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Review: Manfrotto Q5 Photo/Video Tripod Head with 755CX3 Tripod

by Chris Gampat on 01/16/2012

The Manfrotto Q5 tripod head was designed for photographers and videographers alike, i.e. the HDSLR crowd. Though I’m not typically a tripod user, I admit that tripods like the 755CX3 have their uses: such as for recording videos for the site. After receiving two Q5 units, the staff and I put the head and 755CX3 package to the test primarily in video shoots.

And the findings were a bit surprising.

Tech Specs

Q5 Head specs borrowed from the B&H Photo listing of the head.

Tripod Attachment 3/8″ screw
Front tilt ±90°
Lateral Tilt +90° / -20° tilt range
Load Capacity 15.4 lb (7 kg)
Panoramic Rotation 360°
Head Bowl 60 mm
Material Magnesium
Pan & Tilt Drag Continuously adjustable from 0 to max. level
Spring Loaded Counter Bal Proportional / free / off
Working Height 5.31″ (135.0mm)
Weight 2.8 lb (1280g)

755CX3 specs borrowed from the B&H Photo listing.

Material MagFiber
Load Capacity 15.4 lbs (7.0kg)
Bowl Diameter/Thread 3/8″ male
Minimum Height 18.3″ (46.5cm)
Maximum Height 54.7″ (139cm)
Maximum Height with Column 64.6″ (164cm)
Leg Stages/Sections 2/3
Leg Lock Type Lever-lock
Center Brace/Mid-Level Spreader No
Spiked/Retractable Feet No
Folded/Transport Length 25″ (64cm)
Weight 4.25 lbs (1.9kg)

Ergonomics

The Q5 head comes with an arm designed for panning the attached camera up, down and all around if needed. In fact, it is the most critical parts of the head when used in practice. To secure the panning arm, you’ll have to turn the knob that then expands the pins to secure the arm. If it gets stuck, you can pull the knob outwards and readjust it if needed.

The head comes with a tripod plate; and you’ll need a coin to screw it into the bottom of your camera. This goes against the design set by the Black Rapid tripod plate that many photographers are preferring over this traditional design. For those of you not familiar, Black Rapid’s design allows you to screw it in yourself via a stainless steel triangle that flips out.

The mounting area for the plate has levels all over it in almost every direction to make it easier for the creative to make more careful decisions.

To secure the tripod plates in, you’ll need to screw in the knob at the side as seen in the photo above. It’s still a quick release plate though which is activated by pressing the safety (above the green level) after unscrewing the knob.

The head has markings all over it that indicate the degrees that you’ve been turning. That helps with making more accurate decisions when needed. In movie mode, the head will pan and tilt. However, in photo mode, the user unlocks a lateral motion that best serves portrait photographers.

The head has a specific switch that sets it from photo to video mode. They can be activated by flipping the switch.

When you slide the switch to photo, you can now have access to another degree to move the head. Now, you will have the ability to move the head with lateral tilt that will give you  -93 degree/16 degree ranges for portraits.

The head has a clearly defined knob that says, “pan lock” which locks all panning. Indeed, it takes some working with the head for a while for the knobs to loosen up.

The bottom of the head (mounting plate) is very smooth; which in practice didn’t serve too well. More on that later.

The head connects to the tripod via three set screws. The bottom of the head has rotational degrees that we never used.

This column is under the head, and when unlocked it will allow you to center the head without needing to adjust the length of the tripod legs. This, in practice, saves lots of time. It also raises up if needed.

The tripod is made of magnesium and carbon fiber and is rather light at 2.8 lbs. It takes on a more modern rugged look than the old style of Manfrotto Tripods. It has some nice anodized red accents for looks.

To extend the legs, this tripod uses latches that you’ll need to flip up vs legs that require you to turn a section to unlock it.

For the most part, the latches are fairly solid and failproof vs needing to twist and turn a leg to lock it.

For easier portability, there are j-locks that keep the tripod legs together so that they don’t come apart when traveling. The design of this is perfect for the videographer or photographer traveling on foot and removes the need for having industrial rubber bands. The tripod legs also won’t open up without unlatching the locks.

The j-locks work simply just like that: by snapping into another part of the tripod to hold the entire package together.

