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Sirui VA-5 vs Manfrotto MVH500AH (visual comparison) (1 Viewer)

yarrellii

Well-known member
Supporter
While searching for a head/tripod combo for my ATS65 I've come across different suggestions, but three kept repeating: Sirui VA-5, Manfrotto MVH500AH and 128RC.
I've opted to get the two first ones, one for the scope, to be used on the field and one for home use.

I'm opening this thread to compare them directly and, especially this first post, in order to provide a visual help for those who like me may be looking to get one of those heads. I have no easy access to any quality shop stocking tripods or heads, and even if I did, the current circumstances make it difficult to check things first hand. Until I got both of them I was not aware of the huge size, bulk and weight difference (given that weight indication on specs are many times not accurate; in my scale, it's 530 g for the VA-5 and 987 g for the MVH500AH, plate included in both cases). I've used the Swarovski ATS65HD scope as a visual reference for scale.

As soon as I've compared their performance, I'll report on that. Feel free to add your thoughts and comments.
 

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GeorgeL

Well-known member
My old Bogen/Manfrotto 3063 fluid head is tall and heavy so I’ve been looking to replace it with something relatively compact, like the Sirui head.
I like the Sirui‘s arca swiss plate and saddle system with the push button safety pin. I have that on my Sirui monopod head. Only problem is you lose that safety feature if you use your scope on heads other than Sirui.
Looking forward to your review.

Edit: I just realized your scope’s mount is arca swiss so the above safety pin comment I made may not apply.
 
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I am interested in this commentary as well. I have a 500AH and it is a good size for a scope. I do find that it drifts from the desired postion a little when locking the pan and the tilt, especially when looking at stars or objects at high magnification. For birds in the daylight it's better. This is a birdforum so stars don't matter as much. I find the tilt motion to be better than the pan motion. The size and weight of the 500 are on the larger size, but I am starting to look at the 502 for more precision. It's even larger and heavier and sort of a beast though. If I could change one thing right away on the 500 it would be the pan locking knob.....a heavier, nicer feeling dial would be better, in my opinion. The controls seem to be in the right places for me on the 500.
 
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yarrellii

Well-known member
Supporter
Well, some months after my first post, and once I've tried both models in the field extensively I think it's about time I follow up on this thread. As a bonus track, in order to make things more interesting, I've also included a very popular head, the Manfrotto RC128 as a guest.

Here's a line-up of the contenders.

Captura de pantalla 2021-06-12 a las 17.44.49.png

Please bear in mind that this short comparison will be made with the aim of complementing my current scope, a Swarovski ATS HD 65, so size and weight will be important considerations.

As a recap, these are the weights:
MVH500AH: 985 g
RC128: 770 g (730 g without plate)
VA-5: 524 g

The RC128 (and this is probably its biggest selling point for my scope) takes the base of the ATS without the need of a plate, which not only saves weight, but also makes for less fuss and probably increases rigidity. This is the tallest head, and feels pretty bulky. I think (I might be mistaken) this is the oldest design, it's pretty basic compared to the other two, since both the VA-5 and the MVH500AH have a pre-set spring-loaded counterbalance which makes operation much easier. Besides, the 128RC is the only one of the 3 that doesn't allow any longitudinal adjustment, since the plate is fixed and does not slide, so it's limited in this area compared to the other two (even the tiny VA-5 allows for some adjustment, you can slide the plate forwards which makes a back-heavy scope like the ATS be more balanced). Not only that, but the plate itself is fixed, while both the plates of the VA-5 and MVH500AH allow for some adjustment, which helps balancing the scope and eventually help in the field). With the 128RC you have to take extra care when operating the two dials (pan and tilt) because you don't have the extra support of the counterbalance. To make things worse, the controls feel dated in comparison to the other two, not as fine to operate and also can move the scope more when tightening them if you want to secure a position. As a personal note, for the compact ATS HD 65 the handle of the RC 128 felt completely out of proportion. Here's a comparison.

Captura de pantalla 2021-06-12 a las 17.55.21.png

As for the movements, the RC128 also seemed the less refined, it did not glide effortlessly.
The controls are not only quite simple, but in particular the one controlling the panning is located in a hard to reach place, especially if you are operating a scope at the same time, really poor ergonomics, IMHO.
All in all, I must say I was quite disappointed by the RC128. It's probably the most popular head I've seen on the field, and this can only speak of its ruggedness and quality, but compared to the other two left me really very cold. Its only advantage was the fact of being able to use it without the plate, but that was outweighed by far by its flaws.

