Why the Platypod Is a Game-Changer for Landscape and Travel Photography

When I first saw the Platypod, I honestly thought it was a gimmick. Compared to the lightweight Gitzo travel tripod I’ve loved for years, the Platypod is really just a piece of aluminum with some holes in it. I scoffed at the concept of it for a long time since I had no idea how much it would improve my travel photography.

That said, I had some rewards credit from B&H and kept hearing its praises, so I figured I’d give it a try after watching Scott Kelby use it. One poignant consideration Scott talks about is the transformative power of shooting from a unique perspective, especially from ground level. We spend our entire lives looking at the world from 5-6 feet high, so this tends to be where we place our tripods. You can still get nice images, but they might be missing that wow factor. Think back to some of the great photos you’ve seen, and you’ll appreciate that they were amazing because the image portrayed the world in a way you’d never considered before. That’s tough to do at eye level.

Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest

Here’s where the Platypod changes the game. If you’ve ever struggled with inverting your tripod column to get low, you’ll appreciate the Platypod. Rather than fumbling with this and then trying to view your image upside down on the camera screen, you simply screw your ballhead into the Platypod and set it on the ground. It’s that easy. At this point, I set my camera to a two-second timer and the lowest ISO possible while bracketing my images for post-processing later. The one caveat I would say is that having an articulating screen on your camera is essential, because you won’t be able to look through the viewfinder very easily when it's this low.

Hungarian Parliament Building taken at ISO 100, f/18 with an 8 sec exposure in an area where tripods are forbidden

Behind the scenes shot taken with my phone in the Hungarian Parliament Building

When purchasing, you have the choice between the Max and Ultra versions. The Max weighs 13 ounces and is about the size of an iPad mini, whereas the Ultra is 3.2 ounces and the size of a smartphone. While the Max is best for large setups, the Ultra is fine for DSLRs with small/medium lenses and speedlights. I got the Max because I generally opt for the biggest of anything, but I’d probably buy the Ultra instead if purchasing it again. That said, you won’t even notice it in your bag because it’s so thin and fits into a laptop sleeve.

The other substantial benefit that cannot be overstated is that this is not a tripod. If you’ve ever been foiled right before taking a great photo because the Tripod Police (aka museum curator, church volunteer, security guard, or even an actual police officer) stopped you in your tracks before you could unfold it, you’ll appreciate this fact. Since it’s not a tripod, you most likely won't be limited by the anti-tripod mafia. In fact, most people have no idea what it is, so they may stare but never actually bother you about it. I shot the famous stairway leading out of the Vatican gift shop and never got a second look from anyone. Although I could’ve done this handheld with a high ISO and low depth of field, can you image shooting three identical bracketed images at IS0 100 and f/16 any other way? In addition to this advantage, you have so many alternatives, like the ability to balance it on ledges, the sides of bridges, church pews, etc. If you want more options, it has leveling screws and holes for straps so you can put it on uneven ground like rocks or attach it around trees or poles without any issues. If you really want, you can even screw it into wood via the various hole configurations.

Using the Platypod to take three bracketed images resting on the handrail of the Bramante Staircase leading from the gift shop in the Vatican

In summary, I’ve become a Platypod convert. It’s always in my bag and I find myself reaching for it as often as my tripod. If you want to take your photos to the next level, you need the unique perspective of a Platypod.

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29 Comments

Philipp Pley's picture

What distinct advantages does it have over a tabletop tripod though?
Apart from the tripod police being less suspect...

Joe Joe's picture

I have same question. Plus the cost is rather high, it looks like $5 worth of material.

Jeff Wiswell's picture

Good question and thanks for asking. The biggest advantage is size. It’s only 4 mm thick, so you don’t even notice it in your bag. This being the case, it also allows you to get as low to the ground as possible.

Finally, there are a lot of places that don’t allow a tripod of any kind, but a Platypod is usually fine. I’ve photographed countless European churches and cultural sites without being stopped while taking 15-30 second images. There’s no way I could do this with a tripod of any size.

Ryan Cooper's picture

I think where platypod struggles, at least for me, is that there isn't any novel or special about it. I could quite literally go to the hardware store and buy some thin metal, drill a hole in it, and bolt a tripod head to it. I'd have the same thing for under $10. Most products, even if not terribly unique do require some degree of machining or production that the average person can't reasonably do but this is quite literally a metal plate with a hole in it that they are asking $170 for. Sure a homemade version may not look as polished but it would achieve the exact same thing.

Scott Poupard's picture

Doing as you suggest only gets you halfway there. I have the Max with adjustable feet. The feet makes it very simple to use on uneven rocks such as when photographing waterfalls, etc. The aluminum plates by itself would not allow you to do this. Yes, you could drill holes in the plate and tap them so that you could use bolts as feet. Most people don't have the tools and/or skills to do this type of machine work, though. As the author mentioned, the Platypod also had slots cut into it that allow you to use a belt or straps to secure it to a tree, fence post, etc. It's a very versatile product that could be made by someone with the appropriate skills and tools, but for those of us who don't want to go to that trouble, it's an awesome product.

