Pan Head vs Fluid Head Tripods | What should you buy?

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A pan head tripod has two individual systems to control vertical and horizontal motion. It provides levers to turn the camera as needed. Even though pan head tripods are complex, these are best suited for shooting videos. Similar to a pan head, a fluid head tripod is also targeted for video recording. The architecture of fluid heads is very complex but it allows pan and tilt movements much smoother than a pan head tripod. Let’s compare pan head vs fluid head tripods and evaluate the crucial differences to find one that will suit your needs.

Pan Head vs Fluid Head Tripods

What is a Pan Head tripod?

A pan head tripod has two distinctive mechanisms to control movement along the vertical and horizontal directions. Both control points are provided with levers to move the head as required. In addition, a lock key in the head can lock the position of the camera. You can use Pan head tripods for still photography, but these are usually used for shooting videos. The distinctive motion control system allows precise control over the camera position. The complexity in the machinery adds up to the final cost of the tripod.

A friction control option is available in a pan-head tripod in order to control the drag while moving the head. This option will let you choose the right amount of drag to pan or tilt the mounted camera with precise control. The level complexity does not let you capture stills more flexibly. However, pan-head tripods can aid you well in shooting landscape photos as they have better stability than a ball head tripod. In addition, they also feature a leveling bearing to level the camera without adjusting the tripod legs. This feature will be handy if you are in an irregular terrain.

Note that a pan-head tripod can introduce what we call an earthquake effect in the video. When we start and stop panning or tilting the tripod, we experience a sudden shake which is often referred to as earthquake effect. This a major issue in pan head tripod.

Advantages of a Pan Head Tripod

  • Very precise control over pan and tilt with distinctive controls.
  • Additional levers to move the mounted camera.
  • Leveling ball to level the camera without moving tripod legs.

Disadvantages of a Pan Head Tripod

  • Earthquake effect is a major drawback.
  • Complex design and heavier, difficult to carry around.
  • Not suitable for fast-action photography.

Fluid Head Tripods

Fluid head tripods are often called video heads. They are very complex in design but perform excellently in video recording. The complex design includes fluid cartridges that control the drag while panning or tilting. The fluid inside the head resists the motion while panning or tilting. This resistance dampens the motion when the head starts moving or stops moving. This in effect produces a very smooth and even stop from moving state and vice-versa.

Similar to pan head, fluid head tripods also have levers to control tilt and pan. These tripods also have a drag control knob to increase or decrease the friction while moving the head. In addition, high-end fluid head tripods feature a counterweight mechanism that controls the overall weight allocation across the tripod so that your camera and tripod does not fall off.

The downside of a fluid head tripod is its expensive price. Also, they are not the best for shooting photos. Even though both pan head and fluid head tripods are suitable for video recording, bear in mind that fluid heads are much more superior to pan head. Manfrotto 504X is a nice example of a fluid head.


  • Fluid heads are more sturdier.
  • The compex design helps the dampening of sudden movement.
  • Provides very smooth pan and tilt movement, overcomes earthquake effect.


  • Very bulky and heavier
  • Expensive

Conclusion | Pan Head vs Fluid Head Tripods

Both tripods are made with video recording in mind. However, fluid head tripods are superior to pan head tripods and provide much better jitter-free videos.

Here are a few great examples of Fluid Head tripods:

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Adarsh R
Adarsh R

A blend of a photographer, a movie lover, and now a writer.