When the phrase “camera support” is mentioned, most of us think of the tried-and-trusty tripod, and for good reason—the tripod is the single best way to steady your camera for long shutter-speed exposures, group photos including the photographer, or just for minimizing camera movement to maximize image sharpness.
However, there are definite shortcomings to the tripod and it is not always practical or permitted to bring a tripod with you to every location. Because of this, creative inventors in the world have developed alternatives to the three-legged standard.
One thing the tripod-mounted camera sometimes struggles with is panning speed and flexibility. After all, the tripod is designed to be static. However, if you’re shooting long telephoto lenses, camera shake is the enemy. The monopod, like the Oben ACM-1400 4-Section Aluminum Monopod, gives the long-lens photographer a boost of stabilization while allowing movement to capture the action of sporting events or wildlife.
Cameras can be directly mounted onto the monopod or attached to a tripod head. Ball heads, specially designed monopod heads, or heads like the Manfrotto 322RC2 Grip Action Ball Head allow fast repositioning of the camera.
Some, like the Manfrotto Fluid Monopod with 500 Series Head and Sirui P-204S Aluminum Photo/Video Monopod, have miniature legs that give the monopod more stability. The Sirui’s legs can be detached to make a nice tabletop tripod.
A recent addition to the monopod family, and the perfect accessory for avid hikers, is the walking stick that converts into a camera support, like the FastCap Tech iPole Trekking Pole and the Mountainsmith Trekker FX Walking Stick/Monopod.
Sandbag / Beanbag
Sometimes all you need is to stabilize your kit is something malleable on which to rest your camera and lens. Mechanical devices are not required. This is where beanbags or sandbags come in. The Pod Bean Bag Camera Support even has a ¼"-20 camera mount on its top to secure your gear. Some bags, like the Kinesis Safarisack 1.4 Beanbag Camera Support come with fill, but can be emptied to lighten for storage in your pack or camera bag and filled with anything handy when needed. The Novoflex Bean Bag 8 x 8" ships empty and can be filled with rice, sand, buckwheat, candy, or anything else you can find in the field.
The BallPod is an alternative take on the traditional filled bag.
Camera Stands / Extension Poles
Want to get your camera way above the crowd or above that annoying wall? There are a few camera stands that can help you do this. The Studio Assets MegaMast Carbon Fiber Camera Stand raises your camera higher than 27'.
Shorter, but more portable, extension poles put selfie sticks to shame with their long reach. Carry the biggest stick when you accessorize with items like the Youngblood Extension Poles.
Chest Mounts / Shoulder Rigs
On the go and no room for a tripod? A chest mount might be what you need. The Cotton Carrier Steady Shot with Camera Vest has an integrated vest that you can wear. Similar in function, but different in application, the Novoflex Chestpod/Shoulder Pod is neck-strap based.
Once common to the video world, the shoulder rig also proves its usefulness in still photography. The Revo SR-1000 Shoulder Support Rig and Support Strap will help steady your camera and reduce image shake for long-lens imaging.
In adverse weather, sometimes you’ll not relish the idea of stepping out of your vehicle to get a photo. So, stay undercover and mount your camera with a window mount like the Vanguard PH-304 Window Camera Mount that comes with a panning head. The Kirk WM-2 Multi-Purpose Window Mount also can function as a low mount and has rubber pads to protect your vehicle’s finish. And, if you are worried about over-stressing the glass of your car window, the Eckla Eagle Card Door Camera Lens Support is made to straddle your car door when the window is rolled down or can attach to your window.
Along the same lines as the window supports, there are a number of clamps that are designed to clamp on to, well, clamp onto just about anything you can envision a clamp clamping on to. Clamps like the Impact Atom Clamp with 1/4-3/8" Screw Adapter and Manfrotto 035 Super Clamp are designed to clamp onto poles and railings. Clamps are sold with different-sized jaws and different load capacities. Some come with articulating heads or movable arms to increase versatility.
Suction Cup Mounts
Do you have a smooth surface handy? Suction cup mounts have recently become popular with the action-camera revolution, but there are some dedicated to securing heavier cameras. You can use the Digital Juice Suction Mount Series Giottos Ball Head to mount 13 pounds of camera gear on the hood of your car, the hull of your sailboat, or the deck of your surfboard. The Matthews MASTER Mount Car Mounting System supports 40 pounds of gear, as long as your car’s bodywork can take the weight. For smaller point-and-shoot cameras or action cameras, there are dozens of options for suction-cup mounting.
Tabletop Tripods and Short Supports
Not to dismiss the tripod completely, there are several tiny tripods that literally can fit in your pocket and give you the stability you need on the go. The Oben TT-100 Table Top Tripod is only 7.5" when folded. Some models are flexible to allow more compact storage and versatile setup like the Joby Gorillapod SLR-Zoom Flexible Mini Tripod with BH1-01EN Ball Head, Magnus SnapPod Compact Tabletop Tripod, and Magnus Bendable Tabletop Tripod with Mount.
Also, there are some supports designed specifically for mounting your gear close to the ground, like the Kirk Low Pod Camera Support. Similarly, the HandelPod Camera Handle / Tabletop Quadpod is designed for vertical and horizontal shooting.
The VariZoom StealthyGo Multi-Use Support and Stabilizer is so unique that it does not fit into any of the above sections. The support is a combination monopod-stabilizer, 3-point shooter, tabletop tripod, and monopod for small cameras and action cams.
Before we go, as you explore these camera-support options, be sure you are aware of the weight of the gear you are proposing to support, and be sure that whatever option you choose for mounting your camera and lenses, it has a sufficient working load to safely secure your kit.