Hands-on Review: Manfrotto Nitrotech N12 Fluid Head

Nitrotech N12 front

The Manfrotto Nitrotech N12 is based on the same design as the Nitrotech N8 but with a heavier maximum payload. If you use a cinema camera or broadcast camera that weights 8.8 to 26.4 lb or 4.0 to 12.0 kg then the N12 is the one to get as opposed to the N8.

Nitrotech N12 Piston

One thing that stands out about the new N12 is the interesting mechanical look it has with the Nitrogen piston mechanism in full display. let’s take a look at the features on the Nitrotech N12

The Nitrotech N12 75mm base has a 3/8 receiving screw tap. It can mount on a flat platform like a slider cart or to a 75mm or 100mm half ball adapter. The adapters are fairly inexpensive at $50US for either the 75mm or 100mm versions.

Nitrotech N12 100mm ball adapter side
100mm half ball with tripod kit
Nitrotech N12 75mm ball adapter
Manfrotto 520BALL Half Ball Leveler with 3/8-Inch Screw for 75mm Bowl Tripods

Oddly enough, Manfrotto doesn’t sell the Nitrotech N12 with either bundled together. If you purchase a Manfrotto 100mm tripod system like the one sent to us for review the N12 comes with a much nicer ball adapter.

The smoother looking version isn’t sold separately which is too bad as it looks like one piece instead of two on the N12. With this 75mm adapter, it works just fine but doesn’t look as nice. The ability to go from a flat base to either 75mm or 100mm ball head is nice as I like having options.

The top platform is a little bigger than the N8 to support larger cameras and the quick release dovetail is huge! If you prefer a smaller version, existing Manfrotto dovetails will also work with the N12. I prefer to add an Arca/Swiss style QR system to all my fluid heads and this is easily done with the N12’s camera plate. The dovetail drops into the platform and locks down with a lever. To adjust the placement simply unlock the lever and move the plate forward and aft.

Nitrotech N12 Specifications

  • Load Capacity – 26.4 lb / 12.0 kg
  • Payload Range – 8.8 to 26.4 lb / 4.0 to 12.0 kg
  • Tripod Head – 75 mm flat base
  • Balance Plate – Sliding, 1/4″ and 3/8″ screws
  • Center of Gravity – 2.2″ / 55 mm
  • Tilt Drag – Fluid
  • Tilt Range – +90 to -70°
  • Counterbalance System – Continuous, nitrogen piston
  • Pan Range – 360°
  • Pan Drag – Fluid
  • Leveling Bubble/Illuminated
  • Aluminum Construction
  • Height – 5.8″ / 14.7 cm
  • Weight – 5.0 lb / 2.3 kg

Counterbalance

My favourite feature of the Manfrotto Nitrotech N12 is the Nitrogen gas piston mechanism that allows continuous counterbalance and it really does work well. Counterbalancing a fluid head is very important if you want to achieve smooth tilts.

When a fluid head can’t be perfectly counterbalanced the tilt will continue after the move has ended. Even worse, the camera will tilt when you let go of the handle. It could also bounce up if it’s not adjusted correctly.

Nitrotech N12 counterbalance

The N12 counterbalance is dialled in on the operator’s side with a retractable knob that looks like a small arm. When pulled out it gives the user a little more room for your fingers to get a good grip on it. Simply turn the knob to make adjustments to the counterbalance then push it back when finished. As you turn to add or subtract counterbalance the piston is being adjusted to achieve proper balance.

I found myself grabbing knob while performing pans and tilts as it helped me make smoother moves. The tension of the counterbalance knob is firm to avoid accidental adjustments. Once set, adjust the amount of tension or drag you prefer with the large knob on the side. Recessed inside the tilt drag knob is another knob for locking the tilt. It’s that simple.

Tilt and Pan

Manfrotto 502 lock on wrong side
Manfrotto 502 lock on opposite side

 

Nitrotech N12 tilt and lock
Nitrotech N12 tilt and lock on operators side

Unlike the popular 502HD video head, the Nitrotech N12 has all of the user controls on the user side or operators side of the head including the pan lock. This makes setting the counterbalance, adjusting drag, tilt and locking the head easier. Use your left hand for settings and operating the head with your right.

friction arm on N12

A nice design worth mentioning is the rosettes on the head for mounting the included panning arm can also work with a Manfrotto friction arm. This arm has two nubs on it that fit into 2 slots on the rosette to prevent the friction arm from twisting.

Nitrotech N12 Rosette

Manfrotto includes one that can be added on top of the existing rosette. Over time the teeth on the rosette can wear and when they do the panning arm will slip. Not good and fixing it is almost impossible. Simply screw on the rosette on either side that uses the pan/tilt arm. Just don’t forget to install it or it could get lost.

Conclusion

After using the Nitrotech N12 I found it very easy to counterbalance and use. Tilting and panning are smooth. When I let go it stays in position even when tilted toward the ground. It’s nice to have no set positions for drag control as you can dial in the perfect amount of counterbalance for your camera package. If I add a piece of kit to the camera, it’s very simple to adjust the counterbalance to suit. Stages are fine but if you like full control, the N12 gives it to you.

The main drag adjustment dial and inner tilt locking dial are a little on the plasticky side. It’s the only part of the head that doesn’t feel robust. The inner tilt locking dial doesn’t lock off the tilt as much as I would like. I have to really tighten it down and even then I could still force the head to tilt with some slight force. This isn’t really an issue due to how good the counterbalance works. It won’t allow the camera to just drop down or whip back, even when the drag is set very low.

Pricing is also very competitive. At USD $599 plus $50 for the half ball needed to mount on a tripod is a good deal. I don’t know of other heads that have a counterbalance system near as good in this price range. The N12 requires at least a camera package that weights 8.8 lbs (4.0 kg) to balance correctly. For lighter cameras check out the N8 that has a payload of 0 to 17.6 lb (0 to 8.0 kg)

 

Subscribe to our newsletter