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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Gadget Bag: Beyond The Tabletop

Ultracompact tripods are good for much more than point-and-shoot cameras

Labels: Gadget BagGear
This Article Features Photo Zoom

The image on the opening page is simulated, but shows how these small tripods can be used very effectively by nature shooters. Some tabletop tripods come with small heads and some come without heads at all. Adding a normal-sized ballhead or an L bracket makes a powerful, solid package.

Once considered an inevitably endangered species because of built-in image stabilization, tripods have emerged just as important as ever. Using a tripod can potentially improve every shot you take—that's something you can't say about any other accessory. If that's so, why don't we always use one? Sometimes it's just too inconvenient—tripods can be large, slow to engage and attract unwanted attention. However, portable tabletop and specialty tripods aren't big, or slow to set up, or inconvenient to maneuver. In fact, for nature photography, a tabletop tripod can be a very steady and useful platform in the field when used properly.

One way you can make tabletop tripods useful is by adding a full-sized ballhead. The tiny ballheads one usually sees on mini-tripods are fine for tiny point-and-shoot cameras, but by adding a full-sized ballhead, many of these diminutive tripods can easily accommodate a hefty DSLR. Also consider adding an L bracket, which will keep the rig balanced for vertical shots. With these additions, you still have a very compact setup, and as long as you get sufficient spread on the tripod's legs, this kind of rig can give you rock-solid support.

Giottos QU 305B
There's no shortage of sizes, styles and special features. Just make sure that the tiny tripod you select will support the weight of the camera and lens combination you're most likely to use. A tripod that's left at home in the closet doesn't do anyone any good.

Three tools in one, the Giottos QU 305B convertible mini-tripod can be used as a tabletop tripod, mini-monopod or handheld monopod. The short center column can be detached from the tripod legs, providing a minimum working height of only 4.6 inches. Fully extended, the maximum height is 16.2 inches. Load capacity is 11 pounds. When purchased with the Giottos MH-1004 mini-ballhead, the combination provides flexible, reliable support even for moderately large cameras. Constructed of aluminum alloy, it's built to last a lifetime.

ikan Bendable Tripod
The ikan bendable tripod is small and can be bent into just about any shape. Ideal for holding a small camera or a flash or an LED panel, the unit can be wrapped around an object to hold it in place. The tripod weighs very little, and it can be added to any gadget bag. Such tools often prove to be indispensable in the field.

By now you've seen the Gorillapod, the tripod with the colorful, flexible legs that can be wrapped around a branch or post for stable, secure support. Joby offers an entire family of Gorillapods, selection enough for any application. One of the most useful is the Gorillapod Focus, which measures 11.4x3.6x3.6 inches and weighs scarcely over 1 pound. Made of machined aluminum and synthetics, it will support up to 11.1 pounds (for comparison, a Canon EOS 7D without battery or lens weighs less than 2 pounds). Add a Joby Ballhead X to enjoy full 360º panning and 90º tilt. Although designed with the Gorillapod Focus in mind, it's compatible with virtually any small tripod and features a unique X-shaped mounting plate that connects to your camera for quick attachment.

Reminiscent of the classic Leitz tabletop tripod, the Kirk mini table model will support a whopping 100 pounds. Standing at 4.5 inches, this all-aluminum and stainless-steel beauty weighs only 9 ounces and quickly spins into action when you rotate the three stacked legs into their locked position. Supplied with a standard ¼"-20 mounting stud, the Kirk mini is the perfect match for a serious ballhead.


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