The most important thing to remember about a tripod head is that it should be offering you stable and wobble-free views through your spotting scope. While it is possible that you would have the tripod set up in the same position for the whole session of birding, it is more likely that you will want to move it.
Whether it is to track the movement of a bird as it takes off or flies, or to simply search for a different bird, there’s a strong chance that you will be looking through the scope while it is in motion. This is where fluid heads come into their own, with their ability to move smoothly across both panoramically and vertically.
Here are some of the best on the market today.
Quick comparison: Best fluid pan tripod heads for birding spotting scopes
SIRUI VA-5 Fluid Video Head
A popular birding option due to its silky movements in tandem with a light and compact form.
Best fluid head tripod head – overall winner
Manfrotto 128RC Micro Fluid Tripod Head
Mighty support despite its ‘micro’ moniker! A pan and tilt head featuring a fixed counterbalance.
Best fluid head tripod head – top for travel and hiking
SmallRig Selection CH10 Fluid Pan Tilt Tripod Head 3259
A small, lightweight fluid video head perfect for on-the-go birding at this price point
Best fluid head tripod head – top value
Benro S2 Video Head
Offers the full range of motion with 360 degree panning using fixed drag control
Best fluid head tripod head – runner-up for value
Innorel F60 fluid pan tripod head
The F60 tripod head features good robustness and functionality for this price range
Best fluid head tripod head – for heavier spotting scopes
How we selected the top picks for the best fluid pan tripod head (to hold a birding spotting scope)
Key features to look for in your tripod head are:
- the fluid drag system (does it use fluid for resistance, or friction?)
- precise control of the drag resistance to allow free movement when repositioning
- smooth movement when panning and tilting
- a consistently reliable locking system
- sturdy construction for extra stability
- maximum payload, or how much weight the tripod head can comfortably support
- attention to details, such as an integrated leveling system, durable dials and knobs
- an adjustable panning handle – a longer handle gives the ability to make smaller adjustments which is good when viewing a high magnification
- a counterbalance system to hold the spotting scope in position even when steeply tilted, without it being locked
To get a detailed overview of the different types of tripod heads, we have an in-depth article discussing what to look for when choosing your tripod head:
Reviews: the best fluid pan tripod head for birding spotting scopes
All the fluid head tripod heads aim to provide a stable support for your spotting scope, with the additional ability to move in the most smooth way when you need to track birds.
With these reviews, we weigh up how successful these fluid heads are in meeting this goal, considering all of their key features.
Best fluid pan tripod head for birding spotting scopes – overall winner
Main Features of the Sirui VA-5 fluid video head
The Sirui VA-5 fluid video head offers impressive features. Here are a few of them, just to spark your interest!
- Fluid system for smooth pan and tilts
- Internal spring-loaded counterbalance
- Adjustable quick-release plate
- Dual safety lock system (keeps plate attached even if loose)
- Two bubble levels for alignment (on top and at the base)
Weight 1.3 pounds
Maximum payload 6.6 pounds
Connection Tripod mount: 3/8″-16 thread
Safety lock Yes, a dual safety lock system
Quick release Yes. Accepts Arca-compatible quick release plates
- Combines lightness with compactness.
- Easy and secure to set up and use.
- Spring-assisted counterbalance feature to steady the scope.
- The nine-inch rubberized swivel arm can be attached in different configurations.
- Two leveling bubbles.
- It’s a little less intuitive to find the panning release than the tilt knob.
Sirui VA-5 fluid video head Overview
When searching for a tripod head packable enough to take on longer distance birding adventures – or when you are just keen to lighten your load overall, check out this lightweight gem.
Sirui has a good range of products and this is also a good choice. Even at the low weight of 1.3 pounds it can cope with a payload more than four times its own weight.
The maximum payload is specified as going up to 6.6 pounds. We would try to stay shy of this limit for optimum views and stability, though.
Holds scopes motionless using the counterbalance system
The VA5’s spring-assisted counterbalance feature helps to keep front-heavy spotting scopes in position. It also tempers the tilt movement for those larger optics, ensuring good control and smoothness.