Manfrotto MHV500AH
Although a hair shorter than the RC128, see pic, this is some serious piece of equipment. It's wide, long and has some heft to it.

Captura de pantalla 2021-06-12 a las 17.59.27.png

The tilt works beautifully, and being spring-loaded it's just a breeze to point the scope wherever you aim. You simply move the (very long and thick) handle and it glides softly until it reaches the desired position and stays there. Really impressive. The fact that the plate is so long and can be moved forward-backwards gives you the best possible balance of the scope, be it front or back heavy. Panning was not its forte, at least in my unit. It was good, but not exceptional like the tilt movement.
Controls are really good, and can be operated with an amazing degree of precision to the point that you can adjust it with minute amounts of force so it offers more or less resistance, you can achieve really subtle levels of drag.
However, for my intended purpose I find it's simply overkill, and could be better suited for a really large and heavy scope in the 85/95 mm class. For me, it's just too large and terribly heavy. I guess if you buy a 65 mm scope is because weight and size are deciding factors, and what's the point of getting a lighter scope if your head is very heavy? Size is also a quite important issue here: compared to the VA-5 this is humongous! Have a look at the first pictures in this post, comparing it to the VA-5, or simply today's pictures as well. Before having it in my hands, I just couldn't image how large it is. I hope my pictures can help someone in the same position I was.

So, in my case, for my needs and after trying them all, the clear winner is the VA-5. It's also spring-loaded, although not as powerfully as the MVH500AH, and tilting is also fluid and effortless, really impressive for its size and weight. Again, panning is not as good as tilting, and I'd say it's worse than the MVH, but the controls are easy to reach an operate in a simple and effective way. The plate is arca-compatible and, while not as long as the one on the MVH, allows for some forwards/backwards sliding, and the plate itself can also be moved some mm within the head, this really helps finding the right balance point. Only one minor flaw (I remember reading about it here on BF). If you leave the panning control handle unlocked, sometimes when you point upwards (like when watching stars or maybe a bird high on the top of a tree), there is a point where the handle is on the way of the moving part of the head and it can be a little issue: you have to undo your movement and place the handle in a correct position that enables tilting towards the zenith. However, all-in-all, the VA-5 feels really well balanced, the handle just fits a 65 mm scope better IMHO and its size and weight are just a perfect match for the ATS HD 65. Although smaller than the MVH500AH, the Sirui VA-5 oozes quality, and while operating it you get a very satisfying feeling of reassurance, like a well built tool. As a side note, I've been lucky enough to enjoy Sirui customer service: I dropped my tripod and it landed on the head, a small piece got broken but Sirui sent me a replacement completely free of charge without receipt or proof of purchase of any kind. I wrote about it here.

I hope this was of interest and can help others (BTW, both my RC128 and MVH500AH are for sale at very friendly prices :D)
 
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Hermann

Well-known member
Thank you for a very fine comparison between these three heads. Good job.

I concur with your conclusions. The RC128 is indeed a bit long in the tooth. I used it for many years when it was the only half-way decent video head on the market. Nowadays it's retired: I use a light Gitzo video head for my smaller scopes and the MVH500AH for my 82mm scope. That combination works just fine for me.

One additional comment: You mentioned the handle of the MVH500AH is a bit long. I personally find all handles are far too long for my liking. So I usually get out the hacksaw when I get a new head and shorten the handle. A lot. BTW, I even use the Gitzo head without the handle. Saves some weight and I find I can use my smaller scopes without the handle no problem.

After reading your comparison I need to look at the Sirui. I always strive to get the best support system for my scopes - it's as important as the scope!

Hermann
 

yarrellii

Well-known member
Supporter
Hermann, I couldn't agree more about how important the tripod/head can be to make the most of your scope. Actually, this is one of the pieces of advice I wish someone had given me when I first got a scope. Due to a poor tripod/head I realise (now) that I wasn't taking advantage of all the power of my first scope, and that even the everyday use was a bit of a pain sometimes due to the poor choice.

My comment regarding the handle of the MVH500AH was a personal preference regarding the ATS 65, who knows, maybe people with larger equipment like it that way (like photo/video with long lenses), but I find it's just in the middle, and makes me feel like if I was maneuvering a heavy tank or battleship. Chopping a part off is something that crossed my mind: do you remove the rubber grip and then attach it to the shortened handle?

