At just about $5,000 for a fluid head alone, Sachtler's Video 18 S2 costs more than the cameras owned by most people who read this blog (and just about five times my daily shooter, the Sony a6300). But if you want to know why it costs so much -- or how good it is (spoiler alert: incredible) and when it makes sense -- read on.
Years ago as I moved from still photography into video with the Canon 5D Mk II, I decided I needed to graduate from a lovely Arca-Swiss ball head mounted on a Gitzo carbon fiber tripod to a real fluid head with appropriate "sticks." I purchased the Cartoni Focus, figuring it would be the first AND last video support system I'd ever need.
Fast forward to late last year, when one of the leg locks on the Cartoni gave way just enough to send a Sony FS7 with an FE PZ 28-135 f/4 lens, Zacuto Gratical HD and Atomos Shogun crashing to the floor.
Some of you have heard this story before.
Ever since, I've wondered what tripod and head I should I have used.
But given my work, the better question is "do I need and can I afford that level of camera along with everything else it requires?"
For me the answer is: "no and no:" My clients and my projects are well-served by a pair of small Sonys (my a6300 and older a6000), for which something like the Cartoni continues to provide a comfortable margin of robustness and precision.
But if I did -- and you may well already be there -- the Video 18 S2 needs to be on your short list of contenders.
The Video 18 S2 is now the third piece of Sachtler kit I've reviewed, and like the Ace Baseplate and Matte Box, it adheres to what I now consider the Sachtler promise: precise, robust, elegant -- and clearly designed by people who have actually worked with this kind of gear in real life, because the details are superb.
This becomes especially apparent when you compare it to what you have today -- or in my case, what I've also had over the years.
The Cartoni is a wonderful piece of kit, but the Sachtler is better in almost every way. Let's get into it.
Design & Build Quality
It's only when you compare the Sachtler to an already excellent piece -- the Cartoni -- that those details really shine through, beginning at the beginning: with the quick release camera plate.
Once we move beyond the camera plate -- but before we move to the controls -- we see two more instances of Sachtler's attention to real-world details.
From that point onward, every control is built with the same precision, robustness and repeatability in mind.
It's not that the Cartoni is a slouch.
These differences in design show up in the legs from both manufacturers as well.
In either case, these are both great pieces of kit, both very smooth given the right payload, and much better for video than my photography go-to, the Gitzo/Arca-Swiss combo -- even if I still use it today. That's one advantage of making the Sony a6300 my go-to camera!
The Video 18 S2 and Speed Lock CF handled a pimped-out Sony FS5 with Zacuto Eye, VCT Universal Base Plate and Tripod Plate, Zamerican Arm; Axis Arm, and riser; Convergent Design Odyssey 7q+ 4K recorder/monitor; Rokinon 85mm f/1.5 geared cine lens; Anton Bauer CINE 150 V-mount battery; and Sachtler Ace Matte Box and Follow Focus without breaking a sweat.
Smooth as glass, finger tip control.
Peace of mind: priceless.
At just over $8,000 for this Sachtler set, many of us will never own it or anything like it. Our cameras are smaller, our jobs are smaller, our ambitions more modest.
If you're shooting with hybrid stills/video mirrorless or DSLR cameras -- or even if you are but not making a living shooting wildlife with very heavy lenses -- well, heads-up: this is the kind of gear you're going to want when you move up in order to protect and maximize your investment in camera and glass.
And minimize the amount of time you spend setting up.
If you're already a day-in/day-out pro shooting with relatively heavy, dedicated video/broadcast cameras or long and heavy telephoto lenses, you probably already know this.
The first camera I ever bought was a Canon FT-QL. It was nosebleed high beyond my capabilities. When I bought a PRS electric guitar, it was nosebleed high beyond my capabilities, too. Back then, I thought I'd grow into the gear; I'd even learn from the gear. This actually happened with the Canon and led to a life-long passion for image making. It didn't happen with the PRS, which I recently sold.
I was never going to be as good a player as that guitar is an instrument.
The Sachtler Video 18 S2 with Speed Lock CF tripod are not the kind of gear you grow into. They're the kind of tools you use because you can't afford to futz around, and are priced accordingly.
On the other hand, both are easy to appreciate as a tour de force in purposeful design.
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