Keeping cameras steady or having complete control over their position is important, regardless of whether you’re shooting photos or video. We’ve already covered cameras, lenses and lighting, so in this gift guide, we’re going to be taking a look at tripods, sliders and gimbals. Let’s start off small and build our way up.
The Platypod Ultra (review here) is one of those strange photography and video tools you didn’t know you needed. On first glance, you wonder what on earth you could possibly use it for, but once you get it, you realise there are so many times when it really is the best tool for the job. Want to set up a camera on top of a bumpy rock that’s too small for a tripod? Platypod. Need to mount a camera up a tree trunk? Platypod. There are so many ways to attach this to the world around you that you’ll wonder how you did without one.
The Manfrotto Befree 3-Way is a welcome update to the original Manfrotto Befree Live for all those creatives who like to shoot photos as well as video but don’t want to carry two separate tripods. The latest iteration swaps out the standard pan/tilt fluid video head for a 3-way fluid video head that allows you to rotate the camera 90 degrees for shooting portraits. Or, if you only shoot video, you can use it for those vertical videos for social media.
The Manfrotto 635 Fast Single Carbon was actually on our list last year, too, but it hadn’t quite been released just yet. It had been announced, but it took a while for it to come to market. Now it’s had a few tweaks and refinements to make it even better than the pre-production version I’ve been using and it’s actually available to buy. It pairs very nicely with the next item on this list, if you’re looking for a recommendation!
The Manfrotto 504X fluid video head (review here) is essentially what you’d get if the trusty old 504HD and a high end Nitrotech head had a baby. It combines the reliability of the popular 504HD with some of the new tech from the Nitrotechs, resulting in a beautiful combination of the two for smoother cleaner pans and tilts and solid holding power when you need your camera stable.
SmallRig Mini Ball Head (Amazon) – $26.99
This has become my absolute favourite mini ball head this year. I’ve tried a random assortment of inexpensive ball heads from Amazon and eBay over the years for things like camera sliders, overhead cameras and other camera mounts, but this year I replaced them all with several of these. Like just about all SmallRig products they’re very well machined and operate smoothly. If you’re looking for a ball head to go with either of the sliders below, the Platypod Ultra above or for any other reason, this one is well worth taking a look at.
SliderMini 2 (Amazon) – $399
The original SliderMini (review here) was my favourite gimbal ever since I first got one in my hands. Once the SliderMini 2 arrived (review here), it instantly took its place as my new favourite, offering a more powerful motor with a bit more torque, as well as speed ramping abilities. It’s small enough that I can take it with me pretty much anywhere my camera goes, but capable enough that it gives me nice smooth slides wherever I am.
The SliderMini 2 above faces some stiff competition from Zeapon Micro 2 (review here), which has become Adam’s favourite. It’s similarly small, but offers double-length slides due to the nature of its design and costs a mere $199 – although for that price, it’s fully manual. It is, however, also available as a fully motorised kit for $479. I think when Adam and I are allowed to visit each others countries, we’ll have to put our favourites head-to-head to pick an overall winner!
The Zhiyun Smooth X (review here) is the ideal gimbal for general users and content creators primarily focused on creating content that includes themselves. The Smooth X is essentially a selfie stick with a built-in gimbal that allows you to get steady stabilised footage while your phone is at a range where you can fit yourself and a whole lot of other stuff in the scene at once. This makes it perfect for vloggers as well as a great gimbal for taking with you on vacation.
The Hohem iSteady X (review here) is geared a little more towards those content creators who prefer to film other things, especially if you want vertical video for things like Instagram Stories or TikTok. It’s quite small, and will happily fit in many pockets or a small pouch in a bag out of the way so that you can carry it with you everywhere to whip out at a moment’s notice and document what’s going on around you.
The Moza Mini MX (review coming soon) is easily my favourite smartphone gimbal of 2020. While the two models above from Zhiyun and Hohem definitely have their standout features, the Moza Mini MX is the one that best suits my day-to-day needs. Where this one excels is in its capabilities aimed more towards smartphone filmmakers rather than just for personal use, social media or vlogging. For me, it’s one of my favourite b-roll tools when the only spare camera I have is my phone.
The Zhiyun Crane 2S (review here) replaced the Zhiyun Crane 2 as my go-to gimbal for DSLR and mirrorless cameras. It offers everything the original did and so much more, in just about every way possible. It has stronger and more stable motors to help create steadier footage with larger loads, easy mod vertical video orientation and general workflow improvements that make it a pleasure to use.
K&F Light Stand (Amazon) – $49.99 (2 for $74.99)
Yes, it’s a support for a light and not a support for a camera, but it’s still support so it counts. This is an interesting looking light stand from K&F. At first, nothing looks too much out of the ordinary until you notice that there’s no centre column hanging down at the bottom. Instead, this stand has locking legs similar to those which you might find on a tripod. This means you can have them at different levels to each other, bring them tight to raise things up a little bit or spread them wide to get a larger footprint in the wind. I know Paul loves these.
Finding somewhere to put your camera or just keeping it steady is often one of the most difficult things when you’re in the middle of a shoot. Many of us have several devices that we use for different circumstances, and we still always seem to find ourselves facing challenges that would be better suited to the one we don’t own. Hopefully, these will help give you some options to treat yourself this year, or perhaps to treat the photographer or filmmaker in your life.
Now that you’ve got something to stick them on top of, check out our other gift guides covering cameras, lenses and lighting. We’ll be wrapping up our lists with accessories soon, so don’t forget to check back for that!