Custom Brackets, in partnership with Yuri Arcurs, describe their new Yuri Arcurs SteadyPod as the "ultimate on location and studio setup". If you are not familiar with Yuri Arcurs, he is a Stock Photographer who was voted by PDN magazine as one of the most influential photographers of the decade in 2010, and sells over 2 million licenses for his images annually.
In the past we've been extremely impressed with both the design and quality of products from Custom Brackets, so when they asked us if we'd like to review the SteadyPod, we jumped at the chance.
The need for something like the SteadyPod is clear: if you are in a fast paced studio or location shoot, you need to move around, and your shots need to be sharp. While tripods are brilliant for stability and sharpness, they are not exactly dynamic tools. If most of your shots are taken from the same position or height, after a while they are all going to start looking the same. This generally isn't the best way impress your editor or client, or to maximize your image sales. Continually moving the tripod and changing the shooting height is slow and gets old fast. That leaves you either hand-holding your camera, or using a monopod. If it is a long shoot, you drank too much coffee, or just want a little extra stability to get maximum sharpness, then a monopod is the best way to go.
When shooting from a monopod, you need a tilt head, period. Some people do get by with a ball head loose on a monopod, managing to keep the background level while tilting, but that is not what a ball head is designed to do. A tilt head based solution is the only way to go with a monopod.
But then your next problem is having the ability to shoot in both portrait and landscape orientations you never know when a particular shot is going to be used in portrait orientation (magazine cover, full page shot) or landscape (double page spread, half page etc). Taking both shots effectively doubles your chances of being published or making a sale. As Bryan Peterson always emphasizes, always take both, and the best time to take a portrait orientation shot is immediately after the landscape one.
Typically this is where your L-Bracket comes in. However even with the best L-Bracket and fastest operating lever clamps available, continually switching between portrait and landscape orientation between every shot simply isn't going to work. If you are in a fast paced environment you'll abandon the monopod in about 10 minutes flat.
The SteadyPod is Custom Brackets and Yuri Arcurs solution to this problem. Built upon the Manfrotto 685B NeoTec, which is possibly the fastest and easiest monopod to operate available, combined with Custom Brackets brilliant Tilt Head and their Digital PRO-SV Camera Rotator, the SteadyPod is the first product we've seen that truly meets all of the above demands. If you already have a monopod you like, Custom Brackets also sell a 'Basic' version that converts just about any monopod into a SteadyPod.
I did however have one concern before they shipped us a review sample: "But all our cameras, video cameras and lenses are set up for Arca-Swiss clamps, the SteadyPod appears to use your proprietary clamp, do you have an A-S version?". If you've never dealt with Custom Brackets, they are without doubt one of the friendliest, most helpful, and most accommodating companies you'll ever deal with, and the response was immediate: Of course, you just change out a couple of components and it's fully Arca compatible. For this review we'll cover the standard SteadyPod, and detail the Arca-Swiss conversion and differences on page 2. (Update: Custom Brackets now has a page up for the A-S version: SteadyPod AS)
As fate would have it, the SteadyPod arrived the day before Thanksgiving, and the gentleman who introduced me to photography (and leant me an SLR to learn with) some 25 years ago was visiting the next day. I handed him the SteadyPod without any background or introduction to get his opinion, based on his nearly five decades of photography experience. After around 15 minutes of playing with it, he turned to me and simply stated: "If I had one of these, I really don't think I'd ever use my tripod again".
The SteadyPod Components
The picture above shows the basic components that make up the SteadyPod. Across the bottom is the Manfrotto 685B NeoTec Monopod, modified with a Custom Brackets Foot Shield. Across the top from left to right are the following (all made by Custom Brackets): Tilt Head, a pair of stainless steel anti-twist pins that work with the 685B and the Tilt Head, the Digital PRO-SV Camera Rotator (with palm grip and quick release installed), and finally the Camera Bottom Plate (CBP) installed on a Camera Mounting Plate (CMP). The major components either have been or will be reviewed separately (we'll add links to this page as reviews are posted), but brief summaries of all the major components are below:
Manfrotto 685B NeoTec with Custom Brackets Foot ShieldThe 685B is one of Manfrotto's more popular monopods, built from a special aluminum alloy, and featuring the NeoTec rapid open and closing mechanism. Using a pistol grip to adjust the height of the monopod (combined with a foot pedal) makes the monopod amazingly fast to operate you don't have to bend down and loosen/adjust/retighten multiple joints. Instead simply stand on the foot pedal, pull the trigger on the pistol grip, set the height and release.
At 1.76 lbs (0.8 kg) it's relatively light, and it extends to an impressive 66.9". As monopods go it is pretty stable I'd want something beefier for a big telephoto lens, but for general use it is more than up to the job. If the monopod has one shortcoming, it's the rubber foot you'll see numerous complaints about it falling off easily and getting lost, leaving you with just a spike to rest the monopod on. Custom Brackets solution to this is the Foot Shield shown in the picture below:
With the Foot Shield installed, the rubber foot simply isn't going to fall off, and is much less likely to get damaged.
What really makes the 685B NeoTec stand out is its sheer speed of operation, so it's easy to see why it is the monopod of choice for demanding, high-volume pro's like Yuri Arcurs, and the perfect choice to build the Steady-Pod on.
Custom Brackets Tilt HeadOur full review of the Custom Brackets Tilt Head can be found here: Custom Brackets Tilt Head Review. This is a pro-grade product that you wouldn't hesitate to trust even your heaviest and most expensive telephoto lenses on, and again the perfect choice to use as part of the SteadyPod. The Tilt Head features two controls, a lock knob on the left to lock the SteadyPod in position, and a drag control on the right to fine-tune the amount of drag when using the head loose. The Tilt Head gives an impressive range of motion, allowing you to tilt the SteadyPod straight down, and almost straight up.
