Reserve Power: Steady now

Ross Rubin
R. Rubin|10.25.10

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Reserve Power: Steady now
Ross Rubin contributes Reserve Power, a column that presents personal perspectives on personal technology. He also contributes Switched On each week.

While image stabilization has come a long way, a good tripod or mount can make all the difference in some photos, particularly shots that demand long exposure. There are scores of options on the market, and tripods models catering to pros can cost thousands of dollars. But for those who are looking for some support, particularly on the go in situations where a traditional tripod or monopod is impractical, there are lots of novel products on the market that can help bridge the gap. Note that several of these products are designed to work only with compact digital cameras and camcorders. With that caveat in mind, here are some of my favorites.

Modopocket ($30) - The Manfrotto brand is well-known among photography enthusiasts for its sturdiness, and its smallest entry shows the same degree of engineering prowess for which its full-sized products are known. The Modopocket's tiny razor blade-shaped legs unfold to provide a small bit of ground clearance and flexibility in adjusting the angle of a compact camera.

ZipShot ($59.99) - With its pencil-thin leg extensions, the ZipShot looks like the daddy long legs of tripods. But what's most remarkable about the device is the way it opens. After removing two securing cords, simply holding up the ZipShot will result in its three leg segments dropping toward the ground and assembling themselves automatically like a robot from the future. Tearing down isn't quite as slick as the leg segments must be pulled apart and folded up again, but the process still takes only about 20 seconds. When extended, the Zipshot is 44" tall; it would be great to see a taller version.

($19.95) If the Zip Shot is the daddy long legs of tripods, the Flip-Cage from the clever product design team at Gary Fong is the Swiss Army knife of such products, and despite the company's marketing of at least five functions, I've been able to find even more flexibility. The Flip-Cage is a small platform that includes two rotating bars that act as a roll cage protecting the camera when up, and act as a tilting stand (well, duopod or quadpod depending on whether you're counting feet or legs), The Flip-Cage includes two translucent shades for the cage walls that can also be flipped to provide a shade for the lens and the LCD, and the cage's wide berth. It can be used to suspend the camera a few inches above a surface for macro photography, or to tilt it vertically for portraits.

The smaller Flip-Cage was just a bit too small to perfectly enclose a Canon PowerShot 90. Gary Fong offers a larger Flip-Cage Pro which was able to handle an Olympus E-PL1 Micro Four Thirds camera, but the roll cage couldn't swing over the zoom lens. This could be addressed with extensible or detachable cage walls.

Fat Gecko
($89.99) Produced by Delkin Devices, well-known to photo pros for a range of accessories such as durable memory cards and long-lasting recordable DVDs, the Fat Gecko includes to large suction cups that can affix a camera to a range of surfaces, including the side or hood of a car for video work. The Fat Gecko costs $89.99, but for those who don't need all the power of the Fat Gecko, Delkin offers the Mini, which includes only one section cup and costs $39.99. And if that's a bit steep, a similar product to the Mini is the less whimsically named Panavise 809 Camera Window Suction Cup Mount, which Amazon sells for about $26.

GorillaPod ($19.99) The GorillaPod has become well-known for its flexibility. Its interlocking ball design can be conveniently wrapped around a range of objects such as tree branches, chair backs, tables and railings to capture photos and videos. The original GorillaPod was designed for lightweight compact cameras, but over the years manufacturer Joby has expanded the line to a whole band of GorillaPods that include multiple colors, magnetic feet, and larger, sturdier models that can accommodate beefy DSLRs with zoom lenses.

XShot Camera Extender
($29.95) and Quik Pod (24.95) - For those who are never in the photo or video because they're holding the camera or camcorder, there are the Quik Pod and XShot -- extensible monopod-like devices intended to be held in the hand and expanded out in front to take self-portraits. They can also be used as a periscope, jutting into the air or over a fence or railing that would otherwise block or interfere with a shot (although the Qik Pod site cautions that the product is not intended for use in crowded areas). The thicker Quik Pod comes with a carry pouch, reaches another 1.5" beyond the XShot and has a screw-off bottom that enables it to be used to extend a tripod's reach. For scenarios where you want a bit more portability and a bit less reach, there's the Pocket XShot, which extends to 30" as opposed to the larger product's 37".

($34.99) - Looking to elbow its way into the crowded tripod market, the Armpod is a monopod-like deice with a difference. With its top looking a bit like a miniature crutch that supports the upper part of your arm, It is particularly handy for when you are going to be recording something for an extended period of time while seated. The Armpod has an adjustable length and an integrated belt clip for using it while standing, and the armrest top can be removed to reveal a standard screw mount, This allows you to use it for Quik Pod-style "above the crowd" shots, but the lack of a ball mount means it's not as useful for self-portraits.

Steadepod ($24.99) - The Steadepod is not a tripod or even a monopod. Rather, it is a pocketable flat slab with a detachable wire connected to a small pedal-like section that is extended to the floor. When the pedal is covered with your foot and the wire is pulled taut, it can help steady your camera. The degree of stabilization you'll receive depends on a number of conditions, but the Steadepod is one of the least conspicuous gadgets that you can use to help steady your camera. It's a lot smaller than the Armpod, but won't relieve arm fatigue for video

Bottle Cap Tripod (~$7.99). Bottled water may be a target of many environmentalists, but it can also help your targets stay in focus a bit better, especially if the water bottle has some liquid in it to keep it steadied. The bottle cap tripod simply slips on top of a plastic bottle to give your compact camera or camcorder some stability and a bit of a height lift. Small, cheap and fun, it even allows about 15 degrees of tilt, which may not be that much, but it depends on whether you look at the bottle half full or half empty.
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