A much needed support – My first impressions of the Fancier FC-270A Tripod and FC-02H Fluid Head

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, being so small and weighting less than four hectograms, needs heavy stabilisation. I have used a handheld rig scrambled from my Zenit Krasnogorsk-3 – a simple pistol grip with an attached shoulder support – but that doesn’t stabilise the image enough while shooting, forcing me to do it in post. I have done a timelapse shot using my current tripod – a vintage model made from wood and aluminiumold-tripod (see attached photograph to the right) – but as it is a stills camera tripod it only works for us when taking fixed shots. Thus we immediately recognised the need for aquiring a professional film camera or DV tripod for our Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, to be able to make shots tracking a subject while panning and tilting in camera. I did some research on the web, prominently on eBay, and soon found one Chinese made Fancier FC-270A mounted with a FC-02H head for the price of £146, from a British reseller. (Living in Sweden, I prefer to buy items on the Internet within the European Union if possible, to prevent any additional taxes and payment of tolls to Swedish customs.) Doing a search on YouTube I found many references to the FC-270A, a string of reviews, contrary to most cheap tripods that cannot be found anywhere other than on eBay (a red flag). The reviews were overly positive and the FC-270A was generall hailed as being a very good tripod for the price, and the FC-02H as an even better head for professional style panning and tilting. Based on the following reviews me and my filmmaking partner and wife made the decision to purchase it in late October.

Watching these reviews, I took care not to order the Fancier FC-270 (without the “A”), which also hosts the FC-02H head, as that tripod model on the surface resembles the “A” version but has clamps instead of knobs to fasten the rods of the tripod legs; the FC-270A is supposed to be superior to the FC-270. The Fancier FC-270A / FC-02H combo arrived to us from Britain one week later. On initial examination, it was everything that I had expected of it from the raving reviews. The FC-270A / FC-02H was delivered in a khaki brown thick cardboard box with the logo “Fancier” and the description “Professional DV Support Kit” on the sides [1]. This was repeated on the thin black carboard box that subsequently came out of the thicker box [2]. Opening the second cardboard box, I drew out a black carry bag made of nylon, discreet with no symbols or writing on the outside but quite nice and neat nontheless [3]. The bag has one plastic zipper that covers the top and goes along the length of the bag, as well as sporting twin zippers that opens up one of the ends of the bag (reserved for the tripod head) along the circumference, meeting with the main zipper at the top, which opens up the bag wide enough for the tripod to be picked out easily, which is a good thing as the tripod is quite large coming out from the bag. However, while the major zipper works smoothly and flawlessly, the smaller at the end run somewhat slow and partly uneven in its teeth; there is a potential breaking of one of the smaller zippers, so I will probably never use the small zippers at all to prevent damaging the bag. This is one of those things, I suppose, that is to be expected from buying cheap products made in China. Opening up the carry bag one finds the tripod and head being wrapped in a plastic cover and secured by two nylon straps that are fastened with quick release plastic buckles [4].

Unpacking the Fancier
Unpacking the Fancier FC-270A tripod and FC-02H fluid ball head

The carry bag seems to be much more well made and actually functional than is to be expected for such a price tag; it’s a steal and thus makes the purchase of a dedicated carry bag redundant, at least until one of the zippers finally break. Although not being fully shock absorbent and water reistent, the sides and ends of the nylon carry bag are quite well padded, and the bottom has an even thicker removable padding. I also suspect that the nylonmanual fabric protects the tripod quite well against rain. One of the sides hosts a zipped pocket on the inside of the bag, long enough to hold the tripod head handle (wrapped in plastic) and a simple user’s manual (see attached image to the right). Taking the tripod and head out of the bag, the head itself is secured by a thick circular black foam shock absorbent [5]; I suspect that it is well to save it for a safer protection of the head while being placed in the carry bag during transportation to a shooting location. Plastic wrapping removed; folded togheter, the tripod and head is 75 cm long and almost 13 cm wide, not counting the handle which is 38 cm when folded [6]. It is heavy as well (spedified to 4.4 kg), being entirely made of aluminium metal; only the center parts of the knobs and the feet are made of rubber. The tripod and head are entirely in black and the finish is great, everything being seemingly of good build quality. One of the legs hosts a spring wire made of nylong and a plastic hook, long enough to cover the entire circumference of the folded tripod; it’s probably there to secure the tripod when folded so that the legs doesn’t accidently open. When the wire is released, its springs back into the leg and the spring is strong enough to hold the legs secure in a steady grip [7]. These are one of the things that wear and break over time so I will probably let the wire be, only to be used in special circumstances.

