Top critical review
44 people found this helpful
not so pleased - review updated 2-27-14
on June 16, 2012
I have been using a Manfrotto 804RC head with my Manfrotto 190PROB tripod and Panasonic GH2 camera. The 804 head is OK for still images, albeit a bit "sticky" when it comes to adjusting. This stickiness is a major problem when trying to use it for smooth video pans. Smooth vertical tilts are impossible with the 804. In fairness, the 804 is designed as a still image head, so its unfair fault its inability to work well for video. The 502 head was recently released, and I was able to compare it to the 701 head. From what I could tell, the 502 has much smoother panning and tilting, and far better adjustment options. I snapped one up on sale, and have been very pleased with this purchase. A few on-line forum members suggested that my GH2 would be too light for the 502 head, but I don't find that to be the case at all. Plus, I have a small rail rig with a digital recorder, and will soon add a follow focus. The additional weight is easily handled by the 502 head.
One issue I have with the 502 is that the long mounting plate is finished with a rough texture that binds a bit when mounting it into the head. I would think the surface would be smooth for easy in and out, but for some reason its not. It takes a little bit of effort to slide the camera and plate into place on the tripod, but its a minor issue that may be lessened as the surface wears down over time.
I sort of wish the tilt locking screw (on the right of the head) and the tension adjustment (on the left of the head) were reversed, as it would be more convenient for my set up. Minor issue, really.
The locking device for the panning is located inside the head's "bridge" assembly. The location is a bit inconvenient. It will disconnect if you unscrew it, but you only need to give it 1.5 turns to go from locked to unlocked. A simple lever may have been a better option.
I purchased the flat base version of this head. There is a ball mount version, which requires a tripod that has the proper ball mount. The ball system allows for faster leveling, but my 190PROB tripod is a flat base model. FWIW, Manfrotto offers their model 438 leveling device, which I intend to purchase.
UPDATE - June 20th:
After using this video head for a year, I have adapted to the less-than-ideal ergonomics, and I am mostly pleased with its performance. Smooth pans and tilts, and it performs as it did when new. I feel it is a "professional" video head, but I would caution that it may be overkill for shooting stills and a bit heavy for travelling.
Since purchasing the 502, I have added the Manfrotto 438 leveling device. It works great, but does add a bit more weight and height. As I use the 438 a lot, I will probably buy a "ball mount" tripod head the next time around.
One issue that plagues me is that the adjustment screw for the arm frequently binds within the bracket that holds the arm in place. Its a real pain in the butt to sort out, and always happens at the wrong time during busy shoots. I have to be very mindful when adjusting this, as it will always bind if I am not particularly careful when adjusting it. I fear this will eventually fail and be difficult, if not impossible, to replace or repair. Like the awkward ergonomics, I think this is bad design, especially for an otherwise professional product.
Another issue that bugs me is the high price of the 504 PLONG quick release plate. Manfrotto sells other "long" plates for less money, so I'm not sure why this one costs $65. FWIW, the shorter Benro QR6 release plate fits into the 502 video head, and sells for a reasonable $25. For a heavy video camera the Benro QR6 may not offer as much support, but for my Panasonic GH2 with large lenses it works just fine.
My original review was 5 stars, but now that the honeymoon is over, I took off one star due to the adjustment screw issue. All in all, I like the 502 video head a lot. In spite of the awkward ergonomics, sticky arm adjustment, weight and pricey quick release plate, it delivers great performance and will hopefully last many years.
UPDATE - Feb 20th, 2014:
After struggling with the weird ergonomics of this head and the poorly designed pan arm attachment, I can no longer recommend this head. While it performs well when set up, it is slow and cumbersome to operate due to the poorly positioned tilt lock and pan lock knobs. The major flaw is that the pan arm is CONSTANTLY binding up within the fixture that attaches it to the base of the video head. There is a notch in the soft aluminum arm that becomes misaligned with the mounting screw. The arm becomes easily bound up, and requires complete disassembly. I have done this so many times that the arm is all torn up and has to be replaced ($30 is the cheapest price I can find). I had requested customer support from Manfrotto regarding the arm while it was under warranty, but never got a reply. While I generally like Manfrotto products, this one and the non-existent customer service has me looking at other brands.