Wednesday, August 20 2008

Three points define a plane…

…four points define a wobble. Some months back, I left myself a note to buy the Manfrotto Modo Pocket camera stand when it finally reached the US. I had taken their tabletop tripod with me to Japan, but hadn’t used it much because of the overhead: pull it out of the bag, find a dinner-plate-sized surface to set it up on, take the shot.

I didn’t bother buying any of the other “quickie” mini-tripods that are out there, because most of them struck me as gimmicks first, stabilizers second. The Modo Pocket, though, looked eminently practical:

Small enough to be left on the camera while it’s in your pocket, with a passthrough socket to mount on a larger tripod or monopod. Usable open or closed. Solidly constructed, like most Manfrotto products. A design that derives its cool looks directly from its functionality. It’s even a nice little fidget toy.

What it isn’t is a tripod. If you put a three-legged camera stand down on a surface, it might end up at an odd angle, or even fall over if there’s too much height variation between the legs, but it’s not going to wobble. A four-legged stand is going to wobble on any surface that’s not perfectly flat, and is also going to be subject to variations in manufacture.

The legs on my shiny new Modo Pocket are about two sheets of paper off from being perfectly aligned, which means that it can wobble a bit during long exposures. Adjusting it to perfection is trivial, but even once it’s perfectly aligned on perfectly flat surfaces, it won’t be that way out in the real world.

It can’t be, because it has four fixed-length legs. This is a limitation, not a flaw. Just like it’s not designed to work with an SLR and a superzoom (it would fall over in a heartbeat), it’s not designed to replace a tripod. It’s designed to help the camera in your pocket grab a sharp picture quickly, before you lose the chance. I expect to get some very nice, sharp pictures with this gadget, and I don’t regret the $30 in the least.