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Reviews > Cameras > Photography Accessories > Joby Gorilla Pod > Test Report by Roger Caffin
|60 kg (133 lb)
|167 cm (67")
|r dot [surname] at acm dot org
I started bushwalking at 14 and took up rock climbing at University with the girl who became my wife and my permanent walking partner. Ski touring and canyoning followed. Winter and summer, we prefer long hard trips by ourselves: about a week in Australia, up to two months in Europe/UK. We prefer fast and light in unfrequented trackless country. We would be out walking and skiing for at least three months a year. We have now moved to lightweight gear, much to our backs' relief. I designed and made much of our lightweight gear myself.
I am also the maintainer of the Australian aus.bushwalking FAQ web site www.bushwalking.org.au/FAQ/.
Yes, it's a tripod - but not as we know it ...
The origin of this idea is probably something like the flexible coolant pipes used on lathes and so on: I have a couple of these in my workshop in fact. I just hadn't thought of converting them into this application. Three of these flexible pipes are joined together just under the root of the tripod, and then two little ball-joints on top of the root lead to the tripod attachment. There are pale grey rubber feet at the ends of the legs for friction, and little pale grey rubber rings around every ball joint as well. The latter are for gripping onto whatever the legs have been wrapped around. (The pale grey rubber looks almost white in the photos.)
One good idea the makers have included is a removable base which is screwed to a camera (with the industry standard 1/4" Whitworth thread) and can be unclipped from the tripod. This is standard on many tripods of course. Where the makers of the GorillaPod have excelled is in making the removable base very slim, so that it does not stop the camera from sliding into its pouch with the base still attached. Some of the other removable tripod bases I have are almost the size of the camera. But in fairness I should add that those other tripods date back to the era of large SLR cameras, while this tripod is expressly designed for much lighter cameras.
I should acknowledge right here that my camera, a Canon A95, weighs more than the manufacturer's load limit. However, as can be seen in the table above, the excess is only 12%.
I imagine that when a GorillaPod is sold in a shop it comes with instructions. However, this unit was obtained through BackpackGearTest from the Utah OR show, and it came with no instructions. The lack of instructions presented no problem at all.
It's cute! And the rubber feet and rings are quite 'sticky' and the camera attachment is miniscule.
The first thing I did on receiving the GorillaPod was to splay the legs out and mount my camera on it. As long as I had the legs open to a reasonable width and under the centre of gravity of the assembly, the camera was quite stable on my desk. This means the ball joints were all holding their position well, not moving under the load of my 307 g (10.8 oz) Canon A95 camera. This is more important than one might think as the nominal load limit specified by Jobi is only 275 g (9.7 oz). I would hate to think that the tripod was going to collapse from the extra 20 g (0.7 oz)! The load limit suggests to me that Jobi are really targeting the slim-line point-and-shoot digital camera, rather than the slightly larger semi-SLR style of digital camera.
However, while the camera was 'stable', this only means that the whole arrangement did not collapse or fall over. While this is obviously desirable, it is not the whole story by any means. First of all, it did not take a lot of force on the camera to make the legs splay out some more. I think that they didn't do this by themselves because the rubber feet were gripping quite well on my desk. But of course, my camera is heavier than intended.
It was immediately apparent that the weight of the camera on top of the somewhat elastic tripod meant that the camera could vibrate - especially sideways. It did. A lighter camera would vibrate less of course (the laws of physics say so). This does mean that I will have to consider how to take photos using the tripod without camera shake. There is a 10 second delay timer on my camera: I used that to take the photo at the top (with a mirror). It seems the vibrations die within a few seconds.
Then I investigated the removable camera attachment. A moment's puzzlement, then I saw a little round disk with 'Joby' on it, just under the attachment. This is visible in the picture here (courtesy Joby). This was the only thing there, so I pressed it. Nothing happened. Yes, there was a little steel pin behind it, to act as a hinge. This is just visible as well, above the symbol for an unlocked padlock. So I tried again, pressing a little harder. Success: the camera base could now slide forward and off the tripod. I replaced the base, and it clicked back in place securely. I must say, the bit which stays attached to the camera is thin, as they promised.
Then I tried unclipping my camera from the tripod with the camera mount still attached and sliding the camera into its pouch. I had no trouble doing this, but I should add that my camera pouch is one I made myself with lots of extra padding around it for field use. My camera is normally a fairly easy fit into this pouch. The attachment made no difference at all.
Field Test Conditions
Two main test conditions were used. The first was at home, taking technical pictures for this and many other articles on walking gear. Typically my Canon A95 would be mounted on the GorillaPod, with the legs pretty much out straight, and the lot placed either on the floor or on a table. Some photos were taken using natural sun light inside the house, while some were taken using the flash built into the camera. Many of these pictures were subsequently edited and cropped. While quite unfair, in this application the GorillaPod was being compared with a full-size heavy tripod, either a Sony VCT-600 or a Slik.