Both the pan function and the tilt have separate controls. So the scope can be kept still on one axis and move smoothly along the other. The location of the pan release could be better. It’s not too difficult to get used to but less intuitive.
Easy alignment using both bubble levels
For simple set-up, there are two bubble levels. It’s possible to attach the easy-grip rubberized panning lever on to whichever side of the tripod head best suits you. And it can be pointed either towards or away from the user.
Simple, secure, solid – and as light and compact as they come. The VA-5 will work well in a range of birding situations.
Even with its small dimensions, Sirui’s compact offering is not the cheapest option. But for many birders it can represent a sound investment in space- and weight-saving.
Best fluid pan tripod head – top for travel and hiking
Main Features of the Manfrotto 128RC Micro Fluid Tripod Head
The Manfrotto 128RC Micro Fluid Tripod Head offers impressive features. Here are a few of them, just to spark your interest!
- Panning range is 360°, tilt range -60° to +90°
- Independent pan and tilt locks
- Quick release plate
- Fixed counterbalance
Weight 13.2 pounds
Maximum payload 2.2 pounds
Connection Base mount ⅜” female; camera mount screw 1/4″-20 male
Safety lock Yes
Quick release Yes
- Sturdy and secure despite its light weight
- Good glide on the panning axis
- Easy to attach
- Safety lock to keep spotting scope on when unattended
- Tension control could be more precise
- No bubble level
- Need to ensure bigger scopes are well balanced
Manfrotto 128RC Micro Fluid Tripod Head Overview
The 128 is another of the most sought-after tripod heads for use with spotting scopes. Let’s look at the reasons why.
Despite its moniker of ‘micro’ the 128 is a sturdy option. It’s heavier than the Sirui VA-5, weighing 2.2 pounds. But the Manfrotto 128 can cope with higher loads, up to 13.2 pounds.
The whole thing feels really secure – both in its attachment to the plate and to the scope itself. The 128 is available with a standard attachment or a quick release format. This is the RC plate, which has a lock on it to prevent accidental release if you knock it.
Safety lock keeps scopes secure
So there’s no worry about the safety of your precious optics. But it’ll work best when heavier spotting scopes are appropriately balanced otherwise you’re risking some slippage in the tilt.
You can pan and tilt independently using the 11-inch handle, as there are separate locks for each.
There is sufficient control of the tension, but possibly not quite the precise tension control that some people might prefer. Only about one turn of the dial takes you from really loose to lock position.
Drag control adjustable – to a certain degree
This is a significant reduction in the fineness of drag control in comparison to say one of Manfrotto’s other heads, such as the 500AH. If this is an important enough feature to you to step up in size and weight, it might be worth checking out our review of the 500AH as well.
You can find that, along with more heavy tripod head options here >>> Best heavy duty tripod heads (stable for big scopes or wind!)
Fluid pan and tilt movements
With the two fluid cartridges, the gliding smoothness makes it a pleasure to pan, though, and up and down movements are good too.
A tiny feature that it could benefit from that some other heads do include is a bubble level to check alignment.
Some tripod legs have this built-in, though. If you can do without this on the head, however, for a birding spotting scope the 128 does the job well.
With this Manfrotto tripod head you are getting top design at an affordable price and a convenient size. It can be easily combined with a sturdy tripod for the best views.
Best fluid pan tripod head for birding spotting scopes – top value
Main Features of the SmallRig Selection CH10 Fluid Pan Tilt Tripod Head 3259
The SmallRig Selection CH10 Fluid Pan Tilt Tripod Head 3259 offers impressive features. Here are a few of them, just to spark your interest!
- Small, light compact fluid head
- Fixed damping for smooth operation
- Tilt goes to +90 degrees /-55 degrees
- Pan rotates the full 360 degrees
Weight 0.83 pounds
Maximum payload 6 pounds
Safety lock Yes
Quick release Yes
- Extremely compact – literally fits in the palm.
