Thursday, April 19, 2018

Long term review of Manfrotto 701RC2 fluid video tripod head

I bought my 701RC2 on 8th Feb 2006 for £83.94. A quick web search shows that, whilst it is no longer listed on the Manfrotto web site and is, therefore, presumably no longer in production, there are still sites offering it for sale new (and at prices less that I paid for it 12 years ago).
Manfrotto 701RC2
I have used it both for my birdwatching telescope and for photography continuously and it does the job well. The movement is smooth, it locks into place easily and tightening the pan and tilt screws do not alter the 'scopes position appreciably. It is rated for 4kg, so it has no problem with either my 'scope or camera with a long lens.

One of the features I like is the built in spirit level. Whilst it has obvious benefits for photography, I also find it quite useful when birdwatching. If I am sea watching or at somewhere like a large reservoir, I like to level up the tripod so that I can pan the 'scope round in a wide arc without having to constantly readjust the tilt. Having a spirit level built into the base of the tripod head is therefore, very handy.

Spirit level
Another feature which I have more mixed feelings about is the sliding top plate. This allows the quick release plate to be moved backwards and forwards by +/- 20 mm. You loosen off a screw and the whole plate slides backwards and forwards.

Scale for the sliding quick release plate.
In theory, this is a nice idea. It allows you to balance the head nicely for different gear so that the tilt mechanism stays where you put it without having to tighten it up hard. In practice, it is not so good. Firstly, the travel is not sufficient to properly balance the gear I normally use. My telescope (Kowa 823) tends to be a bit back heavy - so it will tend to tip backwards unless the tilt screw is well tightened. So, I slide the plate all the way forwards - which is nearly enough to balance it but not quite! In contrast, my Canon 80D with the 100-400mm lens at full zoom is decidedly front heavy and the plate won't slide back nearly far enough to counter this. Secondly, it is impossible to tighten up the locking mechanism on the sliding plate sufficiently to stop it sliding. Tighten it up as much as you can and it will still moves relatively easily. The reason is easy to see: the tightening mechanism consists of a little rectangular plate which is pressed against the side rail of the sliding plate by tightening the screw. But the area of contact is only 20mm long and it is metal on metal, so not much friction.

Tightening mechanism: top - the screw removed, bottom - the plate and screw.

This can get quite annoying since, I have it set up as best I can for whatever gear I am using, but as soon as you carry it about for a bit, the plate slides to one end or the other and isn't in the right place for the next time you stop.

It has been a fairly robust piece of kit and is still in good, functioning condition after 12 years, if with a bit of chipped paint here and there. Spares are available from the Manfrotto spares web site and I have had to avail myself on a couple of occasions. I managed to lose the long handle on my way back from one trip abroad (it was disassembled for carriage) and I managed to break the head off the pan tightening screw on another occasion. In both cases I got the necessary parts with no problem, but they are rather pricey!

All in all, it has been a very good tripod head and I continue to use it. The one thing I would change is the sliding quick release mount. It needs the locking mechanism modifying so that it locks in place positively and, ideally, needs a bit more travel.