A student, who will be in my next class at the Maine Media Workshops, wrote me with a question about buying a tripod. She had already viewed my podcast on the table-top tripod that I use and she wanted my thoughts on that on that tripod as compared to the Gorillapod. This was not the first time I have been asked this question. For me, a question asked more than once usually merits a blog post and so here is her answer (and today’s blog post.)
My correspondent wrote:
“I have a tripod question. I don’t have one, so need to get it before we meet. I saw your recommendation but was wondering if you were familiar with the Gorillapod by Joby? Do you like that one and if so, I would love to know which size/ball head etc., you like. I will buy one of them but I tend to compare a few before I buy and had read the Gorillapod was a good one. “
The podcast where I show how I effectively use my favorite tripod is at:
http://thewellspoint.com/2010/02/24/using-the-best-tripod-which-is-a-table-top-tripod/ A blog entry on the same topic can also be found at: http://thewellspoint.com/2008/12/08/what-is-the-best-tripod-in-the-world/
Working backwards to answer her questions, the ball head that any photographer buys should be able to solidly support their largest camera/lens combination. For a long time, the biggest camera/lens combo I was using was an Olympus E-3 camera with the Olympus 70-300 mm lens, so I bought the ball head that comfortably held that combination. The same tripod and legs easily held the smaller camera/lens combination that I used, such as the Olympus EVOLT E-510 and the Olympus12-60 mm lens. The combination I use is a Bogen/Manfrotto 484 Mini Ball Head (which has been replaced by Bogen/Manfrotto 494 Mini Ball Head) and the Bogen/Manfrotto 3007 Table-Top Tripod legs. I am not suggesting all photographers buy this combo. All I am saying is that this particular combo solves my set of problems. Doubly so now that I am using the smaller and lighter PEN cameras
The Gorillapod does a great job of wrapping its legs around odd surfaces and a reasonably good job of holding a camera steady for a brief moment. The problem is that when I am photographing, I always press the tripod legs hard against the surface that the tripod is resting on. That downward pressure on the table-top tripod legs insures that the camera is solidly in place for an exposure up to a second (or more.) That same downward pressure, when put on the legs of a Gorillapod, result in the legs simply flexing/splaying outward and the camera slipping uncontrolled towards the surface where the tripod sits. The result is that the camera is NOT locked in place the way that I need it. Thus, for me the Gorillapod is a nice idea that does not do what I need. The image below shows you what I mean about the downward pressure that I put on the legs of the tripod.
I have also been doing a great of video recording lately using the same table-top tripod. That means that I frequently need to lock the camera in place, often in some weird position, for as much as ten seconds (or longer.) The only way that is possible is if I keep a lot of that downward pressure on the tripod legs, pushing them against the surface that the tripod rests upon.
I am well aware that this advice is counter to what most photographers say. A tripod, like any piece of gear, solves a problem. Nothing more. The problem I face is that I need to stabilize my camera, so I use a tripod. I need that tripod with me all the time, so I use a table-top tripod. I need to able to press hard on that same tripod to keep it locked in place, so I cannot use a Gorilla pod.
Sure, a bigger tripod is better, but those are so big (and heavy) that I will not carry one all the time so it does me no good. The image below shows you how the table-top tripod folds up nice and small under my camera so I can keep it with me all the time!
The set up I use solves my particular set of problems. Different photographers face different challenges in all their work, and the better ones find different solutions. When a better solution comes along, I will be the first one to adapt and even advocate for that. Until then…..