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Every photographer, both amateur and professional, has at one time or another rested their camera on a rock, a crumpled coat, or some other handy object when they didn’t have access to a more traditional camera support. You might need to do this when you want to get into a photo yourself or when you can’t hold a camera steady in low light. Many tripods are too big and heavy to carry with you at all times. But here we have a collection of tabletop and miniature tripods that are so small and compact you can keep one with you every day. They also make great gifts for photographers who seem to have everything else.
Perhaps the best known miniature tripods, or at least the most recognizable, are the Joby Gorillapods. Gorillapods are lightweight miniature tripods with multi-jointed, flexible legs that can be bent into unusual shapes that adapt to rough terrain perfectly. The legs can also be wrapped around sturdy objects such as fence posts and tree branches. Provided you’re not in outer space, you should be able to find a way to support and aim your camera with a Gorillapod.
Joby makes many different models of Gorillapods, and in many different colors. The main difference between the different models is the amount of weight that they can support. The most basic model is the Gorillapod for Point-and-Shoot Cameras. It features three multi-segmented legs in which each of the joints can bend and rotate 360 degrees. A rubber segment on the bottom of each leg provides some grip when the Gorillapod is used in the traditional way.
The Gorillapod for Point-and-Shoot Cameras has a maximum height of 5 inches, a minimum height of 2 inches and a load capacity of 11.5 ounces. It also has a folded length of 5.9 inches and it weighs only 1.6 ounces, so it’s easy to carry. Any camera that weighs less than 11.5 ounces and has a tripod socket is compatible with the point-and-shoot Gorillapod.
Still images are usually shot while holding the camera still. But video cameras often need to be moved to follow the action. The Gorillapod Video features the same basic tripod as the point-and-shoot model but adds a ball head with 360-degree pan and 135-degree tilt movement. It can support 11.5 ounces.
If you have a camera that’s too heavy for the point-and-shoot Gorillapod, don’t sweat it. The Gorillapod SLR-Zoom will support up to 6.5 pounds, so it’s compatible with most DSLRs and camcorders. A 3/8" thread adapter is included so you can attach your own tripod head. The Gorillapod SLR-Zoom has a maximum height of 9 inches and a minimum height of 2 inches. It has a folded length of 9.8 inches and it weighs 8.5 ounces.
The Gorillapod SLR-Zoom is also available with a ball head. The Gorillapod SLR-Zoom Ball Head combines the SLR-Zoom tripod with a matched ball head; the combination can support up to 6.5 pounds. A bubble level on the quick-release adapter aids in positioning the tripod. The ball head adds to the size and weight of the tripod. The Gorillapod SLR-Zoom Ball Head has a maximum height of 11.7 inches and a minimum height of 4.7 inches. It's folded length is 12.5 inches and it weighs 1.21 pounds.
If your camera or camcorder weighs more than 6.5 pounds, you’ll need the Gorillapod Focus. The Gorillapod Focus is designed for a full-size DSLR or prosumer camcorder and it can support up to 11 pounds. The Gorillapod Focus has a maximum height of 9 inches and a minimum height of 1.5 inches. It's 11.4 inches long folded and weighs 1.1 pounds. A 3/8" thread adapter is included so you can attach your own tripod head.
Manfrotto 709 and 797
Manfrotto offers two small tripod models. The Manfrotto 709 Digi Tabletop Tripod with Ball Head looks like a conventional tripod but with single-section fixed-length legs. It supports up to 4.5 pounds and features a miniature ball head that provides 360-degree panning and 90-degree tilt movement. It has a fixed height of 4.3 inches, a folded length of 7.9 inches and it weighs 6.4 ounces.
The Manfrotto 797 Modo Pocket Tabletop Tripod looks more like a door hinge than a tripod. While it is not stable on uneven surfaces, its design is such that it folds completely flat when not in use. In fact, it can even be folded flat underneath the camera and left attached at all times. It features a universal 1/4"-20 tripod bolt that can be positioned centered or off-center. The Manfrotto 797 is designed to support point-and-shoot cameras that weigh up to 17.6 ounces. The tripod itself weighs 1.8 ounces.
Slik Mini-Pro III & Mini-Pro V
The Slik Mini-Pro III tripod looks like a conventional tripod and it even has two-section legs. It comes with a compact ball head that allows the camera to be rotated 360 degrees and tilted 90 degrees in any direction. The Mini-Pro III will support cameras weighing up to 3 pounds. It has a maximum height of 8.6 inches and a minimum height of 7.9 inches. It has a folded length of 8.1 inches and weighs 11 ounces. The Slik Mini-Pro V is a small tripod with a 2-way pan/tilt head. It has a maximum height of 8.6 inches and a minimum height of 6.8 inches. It has a folded length of 7.9 inches, weighs 12.6 ounces, and will support cameras weighing up to 3 pounds.
The Slik Mini-Pro III and Mini-Pro V tripods both have a suction cup at the bottom of the center column. The suction cup provides firmer footing when placed on a surface that’s suction-cup friendly, such as glass or smooth metal. While both tripods can support more than 3 pounds, the suction cup should not be relied on to secure cameras weighing more than 1 pound. Both tripods can also be used to stabilize cameras by raising the center column at least halfway and bracing the legs against your chest.
Sunpak FlexPods & Tripods
Sunpak’s FlexPod Gripper and FlexPod Pro Gripper are very similar to the Gorillapod tripods. The FlexPods are miniature tripods with flexible legs that can be bent into unusual shapes to stand on rough terrain, or wrapped around objects such as fence posts and tree branches. They are constructed with a metal core wrapped in a polymer skin, and both come with a single-lock ball head with a quick-release mechanism. The FlexPod Gripper can support light point-and-shoot cameras weighing up to 1 pound, and it weighs 4 ounces. The FlexPod Pro Gripper is designed to support heavier cameras weighing up to 2.3 pounds. It has a folded length of 10 inches and it weighs about 10.5 ounces.
The Sunpak Tabletop Tripod (right) is a very small tripod with flexible legs. It can only support lightweight cameras, but it’s also one of the smallest, most compact tripods in the world when folded. It has a folded length of only 5 inches and it weighs only 2 ounces. The Sunpak 2003 tripod (left) is a tabletop tripod with three leg sections and a mini ball head. It has a maximum height of 9.75 inches and a minimum height of 2.75 inches. It has a folded length of 7 inches and it weighs 6.7 ounces.
The Ultrapods are slick little tripods. They don’t have adjustable height, as the legs are one-piece units and there is no center column. But the design and the way in which they fold are ingenious. They have a main, or center leg shaped like a “V” and two flat legs that pivot off either side near the top. When not in use, the two flat legs fold into the V-shaped leg, making the assembly highly portable. A hook-and-loop fastener strap on the main leg can be used to secure the tripod, and the camera attached to it, to a pole, railing or tree branch. The ball head on top of the Ultrapods allows 360-degree panning and 180-degree tilting. The Ultrapod tripods are made of fiberglass-reinforced nylon and aluminum.
Two models are available. The Ultrapod 1 tabletop tripod is 4.5 inches high when open, 5 inches long when closed, weighs 1.5 ounces and will support up to 3 pounds. The larger Ultrapod 2 is 6.25 inches high when open, 7.5 inches long when closed, weighs 4 ounces and will support up to 6 pounds.