With an estimated price of £95.00 (£78.99 street price), this tripod head falls between the very popular 128RC head and the heavy but desirable 501 Pro head. The 701 tripod head is clearly styled in a similar fashion to the lightweight 700RC2 head and doesn't have the lopsided look of the 128RC. This head should appeal to photographers of all kinds, even those using fairly long lenses with heavier digital slr cameras such as Canon 20D or Nikon D70.
The new 701 tripod head looks to be ideal for the birder - digiscoper for a number of reasons.
1: Sliding top plate to allow perfect balance of your digital camera and scope (a feature from the heavy and more expensive 501 Pro).
2: Improved drag control vs the 128RC
3: Built-in balance spring to help support the camera and scope
4: Lower profile and lower weight than the 128RC head.
Many birders love the Manfrotto 128RC head for good reason, it's a reliable fluid type tripod head that is great value. Unfortunately with a number of larger scopes it does tend to tilt backwards when a camera (especially a larger digital camera) is attached to the scope eyepiece, no matter how hard you tighten the tilt control. The logical step is to purchase the 501 Pro head, this offers a sliding top plate to alter the balance of the set-up as well as improved drag control of pan and tilt. All this comes at a price, both financially and in terms of weight (1.5kg vs 1kg of the 128RC).
With the new Manfrotto 701RC you can many of the benefits of the 501 Pro at a weight of just 0.8kg (less than that of the 128RC), and obviously less cost.
You may also notice from the images shown, the 701 head also features a built-in spirit level, another feature from the 501 Pro head. Of little practical use to the birder-digiscoper but a handy addition if put your camera to use on other subjects such as landscape photography.
The quick release plate doesn't have a positive lock but it's more than secure when firmly pushed home. In my testing, standard plates from the 128RC will fit this head without a problem.
The sliding top plate can shift the centre of balance up to 20mm forwards or 20mm backwards. This may not seem a great distance but is enough to make a substantial difference to the balance of your set-up and make life far easier in tracking a moving subject.
The Levers for the sliding plate and the pan control can be repositioned without effecting their current lock tightness, you can simply pull them out and rotate them so they do not get in the way .
At no stage did I feel this head was struggling, even with my full dslr+500mm f4.5 +1.4x tc lens combination, this head never gave the impression that it would let any end of the equation droop down, even at some very extreme angles. Head bounce was minimal.
Although the max load of the 701 is the same 4kg as the 128RC, the 701 felt far smoother and assured in use, this may be down to the balance spring taking up to 1.2kg. With a typical digiscoping load, the head doesn't even seem to realise it's got a load on it. Once the pan & tilt controls are set, there shouldn't be reason to adjust them again, you can just concentrate on following the subject without any worry.
At first I was a little concerned that left handers would be at a slight disadvantage using the 701, but reversing the pan/tilt handle only mean't the spirit level was out of sight , all other controls were still within easy reach.
This is a gimbal type head that works on the principal of balance assisted by nylon friction washers. Similar designs exist from specialised manufacturers, often with specialised price tags! However, this head is far cheaper than the ubiquitous Wimberley and, from my own initial tests as well as reports from other bird photographers, it can genuinely compete. If the Kirk heads are regarded as a 'poor man's Wimberley', then I don't know what the 393 will be nicknamed!
The build quality of this head is very impressive, the frame seems to be steel and not lightweight alloy. Those using this head with monstrous Sigma 800mm and the even larger 300-800mm lenses seem very confident about it's strength and the safety of their lenses.
The 393 attaches to the top of your tripod via the 3/8 inch threaded bolt, or your 1/4 inch in conjunction with a 3/8 adaptor. The 393 is tightened onto the tripod base plate by the large (and easy to grip) knurled rubber knob. The main frame of the 393 will turn freely on your tripod head and the drag is factory set (seemed fine) but can be adjusted by the user if necessary.
A quick release plate ( model # 3272 ) is supplied, and this is attached to the tripod mount socket of your lens or scope... it is supplied with 2 3/8 inch bolts and 2 1/4 inch bolts as well as a video securing pin. This quick release plate and it's corresponding plate on the head itself, is a sliding design to allow you to set up your equipment for optimum balance.
You can mount your equipment on to the 393 in two ways, either using the 393 as a cradle to support your equipment or, as can be seen in the photos, have your equipment supported from above. I know it looks rather perilous, but it's as safe as houses. I will try both methods over time and ascertain which suits my stlye of shooting better. The twin knobs either side of the cradle can be tensiones to suit your equipment or general preferrence.
In use, panning and tilting is super smooth and preferrable to my 501pro fluid head, with one hand on your camera's grip you can manouver to any position.
No matter what angle I shoot at, the equipment stays rock solid when you take your hands off the camera
Specifications for the Manfrotto - Bogen 701RC2 Video Head
Maximum Load Capacity 9 lbs
Head Height 4 inches
Pan Drag Fixed
Independent Pan Lock
Tilt Drag Fixed
Independent Tilt Lock
QR Plate Supplied
Supplied with 1/4" camera screw
Weight 1.85 lbs
The 501 Pro Fluid Video Tripod Head
This is probably the best tripod head for digiscoping, the price may sound steep but it provides a level of control close to those of professional video heads costing far more. The sliding quick release plate give a good amount of movement to get your set-up perfectly balanced. The load this video head can take is a hefty 13.3lb, so it can withstand substantial lenses placed upon it.
Weighing in at 3.4lb, this is quite a weight. What sets this video head apart from other more lowly heads is the control you have in setting the friction for pan & tilt to suit your own equipment. It's really hard to fault this head and I would thoroughly recommend it for digiscopers and conventional photographers with lenses up to 500mm f4.5. With the really big lenses you will be better off with a gimbal type head.
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Specifications for the Manfrotto - Bogen 501 Pro Video Head