String Tripod

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Introduction: String Tripod

This is an old photographers trick - here is my design. Sometimes referred to as a string tripod or string bipod or string monopod. Also known as a chain tripod, bipod, etc... This device is used to stabilize a camera in order to get clearer pictures at a slow shutter speed. With more and more digital cameras coming out with vibration reduction or image stabilization systems, the string tripod has a new life.

Since image stabilization systems work best with rotational vibration, translational vibration can still create blurry pictures. By restraining the up-down left-right and back-front axis, you can lessen this vibration. Since with this design you still have rotational freedom, you can pan and follow something such as a bird or sports player. You can also recompose your shot with little trouble. Of course this technique also works well with non image stabilization systems.

More on VR here

Advantages:
-Cheap
-Easy to make
-No special tools needed (or really any at all)
-Hard to break
-Small
-You can use this where tripods are disallowed (such as museums)
-If the "tripod" gets dirty you can throw it in the wash
-If you misplace it, you can make another
-Rotational movement still available for panning and recomposition

Disadvantages:
-Does not hold as steady as a real tripod
-You can get some looks while using it

Step 1: Parts

The parts you will need are as follows:
1x 1/4 -20 Stainless steel eye hook or eyebolt. 2 inches long or shorter.
1x 1/4 -20 Nut (May come with the eye hook)
40ft Braided nylon and/or poly cord (Parachute cord is recommended)

Optional:
1x Carabiner

All of these can be found at your local hardware store and should be had for about $5 total.

Step 2: Prepare the Cord

Cut your cord to about three times your height (More is better as you can cut off excess later). Make sure you melt the ends with a match or lighter to keep them from unraveling. Next create an "overhand loop" knot at one end as shown below. Pull the knot tight.

Step 3: Connect Cord to Hook

Put the loop you just created through the ring on the hook. Then place the loop on the cord behind the threaded portion on the hook. Pull tight and the cord should form a ring hitch.
It should look like what is pictured below.

Step 4: You're Done!

You're done with the construction. Now comes installation and use.

Step 5: Camera Installation

Now you're ready to install this on your camera. Simply screw in the hook into the tripod mount at the bottom of your camera. When the hook becomes snug, tighten down the nut to meet with the camera body. You do not need to screw this down with much torque, it is only there to keep the hook from backing out. You can cut the hook to exact length if you want.

NOTE: If your camera has plastic threads, be careful not to cross thread the hook. You should never have to force it in.

Step 6: Using As a Monopod

To use as a monopod, take your camera and put it just below eye level. Next take the cord dangling from the bottom and loop it under your shoe. Take the remaining cord and hold it tight in your hand while gripping the camera. Now pull up on the cord to camera eye level and take a picture. The cord should be taut. An advantage to this is that it prevents a rotation axis because you are holding the cord in your hand away from the attachment point.

This is my preferred method when I need to move around a lot or need to setup quickly. If you have the hook already attatched to the camera it will take less than a second to get into position.

You can also tie a large loop at the end where your foot would be using a overhand loop and put your foot through it. You would not have to hold the end in this configuration.

NOTE: For each of these methods it is important that you do not put excess force on your camera. As every camera is designed different, you need to determine the amount of force your camera can take. With that said, I have been using this method for years with many different camera with no problems.


Step 7: Using As a Bipod - Step 1

To use as a bipod, take a wide stance and loop cord under both feet. Bring the hook and end of cord to about where they would be when attached to the camera. Once you know this distance, secure the end of the cord into the hook as shown below.

Step 8: Using As a Bipod - Step 2

You have now created a triangle in the cord. Attach the hook to the camera and pull up tight. If you miscalculated the distance, simply loosen your grip and pull the end of the cord tighter through the hook.

This method is good if you have a little more time on your hands or need a more stable shot.

If you are in a crunch, you can also just skip the last step and hold the end of the cord like when using as a monopod.


Step 9: Using As a Tripod

To use as a tripod, follow the steps to use as a bipod. Then take the left over end of the string and attach it to something. Optionally you can install a carabiner or other device at the end of the string as shown below. When using this method, it is imperative that you keep all parts of the string taut.

