7 ways video tripods are different to regular ones, and why it matters

Canon EOS R5 on video tripod
(Image credit: Canon)

Many of us now shoot a mixture of content, both stills and video, so what’s wrong with a regular tripod and why do you need a so-called ‘video tripod’.

Well, maybe you don’t. If all you’re going to film is static shots from a fixed position with no camera movements, and you’re using a DSLR or a mirrorless camera with no bolt-on accessories or a rig, a regular photo tripod and ball head will almost certainly be fine.

But you’re not likely to be satisfied with that for long. Soon you’ll want to carry out smooth pans and tilts, or work with setups and rigs that quickly make a regular tripod unstable during adjustment, and that’s the time to get a video tripod.

So here are 7 key differences between a video tripod and a regular tripod. Oh, and here’s a thing – a video tripod can also be rather good for stills photography, especially panning shots… so you’re certainly not throwing away your money.

Do you need double-shaft legs? Probably only with really big, heavy gear like a fully kitted out cinema camera. (Image credit: Manfrotto)

1. Double-shaft legs

A lot of video tripods have fancy-looking double-shaft legs with more complex leg locks. These designs can take a lot of weight, control vibration well and are very stable. And you probably don’t need them. Well, you might if you’re shooting with a fully-loaded cinema camera on a film set, but not if you’re working with a DSLR or a mirrorless camera, even if you do have a light and a mic and monitor attached.

A levelling base or half bowl is practically a must-have for panning movements – and you can use it for panning stills or pano shots too! (Image credit: 3 Legged Thing)

2. Levelling base or half bowl

Smooth, controlled camera movements are key to the quality and stability of video footage, and if you are going to do any horizontal pans, the tripod base MUST be level. Video tripods typically come with a levelling base, which is like a bowl that fits into a cup, and can be locked in position. This is way better and faster than trying to adjust your tripod leg extensions. Some video tripods have a levelling base built in, like the 3 Legged Thing Jay. Others take ‘half bowl’ accessories, like the 3 Legged thing Nicky. A half-bowl drops into the tripod base and can be tilted and locked in position. 

3. Pan/tilt video head

For video, you need to be able to lock the pan axis or the tilt axis and move the other independently. You don’t need the extra camera rotation axis on a regular three-way head because you always shoot video horizontally – well, maybe not always these days, but you can always get an L-bracket for vertical video.

4. Longer camera plate

For smooth tilt movements it’s important to get the camera balanced fore-and-aft, and for this you need a much longer camera plate than normal, so that you can mount it further forward when you’re shooting with a longer, heavier lens, and you’ll also need the extra length when fixing the plate to the tripod head, sliding it forward and backward until the camera balances.

Manfrotto Nitrotech 608

You need a two way fluid head for video and, ideally, with adjustable drag and counterbalance controls too. (Image credit: Manfrotto)

5. Fluid head

Regular three way tripod heads use bearings and friction to control the force needed to turn them, but this can cause sticky, jerky movements. Video heads use fluid capsules to smooth out the camera movement when panning or tilting.

6. Adjustable drag

The ‘drag’ on a fluid head is like the friction setting on a regular head – it controls the amount of force needed to move the camera. Some people like a lot of drag, some like a little – and it will depend on the weight and inertia of your camera setup too. Adjustable drag is good to have, but cheaper video heads might not have it and you could probably live without it.

7. Counterbalance control

Even when you’ve got your camera balanced fore and aft, if you tilt it forward or back, the weight shift can make it nosedive or (what’s the opposite?) taildive. In the perfect world you could let go of the camera at any tilt angle and it wouldn’t move – that’s what a counterbalance does. You don’t get this on cheaper video heads – but you can probably live without it.

So video tripods are definitely different to regular tripods and in ways that are actually quite important. If we had to put the most desirable features in order, it would be:

– a proper pan/tilt fluid video head

– a levelling base

– a head with drag control and counterbalance

So you probably know where this is going. Here is our guide to the best video tripods!

Read more:

Best video tripods
Best tripods
Best gimbals
Best camera sliders

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Rod Lawton

Rod is an independent photography journalist and editor, and a long-standing Digital Camera World contributor, having previously worked as DCW's Group Reviews editor. Before that he has been technique editor on N-Photo, Head of Testing for the photography division and Camera Channel editor on TechRadar, as well as contributing to many other publications. He has been writing about photography technique, photo editing and digital cameras since they first appeared, and before that began his career writing about film photography. He has used and reviewed practically every interchangeable lens camera launched in the past 20 years, from entry-level DSLRs to medium format cameras, together with lenses, tripods, gimbals, light meters, camera bags and more. Rod has his own camera gear blog at fotovolo.com but also writes about photo-editing applications and techniques at lifeafterphotoshop.com