Thursday, September 12, 2013

Joby GorillaPod SLR Zoom + BH1 Ball Head Review

You need steady hands to be a good photographer, especially when taking night shots. I absolutely love night photography because people can't really see what you're doing. It's a shame that I have the shakiest hands though. What better way to "solve" by twitching than with a tripod?

Current line-up
My collection of tripods up until last week consisted of a Joby GorillaPod knock-off I got for $10 from a local store and a "proper" metal Dolica tripod from Amazon. The Dolica has a ball head and two bubble levels that I actually know how I center because of the surveying class I took years ago -- not that it'd take anyone else much time to learn.

The Joby knock-off is designed for compact point and shoot cameras and barely stands maybe 6" when standing straight up. It is extremely light, easy to use, and easy to set up though. On the other side of the telescope, there is the Dolica, which stands about 2' high at the lowest setting and close to 5' when fully extended. I mainly use it at home and can only really carry it around with a car. Nothing in between?

That's where the new Joby comes in -- so I thought.

Joby GorillaPod SLR Zoom and Ball Head. Red marking is 1'.

Joby GorillaPod SLR-Zoom
Months ago when I first decided that I needed a new camera, I started shopping for accessories including tripods. What I really coveted was the line of Joby tripods that was strong enough to hold up DSLRs. When I found a store that had one for a relatively low price of $36, I kept it in mind for months, and then finally purchased it. And I got my camera a few days after that.

If you're not aware, Joby GorillaPods are tripods with ball-joints for legs that can be twisted into weird shapes. The legs can be positioned in a number of ways to stand up straight, and from what I've seen, they can also be used to wrap around objects. What I like about them is that they are flexible, simple, and relatively light, small, and cheap. There are quite a few versions available for regular cameras, SLRs, and even smartphones now. Check out the official Joby website for more info.

Setup -- didn't start well
Unlike the smaller GorillaPods knock-off that I have, the stand on its own does not have a removable mount. There is only a screw beneath the base of the mount to help screw a device on. With the small version, I usually just take the entire tripod without removing the clip mount and screw it into the camera because it's so light. This is a lot harder to do with a large zoom camera and a heavier tripod -- the long neck strap attached to the camera also gets in the way.

My first run at attaching the camera to the tripod did not go well. The strap got twisted around the legs, and the threads weren't catching between the screw and camera. It didn't take long for me to give up and realize that what I needed was a detachable mounting plate, namely, a ball head.

I jumped onto Amazon and tried to find the cheapest piece of crap that I could find. Yes, my Dolica tripod had a ball head that I could have cannibalized, but I didn't want the hassle of having to switch back and forth. The cheapest option I initially found was a $60 no major frills ball head. Not wanting to wait the entire weekend, I kept looking, and wanted to find a cheap one available at any local store. Eventually, I stumbled upon the Joby BH1 Ball Head. That's not entirely true. I stumbled upon the Joby BH2-01EN Ballhead X designed for the more expensive SLR GorillaPod that supports more weight. One was $40, one was $60, and I didn't need the extra features, so I went with the cheaper one.

The suck was that I found a store with a sale going on that was selling the legs and the ball head combined for about $20 cheaper than if they were bought separately. I didn't feel like returning the legs, so I sucked it up. What I paid was CAD$ 77 + tax.
Joby Gorillapod SLR Zoom with a "regular" sized knock-off
Setup -- let's try this again
With the ball head and the tripod legs, I tried to mount the camera again. The ball head had a removable mounting plate with a level, so obviously, it attached to the camera much easier with almost no effort. I just had to twist on and use a finger nail to tighten it slightly. The ball head itself screwed easily into the legs. After that, I slid the mounting plate with camera in, heard it click, and was all set.

I will note that the legs on the SLR Zoom are much stiffer than on the smaller knock-off version. This probably has to do with the fact that the big one supposedly carries a maximum load of 3 kg while the smaller one can only do a few hundred grams or less -- DSLR versus compact camera.
Success: GorillaPod holding up a Canon SX50
In the few days that I've owned this tripod, I've only used it twice. My camera hasn't fallen off yet, so that's a good start. If I recall correctly, the camera itself is about 600 g, the tripod's ball head is 300-ish g, which means the total load on the legs is only around 1 kg. The maximum is supposedly 3 kg, so it should stay up. However, I have read some reviews online about the legs getting loose over time. Fingers crossed.

Like I noted earlier, the legs are stiff, so the ball head is extremely helpful, if not essential. With the ball head, all I have to do is loosen the screw and orient the camera any way I want after setting the legs up. When using the smaller version without the ball head, I have to manipulate and reorient the legs to get things to point in the direction that I want -- it tips over every now and then.

Convenience and Safety
Even being heavier than the smaller version that I have, this GorillaPod is still very light despite the addition of the ball head. It is small enough to fit into my regular-sized backpacks and messenger bag, and the system is easy to use. Having said that, the "do-it-yourself" leg orientation isn't fool proof and may lead to a camera tipping over. I'm going to try to be extra careful with this thing.

Love it. As long as it keeps working for as long as the knock-off I've had for probably three years now, I'll be very happy. I would definitely recommend buying this tripod with the ball head. It was very difficult for me to "use" the legs without the ball head -- I couldn't even get the camera attached to the legs alone. I find it to be a simple and convenient tripod system. However, it isn't foolproof and they can be knocked over easily if the legs aren't properly set up.

At CAD$ 80, it is also a bit on the expensive side -- my Dolica "real" tripod was only CAD$ 75. Though they are tripods, I wouldn't lump them together as a one or the other option though. Both have their own strengths and I like having both systems available.

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