I think Sirui deserves consideration. In fact, I haven't checked it, but going by the quality and capabilities of the VA-5, the VA-10 (which has a similar weight and counterbalance pre-set than the MVH500) must also be nice (and it has a handle that you can shorten at will without the need of hacksaw :D). After using the VA-5 I got a Sirui ball head, the K-20x, and I'm also amazed by the quality and usability. I've tried using the ball head as replacement for the video head, but I don't think I like it for that purpose. It is really sturdy (and you can pre-set the level of drag so that your scope doesn't fall hopelessly when the ball lock is loosened), but not as nice as a pan/tilt head in my experience.
 

safaridreaming

Well-known member
Having owned the MVH500AH, the Sirui VA-5 and the Sirui VH-10 i agree with your comments…

More than the weight, i found the Manfrotto oversized bulky. By contrast the Sirui VA-5 is a beautiful little head that balances the tripod well especially when the tripod itself is being carried, AND allows full sized scopes to be used.

some photos below from left to right: Swaro BTX 115mm on the Sirui VH-10, Zeiss Diascope 85mm on the VA-5, Zeiss Diascope 85mm on MVH500AH, Swaro ATS80HD on the MVH500A……

you can probably tell I’m a big fan of Sirui products!!!
 

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yarrellii

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Supporter
Having owned the MVH500AH, the Sirui VA-5 and the Sirui VH-10 i agree with your comments…

More than the weight, i found the Manfrotto oversized bulky. By contrast the Sirui VA-5 is a beautiful little head that balances the tripod well especially when the tripod itself is being carried, AND allows full sized scopes to be used.

some photos below from left to right: Swaro BTX 115mm on the Sirui VH-10, Zeiss Diascope 85mm on the VA-5, Zeiss Diascope 85mm on MVH500AH, Swaro ATS80HD on the MVH500A……

you can probably tell I’m a big fan of Sirui products!!!
safaridreaming, wow, that's a most impressive collection. Out of curiosity, I see that none of the heads in the pictures has a handle. Is this just coincidence or you happen to use the head without the handle (in the post above Hermann mentions doing something similar). If so, what's the reason for doing it? Weight saving? More comfort getting the handle out of the way? Just curious.

(Oh, how I'd love to look through a 115 mm BTX, it must me a most incredible experience.)
 

safaridreaming

Well-known member
I’ve always found the handle awkward. In the early days of me getting into birding, i tended to cut the handles shorter but even then found it awkward. I now prefer to use the scope body itself to move the scope around. It’s a more direct / tactile experience for me Vs using a handle to manipulate the scope..

The Swaro ATS and Zeiss Diascope hv been sold so i no longer hv them. I only hv the Swaro ATX 95 and BTX 115mm and more and more, i lead towards using the BTX so viewing with 2 eyes and fixed magnification…

Btw the Sirui VH10 handles the APM 70 binoculars with no issues either… but the 115 gives these a run for the money in terms of brightness, particularly if I’m also using for Astronomy. The 115mm is quite a bit brighter and resolves more detail in low light situations. Amazing little scope.
 

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cafe birder

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I am considering a Swarovski btx 95 for seawatching. I was impressed by your comments on the Sirui VH 10. Would that combine OK with a Manfrotto mt055cxpro03 which also seems well liked on here. ? The bottom leg diameter on this tripod is only just above that recommended in the sticky guide but I gather it is up to the job.

Regards Howard
 

Tringa45

Well-known member
Europe
I am considering a Swarovski btx 95 for seawatching. I was impressed by your comments on the Sirui VH 10. Would that combine OK with a Manfrotto mt055cxpro03 which also seems well liked on here. ? The bottom leg diameter on this tripod is only just above that recommended in the sticky guide but I gather it is up to the job.

Regards Howard
Howard,

If you already own a CF 055 it would certainly support a BTX95 but might be prone to vibration in windy conditions, even at the fixed 35x magnification.
Here something like a Sirui R-4213X would be more suitable with its 28-36 mm leg sections and at 2,4 kg is only a little heavier and not overly expensive.
The other aspect of stability (tipping over) is also served well by the 25° leg angle and should you later need to accommodate different viewing heights, it could be equipped with a centre column.

