer lensed medium format systems, a slightly stronger tripod may be needed. The head however, will manage both without complaint.
With one of these in your kit, you can be assured that camera shake will be a thing of the past!
Check out the price of Manfrotto tripods and heads here.
Test by Ian Andrews