Why Gorillapods aren't so great

If you've been in a camera store in the last 5 years, you've certainly at some point seen a camera with a tripodish thingy hanging at an impossible angle from a conveniently placed pole.

That was a Gorillapod, a nifty little gadget with three legs which can be either used to conventionally support the camera on a possibly uneven surface, or used to grab a pole, branch or rail.

The promotional material is obviously full of pictures of a Gorillapod-supported camera set up in exotic, exciting and glamorous locations, and is understandably appealing to photographers knowledgeable enough to understand the usefulness of
a tripod, but unwilling to carry a full-sized around.
They come in various sizes and rated weights, with or without a ballhead, and with optional magnetic feet which allow it to cling to certain metals.

Ok so here's the rub. I think that the small version may be a nice thing to have for a compact camera, but I can't say the same for the SLR version. I bought one of these, the non ballhead model. I was very excited, and thought I'd use it a lot, but a couple of things got in the way.
  1. Modern SLR's such as my D90 have excellent low light capabilities. Unless time isn't a factor (neither you nor your subject are going anywhere), you're usually better off kicking the ISO up a few notches until you can hand-hold. The whole point of not carrying a tripod is improving mobility.
  2. It still probably takes less time to set up than a tripod, but much more than increasing the sensitivity of the camera.
  3. While the advertising material makes it look like complete freedom is achieved, the gorillapod can be VERY limiting. Most objects don't photograph well from a foot off the ground, so in practice one is often limited to poles, trees, branches etc. There's something usable anywhere but you're unlikely to get the angle you need. For example, in this fairly typical (and boring) city scene, I have highlighted in red the opportunities for hanging the camera that are more than a meter or so off the ground. The green areas are those where you could place a conventional tripod, or would be limited to a height off the ground of one foot with the Gorillapod. As you can see, there's an obvious limitation in the options you have as a photographer.
  4. In many situations I found that the only place to support the camera was ON the subject I wanted to photograph. That is because good photos often (but of course not always) have subjects which are isolated from competing elements.
  5. It's compact relative to a tripod, but it's not THAT compact. For example there would be no obvious location in my ThinkTank Speed Deamon, though even the smalles photobackpack should be able to accomadate it.
In short my feeling was that for most environments, it did not offer enough extra camera placement options to justify the added weight and cost relative to say-the Adorama clamp with tripod legs

Instead I can clearly see how the smaller sized Gorillapods could be a great way to prop up a wireless flash or two!

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