Gorillapod: Searching for a Good, Small Outdoor Tripod
The Gorillapod SLR Zoom by Joby with a Nikon D300 and 70-200mm AFS VR lens
By bending the legs around you can make this (and many other) configuration. The Gorillapod is fully supporting the weight. The camera is not touching the ground at all.
The rubber rings around each segment allow the Gorillapod to easily grip a pole or tree branch
When photographing outdoors, you often have to search high and low to find the best subjects. A regular tripod works great for most shooting heights, but it can be helpful to also have a small tripod to make working at ground level easier. I've tried a number of options that work to a degree but have never found something I really like. Until now.
A small start-up company called Joby in the San Francisco bay area has been working hard to come up with things no one else has been able to. Forming in 2006, they started with a single product, something they dubbed the Gorillapod. Essentially, the original Gorillapod was a tripod with flexible legs composed of ball-jointed segments. It was small enough to carry most anywhere and bendable enough to make a circus contortionist jealous. Rubber rings around each joint allow it to grip and hold most any perch you fasten it to.
Since then they have released two bigger models, the Gorillapod SLR and the Gorillapod SLR Zoom. Like Baby Bear, Mama Bear and Papa Bear, each is designed to be just right for a different size of camera. The original model is made to hold the typical compact point and shoot camera. It's small enough to fit in your pocket so if your camera will too this it the model for you. The Gorillapod SLR will hold anything up to a small SLR camera. Joby rates it for a maximum load of 1.75 pounds. Many consumer video cameras will also work on the Gorillapod SLR. The big daddy of the Gorillapod family is the Gorillapod SLR Zoom which Joby says will hold up to 6.6 pounds. That will cover you for a professional SLR plus most any lens you would want to use that low to the ground. Both of the two smaller models feature quick release mechanisms but the SLR Zoom model has just a basic 1/4 inch threaded stud with a 3/8 inch adapter for use with a tripod head.
As you may have guessed, it is the Gorillapod SLR Zoom that caught my fancy. From the moment I got it, I knew this was what I was after. It's deceptively simple. The jointed construction of its legs is similar to items you may already be familiar with, but much more beefy. It feels substantial yet weighs in at only 8.5 ounces. Collapsed, it's just under ten inches long and about 2.5 inches across. The legs come together to form a round flat platform about an inch and a half in diameter with a rubber coating. The only thing adorning the top of this platform is the protruding screw threads for attaching your camera or tripod head.
Rather than adding a tripod head though, I have an old Kirk Enterprises Arca-Swiss compatible clamp on top of mine. Even a small head like the excellent Really Right Stuff BH-25 would add another 2.5 inches to the height of the Gorillapod and I want to be able to work as close to the ground as practical. Given how just darned bendable the Gorillapod is, I decided all I really needed was the clamp. I can mount the camera either horizontally or vertically via a Really Right Stuff L-bracket. So far, this combination works great.
I remember seeing the original Gorillapod when it first came out and thinking it was a shame people kept making such cool things for point and shoot cameras and not for SLR cameras. I just chocked it up to a simple matter of gravity. A real camera was just too heavy for something this flexible. Thankfully, Joby has proven me wrong with the Gorillapod SLR Zoom. So long as Joby keeps making stuff like this they can prove me wrong any time they want. I'm cool with that.
Update 01/12/2008 - Gary Luhm is a friend and great outdoor northwest photographer specializing in kayak photography. By sheer coincidence he seems to have discovered the Gorillapod SLR Zoom about the same time I did and wrote a review on his website. They say that great minds think alike. I'm not sure whether either of us necessarily qualifies, but in this instance at least we do seem to have found the same solution for supporting a camera in places where a regular tripod just won't do.