Joby Gorilla Pods

15 Jul 2009

I recently picked up a couple Joby Gorilla Pods, which, if you’re unfamiliar, are small tripods built with segmented, rubberized legs that articulate allowing you to stand them up or clamp them to just about anything. They come in several sizes, each with a different weight allowance, and the two I got were the SLR (800g) and the SLR-Zoom (3,000g). I’ve found the names most accurately describe the model below whichever they’re trying to; the SLR model can certainly hold even a large SLR sometimes, but there are lots of cases (read: most) where it’s just too weak. Likewise with the SLR-Zoom, I can fiddle with the configuration of the legs and find a way to support a D700 with a 70-200, but most setups will just topple over; it will hold any SLR with a smaller lens just fine though. The weight recommendations are pretty precise though, so go by those and not the names and you’ll be fine. I bought each Pod with a pretty specific purpose in mind, so I took the gear I was planning on using with each and weighed it before making any purchases.

Firstly, I was looking to get a small, portable, versatile support for was to hold a remote strobe. This could be in a gym replacing the standard magic arm or super clamp, or outside where you can use just about anything to hold the pod: a tree, a fence, the ground, etc. The beastly Sb-900, with batteries and diffuser, weighs in at 545 grams, way outside the range of the Original Gorilla Pod. The next step up is the SLR, so having the 200+ gram allowance was certainly OK with me. B&H (and I’m sure others) sell a kit that includes the SLR, which includes a built-in quick release system, and a hot shoe insert for that QR, so out of the box for $40 it was ready to do what I needed it to. The SLR model has two articulation segments above the legs, and each of the three legs has 10 segments.

Just as a matter of stress testing, I figured the legs are the weakest when they’re straight, so I checked what the most extreme angle this could handle with an SB-900. 90° is straight up, and 0° would be horizontal. In each test I held the only the last two segments furthest from the head, so there was nearly as little support not coming from the strength of the links as possible. Holding one leg by the last two segments at 90°, the pod is surprisingly steady. Even with a little shaking, the leg held its shape. Once you tip the setup even 3-8° it fails pretty dramatically. If you add in a second leg, again holding them by the last two segments, you can get maybe 15° before they start to curl over. With the third leg, though, 90° is a piece of cake. I won’t say rock solid, but very, very solid is definitely applicable. You can hold the whole setup parallel to the ground probably forever and it I think it would hold it’s shape.

Now obviously those tests were not very telling of any real world application of the device, since normally the legs will be tightly wrapped around something providing a lot more support than the last two segments of each leg alone can provide. You can also set the Pod up as a small tripod, and there, too, it provides adequate support. If you keep the legs perfectly straight, and keep them within maybe 25-30° of perpendicular to the ground, the won’t have trouble supporting the SB-900 regardless of how it’s positioned on the head (the whole thing may topple over if put too much weight in between legs, but that’s gravity, not the Pod). Once you get past 30°, you’ll start to see some slumping in the middle of the legs if you try to keep them perfectly straight, but you’ll quickly figure out ways of bending them to create more ground contact, and give them more of an natural arch, and they’ll be perfectly fine. Except in these extreme testing cases, there will always be a way of creating a rock solid support for something as heavy as a SB-900.

The SLR-Zoom model, rated at up to 3kg, looks significantly beefier than the SLR model, and does not include any segments above where the legs join. Instead it has a screw mount for a compact tripod head. BH offers a $60 kit that comes with a pretty OK Slik (SBH-120) ball head, which is what I picked up. As far as I can tell the head will surpass the Pod, so I’m not going to test it’s limits specifically; I haven’t seen it budge a bit with anything up to 3kg when really clamped down.

I mainly was looking to use this Pod as a remote camera support, again much like a super clamp would be used, but even with having never used a Gorilla Pod, I was hopefully it would eliminate the need for having both a clamp and a small tripod for different situations. My testing was done using a D700 (1100g, with battery), and MB-D10 grip (500g with a Kosmo battery) and a Nikkor 14-24 (1,014g) totaling 2,628 grams, or 88% of the 3k limit.

The SLR-Zoom did not do as well as the SLR in the extreme tests. Holding all three legs about halfway up provides enough support to keep the setup parallel to the ground. Anything less than that is just about useless. Even when I tried to setup a regular tripod shape with this much weight on it, it collapsed, or at least started to bend pretty quickly. If I let it sit for a few minutes, it just kind of slowly melted all the way to the ground. Since I wanted to use this as a set-it-and-forget-it kind of remote, I needed to find some configuration of the legs that was stable enough to allow the ball head to hold the camera even at a pretty extreme angle. Even splaying the legs out at 120° flat on the ground resulted in lots of toppling over unless you got things just right. Eventually I found that if you curl the legs up, creating sort of a Mickey Mouse shape, with each curl being as flat on the ground as possible, you get a very, very stable support at most angles and with quite a bit of leniency in how precisely everything was arranged. If you really tilt the camera back on the ball head, putting all the weight over just two of the legs (so the lens is looking straight up at the sky), I haven’t found any way to get the Pod to hold that on it’s own (and not due to just toppling over, the legs are actually giving out). If you set the legs up in just the right way, and put something heavy enough on the front leg as a counterweight, you can do just about anything.

I also have done a bit of testing with a Nikkor 70-200 on the SLR-Zoom, and if you mount the ball head to mounting hole towards the back of the collar mount you can get a pretty good range of angles, but the weight distribution changes when you move things around, it’s not really that stable in general. You should be able to get just about any angle you want if you mess with different leg configurations and which mounting screw hole you choose.

Both of these Gorilla Pods live up to the technical specs that they are listed at. Like I mentioned before, the names are a bit ambitious, but that’s really a non-issue. They are versatile, allow you to place strobes or cameras even where other dedicated supports like a super clamp might be tough or impossible. The trade off is obviously with support and security. I would not be trusting one of these to hold a remote on a catwalk; even if you’re doubling or tripling up the security straps, the potential even just for not getting the images you want is probably too high to not invest in a more dedicated solution. Also, I will have to see how much strength these lose over time with use. I haven’t heard anything like that happening, but I also haven’t heard of too many everyday professionals using these as part of the regular gear, so they may have not been tested enough to make that conclusion yet. I certainly think for the price, and specifically for the uses I got them for they will serve their function well, now that I’ve figured out their limits and the best ways of using them.

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