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Sachtler Aktiv 8 Fluid Head Review

The Sachtler Aktiv Fluid Heads are a brand new take on a product that hasn’t fundamentally changed in decades.

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Sachtler has announced the Aktiv 6, Aktiv 8, Aktiv 8T, and the Aktiv 10. All these fluid heads feature the same design and functionality. Only the size and payload capacity are different. The Aktiv 8T is the same as the Aktiv 8 except it features a touch & go loading plate.

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Key features

  • Unique SpeedLevel technology for quick balancing of the head
  • PrismBubble
  • SpeedSwap system for quickly taking the head on and off
  • Allows you to capture very low angle shots
  • Designed for use in extreme temperatures

For this review, I will be concentrating on the Aktiv 8.

While the Aktiv 8 Tripod Head maintains the exact same fundamental principles that make fluid heads so good, Sachtler has come up with an entirely new way of both balancing the head and removing/attaching it.

By taking away the traditional ball head level clamp, Sachtler has placed the levelling device on the head itself.

Now, before we get further into the review, I think it is important that you know the history of the fluid head and some of the history behind Sachtler.

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it

The fluid tripod head was invented by Australian Robert Miller way back in 1946. That same year he was granted the Australian patent, and then 3 years later he got a US patent for the design. Robert went on to start the Miller Camera Support Company in 1954, which is still going strong today. Also in 1954, he came up with a user-variable dampening system that drastically improved the smoothness of pans and tilts.

Since the 1950s the fluid head has changed and improved, and various companies have taken it in slightly different directions, but the fundamental principles of how it works remain the same.

A fluid head, as its name suggests, is filled with viscous oil that circulates and coats all the mechanical components that are inside the head. It is this fluid that allows you to create smooth pans and tilts.

The fluid head design did and still does work exceptionally well, and that is why it is still in use today. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Just make it better.

Wendelin Sachtler

To understand where a company is heading, sometimes you need to look at where they have been. Wendelin Sachtler started his own company manufacturing tripod heads in 1958.

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In 1967 Sachtler developed its first fluid heads that featured lubrication grease dampening. 10 years later in 1977, Sachtler patented its permanent-sealed damping system. By utilizing hermetically sealed modules, Sachtler was able to make the tripod head much more resistant to external elements.

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One year later, in 1978, Sachtler brought out the first carbon fibre tripods and its Panorama head 7+7 with a seven-stage damping and counterbalance system.

Fast forward to today and Sachtler has released countless tripods and fluid heads, which leads me to the new Aktiv fluid heads.

What makes the Aktiv 8 unique?

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By essentially removing the ball head levelling clamp and transferring the mechanism to the tripod head itself, it allows the user to keep their hands at the same height when making any adjustments to the head.

Above you can see the difference between the Aktiv 8 and an FSB 10. This is just to show you how the whole design of the Speed Level system differs from most traditional fluid heads.

Instead of having to reach down and undo a clamp, then level off your camera and then do that clamp back up, you simply pull up on a lever, make the adjustment and then pull it back down. It is that simple.

This saves a ton of time, especially for anyone who is levelling off their tripod head numerous times a day. It also means you aren’t constantly reaching underneath the tripod which can put unnecessary strain on your back.

On the base of the Aktiv 8 head, you can see the locking mechanism. When you lift up the levelling clamp on the head, this locking mechanism loosens so you can adjust and level the head. Once you release it and move it down, the locking mechanism engages.

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Now, Sachtler did bring out a Speed Level Clamp a few years ago which did make things a lot quicker, however, it wasn’t compatible with the Flowtech 75 tripod, it only worked with the Flowtech 100 and other Sachtler 100mm bowl head tripods. I think one of the reasons why the Aktiv 8 was designed in the first place is probably because the Speed Level Clamp wouldn’t work with the Flowtech 75.

As far as how the entire mechanical design works for the Speed Level system, well that is unclear. Sachtler hasn’t divulged that information. I am sure it is probably a proprietary design and they want to keep that information confidential.