Ryan Cooper's picture

I still disagree. I could build something that does almost the same thing with a common drill, maybe $15 in parts from Home Depot. (And I am not "handy" even remotely) Drilling a few holes in a steel plate then tapping them is insanely trivial. I wouldn't even call that machine work. I'm used to photography gear being sold at a ridiculous margin but the platypod has always struck me as one of the most extreme examples of it.

To each his or her own though.

Nacona Nix's picture

You're not going to, though, and neither will most people. Hence the product.

Richard Tack's picture

"...some thin metal..." Sure, hardware stores stocks 5mm 6061-T6 aluminum alloy sheets, which you are then going to hacksaw to the Platypod dimensions and "drill a hole in it." Of course, those jagged right angle edges then will need a few hours of smoothing so it doesn't cut your hand, camera bag or anything else. Need I go on? I hope not. BTW Platypods are on Amazon for significantly lower prices.

Ryan Cooper's picture

You don't need the exact same thing with identical materials, give me a break. Just go find any plate that is thin enough to be useful, drill some holes in it, tap them, done. All it needs to do is fit nicely into a camera bag and provide a stable base for a camera.

Richard Tack's picture

Home Depot and Lowes have every product in the store listed on line. Please put the link up for "any plate that is thin enough to be useful" that would work.

RU KiddingMe's picture

Aluminum is a very soft metal as you know. Using a file it would only take a few minutes to smooth the edges. I cannot see how this would take even an hour total to make. I guess it might be difficult if someone has little experience in using basic tools.

Richard Tack's picture

It's not soft aluminum, it's 6061-T6 aluminum alloy, quite a bit harder than aluminum, which, btw doesn't hold threads very well..

Jeff Wiswell's picture

I think you could certainly build your own but they are $65 on B&H for a Platypod Ultra. I have a garage full of expensive woodworking machinery, but the reality is that it would have been far easier and cheaper for me to just buy furniture instead.

If you have the knowledge and skill set to do milling and metalwork, I’d definitely encourage you to save some money and build your own. For me, it wouldn’t really make sense to do it myself financially (whether time or money spent on it). I’d also do a far inferior job than Platypod.

Hans J. Nielsen's picture

Did I just get introduced to a product I didn't knew I needed, and probable didn't, but now I do?

Mac X.'s picture

I had the Platypod but returned it. Here's why: the center bolt (for a ballhead) cannot be removed. This means the Platypod is thicker than you'd expect. It also means you have a bolt that protrudes, so you have to keep it covered all the time or risk the bolt snagging/ripping your bag.

Fortunately, I found the Decade tripod plate on Amazon which costs much less and more versatile. Its center bolt is removable so the Decade is as thin as a piece of metal.

I agree with what the author said about having a tripod plate being an advantage in some situations. Is it worth carrying around? Hard to say.
The Decade's thickness is an advantage and I keep it in my trunk (under the mat because it lies flat).

If you need a tripod plate consider the Decade first. If you don't like it, Amazon is good about refunds. Then, spend more for the Platypod and maybe it will work out for you.

Jeff Wiswell's picture

Very interesting and thanks for sharing. It looks like the same function but that type isn’t available for sale on Amazon at the moment. The bolt only sticks up a few millimeters and is flat, so I haven’t noticed any issues with it by just storing it in one of the sleeves in my camera bag.

Richard Tack's picture

Decade rocks; bought one 2 years ago on Amazon.

Mac X.'s picture

Jeff, yes the bolt sticks up so it is not flush.
That makes the Platypod thicker than the Decade and increases the risk of ripping your gear bag. I've never stripped a tripod bolt but, if you strip the Platypod's non-removable bolt you're screwed :)

It looks like the Decade is at least $30 less than the cheapest Platypod. I found it online but, yes, Amazon shows unavailable today.

I believe the Platypod comes with a rubber bolt cover. I'm not a fan of exposed bolts in any scenario so it seemed logical to me that being able to remove/replace the bolt is a better option, hence I recommend the Decade even if they were the same price.

The Decade also comes with the same type of accessories (leveling legs, strap, pouch, etc.). I didn't notice any difference in quality.

I hate to see consumers pay more than is needed for any type of gear. I don't have an interest in either product, other than loving my Decade!

Leon Kolenda's picture

Don't need it, I don't photograph churches, or stairways.

Julian Vrieslander's picture

Even at $69 this thing seems like an overpriced gimmick. On the rare occasions when I might use something like this, I could just as well use a a 1/4-20 bolt and a piece of scrap wood, or a beanbag, or a bag of gummy bears, or a rolled-up sweater, or ...

