Hi! Will here, video production manager at F8 Creates (Hamish’s creative agency). SmallRig kindly sent us the full FreeBlazer Heavy-Duty Tripod Kit for us to review and we’ve had the pleasure of using it on a multitude of video shoots (so many shoots in fact that we’ve scarcely had time to review it). Other than Hamish giving me the tripod and saying “can you review this”, I have no affiliation with SmallRig and all thoughts and opinions are my own and those of our video team.
As a full time videographer, a reliable tripod and video head are a must. The ability to pan and track to your heart’s content, all while knowing your expensive kit is secure, unsurprisingly, comes at a price. Typically, for this set up you could be spending anything from £500 right into the thousands, a price point which may easily scare some people off. But not anymore, because small rig have developed a system that offers many of the features of a £500 video tripod, at the slightly less eye watering £394. So is it any good?
The fluid head consists of an adjustable dial on the left hand side to control tilts and a panning head which can be locked off and adjusted for tension accordingly. The adjustable tension on the panning head works really nicely and allows super smooth movement (which you can see in our test shots below) with the resistance being controlled by a silicone gripped dial. The dial is soft and offers decent grip through its ridged design. The plus and minus labels also helpfully illustrate which direction increases and decreases tension, which sounds obvious but comes in super handy when you’re working quickly.
The tilt head offers slightly less flexibility, with all motion controlled by one dial which also serves as a lock. Whilst it would be nice to be able to fine tune the motion on a separate dial, the all in one system works pretty well and provides a smooth and fluid motion when panning up and down. When compared to my regular (more expensive) video tripod, it would be pretty hard to distinguish the difference in tilting motion between shots. When holding our Sony A7s, the video head held strong and counterbalanced the camera effectively, providing smooth and controlled motion in every shot. The build quality feels great and the minimal use of plastic really helps make the product feel more high end.
And now my favourite feature; each leg can be extended via one flip lock. This allows you to quickly adjust for height without having to manually unlock 2-3 tiers on each leg, a godsend when trying to move quickly and support the weight of your camera during adjustments. The locks, though plastic in feel, are solid enough and each leg extends neatly with little resistance. Typically we’ve faced a trade off between using a lighter tripod that allows easier height adjustments (but no fluid head) or a heavier duty tripod that allows fluid motion but requires a lot of heavy lifting and messing around to reach the correct height. With the Free Blazer, you reach a nice middle ground with all the perks of using a video head, without losing as much time (and energy) when adjusting for height.
The legs themselves feel sturdy and consist of 5 carbon fibre pillars per leg. Whilst we haven’t done any particular stress tests, the legs have held up through shoots indoors and outdoors and the camera always feels secure. They are also far less conductive of temperature which will make a significant difference to shooters that frequently find themselves working outdoors.
It would be a stretch to describe the Freeblazer as “lightweight” however in comparison to its aluminium counterparts, the legs are notably lighter without compromising on the build quality or stability of the tripod. Worth noting also is the fact that you will likely have to make adjustments to the ball head when resetting the legs, though this is par for the course for most tripods of this level.
Included with the kit is an adjustable spreader with a lock on each leg. The metal pillars feel strong and add an extra layer of stability to the setup and the spreader folds neatly upwards when collapsing the tripod. Contrasting this with my regular, more expensive video tripod, which features a flimsy spreader that frequently falls out of place and can often resist the motion of folding, I found the Freeblazer to perform this quickly and elegantly. This again, can make all the difference when moving quickly between setups. The fact that this is included with the kit rather than being an optional upgrade, adds a heap of value to the deal. Whilst this will be second nature to those who have used video tripods before, you may need to collapse the spreader before adjusting the height of the legs as they will resist any downward force. I would however argue that this as a plus as the tripod’s job is to resist motion and provide stability, therefore strong resistance to downward force means a safer and more robust solution.
The feet feel solid and appear to be made from the same material as the flip locks. They can also be easily removed to reveal spikes for shooting on uneven terrain which again offers decent flexibility for videographers. The fact that these are included in the package is a big selling point for anyone who wants to get everything they need in one hit rather than building your tripod rig piece by piece.
Levers and Screws
The video head itself features an adjustable lever which can be mounted either side with firm interlocking teeth. The adjustable length is a useful feature, allowing you more space when packing down or when working in confined locations.
The handle itself has a thick silicone grip that feels resilient to frequent use, in contrast to many flimsy and thin handles I’ve used on other video tripods, often perishing over time and loosening from the handle. You can also turn the handle to face upwards if that’s what you’re into.
The head also features two screw adapters allowing you to attach anything from jib arms, screens and audio equipment. This will be another selling point for “run and gun” videographers as you can quickly detach from your “main rig” and keep your handheld setup as lightweight as possible.
Another time saving feature is the quick release plate which works as well as any quick release I’ve used on tripods of this level. This operates by loosening the screw on the left hand side and pressing a button on the back to release your camera. Another less standard feature is the head’s ability to mount several different types of quick release plate. A small button on the top lets you easily flick between plate sizes and whilst we didn’t use this feature, I can see how it would come in handy for those switching between rigs or want to use their existing plates with the Freeblazer. This is another example of the tripod including features that keep it flexible to the user, without “locking them in” to any particular product. This is always a plus when buying a video tripod as it means you can switch out components as and when you need to without having to repurchase everything.
This adaptability is also prevalent in the Ball base which can also be removed and switched out, should you wish to upgrade in the future or add the video head to your existing tripod. The base itself is metal which gives it an added heft and presumably serves as a suitable counterbalance to the camera (science?) . The adjustable silicone handle below, teamed with the spirit level is really easy to use and is of a high quality. Whilst this isn’t a revolutionary feature, it works really well and feels like it will stand the test of time after frequent use..
This may seem a bit boring, but as anyone that has heaps of video/photography kit will know, not all carry cases are made equal. So despite this mainly being a review of the tripod itself, kudos to Small Rig for providing a carrying bag that is; strong, weather resistant, has a handy internal zip and a strong outer zip that won’t fall apart if someone so much as looks at it. The tripod actually fits in the carrying case, which again, sounds like a basic feature but is so frequently an issue which leaves you feeling like you’re trying to cram a car into a sock. The bag also has a velcro carrying strap and a shoulder strap, which is nice.
Without question, the SmallRig Free Blazer is the perfect solution for anyone looking to get a fully functional video tripod for under £400. Whilst you could never go as far as to say the tripod is “cheap” or “light” it certainly delivers on smart functionality, decent build quality and above all else super smooth moves for your footage.
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