I’ve been out to play with my Neckpod today, to set the strap length properly so that, in use, there’s no messing about – I just click in the camera and I’m ready to go..
I’ve set the neck strap length so that my camera’s viewfinder (my Oly E-500 D-SLR has an optical viewfinder), comes slightly below perfect eye level, so I have to dip my head very slightly in use (the tube isn’t extended at all – if you need to extend it, I find Tipp-Ex is ideal for marking the position [especially on tripods], and it can be easily scraped off if you change your mind). This, for me, allows more flexibility of camera movement than having the viewfinder perfectly matched to eye level. It also allows for different clothing without messing things up too much.
Because there is no pan function in the head, the camera is effectively set square-on to your face. This means that you have to move your head laterally, and turn it a tad, to centre your eye in the viewfinder. Not wildly inconvenient, and it should quickly become second nature. If you have an arthritic neck, it could be a problem.
In use, it does what I want it to admirably – take most of the weight of my camera/long zoom lens combo. It’s not immensely heavy at 1300g (a little under 3lb) but, due to prolonged illness, my arms are pretty weak. I also walk with the aid of a crutch and, most times, there’s nowhere to put it while taking a photo, so it dangles from my arm, to the detriment of the photo, very often. With the Neckpod, that won’t be a problem (I hope!).
If you use a camera which has only an LCD screen as a viewfinder, then you’ll have to set things up to suit your eyesight. If you have a camera with an LCD screen and either an optical or electronic viewfinder, turn off the screen – they eat batteries, and use the viewfinder. Even electronic viewfinders (which use a tiny LCD screen), use far less power than the main LCD screen (some camera manuals say otherwise – the Fuji S1000fd, for example – they’re wrong; an LCD screen the size of a little-finger nail can never use as much power as the main one, it’s quite impossible). LCD screens were never intended, originally, to be used as viewfinders. Their function was to review your photos immediately, and browse through the session sitting in the pub afterwards – my choice 😉
People, though, are nothing if not dumb, and started using the screen as a viewfinder, and bitching about camera shake (doh!), which compelled camera makers to fit image-stabilisation gizmos (which, in turn, drove up prices and gave you something else to go wrong), because – and this should be obvious to the dumbest user – you can’t hold a camera perfectly steady while holding the bugger at arm’s length!
Using the viewfinder, your elbows are braced against your chest, and the camera is also braced against your face. Your right-hand grips the camera and operates whatever buttons are needed, and your left hand supports the camera and, if using a manual zoom, operates that too. No camera shake that way and, of course, it’s allowed photographers to operate for generations without even considering the need for Image Stabilisation – because we actually bothered to learn how to use a camera properly.
OK, rant over!
As I said in my original post, the quick-release plate is very stiff, and continues to be so in use and, frankly, that’s a pain in the neck – almost literally. Easy enough to click in, a bugger to get off again, and the nature of the plastic from which it’s made make easing the tight spot(s) with a file or other abrasive is likely to be unsuccessful. Of course, they may not all be the same, but as the components are injection-moulded, not machined, there’s a better than even chance that they will be. A metal head would be a useful modification.
The trouble is that to release the q/r plate you need to depress two buttons, which fully occupies one hand – but ideally you need two more to demount the camera easily! One to hold the camera and another thumb to push off the q/r plate which, unlike normal tripods and monopods, where the q/r plate drops in and is locked in place, is a sliding fit. And it’s tight, too. Oddly, it’s not tight going on, just coming off. Hopefully, it’ll improve with use.
Aha! Spotted the problem – it’s the release buttons. Like my arms, my fingers are weak, too, and you need to push both buttons in until they’re flush with the housing. As they utilise a common spring, this is harder than it really should be, at least for me. The remedy, I think, is to open it up – two screws, and make sure the spring doesn’t ping off to oblivion, then either replace it with one that’s slightly weaker, or clip a couple of coils off. Hang on a minute, while I do just that.
OK, done it. You need a No. 1 Phillips screwdriver – the screws are pretty tight, so try to use the right size and don’t chew them up – and, yes, the spring is poised to ping off into some distant corner, so take care. Using end-cutters, though side-cutters will do just as well, I snipped off just enough coils, by the suck it and see method, so that when the spring is replaced it’s under just enough compression to hold itself in place, but not enough to pop out again (make sure the cut end of the spring is at the bottom of the slot, so it doesn’t snag in use) . Reassemble and the stiffness problem goes away, yet the camera is still locked firmly in place.
In my view, the spring is actually too long anyway and, is already under substantial compression so, when it’s compressed simultaneously from both ends, it stiffens up too quickly and is close to becoming coil-bound – that’s why it’s hard to push in the buttons the last tiny bit, to release the camera. Ideally, it needs a spring with more open coils, the one fitted is too tightly wound (the coils too close together), but clipping it shorter it is a viable solution if you have the problem I had.
So, all things considered, it’s far easier to transport and use than the alternatives – a tripod or monopod – and I think it will prove very useful.
NB: The neckpod has a strap with an uncomfortable rubber(ish) pad, so I’ve removed the whole thing (two knobs where it attaches to the bottom of the neckpod), and replaced it with a broad webbing strap which takes the weight better.