- Impressive lightness makes it highly portable.
- Drag adds smoothness to the movement.
- The Arca-swiss compatible quick release system might require perseverance to attach!
- Limited counterbalance tilt range, which might impact larger scopes.
- It is a little difficult to view the bubble level.
SmallRig Selection CH10 Fluid Pan Tilt Tripod Head 3259 Overview
For those who need a lightweight option, the SmallRig CH10 only weighs 13.3 ounces. Its compact dimensions and low poundage make it ideal for on-the-go birding.
The size seems to impact the counterbalance range on the tilt function. The small size of the plate allows a slightly limited positioning range.
This is something that could affect larger scopes, as they are heavier on the front end and may be less balanced.
360 degree panning range
Some of the weight is saved by having plastic controls rather than metal. This reduces the cost too.
The tilt and pan locks are located on the side of the tripod head. The tilt range goes from +90 degrees in a downward direction to -55 degrees backwards, while the pan operates across the whole 360 degree panorama.
A simple solution: small, light, functional
Unless your spotting scope is really large, this simple and functional tripod head should support your optics, despite its small size.
If you’re searching for a sound budget option, this should deliver a reliable enough performance to enable you to feel that you are receiving good value for your money.
Best fluid pan tripod head for birding spotting scopes – runner-up for value
Main Features of the Benro S2 Video Head
The Benro S2 Video Head offers impressive features. Here are a few of them, just to spark your interest!
- Fixed fluid drag on pan and tilt movements
- Independent pan and tilt locks
- Sliding plate with lock for quick connection and secure set-up
- Bubble level to aid alignment
Weight 0.8 pounds
Maximum payload 5.5 pounds
Connection 60mm flat base with a 3/8″-16 thread; two 1/4″-20 accessory threads
Safety lock Yes
Quick release Yes
- Smooth 360-degree fluid panning rotation
- Panning handle will fit on either side of head
- Sound ratio for weight to maximum payload and price
- Moveable sliding quick release plate to balance optics
- Drag control is fixed
- No Arca-Swiss connection
- No counterbalance
Benro S2 Video Head Overview
This is the older version of Benro’s S series, which we have included because it’s still a great deal at a lower price point than the updated version, the S2PRO. If you’re willing to part with a bit more cash, then the S2PRO is a decent upgrade for not too much more.
Sticking with the cheaper first version, though, the S2 offers the 5.5 pound maximum load. By itself, the magnesium alloy S2 tripod head weighs just 12.8 pounds. That is marginally less than the SmallRig option we have also reviewed.
Safe and easy attachment features
There is a sliding quick release plate (plus separate safety lock) to help in balancing the spotting scope. The plate has a ¼ inch screw and a retractable pin to stop rotation.
One thing the S2 is missing that might be important depending on what you want to attach is the Arca Swiss compatible plates. The slide-in plate on offer here is similar to the ones on lightweight Manfrotto heads. If you’d like the option to connect to an Arca Swiss plate, you’ll need Benro’s S2P version.
There’s an integrated bubble level at the base of the head to check the horizontal alignment.
Pan and tilt range of motion
Panning will take your view around the whole 360 degree, while the vertical tilt goes from +85° to -85°. This is a pretty good range of motion especially for birders who might be tracking overhead flight.
There is fluid drag control to assist with smoothness. But the drag is fixed for both the pan and the tilt, so you can’t adjust it to your own preference.
There are independent locks for the pan (at the base) and tilt (in the middle) so you can lock off one axis and move along the other axis only.
The single panning handle attaches on the right side of the tripod head only, with the majority of the rest of the controls on the left side.
The handle can be removable or attached to be pointed at a variety of angles. It’s advisable to take care when changing this as the handle itself feels rather flimsy and could do with more stiffness.
Lacking a counterbalance
As always, bear in mind the maximum load weight is best taken only very roughly as a guide. With this S2, which doesn’t have a counterbalance, you can err on the side of putting a much lighter load on there. This will reduce any potential pressure from heavier scopes.
