Aside from missing many features the bigger camcorders offer, due to the lack of real estate, these tiny cameras have the big problem of getting a steady shot.
"The size of camcorders has been shrinking since their inception," writes Videomaker Publisher/Editor, Matthew York,in this month's editor's column, and along with that smaller size come big support issues.
Aside from missing many features the bigger camcorders offer, due to the lack of real estate, these tiny cameras have the big problem of getting a steady shot. Manfrotto, known for rock-steady tripods for cameras of all sizes and weights, saw the need to support these smaller video cameras and jumped into the stabilization market with the 3-in-1 Modosteady stabilization device.The Modosteady lends a helping hand, so to speak, by giving the user three support options: tabletop tripod, shoulder support and camera stabilization. Depending on which way you wish to use it, the arm on the device twists and turns and swivels and locks and can be more fun, or more frustrating, than plopping your camera onto an ordinary tripod.
Before we delve into the mechanics of this interesting-looking tool, let's break out the 3-in-1's functions. The red rubber grip handle opens like a butterfly into three small legs, allowing the user to set up the camera on a table fairly quickly. The ball socket just above the red handle swivels to help you get an accurate horizontal level. Once we figured out how to open the butterfly, we had no trouble setting up the mini-tripod. The fixed height is 5.1 inches, but this gets the camera off the ground, and the ball socket allows you to tilt it up or down, which is one of the downsides to putting the camera flat on any surface. Your shot is usually looking slightly downward without a small prop under the lens. This is also nice for setting the camera above you on a fence or car top, because you can tilt the lens down without worry that the camera will slip as it can when you're attempting the wallet-under-the-butt trick.
Handheld shots are difficult to hold for long, andholding a camcorder steady for a shot of 30 seconds or longer can give you the shakes, even if your camera weighs just a few pounds. By racking the handle joints of the Modo-steady out, holding the rubber handle in your right hand and balancing the soft rubber "foot" on your right shoulder, you have your flip-out viewfinder centered directly in front of you. We felt this gave us a certain level of support, but the inside of one's forearm can grow tired quickly. We did find it comforting when we used the shoulder support setup while propping an elbow on a table. We also found that any focus, zoom or other adjustment we needed to compose the shot caused us to tip the camera to the side a bit.
We found the stabilizer function of the Modosteady to be the most interesting option, as well as the hardest to master, but that's normal for stabilizers. If you've ever used any type of stabilizing device, you know that the placement on the head of the device is just as important as the way you set up the counter-balance.
The quick-release attachment plate has several holes, allowing you to adjust the balance of cameras of various sizes and those that have more weight on the back or the front. Once you get the right plate placement, you lock it in with a pin on the left side, and then adjust a second pin on the right side to set your side-to-side horizontal level. (Not to cause confusion, but due to the Modosteady design, these two pins are actually on the opposite sides when you are using this device as a shoulder mount or tripod stand. You have to loosen the camera plate and twist the camera around for this option.) The 3-jointed arm becomes the counter-balance, and two locking knobs on the top and bottom joints adjust accordingly. You need to loosen the ball socket and let it swing free, while holding the plate in your right hand. You then eyeball the horizon in your viewfinder, raise or lower the locking joints and rubber "foot" to set the balance, then lock them down. When you are using the hand grip with the shoulder mount or tripod, the ball joint on the grip is locked down, but as a stabilizer it stays loose, so you can move left, as the camera balances right.
In theory, the Modosteady 585 stabilization device sounds like a nice fix for controlling those shaky handheld shots from tiny camcorders, but it's got a few oddities that need addressing. First, the quick release isn't quick. You have to first unscrew a tiny knob before you can lock the plate in, and it's somewhat awkward to reach if you need to pull the camera quickly. It also feels as if you might unscrew it too much and pull the pin out. The opposite concern goes for the other knobs: it feels as if you're going to tighten them too much and strip the threads.
The device doesn't have a level bubble, which would be very helpful. It's easy to concentrate your focus on the viewfinder only to discover you tilted the camera too far. The shoulder support is probably the least useful option; it would be nice if it could sit over your shoulder, rather than adding more weight under it.
The Modosteady runs around $115, which is a real bargain for a stabilizer, but, if you use it more as a tabletop tripod, you can get one designed for that purpose for half that price. We tested this device with two types of cameras: one we typically call the Football grip (long horizontal barrel) and the other we call the Beer Can grip (tall vertical body). Both sit well on the device without problems. The Modosteady can carry a maximum load of just over one pound; by attaching a shotgun mic to one camera, we exceeded that requirement, so know your gear before you shop.
We liked the feel of the rubber ergonomic pistol grip in our hand; we don't think our hands would tire of holding it if we needed to shoot for any length of time. We also found that the Modosteady site takes you to a video tutorial that is much more helpful than the paper pictorial that comes in the box. As most Manfrotto products, this is sturdy and well-built and comes with Manfrotto's 2-year limited warranty plus an additional 3 years at no extra cost, if you register your products by mail or online.
Minimum Height: 5.1"
Maximum Height: 5.1"
Weight: 1.1 lb
Maximum Load Capacity: 1.7 lb
Packed Size: 7.5"L x 3.5"W x 4"H
- Easy to use
- Ergonomic grip design
- Good warranty
- Compact size
- Quick release is awkward
- Knob screws don't inspire confidence
- Lacks bubble level
We applaud Manfrotto's attempt at designing a stabilizing device for the smaller camcorder market, but we'd like to see a few more tweaks to be a really good hand holding solution.
Jennifer O'Rourke is Videomaker's Videomaker's Managing Editor.
Bogen Imaging, Inc.
565 E. Crescent Avenue
Ramsey, NJ 07446