The FC-270A Tripod extended to 71cm, to 114 cm, and fully extended to 156.5 cm
The FC-270A Tripod extended to 71cm, to 114 cm, and fully extended to 156.5 cm, secured with knobs and spreader

The Fancier FC-270A tripod consists of a two stage set of aluminium legs, the first two stages of each leg depending on twin rods or hollow pipes, and the last stage on a single rod. I have measured each stage to the following operating heights (counting from the rubber feet to the baseplate of the head): 71 cm (minimum), 114 cm (medium) and 156.5 cm (maximum). Each stage is secured by a metal knob which turns 3/4 of a turn to a full stop, securing each stage firmly; very simple and fast operation, and although some of the knobs turn somewhat more sluggish compared to others, they all extend the legs with a secure lock. The only part of the knobs not being of metal are the rubber center-pieces (who have no actual function beyond cosmetics) on the knobs, which seem not to be securily fastened as there is some visible play; they are easily pushed back into position but could potentially be lost in the field. Level with the joints of the first stage, the all metal spreader is attached with sealed screws to the tripod leags, extending itself easily pushing it down and folding with a simple push upwards; its function is to secure the legs and to stabilise the tripod. However, it isn’t possible to unmount the spreader easily without screwing off the sealed screws, prohibiting really low camera positions below 71 cm; for that you will need to buy a different tripod for low angle camera workings. The FC-27A feels quite reasonable tall with the FC-02H head mounted to it; I had some worries that it would be to low as some had specified it to 135 cm (53 in), such as one of the reviewers above, whereas the reseller that I bought the tripod from specifies it to 155 cm (61 in), which is more true to my own experience as I measured it 1.5 cm higher than that (for a total of 61.5 in). With the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera mounted to the FC-02H baseplate the lens falls just below the height of my own eye level (I’m 1.90 cm (6 ft 3 in) tall), and with a proper cage and additional rod adapter (such as the CamTree Hunt) it will be approximately along the height of my eye level. It seems that Fancier has made the FC-270A taller over the years and that I have bought a late edition of the tripod.

The fluid head
The FC-02H fluid ball head with quick release baseplate, horizontal levelling adjustment, spirit levels and telescopic handle

The quick release baseplate is of a standard slade type numbered in millimeters. As with the rest of the FC-02H, it has a high build quality and excellent function which features a sliding arrangement along a elongated opening or groove where a smaller movable slade is attached with three 1/4″ threads, of which one has a 1/4″ screw mounted to it (although the reseller stated that the baseplate also would host a 3/8″ screw, mine lacks one) and one other a spring adjusted pin for extra support to keep the camera firmly attached in place [1a]. The smaller slade is fixed firmly to the baseplate when screwed onto the camera bottom thread [1b]. The baseplate slade is easily slided onto the quick release rail of the head from behind and in the direction of the camera lens, automatically activating a safy lock that prevents it from falling off backwards (it cannot be dismounted forwards); when dismounting the quick release baseplate a button is pressed on the left side to open the locking mechanism when drawing the slade backwards [2a]. The baseplate slade is securely locked to the rail (preventing sliding) with a small knob on the right side of the head [2b & 7]. The entire FC-02H head is shaped as a ball fitted to the concave mount on the FC-27A base which is opened at the bottom to allow a large lever to procrude from the ball head through the concave tripod mount; the lever sports a large locking knob when loosened allows the entire head to move around tilting in every direction, to adjust for horizontal levelling and when fastened lock the head securily [3]. Although I haven’t disassembled the head from the tripod, I have seen others succeed in doing it on the Internet. The FC-02H has a built-in spirit level as an aid when finding a horizontal level [4a-b], however it is not backlit (hardly surpringing considering the price) which necessitates the use of a flashlight during late eveing and night shots. The FC-02H is only delivered with one single telescopic handle which attaches easily and quickly to the back of the head with a standard rosette and locking knob arrangement [2b & 5a]. The head sports two rosette mounts to accomodate for a second handle or to change the position of the single telescopic handle according to preference [2b & 4b]. Unscrewing a locking screw on the handle makes it possible to extend it considerable (up to 59 cm) which makes panning and tilting easier, more precise and smooth [5b].

