01.Stability on the go
There's nothing quite so disappointing as getting back your travel photos only to find they're all blurred. Even digital cameras with image stabilisers can't guarantee a shaky hand won't ruin an otherwise brilliant shot. One solution is a light and stable tripod, and CHOICE looked at 10 designed for travellers, giving them a star rating out of three (see image, below).
These tripods are split into two groups. The ones at the cheaper end of the market are designed for people who don't consider themselves photographers, but unfortunately most of these aren't very useful.
Please note: this information was current as of August 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.
In this group we tested:
Digital Concepts Mini Tripod $9.99
INCA Monkey Grip $20 (Purchased for $29.95 as part of a DSC value pack 665018 including an SD card reader and lens cleaning cloth)
Joby Gorillapod (orange) $37
Le Vision Mini Tripod $9.99
Optex Multi-Purpose Mini Tripod $12.95
The Pod The Yellow Pod $29.95
The best are the Optex Multi-Purpose Mini Tripod, Joby Gorillapod (orange) and The Yellow Pod, but we suggest you use a timer function with all of them as they aren't very stable. The Gorillapod and Yellow Pod are versatile, but particularly susceptible to movement when pressing the shutter button. The Optex is a little more stable, but still very light, small and not as versatile as the other two. The INCA Monkey Grip looks very similar to the Gorillapod, but is even less stable and lacks the extra locking mechanism to stop you popping the camera out of the quick release. The remaining tripods in this grouping are pretty useless. You'd be better off leaning against a wall or resting the camera on something solid.
The second group of tripods is for amateur photographers who take their photography reasonably seriously and are willing to pay a bit more. We tested:
Haldex Digital camera kit $40 (tripod WT-3111, camera bag, lens cleaning kit and carry bag)
INCA AT330A $29.95
Velbon CX Mini $65 (carry bag included)
Velbon V-Pod $55 (carry bag included)
The Velbon CX Mini, although smaller than the others in this group, is a solid performer. It's not really able to handle an SLR with a long lens, but will manage to keep anything smaller than a bridge camera reasonably still. It's easy to use, light and compact; in fact, at only 645mm tall, you'll be sitting on the ground to see through the viewfinder so you'll need to put it on something solid to get to normal standing height.
The INCA AT330A and Velbon V-Pod are OK, but the former doesn't grip well on slippery surfaces, isn't as stable with larger compact cameras as we'd like and some adjustments aren't very smooth. The V-Pod has a single ball head that provides lots of freedom of movement, but the locking handle is awkward to use and it requires both hands to position the camera and lock it in place. Also, it's not stable at its full height and the attachment provided for a mobile phone makes it worse. The Haldex WT-3111 (part of a digital camera kit) isn't very stable with a compact camera.
Read about CHOICE's latest testing of compact cameras.
The Xshot 2.0 telescopic camera extender is a simple but effective way to take photos of yourself in front of things without putting your camera down or asking strangers to help, and can also be used to get above the crowd. It's light and rigid enough to handle a smallish bridge or SLR camera, but with that much weight on the end it will require some strength to hold for any length of time. It's not designed for stability, so you'll need to use a fast shutter speed or have an effective stabiliser in the camera, as well as set the camera to timer or use a remote control to take the photo.
The Xshot is only available to buy online at www.xshotpix.com for US$29.95.