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The Popscope Solution to Smartphone Stability Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

31 December 2014

We've never met a camera without a tripod socket but we've never seen a smartphone that has one. And as much as you know you should use a tripod with your camera but never do, you probably find yourself wishing you could put your smartphone on one. You'd use it all the time!

There are solutions. But they all have the same problem: how to mount the smartphone without a tripod socket.

And given the elegant if fragile design of the big-glass smartphone these days, that's no small problem.

The $30 Kenu Stance, which Derrick Story favors, uses the iPhone Lightning port to hold the phone. That doesn't seem particularly secure to us (it doesn't lock but relies on gravity to maintain the connection), especially when pointing the camera lens downward.

The $30 Glif tripod mount makes sense with a triangular grip that emulates a hand hold by applying pressure to the sides of the phone, which is usually the sturdy outer shell or a reinforcing case.

The $12 Lufeifor monopod grabs your phone by the sides somewhat like the Glif and includes a tripod mount with the grabbing cage, which also attaches to a monopod.

We did not think the $40 Popscope was too bright an idea, with its clamp that requires you to apply some pressure to the glass front of the phone. How much is too much?

But we were persuaded to try it. After all, when you hold the camera, you're often applying some pressure to the glass.

THE PACKAGE | Back to Contents

The lightweight Popscope presents a neat package, about six and a half inches when closed up, smaller than a compact umbrella. Made of stainless steel and aluminum it comes in blue, gray, gold and red.

Its four-inch legs slide out to a length of 6.25 inches in a 7.1-inch diameter footprint. To close the legs, by the way, they have to be open to lock back into the cylinder, then you can slide the extension back in. When closed, they form a 4.25-inch handle.

You can hold that handle when you extend the telescoping extension attached to the mount. It looks like an umbrella extension but it has a larger diameter.

Its four parts extend about 18 inches, not quite long enough to qualify as a monopod in our book but useful to reach a low railing or table for support. Small rubber bumpers serve as slip-free feet on the legs.

Popscope thinks the extension makes for great selfies, which we can't deny because our model had the day off. But that's just one use for the Popscope's extra length. It works for checking gutters, peeking around corners and seeing over the crowd, too.

Usually when you move a camera out of reach, you introduce a new problem: firing the shutter. You can do that using the smartphone's self timer but Popscope includes a better solution: an $8 Bluetooth remote shutter. Pair it to your phone and it will fire the shutter in your Camera app.

The remote has a Power switch to conserve its battery, a small button to trigger Android devices and a large button for iOS devices. It's small enough to hang on your keychain, too.

That's a pretty nice package for $39.99. But we were still wary about the mount.

THE MOUNT | Back to Contents

The head is simply a clamp with some hard rubber pads on the mating surfaces. One of those surfaces will grab the back of your phone (or its case) and the other will grab the glass.

Details. Mouse over (or tap) for the caption.

The surface area of the pads is about half an inch square, distributing the pressure over that area with a textured surface. That provides some grip to hold position because there's no lock on the clamp's screw itself.

When we first mounted an iPhone 6 Plus in the clamp, we didn't like the idea of resting the phone's exposed metal bottom (where the Lightning connector is) on the clamp's bare metal. So we added a strip of felt there. Minor mod.

We did not snug up the clamp very tightly either. Just make contact and give it a slight squeeze, not more than required to flatten the textured rubber a bit so it grips.

We wouldn't wave it around with such light pressure, althought that obviously doesn't bother everyone:

We also worry about tightening it in the shade and setting it in the sun. In fact there are a lot of worries the design inspires and, frankly, no way to test them without risking significant damage.

So, you know, we're still not fans of the mount.

Once mounted, you can angle the phone's camera up or down using a small lock nut below the clamp. That makes it possible to point the camera straight down to scan documents.

In Action. An iPhone 6 Plus in an Apple case mounted on the Popscope.

If you need to swivel the camera right or left, you just pick it up and reposition it. You really don't need a ball head.

A TEST | Back to Contents

We gave it a try and it worked as advertised.

We were able to mount the iPhone 6 Plus in the clamp and aim it at a subject, using the only other adjustment to angle the phone up or down. Swiveling, as we mentioned, is trivial if inevitable. You really do appreciate how lightweight the whole setup is when you're setting up a shot.

And there is nothing quite like a stabilized smartphone for taking a photo. Most of time time, you're risking camera blur as you hold the camera on the scene with one hand and stab at the screen shutter button or the volume control with a free finger.

So having the camera rooted in space with that little remote in your hand really does put you at the center of the universe, just waiting for something to happen.

And it's the perfect thing for group shots. You can walk leisurely back to the group before firing the shutter when you are ready instead of when the camera's timer ticks down.

While the parts are a little stiff, we admire the build and light weight (two things that don't often go together). And we do love that little remote.

CONCLUSION | Back to Contents

Even after using the Popscope, though, we're not entirely comfortable with the mount clamping to our glass-faced phone. But if you have a phone with a sturdy frame or a rich uncle, you can be braver than we are.

What we can enthusiastically recommend is the $8 Bluetooth remote. It comes with the Popscope but is also available separately.

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