When in the course of a holiday's events, the resources to maintain stable practice became insufficient, it became necessary for this pinholist to go a little mad and to thrice seek to right this deficiency in the marketplace.
I got the ProMaster TRM-1 Mini Tripod on the left at Camera Casino. From the internet, I got the Amazon Basics Lightweight Mini Tripod in the center and on the right, with a name longer than the tripod, the PinRui Flexible Octopus Style Mini Tripod Stand Kit Universal for Cellphone Smartphone and Sport Action Camera. (Hmmm. PinRui. I wonder?) It also came with a phone adapter, a bluetooth shutter remote and another clamp that I can't quite figure out.
Of course I was doing this to get over my grief at the loss of my little ProMaster folding tripod. It was a workmanlike little support and its defining feature was that it folded into a flat little slab about the size of a TicTac dispenser. It would fit in almost any pocket. You could sit on it without discomfort. I hadn't realized it until it was gone, but it's rubber feet were a critical attribute.
No one seems to make tripods that fold flat like that any more. When I dropped my film off at Camera Casino, I thought I'd found a replacement, the T2 Mini, again by ProMaster, although it's a little longer than my old one. (I took this picture to use up the film in The Populist before I dropped it off.)
When I got home I discovered that although it was nice and flat, it's head only tilted back and forth, no swivel, no tilt to the side. Not going to work for me. I also got one of their little gag keychain tripods that might hold one of my 35mm cameras, but the head doesn't lock and it falls right over.
When I went back to pick up my developed film, I exchanged the T2 for the TRM-1. They only had two colors in stock - red or blue. Red would attract more attention so I got the blue.
In between the visits to Camera Casino, I had already bought the other two on Amazon.
So what peculiarities maketh the vision of the pinholist stir and ease the trembling of the illuminated plane?
It seems like an odd place to start, but I carry one of these with me almost all the time, all year round. It's an easier business when it's cold enough to wear a jacket but pockets in Levi's are not made to be particularly voluminous, probably for visual reasons, which I admit to noticing in the mirror.
It's about a tie between the ProMaster, a little shorter, and the Amazon, a little smaller circumference. The PinRui just barely fits in a back pocket and it makes a more noticeable budge, although with it's mostly foam covering and conformable shape, it's not that uncomfortable to sit on.
Weight is a factor in this pocket game. This time the Amazon and the PinRui tie at 54 and 55 grams. The ProMaster is a distant third at 98 grams. That's still not a lot of weight though. They're all almost unnoticable in my pocket. The heft of the ProMaster could be an advantage on a breezy day.
Durability and strength
I'm going to be pressing these things against hard surfaces and frequently sitting on them. It seems a little premature to evaluate durability, but I think we can make some assumptions. The ProMaster wins hands down. Except for the handle on the socket clamp and the feet, it's All Metal. A lot of the Amazon is plastic. It's legs are held on a metal plate with screws so someone thought about it. I'm a little skeptical of the PinRui. It's covered with foam. I've seen foam tear and deteriorate into crumbly bits leaving an ugly and sticky residue. I don't know anything about metal fatigue but how many times are those legs going to flex before they break? Let's say its going to get it a good test. One of its legs came out of where it attached to the top but it pressed right back in and seems to be staying there. That flexible wire probably won't maintain a thread to screw it in with.
I've had generally good luck with the folding-flat tripods. I've only had two break in the last ten years. My old little ProMaster was 7 years old.
They're cheaper than most sandwiches so cost comes before utility and life span in their design. They're between 5 and 10 dollars on-line. Not a significant investment to replace but it's irritating to have something come apart in the field very often.
I like to get the camera at least a little off the ground or a table's surface. The ProMaster has three section legs, the Amazon two, and the PinRui's legs are just one piece.
The ProMaster wins, even though it looks like I pushed two of it's legs in a bit futzing with it. I can handle that as long as I get the camera level. The PinRui comes in second, but at the expense of narrowing its base, ergo stablility. The Amazon has a greater angle of extension and is really spread out when extended like this. Stable, but covering a lot of real estate.
Yes, Justin, I know I can put the camera right on the ground. I usually want to get this low to point at something on the ground and occasionally to point up and into a plant. The ability to keep from falling over when the camera is tilted 45° down without getting its legs in the picture is also a consideration, which they all passed.
