All photographers, at some point in their journey, come to a place where they wish they had a tripod, but don't have one with them. Perhaps tripods aren't allowed where you are shooting. Maybe it just isn't practical to carry a tripod where you are going. There are times that the tripod is left at home, or in the car, with the thought that it won't be needed. That happens to me more times than I care to admit. Tripods aren't the easiest piece of gear to carry around. Even a light and compact travel tripod adds weight and bulk that you may not care to deal with. Unfortunately, by leaving the tripod behind, you might miss opportunities and miss shots. Maybe you don't have to.
About Platypod Pro
You've probably heard the saying, “necessity is the mother of invention”. That's the primary driving force behind Platypod Pro LLC, a small company that was born out of a specific photographic need. Reading their story, you find that a trip into the backcountry carrying a standard tripod left them wanting something much smaller and lighter. Something that would be easy to pack and carry, but still provide a stable platform for a camera and lens. The problem was, there just wasn't anything that quite fit the bill. Since there wasn't anything available that worked, they decided to make it themselves. After some trial and error, the Platypod Pro was born.
What Is It?
Described on the Platypod website as “the world's most compact mini tripod,” the Platypod Pro can be taken virtually anywhere. That is why I picked one of these up a couple of months ago. I figured that for those times that I didn't want to carry a tripod (or wasn't allowed to), at least I would have this with me. Just in case.
Photographers have long searched for ways to provide support for their cameras when a tripod is not available. Some may have use a bean bag; placed the camera on a hard, flat surface; or somehow attached it to a stationary object. These things could all work in a pinch, but provide little control of the camera and make setting up a composition more difficult. The Playtpod Pro is one of those “why didn't I think of that?” gadgets that changes all of that.
The Platypod Pro is basically a flat metal plate, with threaded holes for spiked feet and screw mounts for a ballhead or other accessories. If you get the Deluxe Kit, it also comes with a 1/4″to 3/8″ spigot adapter and a unique carrying pouch. What it does not come with is a ballhead, so that will need to be purchased separately if you don't already have one to use. The interesting thing about the carrying pouch is that although it folds up flat to hold the plate and feet, it also expands into more of a box shape to hold a ballhead as well.
The base plate of the Platypod Pro is made of aircraft-grade aluminum, weighing in at a scant 3 ounces. It measures 3 inches wide by 5 inches long and is 4 millimeters thick. The carrying case that holds everything is approximately 1 inch thick and just slightly larger than the base plate. In other words, it is definitely small and light enough to slip into a camera bag or backpack.
Despite its small stature, it is claimed to hold up to 90 pounds of gear. Now, I don't know about you, but all my cameras and gear put together don't weigh 90 pounds. Of course, the actual weight capacity is going to depend more on the limit of the ballhead. My experience is that bulkier gear will exceed the base plate's ability to hold it steady long before any weight limit is reached.
How Does It Work?
The Platypod Pro is pretty easy to setup and use. Simply screw your ballhead onto the 3/8″ titanium bolt on the base plate and mount your camera. If the surface you are on is flat, you can just set the base flat and work from there. More uneven surfaces will require the use of the spiked feet, which are attached to the base plate in the 3 threaded holes. Approximately 1 inch of threads are available on each of the spiked feet, so that each one can be adjusted independently for height. As the name implies, one end of the spiked feet are pointed, which works well for digging into soft surfaces or grabbing onto rocks. The other end has a soft rubber cap to be used to grip smooth surfaces or provide protection on surfaces that you want to avoid scratching.
There are a number of photography accessories that could also be mounted on the Platypod Pro. Using the included spigot, you could attach a bracket to hold a speedlight, light modifier, or even a trigger.
In addition to the three threaded holes, there are four unthreaded holes on the base plate. These can be used to attach the base plate to a variety of surfaces and orientations using screws, nails, zip ties, or wire.