Snap-On, Snap Off

Because you don’t have to undo a traditional ball leveling clamp, you can remove the Aktiv 8 head from the Flowtech 75 really quickly. It utilizes a system that Sachtler is calling SpeedSwap.

You can just pull up on the levelling clamp on the head and the head will detach. This way you can quickly move it to a slider, dolly, jib, etc.

I did find that the first time I tried to remove the head I couldn’t do it. This left me puzzled until I found out how to do it.

What I found is that if the bottom clamp (on the base of the fluid head) is too tight the head will not come off. What I needed to do was to loosen the bottom connector slightly by pushing the Connector Knob upward and turning anticlockwise.

This is the same thing you have to do if you can’t put the head back on. In saying that, once it is adjusted you basically don’t have to ever touch that bottom clamp again.

I did find this whole process a little confusing at first, but once you understand how to do it, it is a very quick and easy process.

Can you put the Aktiv heads onto any 75mm or 100mm bowl head?

Yes, you can. The Aktiv bowl connector (75 mm or 100mm depending on the model) can be removed and you can use it on any other device. For instance, I could use the Aktiv 8 on a jib or dolly that has a 75mm bowl adapter. All I would need to do is to remove the Aktiv bowl connector that I have on my tripod and attach it to the jib or dolly. Then I just simply attach the fluid head.

You will be able to purchase the Aktiv bowl connector separately so if you wanted to leave one attached to a jib or a dolly, etc. you could.

Other Features

One of the smallest features, but arguably one of the most useful is the way Sachtler has designed the levelling bubble. By using a prism you can see the bubble even when the head is too high to view from above.

This Prism also acts as the On / Off switch for illumination. In addition, the prism bubble may be lit on its own or with the control LED’s to enable setup up in low light conditions.

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The illumination will be activated by pushing the bubble prism window. Here is how it works:

  1. Pressing the window briefly will turn on the level bubble LED for
    approx.10s ± 1s.
  2. Pressing and holding the window for >1s will turn on the level
    bubble LED and all control LED’s for 20s ± 2s.
  3. Pressing the window again when any of the illuminations are on,
    will turn every LED off.

The great aspect of this design is that one bubble actually becomes two bubbles. That way you can see it from the side, from the top or from the bottom. This means that if you put the tripod at any height you can clearly see the bubble.

If you press on the button to illuminate the bubble, it not only lights up the bubble, but it also illuminates both the pan and the tilt tension mechanisms.

I do wish that the panhandle was shorter, or that Sachtler would at least give you one that telescopes in and out so you could adjust the length.

Build Quality & Design

The build quality is excellent, and everything works as advertised. Sachtler does a lot of testing before they release a product because tripods and fluid heads are always going to take a beating in the field and be used in some pretty extreme environments. The Aktiv heads will work in temperatures from -40°C (-40°F) to +60°C (+140°F). The Aktiv heads have been in development for the last few years, however, Sachtler started working on the idea way back in 2014.

The design is modern but functional. I personally like that Sachtler has managed to keep the fluid head nice and compact. The new levelling clamp doesn’t take up any additional space and it doesn’t get in your way when you are operating.

I can’t speak for the longevity of this new design as that is only something I could know after many years of use. I know Sachtler does pretty rigorous and extreme testing with its products, so it will be interesting to see how these new heads hold up over time.

Here is what the various Aktiv models weigh:

WEIGHT
Aktiv 62.6 kg (5.7 lb)
Aktiv 82.7 kg (5.9 lb)
Aktiv 8S2.8 kg (6.2 lb)
Aktiv 102.9 kg (6.4 lb)

There is only a very marginal difference in weight between all of the different models.

Payload capacity

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Sachtler is quoting a payload capacity of 12kg (26.45lb) for the Aktiv 8. Below you can see the payload capacity for all three Aktiv models:

  • Aktiv 6: 0-8kg (17.6lb)
  • Aktiv 8: 0-12kg (28.45lb)
  • Aktiv 10: 0-12kg (28.45lb)

The nice aspect of these fluid heads is that they take payloads from 0 kg up to their maximum allowable weight. This means you can use them with a wide variety of cameras.