The other test environment was outdoors on walks: mainly in the Australian summer (20 - 35 C or 70 - 95 F) and between sea level and about 1,000 m (3,300'). The biggest advantage of the GorillaPod here is that it is so small, which means it can be carried in a small pouch on the shoulder straps of my overnight pack, as shown here. The open pouch on the left of the photo (my right) is where I carry my camera; the smaller red one on the other shoulder to the right in the photo is a bit of a 'small bits bucket' at times, but the GorillaPod fits in here very easily. I find that unless I can get at something like this without having to stop and open my pack, the whatever it is just does not get used while we are walking. We very often feel we just don't have the time to mess around a lot on our more serious walks.
While the weight has already been mentioned, it does bear repeating here. Our gear falls mainly into the 'ultra-light' category, which means that a heavy tripod just would not get included. The GorillaPod is light enough to not cause any real concern.
Summary of Field Test
Indoor Technical Photography
What became immediately clear from the first few pictures was that the GorillaPod is springy. That there would be some vibration was obvious, but the full extent of the springiness was not so obvious beforehand. Very simply put, the GorillaPod shakes or springs far too much for me to be able to take any useful technical photos with the normal camera settings for non-flash photography. Camera shake is very visible in the results.
However, this is not the end of the story by any means. A modern electronic flash is very fast, and I found it was quite able to freeze any of the normal mild camera shake experienced. So the GorillaPod tripod can be used when a flash is appropriate and I was able to some useful technical photos this way.
Many modern digital cameras have a delayed shutter option. That is, I can tell the camera to wait for a short period after the shutter is pressed before taking the photo. For the Canon A95 the period is either 2 seconds or 10 seconds. I found that the 2 second delay was too short to be useful here, but with the 10 second delay I was able to press the shutter release, let go of the camera, and then damp out the remaining vibrations using a gentle finger tip, before the time had expired. Since a digital camera like mine does not have a heavy moving SLR-type mirror inside, once the camera is still it stays still. I was able to take some quite usable technical photos like this as well.
As to adjusting the legs to point the camera where I want it - this is possible to do, but certainly not with the ease of a proper pan/tilt head. The joints will move, but there is some degree of 'stick/slip' there which means that very fine adjustments are not simple to make. Easy adjustments are made in distinct steps; fine adjustments require some care. This may sound a problem, but I quickly found that I could make whatever adjustments I needed by taking the behaviour of the joints into account.
I only carry one camera, so action shots showing the camera are a wee bit difficult to take. However, for the picture here I was able to hang the GorillaPod off a thin vertical branch and take a photo of our campsite with me actually sitting by the tent. This is something I have not been able to do in the past very easily: I am usually holding the camera. Yes, I can sit the camera on a rock, but ground-level photos are seldom very good.
In taking such photos, I found that the GorillaPod is not perfect by any means. The problem is that the weight of the camera tries to pull the tripod down, so that the picture is of the ground under the tripod. Also, because the whole thing is a bit small, sometimes it is hard to even get the camera pointing in the right direction without it coming into conflict with the branch.
I found that it is possible to arrange the tripod so the photo is horizontal, as here, but it takes some ingenuity. I had to make hooks of one or two of the legs to wrap around the thin branch, rather than wrapping the legs tightly around the branch. When wrapped tightly I found in general that there was no room to adjust the camera pointing. After hooking one or two legs around a suitable branch I then had to adjust the remaining leg(s) to point downwards for some distance before the end(s) curled in to press against the trunk of the tree. Then I had to use the fairly limited range of adjustment inherent in the two joints above the tripod centre to adjust the tilt of the camera. Finally, I had to prevent the whole arrangement from swinging around the branch to point sideways in the wrong direction. This whole process could take a few cycles before it was satisfactory. If this sounds a little complex, then I have correctly portrayed the process!
Nonetheless, after a few experiments with different branches, I found that I could generally get a suitable 'mount' for the camera with only a little fiddling. Selection of a suitable branch was also important, but I am not going to try to describe what I consider a 'suitable' branch, other than saying it is usually something about 25 mm diameter (1") or less and fairly vertical.
What I did find was that the idea of using a horizontal branch by itself was not very successful with my fairly heavy camera. I found I really needed that prop below the camera - the bottom leg, to get stability. In fact a thin horizontal branch in front of a broad trunk could also be made to work sometimes. In the latter case I used one leg as a hook over the thin branch and the other two as 'stays' below the branch. Ingenuity and patience are required
I would of course get far more ease of use and stability with a proper tripod with a proper pan/tilt head. I have carried one of the two I own just once, and it is unlikely I will ever bother with the weight again. So the GorillaPod does have the advantage that it is an acceptable trade-off for weight.