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera attached to the FC-02H
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and Lomo Meteor 5-1 lens attached to the FC-02H with the battery terminal lid opened

The manufacturer states that the FC-02H head is of the fluid type. Considering the low price tag on the tripod-head combo, I cannot vauch for this to be a fact. But it certainly behaves as such. The FC-02H has adjustable pan and tilt controls in the form of two locking knobs on the left side of the head, one smaller near the base of the head which controls pan and one larger closer to the baseplate which controls tilt [4b]. The pan feels really sluggish by itself but with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera it really feels smooth and never jerks when starting or ending a pan, which is a great feature considering the price. The tilt feels a lot lighter compared to the pan, and initially this may feel a bit queer and slightly disorienting when doing a combined panning and tilting, but again the extra camera weight makes the difference less pronounced and I guess one gets used to it. The load capacity is specified to 6 kg and adding a cage and full rig will make the panning even more adequate. Although I experienced movement of the tripod, even one of the legs lifting, when doing extremely fast and violent pans, it wasn’t really a big issue after the camera was mounted on the head; I could usually do quite fast an irregular moves without affecting the tripod. With the telescopic handle extended the slugginess of the pan really comes to its right, preventing any shakiness to the tripod. The tilt sports a counterweight feature which is set with a locking knob on the right side of the head [7]; one simply unlockes the knob, tilts the head with the mounted camera to a level position and locks it again. If the lens is large and weights a lot, like my Zenit/Lomo Meteor 5-1, one has to tilt the head slightly backwards before locking the knob. When tilting the head forwards or backwards, it reverts to its level positon with a smooth movement which can provide really fine tilts on camera. The tilt has a span between -65° and +90°, which means that I can tilt it all the way forwards until the lens hits the tripod, and all the way backwards until it is almost vertically level; more than enough.

The CamTree Hunt (CH-PC-ABBP) with attached Rod Adepter
The CamTree Hunt (CH-PC-ABBP) with attached Rod Adapter

With the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera attached to the baseplate and mounted on the FC-02H, there is no possibility to open up its battery terminal lid and change batteries while mounted, not even make a wide enough opening to extract the SD card [8a-b]; the only solution is to dismount the camera with the quick release which is done in seconds. However, it would be nice in the future to change either the battery or the SD card, or both, without risking to affect the camera position if the battery or SD card runs out in the middle of a shot. To be able to do that one has to aquire one of the many cages and rod adapters specifically made for the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, such as the CamTree Hunt, CameTV, Tilta, WoodenCamera, et al, which provides enough headroom for the terminal lid to be opened fully. This fact necessitates an investment in this direction, and I am seriously contemplating to puchase the CamTree Hunt (CH-PC-ABBP) which also comes with a battery V-mount, HDMI clamp and adapter, and A-Box audio preamp. All in all, even without the cage and rod adapter, the Fancier FC-270A tripod / FC-02H fluid ball head combo is a extremely cost-effective and valuable support for my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera as it stands today. I have done a lot of tilting and panning in my living room with the BMPCC and Meteor 5-1, as well as shot some scenes in the field as a cinematographer for my directing wife, together with the FC-270A / FC-02H. I must say that I am more than pleased with the results. It is easy to assemble and set up in a couple of minutes. The FC-270A tripod feels stable and robust. The FC-02H fluid ball head feels smooth and functional. The entire package is light enough to be carried by foot long distances to a shooting location. The bag protects the tripod and head well enough. The overall impression is professionalism which matches the bang for the buck factor of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.

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3 thoughts on “A much needed support – My first impressions of the Fancier FC-270A Tripod and FC-02H Fluid Head

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