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Fstoppers Reviews the Shoulderpod S1: A Minimalist iPhone Videography Rig

Fstoppers Reviews the Shoulderpod S1: A Minimalist iPhone Videography Rig

The Shoulderpod S1 is a versatile and portable grip for any iPhone or smartphone. It promises to improve the stability of your mobile phone's video footage by letting you handhold the device safely as well as screw it on a tripod if needed without either limiting you to a simple cellphone clamp or forcing you to get a larger rig.

Fstoppers has reviewed its fair share of rigs, gimbals, and cages for smartphones. Current premium smartphones are often more than capable of capturing quality moving images as well as stills. If your DSLR can’t record in 4K, why not take advantage of a device that can and that’s always with you anyway? Especially since, well, it is with you anyway.

Pocket Video Problems

I still find myself impressed that, given the right circumstances, my iPhone (still last year's 6S, with a two year upgrade path, I’m holding out for 8) can capture video at a higher resolution than anything that's on TV. Capturing footage on a smartphone has its downsides, though. Some have to do with technical picture quality and flexibility. Sure, low-light ability is lacking, as is the availability of lenses, and as of yet, there is no way to easily simulate shallow depth of field for video. Though considering the latest iPhone 7 Plus’s two integrated lenses and fake-bokeh portrait mode for stills, they may not be for much longer.

The most glaring problem, however, is an either/or issue: either you have your phone in your pocket and are not prepared to shoot video, or you have your phone professionally rigged up, making it bulky, heavy, and not much different in use from a dedicated video camera. One is minimalism at its best, the other is certainly a good way to capture video, but hardly a setup that you won't mind bringing just in case. Your typical high-end smart phone offers no good way to securely hold on, which makes many a spectacular panoramic sweep just a bit riskier to the device than it needs to be. You’re also not able to put your cellphone on a tripod if the mood or necessity strikes. With your phone stuck in a professional rig, there are downsides too. It becomes much less usable as a phone. It becomes bulky and heavy. It is definitely not inconspicuous.

The Minimalist's Choice

As a failed minimalist many times over, I still keep trying to reduce my gear when I travel. This is why, for the past six months or so, I have been on and off using a Shoulderpod S1. The S1 is a small, affordable video grip for your phone that doubles as a tripod mount. It's Shoulderpod’s smallest and most affordable offering. The Barcelona-based company also sells the R1 Go and R1 Pro to extend the S1's simple smartphone holder into a veritable rig. With the R1 Go, you get a longer, more secure wooden grip to hold your Shoulderpod and an extra tripod screw on an extension bar to hold a microphone, light, or what else you might need. The R1 Pro sports two of the longer grips, as well as two mounting screws to double your options.

I got to play with Shoulderpod's various extensions for the S1 at Photokina in September. Like the S1, they are well made and functional. Shoulderpod makes quality products, though construction is not necessarily tank-like. The S1 is made from hard, durable plastic, but uses metal in certain spots as well. So, how does it work and who is it for?

In Use

The S1 is one of those products for which you can happily throw away the instructions. It consists of three parts. The clamp on top holds your smartphone. It is tightened or loosened with a large, easily graspable thumb screw. The screw even has an arrow on it that points in the direction in which it tightens and the words "do not force grip" etched into it. Though this is probably more for legal reasons than for usability; it's good that it is there anyway. Don't say you weren't warned if you crush your phone and/or maim your Shoulderpod by hulking out while turning that screw.

Shoulderpod S1 in its component pieces.

A small, pleasantly weighty grip made from anodized black metal is screwed into the clamp's standard tripod hole. Optionally, you can attach a hand-strap made from leather and fabric. I always use the strap, since it makes gripping the phone not just nominally more secure, but also psychologically so.

