Today we are taking a look at two video heads by Manfrotto, the 504x and the Nitrotech 608. This will be the second part of this dual Manfrotto product review where in the first part we looked at two Manfrotto video tripod legs.
A few weeks ago, we published a review of Manfrotto 635 and 645 video tripods legs. These are part of a whole range of new video-centric accessories that the company has been introducing gradually over the past several years which also includes the two advanced fluid heads that we shall review today.
Manfrotto 504x and Nitrotech 608 Fluid heads background
Announced in June 2020 the 504x is the newest member of the Manfrotto 500 fluid head series and the replacement to the original 504HD head. It brings several improvements to the table including increased payload and lighter build as well as a new 4 step counterbalance. It is also a flat base head, unlike the original 504HD which used a 75mm build in half-ball design.
The Nitrotech series of fluid heads is a much more recent product line from Manfrotto which started with the N8 and N12 heads back in 2017. This line of fluid heads incorporates continuous counterbalance and a new fluid technology for smoother movements.
The Nitrotech 600 series which includes the 608 and 612 heads was introduced in 2019 with redesigned ergonomics and a few modifications and replaced the original N8/N12 heads.
Similar but different – the Nitrotech 608 on the left and the 504X on the right
Manfrotto 504x and Nitrotech 608 Fluid heads features
Both heads come with a long list of features and capabilities and while they might look similar and have a number of common design elements, they also have some differentiating aspects that we shall explore in this review.
Both heads have a new style of pan system which is much smoother, has a more convenient ratcheting lock compared to some of Manfrotto’s previous pan locking systems, and of course a large drag control mechanism for the pan. It is worth noting that Manfrotto marked both drag mechanisms on both heads with clear red metal color (for the pan and tilt).
The 504X and the 608 have the same tilt lock and drag mechanism design, however with the 504X Manfrotto also added a lock/unlock text on the head. Both have the same minus 70 degrees to plus 90-degree angle range.
Both heads also come with a nice 36cm long handle with a rubber grip at the end. The only downside to this length is that the handle doesn’t fold like the ones on some other fluid heads. The handle can connect to the head on either of the two sides via a metal rosette with Arri locating pins and Manfrotto’s proprietary easy link connection.
Long handle – the 504X
Although we love the easy link system which prevents arms from twisting, it is Manfrotto specific solution unlike the Arri pins (it is super useful for holding monitors and other accessories though). One more thing to note for both heads, the part which holds the rosette is quite delicate and is only connected to the rest of the head on one side so be careful not to put too much pressure with any arms that you attach.
The 504X does have a small advantage in this area as it has an extra 3/8” connector on one side with Arri pins but with no easy link for some reason. This feature is missing from the 608 head.
Both heads come with an Illuminated leveling bubble, it is better than on some of Manfrotto’s older designs but still not the most convenient to see from most angles. To be fair, this is a problem very few manufacturers seem to have solved.
The Illuminated leveling bubble button on the 504X
The maximum payload of the 504X is 12KG (almost twice that of the 504HD). While very few setups are going to go anywhere near this weight, supporting this amount of payload should give users peace of mind that even with large front-heavy rigs they should be able to operate freely (more on that in the counterbalance section).
The 608 has a smaller maximum payload of 8KG (the Nitrotech 612 has the same 12KG payload though) however it is about 200g heavier at close to 2.5kg while the 504X is just over 2.2kg.
The Nitrotech 608 with its counterbalance handle
The 504X plate lock mechanism is pretty straightforward. It includes a ratcheting locking lever and a release lock. After you open the locking lever you push the release lock and you can remove the plate by pulling it up and to the side. The plate will not come off even if you forgot to lock the ratcheting lever.
The mechanism on the 608 is similar in principle but it feels a little more cumbersome as you need to push the locking lever forward and the release lock at the same time which takes some getting used to (it does feel a bit more secure though and it’s a matter of personal taste).
On the other hand, the plate that comes with the Nitrotech 608 has useful markings that can help with balancing your rig while the one that comes with the 504X is the standard 504PLONG plate with no markings.
