The Cartoni Focus 10 Fluid Video Head review follows on the heels of the Manfrotto 608 Nitrotech Fluid Video Head review. In that review, I shared a quest in progress. One of the easiest methods of improving video quality is to smooth the camera movements by using a fluid head, and researching the available options seemed worthy.
On this fluid head selection requirements list was the capability to support any camera gear in the kit, including lenses ranging from small and light up to 600mm f/4. In addition, continuous counterbalance was required. This feature facilitates directing the camera up or down, with the head maintaining the selected angle without pressure holding it there (no flopping over, no return to zero).
The fluid head required excellent performance and high quality, but affordability was also on the requirements list. At review time, video heads at B&H range in price from $39.95 to $36,280.50 for the Vinten Vector 750i (and the price for the ARRIHEAD 2 Production Tripod Head is not disclosed). Neither end of that range was going to work, and selecting a model with a great price-performance ratio, a strong value, was the goal.
Along with performance, a fluid head's size and weight tend to increase with the price. The best fluid head for general-purpose use required reasonable portability — a modest size and weight.
The referenced Manfrotto 608 was the first head selected for an in-depth review, and for the next review, we jump to a higher-end option — the Cartoni Focus 10 Fluid Video Head. While the Cartoni Focus 10 costs nearly twice as much as the Manfrotto 608 Nitrotech, that price is still quite affordable relative to the ultra-high-end options.
The Cartoni Focus 10 features a typical fluid video head designed over a 100mm bowl adapter and housed in a strong, designed for outdoor use, metal case fully containing the working mechanisms. There is a fluid resistance control knob and a drag/friction control knob for each movement, panning and tilt.
Starting this tour at the bottom, the plastic panning fluid resistance control wraps around the head just above the bowl adapter. This ring is very tight, and the knurled (raised bumps) on the plastic ring are a bit harsh and uncomfortable to use (a two-hand approach seems to work best).
The 900° panning fluid control rotation adjusts the resistance at a slow rate. The range of fluid resistance is adequate, though completely free panning is not provided.
The panning drag control (brake) lever locks the base down quickly, with about 90° of rotation between free and locked very tightly. While this plastic lever has modest play when opened, seems weak, and is small, especially relative to the overall size and build of the head, it works well.
The partially-tightened panning drag is smooth — seemingly good enough to suffice for fluid-controlled movement. The panning controls combine to provide a full range of panning resistance, from relatively free to firm to fully locked.
The mid-sized, plastic tilt fluid resistance control (on the left side) is firm but smooth, and 450° of rotation provides a nice adjustment rate. The range of fluid resistance is good, though completely free tilting is not available.
A mirror reverse version of the panning drag knob provides tilt drag (brake) functionality. Again, this lever locks quickly, with about 90° of rotation between free and locked very tightly.
The partially-tightened tilt drag is smooth, and combined with the fluid pressure, very smooth tilt movements are provided.
The plastic balance control is located on the rear of the head. Just over 16 complete rotations of counterbalance adjustment allow precise, non-fiddly adjustment — and a tired wrist if swapping drastically different sized lenses.
This feature removes the gravity factor from tilting, permitting the up- or down-angled camera and lens to remain stationary.
On the back of the head are a pair of 1.183" (30mm) rosette mounts (not compatible with Manfrotto's Easy Link system). Use these to attach the included telescoping panning bar and other accessories such as a monitor and articulating arm. The rosettes have centered 1/4" ports.
On the back, just above the head's base, is a spirit level featuring a helpful bubble light, enabling setup in complete darkness without the aid of a flashlight. Note that the head's housing blocks the ideal directly downward view of this level, but tilting the head forward aids in this regard.
As usual, the mounting system is on top. A long, wide Cartoni Quick Release Mounting Plate (not compatible with the Manfrotto video head quick release system) is included, and having additional plates for each camera is convenient. The plate top-loads into the clamp, with the clamp snapping closed and permitting fore and aft balance adjustment prior to being fully locked with the three-position lever.
This plate lacks indexing to aid in quick balance adjustment.
Cameras and lenses attach to the plate via flat-slotted camera mounting screws, with one 1/4"-20 and one 3/8"-16 screw provided along with a locating pin. The screws require a wide-bladed screwdriver — consider getting a Vello COOLTOOL Camera Plate Combo Tool or ProMediaGear Multi-Tool for each bag. Remember that multiple screw attachments prevent twisting.
Overall, I like how this quick-permitting release system functions, and it is strong. As my kit is based on the Arca standard, I mounted a Really Right Stuff PC-LR Round Panning Clamp to the Cartoni plate, enabling quick 90-degree rotation from camera body to tripod mount ring-equipped lens orientation.