The picture below shows the Arca-Swiss version of the tilt head (the only difference with the other version is the clamp on top) attached to the Manfrotto 685B NeoTec. You can also see in this picture the two stainless steel anti-twist pins have been installed, which grip either side of the wrist strap holder on the monopod, eliminating any possibility of the head accidentally twisting loose.
Custom Brackets Digital PRO-SVThe picture below shows the Digital PRO-SC Camera Rotator with the Palm Grip installed:
The palm grip helps control the tilt movement of the Steady Pod, being both more comfortable and more precise than using the camera or lens as the lever. The rotator lets you switch between portrait and landscape orientations significantly faster than you can operate a Lever Clamp and L-Bracket, all while keeping the center of the lens in virtually the same position (certainly more effectively than an L-Bracket can). The pictures below show a gripped camera on the SteadyPod in both orientations:
You can literally switch between portrait and landscape orientations in under a second, the rotator is extremely smooth to operate, and heavier duty and more stable than any L-Bracket I've used. After using the rotator for a couple of weeks, I may never use an L-Bracket again, even on a tripod. The sole advantage an L-Bracket has is it's easier to pack and travel with.
Camera Bottom Plate (CBP) and Camera Mounting Plate (CMP)Obviously you need a way to attach your camera to the SteadyPod, and this is where the Camera Bottom Plate (CBP) and Camera Mounting Plate (CMP) come in, and how you mount them depends on whether you are using a gripped, or ungripped camera.
If you are using a gripped camera (both cameras with optional grips or cameras with built-in grips), then the camera has to be mounted lower on the SteadyPod so that the setup still rotates about the center of the lens. To do this you configure the CMP/CBP as shown in the picture below:
The supplied anti-twist pins are removed from the CMP with this configuration, and it attaches directly to the tripod socket of your camera using the stainless steel D-Clip Screw shown above. The picture below shows what it looks like on a gripped camera:
For an ungripped camera, the setup is a little different so the camera is a little higher in the SteadyPod. The picture below shows the CMP (the part with the stainless steel screw with a D-Clip that attaches to the tripod socket in your camera) attached to the CBP (the all-black part at the top).
The stainless D-Clip Screw is used to attach the setup to the cameras tripod socket, and two moveable anti-twist pins can be adjusted to keep the camera straight and prevent it accidentally twisting loose. The picture below shows it installed on a Nikon D700:
Once the anti twist posts are in the right place relative to the D-Clip screw, the CMP/CBP can quickly and easily be installed/removed by hand. The picture below shows an ungripped camera being used in the SteadyPod in both orientations:
As I've stated in other reviews, the proprietary Custom Brackets clamp design works amazing well, it much nicer and more positive to use than even the best Arca lever clamps, and possibly even stronger thanks to the innovative design. Full instructions for the CMP/CBP come with the SteadyPod, and we'll be covering them in more detail in a separate review. It should be noted that you'll likely need one CMP for each camera you intend to use with the SteadyPod .
PerformanceGeneral built quality is up to Custom Brackets exceptionally high standards, just as we've come to expect from them. With extremely heavy use, I can imagine in time wearing out the Manfrotto monopod, but the Custom Brackets made pieces should last a lifetime.
From a usability perspective, the SteadyPod is amazing, it's definitely built for speed. It almost gives you the speed and freedom you get shooting hand-held, but with significant added stability. The pistol grip design to the NeoTec monopod makes adjusting height simple and ultra-fast. With the tilt head, you set the drag how you like it, then operate the lock control as and when needed. The palm grip is comfortable and precise, giving very fine control over the tilt motion. As for the rotator, switching between portrait and landscape orientations is almost instantaneous. If you work in a fast paced environment, this is the tool you've been waiting for. If you shoot Stock, the SteadyPod is likely to boost your output and/or save you time, both of which could positively impact your bottom line.
VersatilityBeing a component based system, the quick release clamps allow you to break down or assemble the SteadyPod in seconds. For example, if you are going to be shooting in landscape orientation only, you can remove the Rotator and install the camera straight onto the Tilt Head, as shown in the picture below:
SummaryAt $629 for the SteadyPod (or $479 for the Basic version that comes without the monopod), expectation are high. At this price point, the SteadyPod is clearly aimed at the pro, or advanced amateur. However the freedom, stability and speed it gives you should increase your productivity, and therefore pay for itself very quickly. This is an extremely high quality and highly functional product, and clearly out performs any other monopod or tripod based solution we've tried when confronted with a fast paced work environment. As we noted at the start of this review, Custom Brackets describe the Yuri Arcurs SteadyPod as the "ultimate studio and on location camera setup", and based on our experience with it so far, we'd have to agree.
Another point to note, is two of the components that make the SteadyPod, the CBP (Camera Bottom Plate) and QR-C (Small Quick Release Clamp that sits behind the Rotator) aren't strictly necessary for the SteadyPod to operate. By eliminating these two components, the CMP (Camera Mounting Plate) screws directly into the back of the Digital PRO-SV Rotator instead, so it becomes a little bulkier to pack, and all you loose functionally is the ability to quickly remove the Rotator and just use the Tilt Head (see 'Versatility' section above). On the plus side, eliminating these two components will noticeably reduce the cost of the SteadyPod.
The SteadyPod reviewed here is based on Custom Brackets proprietary Quick Release System, but as we noted at the start of this review, an Arca-Swiss version is also available. The second part of this review (coming very soon) will cover the differences between the two versions (there are both pluses and minuses to the A-S version).
The Yuri Arcurs SteadyPod by Custom Brackets is currently available directly from http://www.Steady-Pod.com. Custom Brackets also sell all the components separately, or can tailor the setup to your specific needs details of how to contact them can be found on the link above.