John
 

cafe birder

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Thanks John. I don't own any of this yet.(I have and old kowa and slik carbon tripod, both 20 plus years old). I drove to an in focus on spec this afternoon to check whether I could use a BTX comfortably with glasses etc but was astonished to learn they didn't even have a demo.
I will research the tripod you mention.
Due to covid I have not felt I could ask to look through anyones scope so have never experienced a BTX but understand it's pretty astonishing. Being literally the only sea watcher on site not to get on a Wilson's petrel at Pendeen made me aware that a better experience was available but it has taken a number of years to save up.

As a follow up question, are BTX scopes ok for tracking a seabird I.e. you don't have to move your whole head too much to follow one ??
 

safaridreaming

Well-known member
I agree with John’s comments re Tripod, although my own tripod is the next one down - the Sirun R-3213x. I find the smaller Sirui quite stable for birding but for astronomy i hv to be mindful of image shake…

Tracking with the BTX is fine, but it has a shallow depth of field so depending How you’re tracking, you’ll hv to change focus on the fly. That being said, i find it a lot more comfortable and intuitive as I’m tracking with both eyes vs squinting with one, trying to retain my eye placement on the eyepiece AND moving the scope around to track the bird….
 

cafe birder

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Supporter
I agree with John’s comments re Tripod, although my own tripod is the next one down - the Sirun R-3213x. I find the smaller Sirui quite stable for birding but for astronomy i hv to be mindful of image shake…

Tracking with the BTX is fine, but it has a shallow depth of field so depending How you’re tracking, you’ll hv to change focus on the fly. That being said, i find it a lot more comfortable and intuitive as I’m tracking with both eyes vs squinting with one, trying to retain my eye placement on the eyepiece AND moving the scope around to track the bird….
Thank you for your comments.
I was able to try a BTX today at SW optics in Truro ( while visiting family) and was sufficiently impressed to buy it. Tripods apparently more difficult to get hold of though
 

cafe birder

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The 95mm. For me the 115 would be overkill for the amount of use I envisage. I have bought a manfrotto head as SW optics had one available.
There is apparently a big problem with tripod supply but I have ordered a Sirui R3213 X from castle cameras (as they are UK based) as recommended by a birdforum member.
Now I just have to find that Feas.....
 

Hermann

Well-known member
Sirui seems to get a lot of love around here at the moment. Let me add a dissenting voice: I was looking for a lightweight tripod for quite some time. So I got myself a Sirui T-1204x. It looked quite good for use with small scopes. At least on paper and in the shop. But it wasn't. I've rarely seen a tripod - even in this weight class - as vibration prone as this tripod. Pretty horrible, actually. Almost as bad as the ubiquitous junk you find all over the place.

In the end I got a Gitzo Traveller 1545T - much more expensive, of course, but in a totally different world. It performs beautifully. I should have stayed with Gitzo right from the start.

This does not mean to say the bigger Siruis are bad, however, I'd carefully check how they behave in a light wind or when you accidentally knock the tripod. Ideally you'd try the bigger Siruis in a direct comparison to a Gitzo or another high-quality tripod, like an FLM.

Hermann
 

rpg51

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Supporter
Thanks for the posts/comparisons OP. I am newish to scopes and I am in the throws of sorting out what support to use in what situations. My scope is a Kowa 883 (angled) which supposedly weighs in at 67 ozs with eyepiece and it is 13.5 inches long. After my initial outings I am thinking that I may want two tripod/head set ups. One for overnight hiking and canoe trips (ie. lightweight and compact) and one for more easily accessible places where you don't get all that far from the car - maybe a day hike at most, (heavier). My searching suggests your ATS65 is around 48ozs - not sure if that is with eye piece or not?

Anyway, I have a decent but light weight tripod/head set up now - (Sirui ST-124 with VA5 head). This seems good for the compact/lightweight option for hiking/canoe trips. But, I think I would benefit from a heavier more stable set of legs, and maybe even a bigger fluid head(?) for most of my use, which is generally close to the truck with short hikes. Any thoughts/suggestions? I've been looking around at things like the Slik CF 933. Other manufacturers make similar leg sets. Not sure about the head. But, I might try the VA-5 head I already have and then make a decision whether to move up a notch. I am beginning to think that a rock solid platform may be even more important than the scope itself for a good viewing experience.
 

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