Here are some specifications for the Focus 8 and Focus 10 video heads:
|Focus 8||Focus 10|
|Camera Plate||Sliding||Top-Load Sliding|
|Base Mount||75 mm Half Ball||100 mm Half Ball|
|Vertical Tilt||+/- 90°||+/- 90°|
|Load Capacity||0 to 18 lb (8.16 kg)||0 to 24 lb (0 to 10.89 kg)|
|Counter Balance||Continuous (clicked)||Continuous (smooth)|
|Operating Temperature||-40 to 140°F (-40 to 60°C)||-40 to 140°F (-40 to 60°C)|
|Height Above Bowl||5.25" (13.3 cm)||5.675" (14.4 cm)|
|Width x Depth||5.125 x 3.81" (130.18 x 96.77cm)||5.375 x 4.50" (113.65 x 11.43 cm)|
|Weight||4.0 lb / 1.81 kg)||4.41 lb / 2 kg)|
|Measured w/o plate||4.35 lb (1.97 kg)||6.2 lb (2.81 kg)|
In addition to the Focus 10, Cartoni offers a range of Focus Fluid Head models ranging from the Focus 8 (75mm bowl, 18 lb/8 kg capacity) to the Focus 22 (150mm bowl, 49 lb/22 kg capacity).
In contrast to the skeletal Manfrotto 608 design, the Cartoni Focus heads are aesthetically subdued.
Aside from the plastic drag levers, this otherwise metal head appears ruggedly constructed, well-sealed, and ready to take on the rigors of daily professional use.
As usual for video heads, the Cartoni Focus 10 Fluid Video Head is a 2-way model, with pan and tilt solely featured.
Seldom is a horizontally non-level camera desired for video, and usually, tilted movie footage appears as an unprofessional mistake. Even a floor may not be perfectly level, which means that equally extended tripod legs may not result in a level tripod apex. Setting the legs to less than their full extension, moving outdoors, or encountering any of the myriad of other reasons for non-levelness challenges tripod setup.
If locking the camera and lens into a fixed position, a simple ball head will permit fast leveling and handle the support job with ease. However, those looking for a fluid head intend to move the camera while recording.
With no roll adjustment available on the head, the tripod becomes responsible for levelness. To make this task easy, select a leveling platform. Leveling platforms sit in a bowl that permits rotation of the base assembly in all directions. Loosen the leveling platform assembly, adjust the platform until level, and tighten the assembly with the large locking knob below. The tripod is then ready for the 2-way head to take over.
This video head mounts directly in a 100mm bowl. However, those heads are not suitable for certain uses. For those alternate uses, this head's bottom threaded shaft is removable. The base can then be attached to other platforms, though the mounting diameter is considerably smaller.
The Cartoni Focus 10 Fluid Video Head requires minor setup when a different camera and lens weight is mounted. Fortunately, the setup is easy.
Ensure the camera is supported in hand, and loosen the tilt drag lever until there is no resistance. Next, slide the mounting plate forward or backward until the rig is balanced, and lock the plate into the selected position.
Then, adjust the counterbalance until matched to the weight of the lens. When properly adjusted, the lens can be tilted front or back without gravity affecting the position upon release of the gear or pan handle. This setup is easy — and not fiddly.
Adjust the four fluid and drag controls as desired to finalize the setup.
Especially impressive is how smooth this head's pan and tilt movements are. After spending a couple of hours switching between the Manfrotto 608 and the Focus 10 with a 600mm f/4 and other lenses mounted, I found it hard to describe why I preferred the Cartoni. Simply put, the Cartoni provided smoother movements, especially when starting and stopping the motion. What you get for a higher price is a superior fluid system. There is a noticeable difference, which will show in the video results.
Skill is still required to create the perfect pan and tilt moves, but this head makes acquiring them, even with a large lens and long focal length, quite easy.
As noted in the beginning of this review, the Cartoni Focus 10 Fluid Video Head is a high-grade model, yet still affordable. However, with a price tag far below the ultimate heads, the Focus 10 is not intended to be the ultimate video head. So, what are this head's drawbacks?
A very slight pushback/backlash is seen when releasing the panning handle after a panning movement with a 600mm lens mounted. At fault, at least somewhat, is a slight flex in the system. As solidly built as this head is, and despite the large 100mm bowl mount, the internal mount diameter is not nearly so broad, and slight flex can be seen between the bowl and the panning fluid control.
Note that the long pan handle places significant torque on all such heads, requiring strong attachment to a solid support, especially when using tight controls. Any rotational flex in the tripod will produce kickback when releasing the pan handle.
Also, note that this head will replace the utility of a gimbal head.
Alternatives to consider include the similarly-featured, lighter-duty, lower-priced Cartoni Focus 8 Fluid Video Head.
The Manfrotto 608 Nitrotech Fluid Video Head is a considerably lower-price option. This skeletal head is a good performer and a great value.
The Miller CX2 Fluid Head (75mm bowl) offers a 16-step counterbalance and a slightly higher price.
The Cartoni Focus 10 Fluid Video Head features a limited 3-year warranty, extendable to 5 years with online registration (in the USA).
The reviewed Cartoni Focus 10 Fluid Video Head was purchased online/retail along with Cartoni L507 Carbon Fiber 2-Stage Tripod Legs. This combination is available in a significantly discounted kit.
The Cartoni Focus 10 is a strong, high-performing fluid head ready to deliver professional-grade with-motion video. Of course, you pay a little more for this head, but in the fluid tripod head world, you often get what you paid for. That is the case here.
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