After my wife discouraged me from the idea of bringing a full tripod backpacking, while I still wanted to have something taller and sturdier than the gorillapod SLR for my Canon XS (+ Sigma f/4-5.6 10-20, Canon 18-55, and Canon 55-250), I decided to invest some time in making a tripod out of three trekking poles (one of the advantages of hiking with someone!) My goals were to make something much lighter than a full tripod, available from inexpensive parts (rather than cutting down a tripod), and have it stable enough to take 30-sec+ pictures for star/night photography. I believe I succeeded on the first, and am close on the others!
The basic idea was to use small clamps to attach the tips of the three trekking poles to an aluminum base to form the tripod. I'd then mount a lightweight ballhead on the aluminum base, and attach the camera to the ballhead.
In case anyone wants to duplicate this, I ordered:
- Hexagonal aluminum piece, 0.7" tall x 1.75" "diameter" (side to side, not corner to corner) from OnlineMetals.com
- From McMaster.com, Loop clamps 8863T13 & T14 (correct diameter depends on trekking poles)
- Also from McMaster, 3/8"-16, 7/8" stainless steel screw for the ballhead, 1/4"-20, 1/2" length stainless steel screws for the clamp attachments, and 7122A22, a hex wrench for the screws. (Note that I tried thumb screws, but you can't exert enough torque on them without pliers - so the hex wrench is the lightest option I see).
(Also, if you're interested, I have plenty of extras of most of these things - PM me)
- From the cheapest source, the Joby Gorillapod Ballhead
Anyway, on to pictures!
These pictures show the finished aluminum piece. There is one large (3/8"), counterbored hole in the middle for the piece for the ballhead screw. There are three offset, 1/4"-20 tapped holes for the clamps to attach to. Additional grooves are milled in to provide a better seat for the clamps.
Here is the aluminum piece with ballhead attached.
Here the tripod is set up, with the clamps firmly screwed in to secure the legs at an angle.
Finally, here is a _100% crop_ of a test shot in dim light, so a 25 sec. exposure. The result looks acceptably sharp to me, and only minimal sharpness can be gained with much shorter exposures or flash.
The main problem I've had with this tripod is on a slippery surface (hardwood floor or plastic). On these surfaces the trekking pole handles will slide outward slowly, either by rotating the clamps or bending themselves. However, on carpet (which should mirror dirt outdoors more, I would hope) the tripod is fairly stable. It is no match for a real tripod, certainly - but much lighter too!
The only "hard" machining part is milling the grooves - which were not done very exactly, and might help prevent slipping of the legs if done better. Other than that, all you need is a drill press and tapping tool.
Here are the weights:
All homemade parts - 4.9 oz
Ballhead - 5 oz
Grand total - 9.9 oz.
Breakdown of homemade parts:
17g Screw for ballhead
71g aluminum base
14g hex wrench
15g 1/4-20 screws for clamps
21g 3 clamps
Finally, a big thanks to Rod Java, the StickPic inventor, for supplying a free template to look at - originally I thought that would be a good way to attach the poles, but ultimately went with the clamps which I hoped would be more effective in preventing rotation of the poles. Also much credit to my friend and coworker Li-Chung for helping machine this piece and fix problems!
Let me know if you have any suggestions! For reference, here are the other similar projects I've found on the web, but all fairly different in concept from this one: