Engineering Service, Inc.
Grip gear is one of the last bastions of real engineering. Tripods and fluid heads are things that can’t easily be computerised. They’re also the products of a very mature industry, which means that genuinely new ideas are rare. We review the Sachtler Aktiv8 tripod head, a system that promises to make your setups quicker and easier than ever.
As a result, the differences between tripods and heads have been worked down to the real subtleties, creating a market that competes very heavily on clever new feature ideas. Sachtler’s Aktiv8 fluid head is one of the more recent contenders to enter that arena and at the most basic level, it’s a fluid head that fits on a 75mm ball mount with variable drag and adjustable counterbalance. In 2021, none of these things is unusual, but there’s one particular thing that makes the Aktiv8 design interesting.
Sachtler Activ8 main features
The review example was supplied with the Flowtech 75 tripod, which we liked very much back in 2018. This is fundamentally a Vitec design that’s sold in both the Vinten and Sachtler colourschemes, and it is quick and easy to use; if we wanted to search for a problem it’d only be that the spreader is a bit old-school on the smaller versions. Otherwise, Flowtech is an absolute pleasure, with the big paddle latches making height changes about as quick and easy as they could imaginably be, and much faster than on a more conventional double-extension layout.
The first of the clever features we meet, immediately after mounting the head on the legs, is a feature the company calls SpeedLevel. It’s a locking mechanism for the 75mm levelling ball that relies on a big flat toggle lever on the back of the head. No more fumbling around underneath, getting your fingers trapped in the leg hinges; simply push the lever upward, level, then push down to lock. It’s faster than doing it the old way – mere seconds faster, perhaps, but certainly faster, and anyone who’s operating under the baleful glare of a carefully made-up senior correspondent whose coiffure is slowly being ruined by the weather will appreciate those seconds.
Using this system, the head can also be quick-released from the bowl simply by pushing the toggle all the way up. This helps if we’re switching the head from tripod to slider, say. The head will fit any 75mm ball – there’s also a 100mm version – that has the company’s proprietary receiver pin in the bottom of it. The pin itself attaches much like any ball mounted device, with a threaded coupler underneath, and you can buy another one for quick moves between any 75mm ball mount.
The head offers us fifteen stages of counterbalance and seven of drag in both pan and tilt. Perhaps unusually, zero counterbalance actually means zero, and in the pan axis zero drag also seems to mean zero. The lowest drag setting on the tilt axis still leaves a very small amount of drag, but otherwise it’s possible to achieve an almost completely slack head if there’s ever a reason to do that.
Some people would point out that competing options may have continuously-variable counterbalance, but fifteen stages seems like enough granularity. There’s no unpleasant snatching when the drag is adjusted on-shot and the pan and tilt locks grab firmly without requiring excessive tightening to be effective. About the only issue is that the tilt lock can prevent a right-mounted pan bar from being put in an instinctively normal position; the locks are not ratcheting and as a result the bar is best underslung.
There’s illumination for both the levelling bubble and counterbalance setting in various combinations, and a neatly-designed 45-degree mirror in the bottom of the bubble level so that it can be viewed without standing on a box to view from above when the tripod is set high.
In the end it’s not completely new; there have been attempts at quick-adjust ball mounts before, but nothing built quite like this, or this effective. Mature as it is, the fluid head market is often defined by small innovations which afford us small conveniences. In that context, Sachtler’s new ideas represent a bigger innovation than we often see, much as Flowtech did, and anyone looking at getting into a lightweight ENG rig will certainly want to look at the setup we see here.
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