Manfrotto 504HD Fluid Head Review – Bridge over troubled water

Manfrotto lately came out with the new 504HD Pro Video fluid head. They say that the “new” bridge design improves the head’s rigidity and its PAN friction control is fast, simple to fine-tune and protected from knocks.

First of all, the “Bridge Design” isn’t exactly new at all. Even my old trusty Universal head of the 70s sports the same feature, but besides of marketing talk, what is that head all about?

When it comes out of the box, it is quite impressive. Sleek design, solid build and heavier than I thought.

All structural components are made from aluminum, with the PAN axis rotation unit using ball bearings to obtain smooth, totally vibration-free controlled movements that can be directly adjusted using the head’s FDS variable friction system.

Manfrotto says, that the 504HD has been designed to offer a load capacity of up to 7.5kg (16.5lb) making it suitable for a huge range of camera equipment.

The CBS counterbalance system has 4 presets for a full range of camera weights (0, 2.5kg-5.5lb, 5kg-11lb and 7.5kg-16.5lb).

So I took a Panasonic HVX200 and bolted it on the head.
Here was my first show stopper. The plate slides into the head from the rear.
No problem with a bare HVX, but usually I got her on a rail system with all the bells and whistles on it. That rails would be definitely in the way if you have to slide it in from the back. Not good. That would render ether the head, or my rails unusable. I would prefer a plate that snaps in from the top.

Balance and drag control:
I sat drag control and counter balance to zero and slided the camera back and forth to find the center of gravity. Once I found it, I engaged the counterbalance.
Stage 1 – woooahh! The HVX dropped like a stone.
Stage 2 – okay thats better.
Stage 3 – bouncing back as mad, so back to 2.

O.K. halfway decent balanced. Now to the drag control.

This was my biggest disappointment. Stage 1-4 does virtually nothing at all.
Stage 5 feels like I think, 1 should feel and you have to crank it up to the max and beyond, to get the drag you need for slow smooth moves. Same goes for the vertical drag.

So I zoomed all the way in and did a slow tilt up to 45 deg. When I stopped, I got some definite rebound. Not good ether.

To make it even worse, the more you have to use the tilt drag, the less fluid becomes your movement on the vertical axis. It becomes stiffer and slower. This is even more noticeable when you are panning and tilting at the same time.

Also at the end of a tilting movement it sometimes means you might have to lock it down at the end of the shot to prevent it from bouncing back or falling or have to use the handle to prevent this. This means that you might find yourself actually bracing yourself against the handle to prevent rebound or droop, thus increasing the chances of micro movements from your hand.

You want the end of your movement to stay wherever you put it without having to touch the head again – especially if you are continuing to roll at the end of a shot.. A good fluid head has a controlled range of movement with each setting, thus relieving the operator of having to make an absolutely perfect movement with his arm and increasing repeatability.

Now wait a minute. This was only a 2.5 kg bare HVX200 and the head is rated up to 7.5 kg. If I´m not able to do a proper tilt with under 3 kg, what would happen with 7 kg?

So I bolted the LEX, rails, some big Zeiss glass and a monitor to it 7.2 kg.
Counter balance to max, drag to max and the same slow tilt again. INSTANT FAIL!
Not only that I got rebound again, the head was not holding that 45 deg angle, but the camera was slowly tilting down when letting the handle go.

So the load capacity Manfrotto features in his marketing brochure is quite optimistic – to say the least. If you got a camera with more than 4-5 kg that 504HD head is not for you.

How about some DSLR?
With the drag to zero and counterbalance set to 1 (which is the lowest setting other than OFF), using the kit lens on the Panasonic GH1 it stays in place unless you tilt it below 20 degrees, in which case it rides back up a bit.
With a heavier 5D, a 120 mm Zeiss prime in a cage and rails, it does not do that. If you point up in the air, or keep it level (above 20 degrees) it will stay there all day.

So it appears that the heads minimum weight load is too heavy for a bare DSLR. Even if it doesn’t move for +/-20, it should be able to go beyond that without rebounding.

Bottom line:
If you are coming from a 501 or 503hdv head you will love the 504.
It is a definite step up and much more professional.
But the real range of cameras that are working on this head is pretty narrow.
Loads of 2-4 kg are working fine (thou you still have that rebound problem) – but anything more or less will not work at all.
I am not exactly enthusiastic about this head.
In fact it is a mediocre hybrid friction head. You will get rebounding until you dial all the way up and then the action will be so thigh, you might as well use drag on any old el-cheapo head. For the money, you are better of with a used Sachtler, Vinten or even a Libec.

Attachment 3/8” male thread
Attachment number 1/4” and 3/8” screws
Balance control 4 step: 0Kg – 2.5Kg – 5Kg – 7.5Kg
Levelling bubble illuminated
Height 6.10 in
Front Tilt -60° / +90° tilt range
Independent pan lock yes
Independent tilt lock yes
Load capacity 16.53 lbs
Material aluminum
Maximum working temperature 60
Minimum working temperature -20
Pan bar – positions 2
Pan bars included (no.) 1
Pan drag continuously adjustable from 0 to max level
Panoramic rotation 360 °
Plate type 504PL
Quick release yes
Secondary safety system yes
Sliding travel of plate 3.27 in
Tilt drag continuously adjustable from 0 to max level
Weight 6.39 lbs
Working height 6.10 in

This is in the box:
504HD Fluid Video Head
504HLV Pan Handle
2 Year Warranty


2 thoughts on “Manfrotto 504HD Fluid Head Review – Bridge over troubled water

  1. Pingback: Vinten, Sachtler, Libec, Miller, Manfrotto Shootout - Page 7 at

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