Isn't it annoying how difficult it is to get a smooth pan or tilt even when using a tripod? You go to all that work to get a rock steady picture, but then discover it is almost impossible to avoid shaking the camera a little when your hands grab the handle to start the movement. A better tripod head might help, but the idea of a motorized device to do the camera moves is pretty attractive.
This sounds like a problem that money could solve and indeed there are many options if you are willing to spend $5,000 and up. But if that's not in your budget, you might want to take a look at the Bescor MP-101 ($120 at B&H). It is a battery-operated (an AC adapter is optional) motorized pan head. I couldn't find reviews or user comments about this unit anywhere, so I took a chance and bought one.
Installation and use is simple. You attach it to your tripod head and then attach the camera to it. The remote is simple and easy to operate. You set the pan speed with a slide control and then press the arrow in the direction you want to move the camera. It will also tilt, at a fixed speed.
There is also has an automatic mode which will continuously pan the camera back and forth between the angles of your choice. Maybe this is good for a security application? I can't think of any time I would use it.
I've made a few sample videos with my Canon XH A1 to show you the results. The first shows a pan of a forest scene at the fastest speed, using a wide angle. Frankly it doesn't look very good but that's not the fault of the Bescor. For reasons I don't fully understand (but which are discussed here), panning doesn't look good with this setup. At the slow speed though it looks great. Fortunately the tilt speed is slow, so that works. Unless you are zoomed in which case it's too fast. Sigh.
- Pretty smooth
- Easy to use
- Good range of travel
- Motion starts and ends abruptly
- Slowest speed is still too fast (especially on zoom)
- Occasional hesitations during travel
- Some minor glitching when reversing directions
- The wire to the remote control is not very long (but an extension is available)
If you need an inexpensive motorized pan and tilt head, the Bescor MP-101 could be the one for you. It does a good job within its limitations. For my purposes, the jury is still out as to whether it will be useful. Look at the sample video (about 50MB) and judge for yourself. I bought mine at B&H Photo/Video.