Lukasz Braszka's picture

I remember I was considering this for a moment but finally I bought Genesis Base T-1. Also lightweight, insane load capacity, comes with 1/4" screw (+ tripod head adapter), so there is really no need for even bringing the head. It doesn't attach to the trees as easily, I give it to the Platypus, but honestly during all my outings and trips I've never felt the need to do this.

Jim Cutler's picture

I use the bigger one with tabletop photography all the time for the very lowest angle shots. Solidly holds bigger body and lens without any worry of tipping. More recently having it with me traveling, reminds me to get low angle stuff, too. I bought and didn't use it for a long time. Now it's a fav piece of gear.

ronald hamilton's picture

Beanbag

Ed C's picture

Agreed. That is what I was going to post. Better in pretty much every way and far more ways to use them..

Paul C's picture

Thanks for reviewing this Jeff - Interior photography without long exposure and multiple fill-in flash is a hard task - so having a stable platform to get an HDR sequence can be a make-or-break moment.

.... but readers need also to remember the advance delivered by the ultra-lightweight Manfrotto PIXI - and now the even more affordable "copy versions" available. I have never had a problem using one in a "no tripod" zone over the last 4 years. Churches are usually full of pews and tables and floor-space on which to place them.

Getting the correct size version mini-tripod for your weight of camera and lens is important - so that it balances in both vertical and horizontal format...but all mine fold down to fit easily into a coat pocket or the outer section on a small rucksack. Folded, these mini-tripods in plastics and composite materials end up smaller and lighter than the baseplates and are less likely to snag and have been a great advance in my city and travel photography.

Frederic Hore's picture

While I respect the authors efforts to promote the Platypod, it's a bit over the top to say it's a game changer! As others have mentioned, you can achieve the same results with a piece of light weight plywood, with a hole drilled in the middle, then attach your ballhead of choice with 1/4 inch 20 thread flat head screw, available at any decent hardware store.

I have used a 5x8 inch piece of 1/2 inch thick birch plywood for 15 years when I needed to be that low, and frankly, there's nothing novel about the platypod that my rig can't do. However if you have money to burn, go for it. Peace :-)

Tom Reichner's picture

I shoot a lot from ground level. And when I say a lot, I mean A LOT! But I have never seen the need to have something like this platypod. I just set the camera on the ground. Or if I need stability then I take my converted aluminum frying pan with the stainless steel 1/4 / 20 threaded stud in the middle and attach my ballhead or Wimberley to that.

When I shoot from ground level, it is usually with my 300-800mm Sigma supertelephoto. I just don't see how this wimpy platypod would offer even a modicum of support. Frankly, it just doesn't look good enough, given all of the other options that are out there for shooting from ground level.

In summay, I will say that I am very much into shooting from ground level, but it just doesn't seem lkek the platypod would be very good in facilitating that kind of shooting - especially not when using big lenses. I would encourage photographers to look into the many other, better, products that are made for shooting from a ground level perspective before they go buying a platypod.

Steven Gotz's picture

I am a fan of the Platypod. I see posts from people saying they could make their own. Sure they could. But did they? And did it have the feet allowing it to work on uneven terrain like a boulder. Did it have the slots for the straps? Did you remember the piece of material that goes under it to keep from scratching a car or other expensive surface?

Yes, there are other ways but the Platypod suits me just fine. If the article doesn't get you interested, I have a solution for you. Don't buy it.

Trashing a product you have never used seems a bit trollish to me. Go build your plywood or soft aluminum device and show us how great it is. But first, remember that a decent drill costs more than a Platypod. So for those not all that handy, perhaps the smart move might be to just buy a well designed piece of kit for your camera bag.

Tom Reichner's picture

Yes, Steven, I did make my own camera support product. Several of them, each for different types of use. I have ones that mount permanently to the door of my car, ones that screw into a tree trunk, ones that are for use on the sand at the beach, and ones that perch atop a 12 foot high orchard ladder.

No one design will be optimal for every shooting situation, which is why it behooves an outdoor photographer to be handy with design, fabrication, and welding of steel and aluminum, as well as being adept with a host of other fabrication and construction skills.

Personally, I cannot think of anything that the Platypod would be good for when it comes to what I shoot and how I shoot it.

Can it really hold my huge 300-800mm sigma lens up when it is on uneven/unlevel terrain? Really? That lens is 22 inches long without the hood, and weighs 13 pounds. Then the camera body adds another 2 1/2 inches, and another 3 or 4 pounds.

The Platypod may be good for tiny little lenses like a 100-400mm, but when you are using true supertelephotos for 90% of your photography, such a tiny little thing with such a tiny little base is pretty much worthless because the center of gravity will be out beyond the edges of the platform in most real world shooting situations.