Of course, many more photos have been taken on my recent trips, and the little removable camera attachment 'foot' was screwed to the bottom of the camera the whole time. I have to say I simply never noticed it there - which means that it was so small it did not interfere at all with getting the camera into and out of the carry case. What was noticable however was that the camera was no longer very stable when set down on a flat table top. The little foot stuck out a little bit. However, I can live with this. The only thing to note with the attachment is that it can only be screwed so hard onto the plastic camera body. This leaves it open to twisting around and loosening the screw if I am a bit rough with the mounting. I would not call this a problem with the GorillaPod; I would call it a problem with rough handling.
The use of the GorillaPod is not without some risks. Consider the fine photo here, of our morning tea in the bush. Looks a very happy scene, doesn't it? And it would be reasonable (and correct) to guess that the camera was on the GorillaPod too. Well, my wife is certainly laughing her head off, and I may have a slightly rueful look on my face. But note the kettle lying upside down in the foreground. I had set the camera up on the GorillaPod and activated the 10 second delayed shutter release. But in my haste to get back and sit down for the photo I had neglected to allow for the kettle sitting on the canister stove. As I sat down, I knocked the kettle off the stove, and away it rolled, spilling the remains of the hot water. The windshield went flying too. My wife couldn't stop laughing. Fortunately our tea and coffee had already been poured. Clearly one must be careful when rushing to sit in front of the camera on its tripod!
Finally, may I mention one of the time-consuming 'benefits' which can be obtained from the GorillaPod? The chain of ball joints can become quite kinked after some use. I found I could spend considerable time straightening every ball joint out, to make the legs just slightly longer and definitely neater looking. But I don't think doing so added any functionality to the tripod!
Assessment so far
Later Test Conditions
The same two main test conditions described above were used throughout this Test: at home for some technical photography and out in the field walking. The weather has been a strange combination of hot and humid some days and tropical rain on others.
Summary of Testing
For technical photography I found that my professional tripods with all their locking adjustments were easier to use. The process of alignment was just that much smoother. The extra weight and rigidity in a professional tripod was also a significant factor in stable photography: the Gorillapod is just so light and springy. That's not say I don't sometimes use the Gorillapod for technical photography, but not all that often.
But the Gorillapod was very good for field use. A major reason for this is the small size and light weight: these factors have meant that I have been able and willing to take the tripod on almost every walking trip during this Test. I remember one canyoning trip some years back where I took a full-sized tripod strapped to the back of my pack. Sure, it allowed me to take some superb time-exposures under dark conditions, but it kept catching on the scrub and one of the locking handles fell off as a result, never to be seen again. The Gorillapod slips into a pocket so easily, and it does work well enough.
I mentioned above that I had some trouble attaching the Gorillapod to branches. Well, I found that doing this successfully required a bit of practice and a smart selection of branches. First of all, some branches are smooth while others have a 'grippy' surface. The paperbark shown in the pictures here has a good surface for the rubber rings to grip onto. Next, I found that a careful arrangement of the legs could help a lot. In the left of the two photos the Gorillapod has two legs wrapped tightly around a vertical branch while the third extends downwards in front. The way the rubber rings grip the branch helps stop the whole bundle from sliding around the tree, while the leg down the front stops it from tipping forwards. Once again I will repeat that friction between the rubber rings and the bark helps greatly here. Also, I found I could get the legs to wrap fairly tightly, despite the hysterisis in the joints.
In the right hand photo the branch is horizontal. The first few times I tried this were not very successful: the assembly kept sliding around the branch to hang upside down. I guess I could use it like that: I would just have to invert the pictures later. But once again, this problem went away when I used trees with a more grippy surface. A careful balancing act was needed at the start, but it worked just fine on the right branches.
One thing I did find was that the two ball joints between the tripod base and the camera attachment were sometimes not quite enough. A third ball joint here would be very nice. The joints are (still) stiff enough that I don't think this would create any problems. It is actually possible to buy some special pliers for the assembly and disassembly of chains of balls like these, which would let me remove one ball from the end of one of the legs and add it in at the top, but I haven't bothered to do this as the problem is not that bad.
Summary of Use, Likes and Dislikes
In the last four months I would have done about eight day walks and two longer multi-day walks. The GorillaPod would have been taken on most of those walks, and used on at least half of them. In addition I would have used the GorillaPod for about four sessions of indoor technical photography.
The assessment in the Field Report section remains entirely appropriate. All I can add here is that the small size and versatility of the Gorillapod have made it more useful than I expected when I applied for this Test. It does suffer slightly from its lightness and springiness, but these are issues which can be handled as I indicated. The Gorillapod has become a permanent part of my photography gear. My thanks to Joby for it.