The S2 offers a sound performance at this price point – a bit more than the SmallRig but still very affordable for what it offers. However, if you are able to stretch a bit further, the S2PRO is a worthwhile investment for the newer and improved model. Check out the details here >>>
Benro S2 PRO Fluid Video Head
Newer, improved version of the still-worthwhile Benro S2, if you can increase the budget!
Alternative great value tripod head from Benro’s S series
Best fluid pan tripod head – for heavier birding spotting scopes
Main Features of the Innorel F60 fluid pan tripod head
The Innorel F60 fluid pan tripod head offers impressive features. Here are a few of them, just to spark your interest!
- Fluid drag on pan and tilt ranges
- Resistance to smooth out the movement
- Sliding plate for quick connection and set up
- Aluminum alloy casting
Weight 1.9 pounds
Maximum payload 22 pounds
Connection 1/4″ and 3/8″ screws on top; base 2.36” with 3/8 screw holes
Safety lock Yes
Quick release Yes
- Copes well with heavier scopes
- Handle comes in two sections, and can be attached for left or right hand use
- Locking controls feel firm and durable
- Quick release can slide to balance different weights of optics
- Can be a little stiff when panning, depending on the weight of the scope
- Heavier than our other value options
- Handle could be stronger
Innorel F60 fluid pan tripod head Overview
This fluid head does a decent job of providing a sound base for images through a spotting scope, with generally smooth tilting and panning.
The maximum weight it can hold is listed at 22 pounds. Top performance is probably achieved well below this weight, though that is not a major problem for most spotting scopes.
The head is cast out of aluminum and weighs 1.9 pounds.
Quick release plate is universal
There’s a universal quick release plate. It is simple to use and compatible with other Manfrotto type plates, and a wrench tool included to help fit it. It slides so that you can balance the optics appropriately.
The locking button is metal, which is a small but reassuring detail as even some of the leading brands leave this part as plastic.
Though there can be the occasional stickiness, Innorel’s fluid head pans pretty smoothly once it gets going. Its range is across 360 degrees horizontally, as well as 90 degrees downwards and around 50 degrees upwards in the vertical axis. The locks hold firmly on both orientations.
Panning handle fits either side
It’s good to have a two-section handle that will fit onto either of the rosettes located on both the left and right sides. This handle is not the toughest piece of equipment, but it can be lengthened from 10.6 inches to 16 inches. There is an integrated bubble level.
It’s not a professional level head, but then it doesn’t pretend to be. Innorel is a relatively young company, but what this head offers is a reasonable build that balances optics sufficiently well to offer birders a satisfying experience using it in combination with their spotting scope.
The robustness and functionality of the F60 tripod head is better than you might expect for this price.
Next steps: Best fluid pan tripod head for birding spotting scopes
With these reviews, we hope you have established which features of the fluid head are most important. Often the final decision on which tripod head to buy comes down to the practical considerations of cost and size just as much as the finer details of each model.
While there are a lot of good choices to select the best fluid head, there is some crossover between the different types of tripod head. To get a more complete idea of how the fluid heads compare to these other styles, feel free to check out our other articles, such as: The top 5 ball head tripod heads for birding
Alternatively, this is our round-up post covering the top choices when it comes to the different styles of tripod heads >>> The best tripod heads for birding spotting scopes
- 1 Quick comparison: Best fluid pan tripod heads for birding spotting scopes
- 2 How we selected the top picks for the best fluid pan tripod head (to hold a birding spotting scope)
- 3 Reviews: the best fluid pan tripod head for birding spotting scopes
- 4 Best fluid pan tripod head for birding spotting scopes – overall winner
- 5 Best fluid pan tripod head – top for travel and hiking
- 6 Best fluid pan tripod head for birding spotting scopes – top value
- 7 Best fluid pan tripod head for birding spotting scopes – runner-up for value
- 8 Best fluid pan tripod head – for heavier birding spotting scopes
- 9 Next steps: Best fluid pan tripod head for birding spotting scopes