Each tripod leg has a button on the top that allows for more extension of the legs. The legs can then spread apart to 180 degrees.

For landscape photographers or people that shoot often on rocks or stairs, this feature will be much loved.

Build Quality

This tripod survived lots of knocking around on the New York City subway system and all of the normal wear, tear and bumps that it may receive when being carried by someone on foot through urban areas. Both the tripod legs and head both withstood quite a bit of abuse.

Parts of the head did seem to unscrew a bit too much at times though. In fact, the head unscrewed a couple of times off of the legs even though the set screws were very firmly placed. Unlike older heads like the HDV 501, there are no grooves to hold it in place. Instead, the bottom of the head is actually quite smooth.

Ease of Use

MH055M8-Q5

Arm Positioning

If you’re a fan of older Manfrotto tripod heads, you’ll know that, the pan arm’s pivot position was usually adjusted via a wing nut screw. With the Q5, you’ll need a screwdriver to adjust it. That’s a bit of a pain in practice, but once everything is just the way you want it, you’ll have no qualms.

However, it is nice that you can use it left handed or right handed by switching the position of the mounting screw and mount for the arm. I’m right handed and our video producer is left handed; so it worked out well for both of us. It’s not any easy process to do though. You will need to take precious time to use a screwdriver to loosen the panning arm bracket.

When mounting the pan arm to the end of the pin and tightening, it felt rather weak to me even when the pins were fully expanded. With prolonged use or a drop on the floor, I almost feel like this is going to be the piece that will break on this head. That’s not a good sign when you spend this kind of money on a tripod head.

Mounting Plate

This is our biggest gripe. During video shoots, the screw actually fell out many times and made us search like mad men for it on the ground. This because there is no rubber stopper and also because the screw can easily come out when it has reached the endpoint of the plate. However, if you use the 3/8’’ screw it won’t fall out. The provided ¼-20 screw, however, will fall right out the hole.

Counter Balancing System

This is a nice feature. When in movie mode, your system will be more balanced overall if you have a more front heavy lens on your HDSLR or your camcorder by nature is more front heavy. This feature will help you balance the unit by simply turning the feature on and following the directions to figure out how to balance it. Honestly, the directions were a little vague on this.

Friction Knobs

This head has two friction knobs positions on the side of the head. In Movie mode, both friction knobs affect the tilt. But when you place the tripod in photo mode, the outer friction knob affects the friction on the lateral tilt.

Bubble Levels

I do like that throughout the tripod you have lots of bubble levels, which is a super helpful! They are all positioned in places that provide the most information to the user no matter where they may stand.

755CX3G Tripod

The 755CX3 tripod legs are super light at 4.25lbs. and with the head mounted on it was super easy to take this tripod and head combo around in one hand. We would still recommend a nice bag. We all know that carbon fiber have the benefits of strength and lightness.

The leg locks are made from magnesium just like the head. The locks are easy to undue and offer a super quick release to extend the legs.

As stated earlier, another nice feature is the J-locks which keep the legs together when storing the tripod or taking with you when you close it up. Thankfully, the legs didn’t come apart and smack someone 7x our size in the NYC subway during transport.

But, as any video guy will tell you the biggest time waster is adjusting each leg on a tripod to center the tripod in the bubble. Thankfully this  set of legs has  a  leveling ball system which all you have to do is grip the bottom of the center column and than move your tripod head until in lines up in the spirit level on the legs. This sort of thing would be nice on less expensive units as well… My only gripe with the legs is that the center column for adjusting the ball head was rather noisy. I’m sure some grease would help.

Conclusion

Though I’m personally not a tripod user, I see how one would be attracted to the head and legs. The legs are terrific. Manfrotto did an excellent job in the design of them. However, the head left me feeling a bit let down. I had heard that Manfrotto heads are some of the best out there; and while I still don’t doubt that I was hoping that this head would perhaps have changed my mind.

Would I buy the head? No, but I see how a photographer very well might want to pick it up. If you are shooting video though, go for Manfrotto’s other heads that are marketed and designed strictly for videographers. Not to mention that the MH055M8-Q5 came right off from the set screws!

In the end, the video producer and I both expected more from Manfrotto, but the company can easily fix the problems that we encountered and we’re very positive they will.

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