Do you pod? And do you pod all the time or just on special occasions? I pod when I have to, but I certainly don’t take a tripod with me everywhere.
For years I had a Slik amateur-model tripod that did a reasonable job. It was reasonably priced, it did a reasonable job of holding the camera still and it was a reasonable weight to carry. Then one of the leg catches broke.
Not being a frequent podder, I replaced it with one of 7 Day Shop’s cheap deals. Like the Slik it was an amateur tripod with some nice features at a great price. It did great service up on Great Gable doing some star photography. If I had to use a tripod and had to carry it more than a few paces, this would be my choice.
Somewhere along the line I also acquired The Beast. I was driving into Harrogate At the time and got stopped at a level crossing. There was a parking spot just to the left of me and I was in no hurry. So I parked and had a wander around a few charity shops. Lurking at the back of one was The Beast, a Slik professional tripod with a Manfrotto geared head. The quick release plate was missing, but available online. The release plate actually cost more than the tripod. Not if you were buying it new, of course – this is a £500 tripod and head combination.
This thing is a monster. I used it when a couple of us were doing record shots for the local court and poorhouse museums. This thing could hold a parachute steady in a gale. I wouldn’t want to carry it though: it weighs about the same as me. I certainly would not have carried this up Great Gable. Although if I had thrown my coat over it, I could have slept inside.
This is the tripod I used to straddle a lightbox when I was taking pictures of my negatives. Even though it is, in effect, leaning over to one side it’s heavy enough that it won’t tip. The geared head is useful too. It lets me finely adjust the direction of the camera with no risk that it could slip afterwards. There is always a fear with a heavy lens or camera that a slip ends with a crunch.
The Beast is useless for action though, but then, isn’t every tripod? When I was off to photograph some bike racing I needed some form of support for the long lenses I was using. I don’t have the option of pushing the ISO to phone numbers. Actually there was one guy there who had set up the biggest lens I’ve ever seen on a tripod and left it in the same place throughout the event, firing it by remote control. Rather a cynical and mechanical way of getting results, I think. Or perhaps a very good use of time and resources by a professional.
What I had instead was a monopod. And not just a monopod but a MONOPOD. This is a Benbo job, as robust as one of the legs off The Beast. It extends to longer than my height, so it easily supports a camera at eye level. I’ve got a V-shaped bracket on the top (thank you, 7dayshop) rather than any kind of mounting screw. This means that the monopod supports a long lens, allows panning or rocking back and forth to get best focus, and decouples instantly when I lift the camera away from it. I could probably use it to fend-off dogs or alligators as well.
From the practical to the surreal – back in the day you could buy a multi-function camera support. It was basically a plastic G clamp but the advertisers said you could screw it to a tree or attach the little legs to turn it into a table tripod. Total con, but I bought one. Still have it. Never used it. It’s like those Swiss Army knives that are so fat with extra blades that you can’t carry or use them. But if I ever do have to attach a lightweight camera to a tree or fence, I will wonder where I put it.
I tend to shoot a lot of stuff that is fluid (not a deliberate pun, honest) where a tripod is out of the question. I did try in the past to recreate something like a rifle sling, where I could pull the camera against myself , but I couldn’t make it work well. It might be worth trying the idea with a mirrorless camera, as you don’t need to hold them to your eye to use them. It did feel like a good method for pulling the tripod socket out of the camera body though. Anyway, people shoot with five-digit ISO these days and don’t need a tripod for support.
So there is a bunch of other stuff I’ve tried to find a comfortable support. Some people rate the little tabletop tripods. I’ve tried one, but I find it too small to be a tripod and too big to be convenient. When I’ve been out at night in urban areas I have tended to use a beanbag. Easy to place on a wall or even the ground and not too much grief to carry about. It still means that you are carrying around something that weighs as much as a camera and isn’t a camera, though. I saw one of those useful ‘ten tips for steady shooting’ articles that suggested using a bit of string with a 1/4″ bolt on the end. The idea is that you put the bolt in the tripod socket of the camera, drop the string on the floor, tread on it and pull up on the camera. Instant steadiness without the need for a tripod.
It does work, after a fashion. You really need the tripod socket to be central on the camera and it’s a fiddle to fit and remove. Ideally, before you use it in anger, you will practice and tie a knot at the point your foot should be. And remember to take it off before you try to walk away. I believe there was an equivalent in days of yore when real men used TLRs of pulling down on the camera to tighten the neck strap as a form of brace. A bit like the rifle sling idea, but practical.
I suppose the ultimate aid to steadiness is something like the Zenit Photosniper or the Novoflex. I’ve written about them before. And like the photographer’s waistcoat, all sadly confined to a more innocent past. These days you can get arrested for taking a picture out of an airliner window.
But these days it seems to matter less. I’ve seen someone shooting a group in dim light that I would have needed a tripod and flash for, and all he did was push the ISO. The results were fine, maybe even better than using flash as there were no awkward shadows. If looking at the back of your camera is chimping, can I call this cheesbugging? (It’s an ISO ‘pod. Sorry.)
You heard it here first. And last.
Update – I found the weird clampy thing.