The Kinesis SafariSack bean bag shown in "saddlebag" mode (left) and "flat" mode (right). Courtesy of Kinesis Photo Gear.
The Pod is filled with plastic beads and screws into a camera's tripod socket. Courtesy of Pop Multimedia www.thepod.ca.
Kirk's Multi-Purpose Window Mount can be clamped inside your car window; or used as a sturdy "lowpod" on a table, car roof, or flat rock.
The Bogen car window pod 3293.
Cullmann makes a suction cup with an integrated ball head.
The Really Right Stuff geared focusing rail.
There are lots of ways to support a camera ranging from trees and porch railing to gimbaled mounts. In this section we look at some of the ones that have found favor, especially with nature photographers.
A gimbaled head lets you mount a large and heavy camera/lens combination so it's perfectly balanced on its center of gravity. With the camera suspended in this position, it feels weightless as you quickly elevate or pan the camera to compose an image, or smoothly follow a moving subject such as a bird.
The Wimberly Sidekick slides into your ball head's clamp to convert it into a gimbaled head. The Sidekick's elevated tilt mechanism and side mounted quick release allow the lens to rotate around its center of gravity. This provides the same action and ease of use found in the Wimberley Head but is smaller, lighter, and less expensive. Remove the Sidekick and your ball head is ready to use with smaller lenses.
The Wimberly gimbaled
mount (left) suspends the camera/lens combination so it feels weightless. The Wimberly Sidekick
(right) converts a ball head into a gimbaled mount. Courtesy of Wimberly.
If you don't want the hassle of carrying and setting up a tripod, you can often get away with just a beanbag. When rested on a car hood or window, a fence or railing, a tree branch, or even on the ground, they give shake-free support. There are various models, filled with an odd assortment of things. Kinesis Photo Gear makes a beanbag called the SafariSackT bean bag and NPC makes Steadybags. Some come filled with plastic beads or even buckwheat hulls. Some are designed to be carried empty and filled with sand, rocks, or water only when needed. This really lightens the load.
If you are enjoy drive-in style photography, you might want to consider a car window mount. Many birders use these because the car acts as a blind and birds approach closer than they will if you stand outside the car where they can see you. Most clamp onto a partly lowered window and support a ball head or quick release system. They are made by Kirk, Bogen, Bushnell, Hakuba, Swift, and others.
If you ever need to mount a camera on a smooth surface, you can do so with a suction mount. I'd be careful when using one in a vertical position. If the sucker ever let go, it might be a long drop to the floor. These are made by Bogen, Matthews, and Cullman. More expensive models use a pump to increase the vacuum so the connection is more secure.
If you don't have a tripod with you, a clamp might be all you need to hold your camera steady. These come in various sizes and shapes and are made by ClamperPod, Bogen, Hi Sierra, and Sunpack.
A focusing rail lets you move the camera back and forth in macro photography to make fine adjustments to the camera-subject distance. This is a lot easier and faster than trying to make the adjustments by moving the tripod. Many of these devices are geared so turning a knob makes very small movements for precision focusing. Focusing rails are made by a number of companies including Kirk, Cullman, Bogen, and Really Right Stuff.
There are some camera supports that are so unique they are hard to classify. Here are just some of those that we've run across.
- The Cullman Touring Set includes a mini-tripod with a removable ball head, a woodscrew that screws into beams, fence posts, and tree stumps (never into live trees), a clamp for mounting to round, square, or irregularly shaped objects, such as tree limbs or fence posts, a ground spike to push into the ground, and a suction mount for use with any smooth surface such as a car hood or window.
It doesn't help to have a rock steady camera when the subject is blowing in the wind. When photographing wildflowers, even a very light breeze will sway flowers at the end of long stalks. You can carry thin stakes and twist ties to secure a plant out of the image area to reduce the movement. The Wimberly Plamp also holds plants steady in the breeze. One end clamps onto the tripod leg and the other to the plant stem.