Why You Would Want One
One of the main uses for the Platypod Pro is to have a way to support your camera when a regular tripod is not practical. There are many places where tripods are not allowed, but the Platypod could serve as a substitute. I recently spent a few days wandering around New York City with some photography friends. Not only is a tripod frowned upon pretty much everywhere in the Big Apple, but I also was traveling light and wouldn't have wanted to carry one anyway. The Platypod Pro was a welcome addition and didn't take up much space in the backpack.
I can see the Platypod Pro accompanying me on many hikes into the mountains in the future. When going on long day-hikes or backpacking trips, traveling light is important and space is very limited. This device will be great to have along for times when hand-holding the camera is not an option.
Even in places where tripods are allowed, there are times that having a camera mounted low to the ground for a very low angle shot is desired. With the Platypod Pro, your camera can be set up just a few inches off the ground for these shots. Plus, because of its small footprint, it can be used it tight spaces.
Real World Usage
In my experiences so far, the Platypod Pro has worked well with my Fuji XT-1. Since this is a mirrorless camera body, it is quite a bit smaller than a typical DSLR. There have been no problems holding this camera with the 18-55mm f/2.8-4, 10-24mm f/4, or the 16mm f/1.4 lenses. I even tried it with the 50-140mm f/2.8 (70-200mm equivalent). That is not a small lens. Although the Platypod did hold it, I felt that a stiff breeze could cause it to move or possibly even topple over. Needless to say, I stayed close by just in case.
In New York, I used it in Grand Central Station to drag the shutter and capture the movement of people. It wouldn't have been possible to hand-hold the camera at that slow shutter speed and a tripod was not an option. It also came in handy in Times Square at night to capture some unique low-angle images of the activity.
In testing, I also attached the Canon 5D Mark III, a full-frame camera body, with the 24-105mm f/4 lens. Although it may work in a pinch with some careful balancing, it is certainly not ideal for larger cameras and lenses. The Platypod Pro Max has recently been introduced for use with larger photography gear.
A few observations to note about the Platypod Pro. It is most stable when used on a flat surface without the spiked feet. With the addition of the feet, the front end of the base particularly becomes less stable because of the relatively small point of contact. It does seem to help if only the front foot is used and the back feet are left out, or at least keeping the front of the base higher than the rear. Regardless, with a heavier lens attached, it is important to keep the direction that the lens is pointed parallel with the long axis of the base plate. If the camera is turned to the sides, it is prone to tipping.
The Platypod is very reasonably priced and I think my DSLR users would be very happy with their purchase. The pricing varies somewhat, so you can click this link to see what it's currently selling for on Amazon.
If you have a very large DSLR or a DSLR with a battery grip, then you'll want the more expensive Platypod Max (click to check it out on Amazon).
As with any piece of gear, there are a few things that I wish were different about the design. First off, once my ballhead is attached and the spiked feet are screwed into the bottom of the base plate, I am not able to rotate the ballhead as the knobs contact the ends of the spiked feet. This may be more of an issue with my specific ballhead. Another thing to note is that the spiked feet could easily be lost. It looks like the Platypod Pro Max has a storage solution for the feet on the base plate, but the smaller version does not. Finally, I feel that the platform would be much more stable with four feet instead of three. Maybe it wouldn't be called a tripod at that point, but that extra point of contact could prevent tipping of the front of the lens.
The Platypod Pro is something I will continue to use, especially to carry on hikes or for street photography, where carrying a tripod isn't ideal. It's small size and light weight make it easy to slide into a camera bag or backpack without any noticeable weight gain and very little loss of cargo space. Although it may not be quite as stable as a traditional tripod mount, it is certainly a viable alternative.
Now that there are two sizes available, there should be something that would work for everyone. If you use a smaller mirrorless camera and lenses, the Platypod Pro would probably work fine for you. However, if you use a larger DSLR and/or routinely use larger lenses, then you should probably opt for the Platypod Pro Max. I may eventually add the larger model to my kit for the added versatility that it would bring.
Neither of these tools will take the place of a traditional tripod for normal use conditions. They are, however, a nice tool to add to your camera bag for those occasions that a tripod isn't practical.