Video tripods are the best type of tripods to use for shooting landscapes
During my recent visit to the USA, I decided to forego the lightweight travel tripods and go with something a little more substantial. Something that could stand up to all day use at NAB 2019 as well as trekking around the Arizona landscape.
I also needed something that would work for video. So, my tripod for this particular adventure was the Manfrotto 190X Video tripod & 500 fluid head. The ideal setup for shooting video at NAB, but some might think it a little unusual for landscape photography. For me, though, and I mentioned this briefly in a vlog I made during the trip, video tripods make the best landscape tripods. I want to tell you why.
Let’s get the specs out of the way first…
- Weight: 3.2kg
- Material: Aluminium
- Safe max payload: 5kg
- Min height: 50.3cm
- Max height: 173.3cm
- Max height (centre column down): 149.3cm
- Folded length: 72.2cm
- Leg sections: 3
- Leg angles: 25°,46°,66°,88°
- Leg locks: Flip Lock
- Tilt: -70° to +90°
- Horizontal rotation: 360°
- Head: 500 fluid video
- Plate: 500PLONG
So, yes it’s an aluminium tripod, which might seem a little heavy for you if you’re used to lightweight carbon ones. But that little extra weight is often beneficial for landscapes, and definitely for video. It helps to prevent little bumps that can often happen as the result of wind and gives you a solid base for panning and tilting the camera while shooting video. As I mentioned above, I wanted something a little more substantial.
The other reason I decided to take a tripod other than the Element Carbon and Befree Live combo with me was that they both have twist lock legs. While twist locks can be great in locations like deserts, allowing you to easily dismantle the legs for cleaning and getting all the dust out, I do find them a little slower to work with than the flip lock levers. The Befree Live is now available with flip locks, but mine is twist.
It’s not really a secret that I prefer flip lock levers on a tripod, but at a show like NAB where we’re rushing from one stand to the next to record another interview, the speed and convenience of flip lock levers becomes pretty much essential. Shooting landscapes, where you can usually take your time, they’re not quite so important, but I wasn’t sure how much time I’d have on each of my adventures into the desert, either.
The Manfrotto 190 series of tripods have been incredibly popular amongst photographers for years. I actually have one with the “Bogen” brand name stamped on it (that’s who Manfrotto used to sell as in the USA) from about 15 years ago and it’s still as good today as it was when I bought it. The product line has remained largely unchanged over the years. It’s always had a pretty excellent build quality, but it’s seen tweaks that just make it a little easier to use with each new generation. A refinement of a lever here, a doohicky there and so on. It has proven its worth to me countless times over.
But what makes this particular 190X a video tripod? And how does that make it better for landscapes than a traditional tripod with a standard 3-way or ball head?
Well, let’s tackle the first question first. That might make the answer to the second question self-explanatory.
The big difference between the 190X Video and other Manfrotto 190X tripods is the centre column. Most are just a straight shaft with a flat fixed surface on top and a 3/8-16″ screw thread for popping your ball head or whatever on top – like the one on my old Bogen 190.
The centre column on the 190X Video, however, has a sort of mini half-bowl at the top, and then your head (in this case, the 500 fluid video head) goes on top of that. This allows you to level the base of your tripod head independently of the top of your head. And, as you can see, it has a bubble in it so that you can make sure the base is exactly level.
When you look at the two tripods side-by-side, you the difference isn’t immediately noticeable. But what about when we start to pan with the head? Take a look at what happens when we pan the head on top of the 190X Video (left) vs a ball head on the standard photography tripod (right).
Notice how the ball head on the regular 190 is no longer parallel to the ground after we pan it? The horizon goes way off. This is because the whole head is rotating around a base that’s sitting at an angle and not parallel to the ground.
Notice how the clip on the left, shot on the 190X video stays level, though? This is because we’re able to level the whole base that the head is sitting on. So, it’s rotating about that base that’s parallel to the ground. And it will always be parallel to the ground, no matter how you rotate it about that axis because it never moves.
So, this is why I find video tripods invaluable for landscape photography as well as video. Even though I’ve owned that Bogen 190 for about 15 years, and while it’s an excellent tripod, I’ve still often found myself taking out a video tripod whenever I go shooting landscapes for this reason.
The 190X Video tripod stands up to its photography-oriented 190 siblings very well. Other than mounting the camera vertically on the tripod, which is something I rarely need to do myself, the 190X Video gives me everything the regular 190 tripods have and does the job just as well. Even mounting the camera vertically, though, isn’t really a massive problem. Many longer lenses have tripod collars. You can simply mount these to the tripod and then rotate the whole lens, along with the camera, to go vertical.
If you don’t have a lens with a tripod collar, L brackets are available for just about every camera out there to make it easy for you to switch between horizontal and vertical orientation. Here you can see how I used an L bracket on the Manfrotto Element Carbon to help balance things a little better when shooting vertically. The only difference with the 500 fluid head is that you’d mount it onto the 500PLONG plate, as the 500 fluid head isn’t Arca Swiss compatible.
If you really want to, you can still always take the 500 fluid head off, and go with a regular photography ball head or something, too, if you want that Arca Swiss compatible plate, or just prefer using a different type of head. And you’d still have the advantage of the bowl-type top on the centre column for when you want to pan.
For me, the only time I usually mount a camera vertically on a tripod is when I’m shooting stitched panoramics. I typically use a long lens for something like this, so a tripod almost becomes essential. You can do it handheld, of course, but a tripod definitely makes it way easier.
It results in nice, well lined up images that are all shot on the same horizontal plane and stitch together nicely.
Naturally, The Manfrotto 190X Video works well as a camera for video, too. After all, that’s its primary design intention.
As mentioned up near the top, the other function for this camera was to be able to interview people and document NAB 2019 on video. A standard photography tripod really just can’t keep up for something like this. Sure, you can use a photography tripod for video, but when you’ve only got a few minutes to wrap up an interview and then get to the other end of the hall (or go to a completely different hall) to set up for the next one, the speed and efficiency of an actual video tripod is vital.
Throughout the whole show, the Manfrotto 190X Video and 500 fluid head handled great. It was very quick and easy to set up and adjust. Making sure that the head was level (even when the ground sometimes wasn’t) was a breeze. In between interviews, it was just a case of pulling the cage rig off the top, shortening the legs, folding it up, and stowing it neatly into the straps on the side of the Lowepro PhotoStream SP200 roller case, ready to go again at a moment’s notice.
Video tripods might seem like something of a compromise vs taking two separate tripods for the two different jobs, and there are definitely many tasks for which a tripod designed specifically for photography is beneficial. But, for me, over the last decade or so, I’ve found that a video tripod stands up to 99% of what I need a tripod to do for my own photography, particularly when it comes to photographing landscapes.
I’ve been trying to think of cons to this tripod, and honestly, it’s tough. Perhaps it’s a little on the heavy side? But then, while the weight might be a bit more of a pain to carry for a whole day than a lightweight carbon tripod, that extra weight can also be beneficial for video and landscape photography where it increases stability, especially on long exposures. And, really, it’s not that heavy.
Overall, the Manfrotto 190X Video tripod and 500 fluid head was the perfect choice for this trip. It was wonderful to work with at the show and it was also quick and easy to use when we just wanted to stop off on the side of the road to grab some shots of the environment. If you’re using multiple cameras as I was, it helps to have one or two extra 500PLONG or 501PL plates handy for those other cameras so you can swap between them easily.
The Manfrotto 190X Video tripod and 500 fluid head kit is available to buy now for $349.99.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.