Smartphone grips and mounts are a dime a dozen nowadays. Making a product that stands apart from the crowd is difficult, but ShoulderPod may be the first company to do that in a long time. The company has built out a modular smartphone camera system allowing photographers and videographers to customize their tools to suit their individual needs. I put the company’s Lego-like experience to the test over the past few weeks, and have been pleasantly surprised with just about everything it offers.
I’ve spent the past few years testing out as many smartphone camera accessories as possible. The goal always being to push the limits of what is considered possible in mobile photography and videography. No matter how perfect a system I’ve found, they’re always brought down by one simple fact: phone sizes change nearly every year.
Sometimes it is the phone’s actual size, the iPhone 5s versus the iPhone 6. Sometimes it is the phone’s camera, the iPhone 6s versus the iPhone 7 Plus. These subtle changes make finding the “perfect” smartphone camera rig extremely difficult. Every time I’ve gotten comfortable with one setup, it is quickly trumped by a new phone design that comes out months later.
This experience is where ShoulderPod’s tools shine. The Barcelona-based company makes premium quality smartphone accessories with a focus on modularity. Instead of being tied down to one set of accessories, a mobile photographer can grow and adapt as their setup does. ShoulderPod is making sure that the smartphone accessory experience can match the DSLR accessory experience as much as possible.
I’ve spent the past month and a half using a mix of the ShoulderPod’s accessories and throwing every possible situation I could think of at them. Every time I pick up the accessories, I’m continually surprised at what I can do. It feels like an expanding Lego set for my iPhone.
S2: Handle Grip
X1: Pro Rig
ShoulderPod focuses its accessory lineup on four primary products; G1 Grip, S2 Handle Grip, the R2 Pocket Rig, and the X1 Pro Rig. Strange naming conventions aside, each product line expands on the previous, giving customers more options with their mobile setup. For example, the G1 is a tripod mount that expands to meet various device sizes, and the S2 includes the G1 and the H1 handle grip.
Let’s start with the accessory system’s focal point: the ShoulderPod G1 tripod mount. The G1 is a spring-loaded tripod mount mechanism that fits just about any phone size, even with large cases. The large rubber gripping teeth ensure a secure hold on your device while limiting jittery movement.
I tested out the G1 with my iPhone 5, 6, and 7 Plus and found it to be secure and reliable each time. Even with the ExoLens or Moment v2 lenses mounted on my phone, it held everything securely. The G1’s wide grip and base subdue any doubts in my mind that it won’t be compatible with Apple’s upcoming iPhone 8 or iPhone X.
One of the first issues I noticed with the G1 is that there is no quick mount or release system. Each time I wanted to mount the phone in the grip, I had to turn the thumbscrew begrudgingly. It’s not a big deal, but when you want to move from shooting with your phone to putting it in your pocket, it can make things annoying.
The G1’s thumbscrew
The second issue I have with the G1 is that a lot of the grip’s design feels like wasted space. Competing tripod mounts offer additional 1/4-inch mounting screws and even built-in cold-shoe mounts. You end up being needing to use ShoulderPod’s other components just to get that functionality with the G1.
This is where ShoulderPod’s bittersweet versatility first showed itself off to me. I knew I wanted to use the Rode VideoMicro with my phone, but I needed a cold-shoe mount. In this case, I ended up building out the R2 Pocket Rig. When I say “building out,” I quite literally mean it. Between all the components the ShoulderPod has, I was able to pick and choose what I needed to make it possible.
Individual components that make up the R2 Pocket Rig
With the R2, I was now able to use my iPhone 7 Plus and the external mic together. To be fair though, this entire setup was costly at $80 when StudioNeat’s Glif accomplishes the same goal at only $55 with a $7 cold-shoe adapter. If only the G1 had an integrated cold-shoe, I wouldn’t have needed to add-on any additional accessories.
The longer I used the ShoulderPod accessories, the more ideas I came up. Eventually, I started using the ShoulderPod system not just with my iPhone but with a DSLR as well. I put together the components I had on hand to build out the X1 and attached my rental Panasonic GH5 on top.
All footage seen in 9to5Google’s first look with the Moto Z2 Force was shot with this combination. The dual-grip system helped me record stable video outside of relying on a traditional gimbal. The best part was that I could easily unscrew everything and pack it away into my bag without adding additional bulk. The X1 includes a few 1/4-inch tripod threads, so you could easily attach the whole setup on a traditional tripod as well.
Out of all the ShoulderPod accessories, the thing that surprised me the most was each item’s fit and finish. The blend of metal and wood can sometimes come across as tacky, but here it felt polished and refined. The metal plate’s solid construction signaled durability for years to come. The wood is smooth and a pleasure to hold and never once did I question its strength.
Outside the complaints I have with the G1 specifically, I can honestly recommend the suite of ShoulderPod accessories. In place of the G1, the StudioNeat Glif adds the versatility most look for. From there, expand your configuration by picking up the individual ShoulderPod components you’d like. Although the company has a confusing naming scheme for these, you can quickly dig through its site to find the names of anything you need.
The ShoulderPod kits are available now in the S2 ($40), R2 ($100) and X1 ($140) variations on Amazon. Individual components from the ShoulderPod system are available through Adorama, B&H, and Manfrotto. Prices appear to vary amongst vendors, so be sure to shop around.