Concept: 2 out of 5
Execution: 3 out of 5
Yeah, but: THE annoying website needs to be forgiven.
The Long Version: Beanbags aren't exciting, and the Pod is no exception. I bought mine many years ago and have only used it sporadically since then. In fact I've forgotten that I own it for months or years at a time, only to rediscover it at the back of the cabinet, look at it, and then put it away again.
As a review, this must not sound too promising, but my point is that sometimes I'm not too bright.
I didn't have it with me last christmas, when I had to balance a camera on the back of a couch because I was away from home and neither of my two (2) Gorillapods would fit in my camera bag. I didn't have it when I was on a trip with my long Sigma 180 Macro lens, where its vinyl base wouldn't have been affected by the dampness left over from a weekend of drizzle. And I haven't thought to use it for any of the impromptu product photography for this blog, even though holding the camera still(er) and just a little above the table is usually what I need to do.
Despite its unglamorous and unassuming nature, the Pod can be a handy thing to have.
Yellow Pod holding a Hasselblad and CF 150mm f/4 lens
The Pod is a little different from a conventional beanbag, which is usually nothing more than a small lumpy pillow. Instead the Pod is a squat fabric cylinder with a tough vinyl-ish bottom and a threaded mounting screw on the top. It can be used as a monopod replacement, stabilizing the camera to give an extra couple of stops on a long lens or slow shutter, where it has the combination of movement and stability that you'd get from a squishy ballhead. Any beanbag is just an intermediary between the camera and its improvised support, and for this job the Pod doesn't need to be large since it stays with the camera as it moves.
But if the camera is balanced properly, the Pod is also a light-weight travel-tripod replacement, able to hold the camera securely on rough or sloped surfaces as much as 30 degrees off horizontal. To this end there are a half-dozen different models with various sizes and mounting methods, but the one that works for an SLR with a prime lens may not suit the same camera with a basic zoom. Of course there's no rule that says that you must have the camera attached to the tripod mount, but if the Pod's going to be used with one particular camera and lens, it makes sense to get the right one. Choose carefully to avoid disappointment – ideally from a local store with a good exchange policy.
In a possible nod to its compatriot, the Robertson screwdriver, each model is identified by its colour. The yellow version that I use is the smallest size with a centered tripod screw; the Red is their medium size and is probably the best general-purpose pod for cameras that balance near their tripod mount. The most-popular Green model has an offset tripod screw for cameras with longer lenses. Black is their biggest size - like the screwdriver - and it would make an interesting companion for my GX680. Blue and Silver round out the collection, and like the Green they feature off-centre mounting for various sizes of camera.
The bottom of the Pod is tough and grippy, and has a seam that's secured with a velcro-like material. Inside are billions of little plastic pellets that are just waiting to escape, so don't open it unless you have to. But if you're traveling and space is critical, this gives the option of carrying it empty and filling it with sand, dried beans, or little plastic pellets once you arrive. I've had to open mine up and empty it so that I could tighten the mounting screw, which had retracted into the Pod over its years of occasional use. A #2 Philips screwdriver was all I needed to snug it back up to the solid plastic disk that forms the camera platform, and with patience I was able to get almost all of those little plastic beads back in.
I've brought my Pod out of retirement because it's a good match to my little travel camera, and it lets me take photos in places that wouldn't allow tripods. Now that I'm using it again I can see many times when it would have been helpful in the past, and I don't think I'll make those mistakes again. I'm not going to run out to buy any of the other sizes, but I have to admit that I've been considering it, if only a little. Having a Red or Black one would be pretty handy.
last updated 30 jan 2011