In this quick video, Carl from ProAV TV in the U.K. goes back to one of the fundamentals of using a tripod and a tripod head (particularly for video work) and that is counterbalancing your camera.
First, we need to establish what we are talking about here. This topic applies to video work (for the most part and specifically to fluid heads. Not all fluid heads are born equal and you don’t have the same about of counterbalance control on different fluid heads (typically the higher end ones have more controlling options and more precise control – sadly there are very few small and light fluid heads that have significant amount of counterbalance control and this might make it more difficult to work with smaller cameras).
Why do you want to counterbalance your camera? well, this is actually explained nicely in the video by Carl, in a nutshell though – having a counterbalanced camera will give you more precise control of your pans and tilts of your camera – you will not be fighting gravity that much and you will be able to perform smoother moves with ease even with heavier setups.
So how do you counterbalance your camera/rig on your fluid head? the answer depends on the type of fluid head you have. Most basic fluid heads (typically the ones bellow several hundred dollars) will have no dedicated counterbalance on them – so the only thing that you can really do to heave your camera as close as possible to being counterbalanced is to move the plate with the camera forward and backward until it doesn’t fall forwards or backwards when you are not holding it.
Most mid-level Fluid heads do have some sort of counterbalance control – this is typically in the form of several steps (dial with a few numbers). Again you start by physically moving the camera and plate until the camera doesn’t fall backward/forwards but now you can also start playing with the counterbalance dail. You start without any and go up until the camera seems to jump back – and go down one step. Do note that on some mid-level fluid heads you might not be able to reach perfect counterbalance (you can try and add some weight to your rig but even that doesn’t always solve the issue).
On higher-end heads there are more counterbalance options and on some heads there are systems that allow for very fine tunning of counterbalance and even continuous counterbalance (i.e. not in steps).
One interesting system not mentioned in this video is the Manfrotto Nitrotech series which is possibly one of the only continuous fluid heads in the mid-level price range.
Cinematographer Matt Workman did a video talking about the counterbalance features of the original version of the Manfrotto Nitrotech fluid head in 2017 (there are now newer versions called 608 and 612 which replace the older N8/N12 with some improved functionality)
You can find a lot more info and tips about using video equipment on our HDSLR subsection here on LensVid.