Both heads come with a flat base unlike some of Manfrotto’s previous advanced heads. This is very welcome as you can now use them on a slider or jib with ease.
We have been working with the really useful iFootage Seastars Q1 quick release system with both heads and we really hope that Manfrotto will bring their own similar system to market as iFootage still didn’t resolve the missing locking pins with their plates.
One other piece of information about both heads that might be important to those operating in extreme weather is the working temperature of both heads. On the 608 it is between minus 20 and plus 50 degrees Celsius (-4°F to +122°F), while the 504X has a wider range of between minus 30 degrees Celsius and plus 60 degrees (-22°F to +140°F).
We decided to include a special subsection about the counter-balance system of both heads as it is one of the most important differences between the two.
Let’s start with the 504X which uses a 4-step counterbalance system. Here are the steps that you need to make in order to balance your system:
- Unlock the tilt brake.
- Turn drag nub counter-clockwise (minus sign).
- Turn the counterbalance knob to zero (all the way counterclockwise).
- Connect your camera/rig to the PL plate and angle it in sideways while pushing the release lock-in.
- Level the camera and position the plate in a way that the camera/rig won’t fall forwards or backward and tighten the locking lever.
- Tilt the camera forward carefully (making sure it won’t crash forward) and if it falls forward change the counterbalance to 1 and see if it falls backward. If it does increase the counterbalance more.
- The correct state of the head is where the tilt of the camera stays in position no matter what angle you set it to.
- Finally, adjust the drag of the tilt to your liking.
Three extra notes about the counterbalance on the 504X:
- The minimum setup weight for the counterbalance system to work is 2.2kg anything below that will not be counterbalanced (this can be a limiting factor especially when working with light setups like mirrorless cameras).
- According to Manfrotto the counter-balance settings are as follows: 0 = no counterbalance, 1 = 2.2kg, 2 = 4.4kg and 3 = 6.6kg. A significantly higher weight will not counterbalance (although the head as a whole will support up to 12kg without counterbalance).
- Any weight that falls between 1, 2, and 3 needs to be compensated using the drag knob to counterbalance correctly.
The drag knob on the 504X
Now we move over to the 608, where you have a lot more control of the counterbalance. The process is fairly similar but with a few important differences:
- Unlock the tilt brake.
- Turn drag nub counter-clockwise (minus sign).
- Pull the counterbalance knob out and turn it all the way counterclockwise (this might take a while, Manfrotto actually states 11 full turns).
- Connect your camera/rig to the PL plate and angle it in sideways while pushing the plate down.
- Level the camera and position the plate in a way that the camera/rig won’t fall forwards or backward and tighten the locking lever by pulling it back.
- Tilt the camera forward carefully (making sure it won’t crash forward) and if it falls forward change the counterbalance by turning it clockwise until the camera stays in position at any angle (the heavier the setup the more turning you will have to do).
- Adjust the drag to your liking and push the counterbalance knob back in.
Three extra notes:
- The 608 can counterbalance lighter setups than the 504X but with light setups, you will need to add drag to compensate.
- According to Manfrotto the 608 can counterbalance all the way to its max carrying capacity of 8kg.
- As we mentioned before. pulling back the locking lever feels somewhat counterintuitive, although you will get used to it eventually.
The piston mechanism of the Nitrotech 608
Bottom line – Which should you get?
Although both are great heads and very similar in many respects, the 504X feels more intuitive to use, is a bit lighter, has a higher carrying capacity, an extra Arri connector, and of course, cost less.
The main thing the 608 has other than the marked plate is the Nitrotech continuous counterbalance system. Not everybody uses counterbalance (especially for simpler fixed shots), but the 608 is more versatile in this respect and can work with a wider range of camera setup/weights (and can counterbalance very light rigs as well).
At the end of the day, if precise counterbalance is essential to your workflow, go with the 608 (or 612 if you are only working with heavy setups), otherwise, the 504X is the way to go and comes highly recommended.
Which head should you choose?
You can check out more LensVid exclusive articles and reviews on the following link.