The PinRui squashes down to the surface the closest. It also gets points for being continuously variable on those bendy legs. It's pretty spread out and stable. If your surface isn't that big you can bend the legs down to clamp over the edges. Notice the angle of the ProMaster's legs. That knurled band just above the legs screws up and down, changing the maximum angle so there's some fine tuning on that one too.
The ball and socket must be adjustable on two axes and hold the camera in place for the picture.
The ProMaster and the Amazon have the same general design, a cylindrical enclosure with the clamping bolt at the bottom. The ProMaster's head also rotates when it's loosened. On the Amazon there's a phillips head screw between the legs that holds them to the head. If that screw is loose the head will swivel around but is useless that way unless in a vertical position. In addition, you have to make sure that when that screw is tightened, the gap in the head, which allows you to tilt all the way over 90°, is aligned between two of the legs. Otherwise they'll get in your way when the camera is pointed down or you're holding it against a wall. These heads also seem to be either loose or locked with no variable drag. The PinRui has a plastic cup containing the ball with a clamp in the back that squeezes it tight. Even with the clamping bolt completely loosened, it has enough drag to hold my two ounce cameras in position. It's tempting to just leave it loose but once the nut came off the bolt in my pocket, so best to tighten between photographs.
Holdability against a vertical surface.
Just as often as I set the tripod down on a horizontal surface, I hold it against a wall or light post. It's necessary to still be able to get the camera level and pointed at whatever angle I want.
It seems they all past the test but it was much easier to hold the PinRui against the wall than it is the other two. It comes down to two things. The lesser is that the legs of the ProMaster and the Amazon both flop back together when held up like this and you have to adjust your grip to hold them at maximum spread. The PinRui, while you can't press too hard or it will bend, has legs that stay where they're put until acted upon by an outside force.
The more important thing that makes the PinRui better at this is something that hadn't occurred to me before - the feet. Even though I had dealt with slippery feet on an antique wooden tripod in the past.
My old little ProMaster had feet of hard rubber. This ProMaster and the Amazon have feet of hard plastic. They're almost impossible keep from sliding across a smooth surface, especially when you're putting a little force on it to hold it in place in a clumsy posture. I tried to modify the ProMaster by wrapping the feet with a couple layers of black duct tape, which helps a little but it still takes concentration to get it to hold still. The PinRui's feet are medium hard rubber with a high coefficient of friction that doesn't slip and combined with the light weight is easy to hold in place even for a long exposure.
This one is rarely used but sometimes, the most stable place is spanning a gap, between two branches or over a bumpy surface.
The ProMaster can bridge a slightly broader expanse but something tells me the feet of the PinRui are going to make it sit more stably in that kind of a situation.
In summary, each of these has unique advantages and I'll probably use them all at some time.
The lightweight Amazon's major advantage are it's good looks. You could pull it out of your Chanel handbag at the gala ball and it would fit right in. It's small and light and probably the least likely to create an unsightly bulge in your suit jacket pocket. It's good enough and if I could fix the issue with the slippery feet, it would be adequate in most situations.
It's noticeably stronger and better engineered and with the rotating head and the variable angle legs, a lot more adjustable than a lot of desktop tripods.
I wouldn't recommend it but it's just strong enough to hold this N50 with a body cap if you don't try to tilt it too much. It falls over with a lens on it.
The flexible legs make it completely different from any other tripod I've had, and I have to admit I'm having fun fooling around with it.
I've always been tempted by Jobo's Gorillapod for the capability to attach to things but it's too big and heavy for everyday transport in a pocket. This one does pretty much everything a regular desktop tripod does, plus everything you could possibly imagine. Those legs wrap around things and clamp to some really odd shapes.
That ability to come out of my pocket and quickly wrap around the handle bars is something I will use a lot. Strapping and unstrapping a full tripod to a bicycle is annoying and the rails, benches, trees, signs and tables I depend on aren't always nearby. This gives me some good height off the ground and it only takes a second to deploy it this way.
The foam covered, segmented, bendy legs are kind of odd looking and impossible to get perfectly straight ever again. My anal-retentive inner graphic artist wants to try to straighten them but I'll get over that.
Our lovely models for this pageant have been the PrePopulist on the ProMaster, The Populist on the Amazon and lately made just for these photographs, a new Understudy for The Populist which is now loaded, in my pocket with the PinRui, continuing our investigations in tripodology.
And yet I can exercise my free choice to place the camera directly on terra firma.