Once your phone is securely fastened, you can use the S1 as a small rig, with the grip acting as a tiny counterweight. You can also use the S1 as a makeshift stand for video chats or for watching internet video, though only really in its upright orientation. It is possible to remove the grip and stand the S1 on its base with a phone attached, but that only gives you a ninety-degree angle, which works for certain shooting situations but doesn't work well for watching video. Think of the S1 as a tiny tripod or a sand bag that only works for portrait mode in that regard. If you accept this limitation, long exposures or interval shooting with your smartphone become easily possible as well: the Shoulderpod can securely hold your phone in place at various angles.

Other Uses

I soon found additional uses for the S1's components. The small grip and hand strap worked beautifully to turn my Sony HDR-AS50R action cam into something hand-holdable. Alternatively, with the addition of a flash bar and a hot shoe to tripod screw adapter, I had a quick, makeshift rig with multiple attachment points. You can use the Shoulderpod to turn your phone's screen into a larger viewfinder for a DSLR or mirrorless camera, or even put your phone on top of another camera to record backup video or an additional wide shot. You can, in short, do a whole lot of things.

Shoulderpod S1 rigged up.

What I Liked

The Shoulderpod S1 is small and versatile. It is pocketable, literally. It can be rigged up and stripped down as needed, so if you later decide you need to get more serious about video, you don't necessarily need to buy a whole new rig. Instead, you can extend the S1 a fair bit, either with Shoulderpod's own options, or indeed pretty much anything that is compatible with a standard tripod mount.

The S1 fits most smartphones, even including some phablets, such as the iPhone 7 Plus. Barring some future wild left turn in phone design, it will continue to do so. This means that you only need to buy the Shoulderpod once, and it will likely adapt to future phone generations without trouble.

The S1 as a stand.

What Could Be Improved

The hard, dark grey plastic that the S1's cellphone clamp is made of seems durable enough. However, it bends just a tiny bit when you have tightened it enough to make sure your phone is secured. This isn't something I expect to become a problem given the build quality of the thing, but I wouldn't mind a premium version that uses more metal.

This is a minor gripe, however. Shoulderpod boasts on their website that their gear is made "with high quality materials for a professional use," and from my impressions, this appears to be true. A second tripod hole on the top of the Shoulderpod would also extend its uses. Finally, the fact that you can only use the Shoulderpod as a stand with the phone in vertical orientation is sometimes frustrating.


You should get a Shoulderpod S1 if videography isn't really your bailiwick, but you've been meaning to dip your toes into it. You should get one if you're a bit of a girl scout or boy scout and want to be prepared for all opportunities when traveling, but you're not the type to bring unnecessary gear. You should get one if you want to put your phone on a tripod occasionally, but also shoot handheld. You should not get one if you habitually use your phone to record video and need stabilized images. While the S1 can be part of a cage, if you are seriously looking at such options, you should probably just jump into the water all the way and get a dedicated setup. Get yours here.

Torsten Kathke's picture

Torsten is a documentary photographer and historian based in Cologne, Germany. He enjoys combining analog and digital processes in both photography and filmmaking. When he is not roaming the streets with old film cameras, he can usually be found digging through dusty archives or ensconced at home reading and writing.

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I've been using this for several months and really like it. I've added a Vello CB-510 Dual Shoe Bracket to it which allows me to add an LED video light and a RODE mic. There is a grip on the Vello bracket that gives you extra stability by holding the rig with two hands if you want. Al Jazeera uses a similar set up as I've described to cover breaking news stories. The whole thing works great hand holding it or on a tripod or mono-pod.

That seems like a light and useful extension! I love seeing rigs with all kinds of bells and whistles, but there is something to be said for doing with very little.

One significant problem with the S1 isn't with the device itself, but rather the perception of what it is. Every single time I have brought it with me and gone through airport security, my bag gets flagged and I have to have everything laid out for the personnel to examine. Then I have had to demonstrate how the S1 is used. Every. Single. Time. I have stopped bringing it on my travels, much to my great dismay.

That really is an issue! I haven't encountered this myself yet, but I'll make sure to keep the Shoulderpod attached to the phone for airport security, that should make things a bit smoother, hopefully.