Wildlife photographers who use telephoto lenses to capture exciting, razor-sharp images while maintaining a respectful distance from the subject need a stable shooting platform. However, tracking subjects in the field and reacting quickly to animal behavior isn't easy if your stable platform is a tripod. An image-stabilization or vibration-reduction lens is an alternative for wildlife and action photography, but a budget-conscious photographer might consider a shoulder-mount or "gun-stock" unit.
I recently tested a shoulder-mount system called the GoPod, which uses a tri-point stabilization system—shoulder-mount braces go over each shoulder and a third point braces against the lower part of your abdomen. An articulating arm attached to the main frame has a mounting plate for your telephoto lens and camera. The device goes on quickly and, mounted against your shoulders and chest, acts almost like a vertically mounted tripod. Hiking in the field with gear attached to my chest took getting used to, but with a little practice, I easily adapted to the weight distribution. With padding on all mounting points, the GoPod rides comfortably against your shoulders and abdomen. The articulating arm has multi-directional adjustments, and the main frame conforms to your height.
The GoPod worked for me. Smaller birds, such as sparrows, are active and hard to photograph in the field. Using my large and heavy 500mm ƒ/4 autofocus telephoto lens, I was able to capture images of white-crowned and song sparrows. The GoPod gave me stability, yet I could move with the birds. On another outing, I followed some jackrabbits and photographed them in their habitat; then, with the flexibility of the GoPod, I quickly adjusted my position to grab a couple shots of a coyote that stopped, very briefly, to investigate.
While visiting some protected lakes and wetlands, I used the GoPod to photograph brown pelicans and terns in flight, and had a brief photo encounter with an osprey. Using the mount like a tripod anchored to my chest, I slowly swung my body, following the pelicans and the terns, and later captured two quick images of the osprey as it took a fish and veered away.
I found I could sit on the ground and the support still worked fine. I composed some action shots of ring-necked ducks, blue-winged teal, a foraging black-necked stilt, and some playful interaction between a pair of male wood ducks. By lowering my camera position, I photographed the birds closer to eye level, giving a more intimate feel to the images. Late in the day, the GoPod gave me the stability I needed to capture another stilt landing in low, sunset light.
If you're looking for a reasonably priced means of stabilizing your camera and lens for photographing wildlife, try the GoPod. Put it on and make sure it feels comfortable and gives you the mobility you want. Tighten the numerous adjustment levers and points on the mechanism to improve stability. It worked well with lenses up to 500mm ƒ/4, and if you have rock-solid posture, you might get away with 600mm. I use ISO 50 and 100-speed film, so using higher-speed film for a faster shutter speed would make using a longer telephoto feasible. List Price: $489.
[ Primary Features ]
1 Stabilize your camera and lens for photographing wildlife
2 Goes on quickly and acts almost like a vertically mounted tripod
4 Reasonably priced at $489 list