Tuesday, April 20, 2010

P4C: Camera Supports

Having looked last week at the most important piece of photographic gear you can purchase, let's move on to the next most important item. Camera supports vary from the well know tripod through more innovative designs for solo shooting. Having some form of camera support is important to Geocachers for a couple of major reasons. The most obvious is that many times you'll need to be in the photos with a group of fellow cachers or some specific items in the background. While you can sometimes hold the camera at arm's length, that's not always going to work, particularly with larger groups or when you need something particular in the background. Another is that camera supports help steady the camera allowing for longer exposure times in low light. You'll also find that video is much easier to watch when captured from a stable platform rather than your shaky hand. I have a variety of supports at my disposal and will readily admit that more times than not the tripod stays in the car. I usually keep something handy, and there's a wide range of options from which I can pick.

We'll start by looking at the most obvious support. A tripod is always a good, safe photographic investment if you're willing to spend the money for good quality. They'll outlast your digital camera, and very likely your car. I have an older Bogen tripod which was the second I purchased new nearly a quarter century ago and it's still going strong. That first was an affordable model and only lasted a couple years. I've since added many more tripods for more specific goals like being small and light on the trail, or strong and better at handling the big lenses. The first rule to getting a good tripod is pretty simple though, you're not likely to find one at a big box store. The ones from the big box stores can be a good starter or throw-away options for lighter cameras and many travelers like them since they're cheap and easy to replace when destroyed or lost by the airline. There are also some small tripods built to stand on desks or be attached to branches. While these might not be tall enough to set-up in the middle of the trail you can frequently find a sign, railing, boulder, or tree to use. No matter which route you choose, carefully check the weight the tripod supports (not the weight of the tripod itself) and make sure that it will properly handle your camera with a little extra to spare for things like batteries or your hands. Choose well and you'll probably not need to replace the tripod as long as you cache.

photo by Lawrence of Berkley
The more simple form of camera support is the bean bag. These have regained popularity with the expanding use of digital cameras and cameraphones. A bean bag requires something on which to set it and the camera but doesn't require that the camera have a tripod socket making them ideal for cameraphones. Typically these are handmade by the user, but a variety of premade options have begun popping up. One of the more interesting derivatives is the Monsterpod which does require a tripod socket. It can stick to many smooth surfaces thanks to a gel in its underside. (I grabbed one of these Monsterpods but have yet to try it.) Try making a bean bag yourself, perhaps in your favorite colors. They're small and can usually fit into a pocket when on the trail.

photo by Lawrence of Berkley
The most interesting class of camera support really hadn't been seen much before the digital camera revolution. These are sticks with a tripod post at the end to secure the camera. These are designed to be held out in front of you for better self-portraits than simply holding the camera at arm's length. Some like the Xshot are available self contained, but I was recently contacted to try one designed for hikers. The StickPic is a simple ring you slide onto your trekking pole then attach your compact camera to it. They sent me one to try out and I really haven't used it much, but love the concept. These are great for getting a little needed distance between you and the camera. Don't count on them to help in low light situations as holding the camera out like that will be less stable than hand-holding.

This is by no means a complete list of options. There are all sorts of goodies left out from here, but I've tried to touch on some of the better, more common options for Geocachers. Here are my recommendations for Geocachers based on their camera type;
For cameraphone users: Try a bean bag. There are tripods (like the Gorilla Mobile) specifically made for some cameraphones and that's a great option as well.
For compact camera users: Try the Gorillapod. These are small, flexible tripods great for use on the trail and generally don't cost too much. If you're already using a trekking pole add the StickPic for those quick self-portraits.
For super-zoom users: A cheap tripod from one of the big box stores might be your best pick to start. That will allow you a range of heights and will free stand on the trail. Of course Gorillapod has options that work too and are worth consideration.
For DSLR users: For all your photography I can't recommend highly enough buying a quality tripod. A great alternative though is the bean bag which can get closer to the ground and will be easier to carry.
Future articles in this series will talk more about how to take advantage of these supports, but come back next week as we look a self-timers and remote releases.

Text and images in this post are copyright 2010 by Darryl Wattenberg, all rights reserved.

1 comment:

Woodsy said...

Great tips, Darryl.

Rather than making a beanbag yoursefl might I suggest a Beanpod from www.Beanpods.co.uk ?

Well, I did anyhow!

Keep up the good work.

Cheers, Mark (UK).