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The payload capacity of the Aktiv 8 is impressive for a 75mm bowl head fluid head. Because of the innovative new design, the Aktiv 8 has a lot higher payload capacity than a Sachtler FSB 8.

How does this payload capacity compare to some other 75mm bowl head fluid heads on the market?

Payload Capacity
Sachtler Aktiv 80-12 kg (28.4 lb)
Sachtler FSB 80-9 kg (19.8 lb)
Miller DS205-10 kg (11-22 lb)
Miller CX60-12 kg (28.4 lb)
Miller CX80-12 kg (28.4 lb)
Vinten Vision Blue55.8-12 kg (12.8-28.4 lb)
Cartoni Focus 88.16 kg (18 lb)
Benro BV8H8 kg (17.6 lb)

As you can see the Aktiv 8 now has the same payload capacity as the Miller CX6 and CX8, and the Vinten Vision Blue5.

Smoothness of the head

It has been a while since I have used a 75mm fluid head tripod, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

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The Aktiv 8 has more tension than I was expecting, but that is actually a good thing. The pan mechanism is really nice and it allows you to create very smooth movement. There are 7 stages of adjustment on the pan axis to choose from.

The tilt mechanism is also good, and it also allows for 7 stages of adjustment.

The Aktiv 8 is very smooth to use and I found I could constantly do repeatable pans and tilts with no issues. It is good to see that the performance of the head hasn’t been compromised with the newly changed design.

Versatility

Sachtler has designed the Aktiv 8 with versatility in mind, however, this does come at an additional cost. If you want to mount the Aktiv 8 onto a slider you can through the use of the optional 75mm fluid head to tripod slider adapter.

If you want to put your slider onto the Flowtech 75 tripod you can with the use of the 75mm tripod to slider adapter.

Both of these accessories work pretty well, however, the 75mm tripod to slider adapter is a little difficult to use because the balance adjustment arm is very difficult to move.

It would have been nice if Sachtler had have included at least one 75mm fluid head to tripod slider adapter with the Aktiv 8.

There are also 100mm versions of both the tripod to slider adapter and the fluid head to tripod slider adapter.

Designed to compliment Flowtech Tripods

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Just over two years ago Sachtler announced the Flowtech 75. The tripod was a direct consequence of being able to think about what modern materials can do and how those capabilities should influence what a tripod actually looks like. Changing the very design that has been so successful for Sachtler over many decades was a risky endeavour. You don’t want to change the design just because you can, you only do it if you end up with a product that is better than what was already available. Thinking outside the box paid off for Sachtler, and the Flowtech 75 and subsequent Flowtech 100 have been very well received by shooters around the world.

The Aktiv 8 Tripod Head follows the same philosophy as the Flowtech tripods. By utilizing modern materials and different design techniques, Sachtler has been able to fundamentally change how you level off and remove/attach your tripod head.

Real World Use

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I tested the Aktiv 8 out with a Flowtech 75 tripod with a variety of cameras to see how it performed.

With tripod heads, most of us have built up muscle memory when it comes to balancing the head. I found that when I first started using the Aktiv 8 that I kept forgetting where the balance level was. I instinctively kept reaching underneath the tripod. Like any new product, the Aktiv 8 does take some getting used to.

You may well find that you don’t like it the first time you try it. I found it to be one of those products where once you get used to it you start to like it more and more.

The bubble prism is also a great addition, and it makes a huge difference during real-world use. Being able to clearly see the bubble even when your tripod is up very high solves a very real-world problem that a lot of operators face.

Another great aspect that I really think shouldn’t be overlooked, is that when you combine the Aktiv 8 with a Flowtech 75 you can get super low angle shots. As there isn’t a ball head adjustment underneath the head you can literally put the Flowtech 75 directly on the ground. This is a great feature. You can get shots from a lower angle than if you were using a traditional high-hat.

Taking the fluid head off or putting it back on the tripod is a super easy process. If you are moving a tripod head from a tripod to another device, having the ability to do it very quickly saves a lot of time over the course of a day.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of coupling an Aktiv head with a Flowtech 75 or Flowtech 100 is speed. Everything becomes a lot quicker when using this combination.