This method takes the most time to setup and requires something in the environment to attach to. Also, front to back movement is not as bad as left to right or up and down. Personally, I hardly use this method but it is always an option.

Step 10: Tips & Tricks

Shutter Speed:

Using the right shutter speed is essential, you should always use the maximum speed possible.

The rule of thumb for absolute minimum shutter speeds for a hand held camera is 1/focal length. For example a 135mm lens with a 1.5x crop factor (On an SLR) makes it 202.5mm. So hand held you should expect somewhat clear pictures starting at 1/200 or 200 shutter speed. It also matters how far away the subject is, the farther away - the faster the shutter speed needed. The third factor is how far the tip of your lens is from the camera, the further it is - the more it will amplify the vibration.

The string tripod requires a bit of practice and getting used to. I did not notice much of a difference at first, but after a while it really helped. After some practice, it should improve the minimum shutter speed to 1/2 or 1/3 that of hand held. With VR or IS and the string tripod, you should get 1/4 or 1/6 that of hand held.

So, if you are first starting out I would not go any slower than 1/100 with a string tripod at that focal length. As you can see in the chart I made in the instructable, after practice and with VR I can get clear pictures at 1/2 sec shutter speed at 300mm equiv at 10 feet.

With all of this said, it is extremely hard to generalize these numbers and each person is different. There are limitations on this design and those limitations will be different with each person. If you have not determined these limitations for you, leave the camera on P or Auto - this should optimize the shutter speed. Keep experimenting and don't give up, it will be worth it

Technique:

To take steady pictures in general do the following:

-Get a good footing
-Compose your shot
-Keep your elbows tucked in
-Take a breath and hold it in
-Slowly depress the shutter
-Keep the camera at your eye for a few seconds after the picture is taken

Step 11: Conclusion

For $5 and a little work, you too can have a tripod in your pocket.
Below shows some tests done (Taken with a D200 and 18-200mm VRII)

Following that chart are three pictures taken at 135MM (202MM equiv) at 1/15 sec.
-The first is hand held no string tripod or VR.
-Second is with string tripod no VR.
-Third is with string tripod and VR.

Each of these is directly from the camera with no alterations.

The last picture was taken in real life with the string tripod. Tripods were not allowed in this aquarium.

Step 12: Whats Next?

Next I will show how to make the string tripod a little more fancy and how to use it to create proper panoramic pictures.

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95 Comments

This was a great simple build, thank you!

You should never screw the bolt all the way into the bottom of your mount. If it breaks through, it could damage your camera. Always screw it in and use the lock-nut.

A wingnut (screwed on 'backwards' obviously) will be a little more finger-friendly (especially in gloves, etc.) than a regular hex-nut, even though a lot of tightening isn't necessary.

Typical camera mounts are 1/4-20 UNC threads, which are VERY common in typical (American) hardware departments. Check your local store (hardware and plumbing). There should be plastic parts that won't be as likely to cross-thread if you have a plastic mount.

As a side note, the 'finials' that hold lampshades on are commonly 1/4-20 threaded.  If you need a tripod and have a lamp with a shade on it, twist off the finial and screw your camera on. It'll do in a pinch.

You could buy a wing bolt and cut it to length.

It looks a bit silly, but I used something like this for whale-watching a while ago and it seemed to work well. On a rocking boat like that, I think it actually may have worked better than a tripod; you have to be quick in response to people pointing and yelling "WHALE!!"

Definitely, very cool.

If I'm understanding this right, a figure-eight on a bight would work just as well, and in my opinion is easier to untie.

True, a figure-eight (or bowline) are easier to untie , but there is functionally little difference. A small carabiner for the eyebolt would also function well.

For slightly more flexibility, make the initial loop large enough to pass through the eyebolt and over the entire camera. This allows easily removal/attachment of the string without removing the eyebolt (or pulling the entire string through the eye).

I was thinking the same.

Awesome idea, and nice pictures