Whether you are a keen photographer, avid bird watcher, videographer or super sleuth (I believe “Spook” is the trendy term for this) a car provides an excellent hide for observing without being observed. Most species will tolerate the close presence of a car, when an approach on foot would cause a rapid exit. For disabled photographers / birdwatchers, and I know quite a few, their car is the only way of enjoying the great outdoors. The problem with a car is that even the most luxurious comes without an integral tripod mount, so supporting a camera or telescope (and keeping the image stable) can be a real nightmare. Those of us who have tried to set up a tripod inside the car will testify that this is a no go, so clearly we need another solution. Well have no fear, Rousey as usual has all the answers, so read on for the Encyclopaedia of car supports:
Beanbags are the simplest car support device, sitting on the door window they quite happily support lenses up to 600mm. The beanbag shown is the one I use, which has double pockets and is made by Wildlife Watching Supplies. The reason for the double pocket is to make a “V” shape when mounted on the window, which hugs your lens / telescope a lot tighter (thus making it more stable). Be aware of cheap imitations, there are several similar designs on the market but all the others are too small to hold anything substantial. They are cheap for a reason.
Beanbags are highly portable and whenever I travel I always take a couple of empty ones with me. As I write this I am on safari in Africa and I am using my beloved beanbag on every game drive. The vehicle has no windows or bars so no other mount is practical (see later) hence the beanbag on the dashboard supports my 500mm lens perfectly.
Using a beanbag however has its problems. For bird watching, where stability is paramount, the beanbag is not the steadiest platform for a telescope. Secondly, as shown in the diagram, the beanbag also fits lengthways along the car window, which means the support “V” cannot grip the camera at the right angle. For most lenses up to 300mm this will be fine, but for anything above you will need an Ergo Rest too (see later for details of this amazing device). Finally tracking motion with a beanbag can be a real trial; again the Ergo Rest comes to the rescue.
For videography the beanbag is difficult to use, although Tracey uses her Canon XL-1 on it and swears that it is stable enough.
Manfrotto clamp 035
As you may or may not know, last year I started shooting dual system, i.e. 35mm and medium format. Carrying around two tripods became a real nightmare, so I invested in a Manfrotto Clamp 035 to solve the problem. This sturdy little clamp fixes onto one leg of my tripod, and supports my medium format camera. As you can see from the picture, I have can have both systems mounted together, which will allow me to shoot with whatever system I need to.
Perhaps the best application of this clamp is for the safari photographer. Most open safari vehicles are cramped, with little or no room for a tripod. But they all have support bars and I use these to attach my clamps. Using a spigot I attach a head to this, usually a Wimberley or an Arca-Swiss, and I can then mount my camera onto that.
The illustrated picture shows the clamp in action whilst I was working with wild dogs earlier this year. Once you have one it is amazing how many places you can find to clamp it!!
A truly amazing piece of Finnish engineering. This robust bipod-like device has solved many problems in my photography and was used extensively during our Namibia trip this year (see D60 review). It has many uses; here are three that I have used it for successfully:
Car Mount – one arm of the Ergo Rest has a groove that fits over a slightly raised car window. The angle of the other leg can then be adjusted so that it fits against the inside of the door to create a stable platform. Once that is done you simply add a head of your choice (even a fluid head) and mount your camera / telescope on top. It is a very stable platform, suitable for extended viewing periods, and allows free motion from side to side as you are using a proper head. I have used all lenses up to 500mm with this combination, although the heavier you go the bigger the head you need to have.
Beanbag Mount – this solves the problem of the beanbag “V” not being in the correct position. With the Ergo Rest set up as above, simply use a double beanbag instead of the tripod head. This will allow the “V” to be in the correct direction to fully support the lens, as you can clearly see in the example shown. I typically use this combination for my 500mm lens.
Macro / Low Angle Mount – as an added bonus the flexibility of the Ergo Rest allows you to set it on the ground and use it as a low angle support. Perfect for getting those stylish “ant view” shots.
As you can see the Ergo Rest is multi functional and I cannot really mention any negatives about it because they aren’t any! The unseen advantage of the Ergo Rest is that it is mounted inside the car, thus preventing the need to fiddle around outside which may disturb a shy subject. It is a great tool for photographer, bird watcher and videographer alike.
Bob Rigby Car Mount
This is similar to the Ergo Rest but is much heavier and fits on the outside of the car. It is great for heavy lenses and professional video cameras where stability is a big issue, but has the disadvantage of being mounted outside (see below). It is fully adjustable for any car and provides a ¾” screw to take any normal head.
Ok, a solution for everyone I think. Working from a car can be a rewarding experience but you still need to treat your subjects with respect. Don’t expect them to stay put if you go racing up to them, screech to a stop and wind your electric window down. Either prepare early or get there before they are expected to arrive. A small piece of netting, called scrim, is a good idea to use as a curtain over the window as it masks your silhouette and causes less of a fright. So now you are all car mount experts, good luck out there with your chosen solution!