Fortunately, the manufacturers of submini cameras and tripods knew very well that a submini user doesn't want to lug around a big, heavy tripod. They designed and built many clever devices that will meet the needs of the submini shutterbug who is searching for more support. Some are tripods, some monopods and others fall into categories all their own. Some were only manufactured decades ago and are now hard to find, while others are still being made and are easy to obtain. The recent resurgence of smaller cameras, such as the ASP format, has kept up the demand for these small support devices
The first category are regular tripods. While these are normally just too big for submini use, most tripod manufacturers made smaller and lighter versions that work especially well with half-frame cameras. They will extend to about the normal height of a regular tripod, but are lighter, smaller, and a lot easier to carry. For example, some will extend to nearly five feet and weight only a little more than a pound. Many will even fit into a large size camera bag. There are too many to list here -- new and old-- but if you are in the market, you can get catalogs from the major manufacturers, such as Slik, Velbon, Gitzo, and Bogen. Good examples are the Slik 800 G and 500 G, the Osawa XL-9 Mini, and the Featherweight sold by Porter's.
Another category is sometimes referred to as mini tripods. These can be thought of as transitional tripods and offer adequate support of half-frames or super-support for smaller subminis. Even though these tripods will not quite fit in a pocket, they are extra small and extra lightweight. They will easily fit into small camera bags. Some extend to several feet and fold down to less than 12 inches. Normally, the legs will only adjust to one, two or three feet high and they have limited movements compared to regular tripods. Several companies have made them over the years and some are still being made. One of the originals was the Velbon Mini. Today, Velbon makes a couple of models that will be of interest to submini users. Similar models are the Soligor Companion, Vivitar 900, Slik 300 G and 800 G, Minipod, the Lowboy (sold by Porter's), the Minipro and the Minipro II. Gitzo has a similar model called the Table Tripod. Some models come with a pan head, others have a ball head for more portability. Most of these tripods weight under a pound. They won't break the bank either, but your local camera shop probably won't have them in stock.
Another group to consider is the monopod. Most tripod manufacturers make monopods. These are designed to save weight and space and may be just the ticket for the submini user. Most collapse into a stick that is about 15 inches long and weighs about a pound. Some monopods make good walking sticks as a bonus.
A popular type of support for the submini user is the table-top tripod. These
are similar to mini-tripods, but the size and weight are reduced even more
by removing the standard height adjustments. They were made by many subminiature
camera manufacturers, such as Steky, Minox and Mikroma, and are still being
manufactured by companies such as Leica, Vivitar, Kalimar and Minolta. The
Minox Pocket Tripod, like the currently available Vivitar Pocket Tripod and
Kalimar Pocket Pod, folds up into what looks like a big pencil (the one on
the right in the photo) -- easy to fit anywhere. Leica currently makes two
models -- their Tabletop Tripod and their Mini Tripod -- which is the smallest
we've seen. Several companies have copied the Leica Tabletop Tripod, such
Spiratone, and Minolta. The Spiratone model was called the Handipod and the
Minolta model was called the Mini-tripod TR-1. The Bogen Tabletop Tripod
can be purchased with a ball head (similar to the Leica) or without. Two
others to check out are the
Velbon Minipod (with ball
head) and the Velbon Videomate. Giotto Industrial makes two compact
models of their Q-pod; the Mini-Mini folds up to about the size of
a Minolta 16, but sports a ball-head (sort of) and extendable legs (to 7.5
inches). (It's the one with the Mamiya 16 in the photo.)
One type of table-top tripod of particular interest to submini users are the new plastic models. Made by several companies, they sport names like Verapod, Ultrapod and Ultrapod II. These table-top tripods are made of extra light, but rigid, plastic to save weight. The legs foldup into each other to save space, and they will fit into any pocket. They come with a tiny ball head for easy positioning and some even have a velcro strap to attach the camera to any available post, ski pole or fence. The Ultrapod weighs in at 2 oz.(it's the littlest one in the photo), while its larger brother is 4.2 oz. They are sold by many camera and sporting goods stores. If all else fails, they can be purchased through CAMPMOR at 1-800-226-7667.
The smallest type of camera support is the camera clamp.. These tiny devices have a camera attachment on one end and a clamp on the other to attach the camera to any railing or car window that is available. One of these is the Ultraclamp which sports a tiny ball head on the camera end and can attach itself to anything 1.5 inches thick or less. Slightly larger is the Clampod, which has tiny legs that pop out, so that the unit can also be used as a table-top tripod.
For studio work, the copy stand can't be beat. Many companies still make these, but most are large and cumbersome -- even though they are very stable. Many submini companies made extra small copy stands; some even folded up for easy transport (as the CIA knows so well!). Most of the best for submini work are no longer available. (The one that Minolta made is on the left in the photo.) Like the Minolta model, these oftentimes came with adjustable legs that quickly set the camera at fixed distances for easy document reproduction.
Other support devices can be home-made. For example, if you carry a couple of extra thick rubber bands, many subminis can be attached to some sturdy object close to the subject. Another common approach is to attach a string or a chain to the tripod socket or wrist strap of the camera. By stepping on the other end of the string, the camera's stability is enhanced, as with a monopod. Bean bags or, in a pinch, even an article of clothing can help stabilize the camera and reduce vibrations.
A good review and comparison of several types of lightweight supports can be found at http://www.panic.com/~rbean/tripod/
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