Emergency smartphone support: a piece of string!

It's a truth universally acknowledged that the steadier you can keep your camera, the better your photos will be. Keeping your smartphone steady can be a bit tricky because it's small and light. Sure there are smartphone specialist supports, but there has to be a cheaper, lighter way that's in-keeping with the pocket-sized nature of smartphone photography, no? I'm not entirely sure why I decided that I needed to modify an emergency string tripod for use with a smartphone, but obviously I was channeling MacGyver somewhere, so I gave it a go. If you've never used an emergency string tripod, it's a loop of string secured to your camera to help keep it steady. You might've heard of it as a chainpod.

For my proof-of-concept smartphone stringpod, I used baling twine. It's not the ideal material because it's too coarse and too slippery against the phone's casing; however, we have an abundance of it and I just needed to prove my idea. A thinner string with a less shiny finish, like kitchen string, would be better.

Take a length of string that's at least double your height and tie together the ends to form a loop.

Take a loop of string and secure it around your smartphone in girth hitch

Use the loop to secure a girth hitch around your smartphone. Girth hitch: the technical name for a simple knot made with a loop. You can see better distructions here.

You should now have your string looped around your smartphone, and the rest of the loop hanging down from it.

Smartphone held in a loop

Place your foot (or feet) through the loop and pull your smartphone to taughten the string.

Stabilise your smartphone using your feet to taughten the string

That should stabilise your smartphone on the vertical axis, meaning that you can concentrate on horizontal stability. You should have a better chance of taking wobble-less landscapes and shake-free selfies now.

If you need to shorten the loop, just put a twist in it and secure it with your feet on the twist. Also: don't forget to keep your elbows in when you're taking a photo, no flapping around like chicken, thank you!

How's that for a camera stabilisation device that costs pennies and fits in your pocket?

Lolloping around with a Lollipod

Just before Christmas the lovely guys at Lollipod sent me an ice blue version of their lightweight, compact, multi-functional support device to test. The Lollipod can't withstand anything that weighs more than 420g, but that makes it perfect for mobile phone photography and compact cameras, and it can be used a sound boom, too. I've given it a go with my Canon S95, which attaches to the Lollipod directly, and my iPhone 4, which attaches using Lollipod's additional spring-loaded adapter. (You can use a Joby Griptight, too.) Lollipod

The good

The Lollipod really is light. I took the liberty of plonking it on the kitchen scales and it weighed in around 275g, or 9oz. So much of the appeal of smartphone or compact camera photography is that it's convenient. You don't want heaps of weighty (and expensive) kit when your camera fits in your pocket. However, there are occasions when you want to be able to steady your picture-taking device, for example when you're taking night shots, or self-portraits. Schlepping around something designed to take a dSLR might be overkill, but the Lollipod isn't.

Secure an iPhone with the Lollipod adapter

When it's fully retracted, the Lollipod isn't any more than 33cm (just over one foot) long. That's small enough to put in a daypack, a messenger bag, or even one of my larger handbags. Combined with its light weight, that makes the Lollipod supremely portable.

I was also impressed by the screw mechanism that secured your compact camera or the mobile adapter to the Lollipod. It's integrated into the Lollipod, so there's no ferreting around to find something to screw a plate into the camera or adapter, or even a plate to lose.

A built-in screw mechanism keeps things neat

Extending and retracting the Lollipod is quick and easy. There are no locking mechanisms: everything just slides in and out. Despite my initial concerns that this could result in the Lollipod retracting into itself, that never happened. After all, neither my camera or phone were that heavy and you're not meant to put anything weighing more than 420g on a Lollipod.

See? Very compact.

The not-so-good

Being so light means that the Lollipod isn't always as stable as it could be, especially when it's fully extended. Unless I set the self-timer on my compact camera it was quite difficult to capture an image without camera-shake. I had much more success with my iPhone, though. It is possible to weight down the Lollipod—you use the carrying case that comes with it, and something like a water bottle or handy rock—but I'd still be apprehensive about using it in windy weather. Without independently adjustable feet, it wouldn't be stable on uneven ground, either.

If you're accustomed to the flexibility of motion in a standard tripod head, you might feel restricted by the Lollipod's limited movement. It can only move through one axis, so you'll need to decide between setting your device so that you can switch between portrait and landscape, or so that you can tilt it. Tilting with a camera on the Lollipod wasn't a problem at all, but I didn't feel that my iPhone was sufficiently secure in its adapter for that.

In conclusion

When you're accustomed to a heavy-weight tripod with a head that moves in almost any direction imaginable, the Lollipod feels incredibly limited and restrictive. But that's comparing apples with oranges, really. The Lollipod has been designed as a lightweight, flexible support, and it fulfils that brief. If you need to stop your camera from shaking when taking photos in the dark, it'll do the job. If you want something to have a go at self-portraiture with your phone, it's great. If you need a lightweight and portable support for a small camera or smartphone, that's exactly what it is. Just don't try it out in a force nine gale.

Lollipods are available direct from Lollipod and cost £30.