In the video at the top of this review, you can see how much quicker the Aktiv head is to use compared to an FSB 10.

If you are shooting news, documentaries, events, etc. the combination of an Aktiv head and a Flowtech tripod is hard to beat, especially if you are constantly making changes throughout a day.

What would you compare the Aktiv 8 to?

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Sachtler FSB 8

Sachtler told me that the Aktiv 8 is the equivalent of an FSB 8, and the Aktiv 10 is the equivalent of an FSB 10. What are the differences between the FSB 8 and the Aktiv 8, and the Aktiv 10 and the FSB 10?

Aktiv 8FSB 8
Weight2.7 kg (5.9 lb)2.7 kg (5.9 lb)
Payload Capacity0-12 kg (28.4 lb)0-9 kg (19.8 lb)
Counterbalance Steps15 10
Drag Settings75
SpeedSwap SystemYesNo
SpeedLevel SystemYesNo

As you can see, the Aktiv 8 offers a lot of advantages over the FSB 8, including a higher payload capacity, more counterbalance and drag setting steps, and the addition of the new SpeedSwap and SpeedLevel systems.

Aktiv 10FSB 10
Weight2.9 kg / 6.4 lb 2.7 kg/ 5.9 lb
Payload Capacity0-12 kg (28.4 lb)4 -12 kg (8.8-26.5 lb)
Counterbalance Steps15 10
Drag Settings75
SpeedSwap SystemYesNo
SpeedLevel SystemYesNo

Will there be a 100mm bowl head version?

Well. there already is. Along with the Aktiv 8, there is also an Aktiv 10 version. However, if you are wondering whether this new design will come to larger 100mm fluid heads like the 18P S2, I think that you will definitely see that happen.

Price & Availability

Here are the prices of the Aktiv fluid heads:

How does the price of the Aktiv 8 compare to some of the competition?

Price
Sachtler Aktiv 8$1,866.75 USD
Sachtler FSB 8$1,700 USD
Miller DS20$828.63 USD
Miller CX6$1,355.94 USD
Miller CX8$1,732.59 USD
Vinten Vision Blue5$1,995 USD
Cartoni Focus 8$675.75 USD
Benro BV8H$589.95 USD

As you can see, the price of the Aktiv 8 makes it around $250 USD more expensive than the FSB 8, and around $220 USD more than the Miller CX8.

Sachtler will also be selling kits that include an Aktiv head and a set of Flowtech tripod legs. Those prices are below:

The prices for the accessories are:

Look, good tripods are not cheap, but they are a smart investment. If you buy a good tripod it can last you decades if you look after it correctly. LONG after you have bought and sold your latest camera, your tripod will still be there. I can never quite understand when people spend a lot of money on a digital cinema camera and then they buy the cheapest tripod they can find. Whenever I see people using cheap, horrible tripods with expensive cameras I cam never understand the thought process that goes into that decision.

Competition

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Miller CX6

The main competition comes from Sachtler’s own FSB 8, and Miller’s DS20, CX6, and CX8.

Conclusion

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Once you start changing the concept of how a long-standing product works, it is going to take some time to convince users that the change is for the best.

You may or may not like change and whether the Aktiv fluid head design works for you will be very much an individual decision.

I personally like to see the innovation of long-standing products. The fluid head has evolved over the years, but the way we use it hasn’t fundamentally changed. By thinking outside of the box Sachtler has attempted to make tasks we do multiple times a day easier.

In combination with a Flowtech 75 tripod, the Aktiv 8 head makes for a really good combination. It gives you speed, versatility, a high payload capacity, and innovations that make using a tripod system easier.

For me, the most important aspect of any tripod system is usability. A fluid head can have all the bells and whistles in the world, but if it isn’t easy to use then those features don’t matter.

The features on the Aktiv 8 are all practical and they serve a purpose. The head has been well thought out and you can see that a lot of development and testing has gone into making the end product.

The Aktiv 8 is easy to use, and once you get the hang of it I think a lot of people are going to like it.

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