And now for my least favorite topic: Fluid heads and quick release (QR) plates.
There are two types of fluid heads that I use (and please forgive me for not using the technical terms – I don’t know them!) – a half ball mount and a regular threaded mount. The half ball mount has a post that extends through the bottom of the tripod and allows for “joystick” leveling and adjusting of the head. The regular threaded mount is flat on the bottom and all of the leveling and head adjustments come from the tripod leg length and actual head. The photo to the right (Manfrotto 504HD Fluid Video Head) is an example of the half ball mount. If you look closely (click the image to view larger) you’ll see the post extending below the head.
A quick release plate is how you attach your camera to the head. There are several different types, sizes and mounts of quick release plates and it’s definitely worth your while to spend a little extra to get compatible plates. I’ll talk about this in more detail below.
While tons of quick release plates are not strictly necessary you’ll find that they save you a lot of time and irritation in the field. I have enough QR plates that I can keep them screwed into all of my gear, all of the time, plus about four extra (more on that below). If you’re on a budget skimp here but know that you’ll need to keep a screwdriver in your kit (which you should anyway, along with a set of hex key/allen wrenches) and you’ll be spending some time swapping out plates while on your shoot.