Manfrotto Befree 3-Way Live Tripod Head at a glance:
- 3-way tripod head
- Fluid pan and tilt movements
- 720g weight
- 6kg rated load
When it comes to photographic kit, there are plenty of either/or questions. DSLR or mirrorless, zooms or primes, full-frame or crop sensors; all can inspire heated debate. When it comes to tripod heads, the question is between 3-way and ball designs.
In recent years, ball heads have generally found most favour with photographers due to their small size, light weight and strength. But 3-way heads, which allow the camera angle to be adjusted in three directions independently, are arguably easier to use, while also being superior for video work.
Manfrotto Befree 3-Way Live Tripod Head key features:
- Levels: Three bubble levels help with setting up the camera straight in both portrait and landscape formats
- Folding handle: The long pan handle folds down for packing via a large, easy-to-use release lever
- Camera plate: The included 200PL-PRO plate is Arca Swiss compatible, but also clips into heads that use the older RC2 quick release clamp
- Travel friendly: Unlike most 3-way heads, this one is designed to pack neatly between the legs of a reverse-folding travel tripod
With its BeFree Live head, Manfrotto has aimed to address the traditional drawbacks of 3-way heads. First and foremost is bulk. Conventional designs have handles sticking out at various angles, which isn’t exactly great for transport, but this one folds down to pack neatly between the legs of travel tripods.
Second is versatility: it’s designed to work equally well for both video and stills shooting. To this end, it boasts fluid drag on the pan and tilt actions to enable smooth camera movements, but unlike most video heads, the camera platform can be rotated for shooting portrait-format images or vertical videos for social media.
While as usual I’d take the 6kg rated load with a pinch of salt, I found that thanks to its sturdy aluminium construction, the head was capable of holding a high-end mirrorless setup weighing over 2kg with no trouble at all.
The fluid movements work well not just for video work, but also for accurately positioning telephoto lenses, while the large, rubberised controls are easy to use and lock down without any shift in composition. The camera clamp accepted all of the Arca Swiss-type quick release plates I tried, with two sprung pins acting as secondary locks to stop the camera from sliding off.
There are a few compromises, though. The bubble level for setting the horizon in portrait format is on the front, making it invisible from behind the camera. Also, the Arca Swiss camera clamp is oriented in the wrong direction for use with L-brackets, which may well be a deal-breaker for some users. At 720g, the head is also noticeably heavier than a ball head that would support the same load.
If you’d just like a compact, lightweight and inexpensive pan and tilt head for video, consider the confusingly similarly-named BeFree Live Fluid head. It offers 2-axis fluid movement along with a folding pan handle for portability and weighs just 380g. It costs around £79.
Manfrotto Befree 3-Way Live Tripod Head: Our Verdict
Overall, this head presents an ingenious and generally successful bid to cater to the needs of content creators who shoot both video and stills on location. It’s neatly designed and works well, while being relatively compact and lightweight. Even if you don’t shoot video, it’s well worth considering.