The crowdfunding website Kickstarter has become the launch point for a number of clever and useful smartphone accessories in the past two years. Now Portland-based photographer and design engineer Charles Waugh is using Kickstarter to raise funds for his own addition, the SlingShot smartphone video/photo stabilizer. It’s already at over 250% of its goal.
I was sent a pre-production sample of the SlingShot to test. Here are my observations.
When I first picked up the SlingShot, it was so light I was concerned about its durability. But after handling it and using it I found the accessory to be very solid; the injection-molded resin it’s made from is light but very tough, and I quickly lost all fear of damaging it.
The U-shaped cradle has a standard-sized screw mount which enables you to mount your phone to any tripod. The handle has a ball joint, which makes angling the phone simple and easy, and a pair of fold-out legs that allows it to double as a small tripod.
Though the cradle looks like it wouldn’t grip a phone very strongly, it held onto my iPhone with a death grip. I was able to turn the SlingShot upside down and shake it pretty hard without the phone even budging. Sliding the phone in and out of the cradle was easy and quick. (NOTE: While I used my iPhone, the cradle is designed to securely hold pretty much any smartphone.)
For some extreme hands-on testing of the physicality of the SlingShot, I recommend watching this video review by ‘Blunty’ Burr.
The legs of the pre-production sample were easily the weakest part: They’re flimsy and too close together, which combined with a heavy smartphone made the tripod top-heavy and easy to tip over. However, this was realized by the designers and they’re addressing it before final production – the final model with have Spring-Steel legs instead of the plastic ones, which should spring out to a wider spread for better stability.
Several things about the Slingshot’s design made me think of another Kickstarter project, the Glif, which I backed when it ran in October/November 2010. The Glif is another tripod mount, but I never felt entirely comfortable with how the Glif gripped my phone; I was always paranoid that it would slip off. This isn’t true with the SlingShot. And while both accessories have screw mounts, only the SlingShot has the handle, tripod and ball joint, giving it significantly more functionality. (Though you can use the SlingShot’s handle on the Glif – I tried it, but felt more comfortable using the SlingShot cradle.) And the SlingShot is actually less expensive ($14, compared with $20 for the Glif).
The one big advantage the Glif has over the SlingShot is portability; the Glif easily slips into your pocket, but you have to unscrew the SlingShot’s handle and it still takes up more room. But the SlingShot is still very compact, and the extra features make up for this minor inconvenience.
Using the Slingshot
The SlingShot is touted as a smartphone stabilizer, intended to give steadier, less jumpy video. This was its main selling point for me, so I decided to try it out. I took the SlingShot to my son’s first day of t-ball and shot some video and photos.
In the above video, I walked down the first-base line following my son while he ran the bases; then I walked back as he ran from second base to third. What I noticed was that the video was very stable while I was still, but very shaky while I was walking. This made logical sense, but I decided to test it, so I shot some videos of me walking holding the iPhone by itself, and then the same walk with the phone in the SlingShot. What I found was that the SlingShot made almost no difference at all in stabilizing my video while walking.
However, the difference was noticeable when I shot video while standing still:
The only unsteadiness in this video was due to my own excitement from my son’s first t-ball hit, and my laughter as he got overly excited and forgot how to run the bases. Or drop the bat. Overall the video I shot while using the handle was noticeably steadier than holding the phone loosely.
Still photos also came out sharper than I’m used to. The grip of the handle felt much more natural and comfortable than the way I normally have to hold the phone to take pictures. I was confident enough in it that I was able to hold the handle with just one hand, leaving my other hand free to make focus adjustments and snap the pictures.
The handle was especially helpful in steadying my hand while holding the camera well above my head to shoot video. This proved very useful when I needed to stretch over the heads of other parents who were in my way. 😉
One potential problem I noticed was that there seemed to be more wind sounds in the audio than normal. One of the cradle’s rubber grips sits directly over one of the microphones on the bottom of the iPhone, with just a slight gap that may cause air to flow directly over it. I can’t say for sure if this is true, but it’s possible. However, this was only a problem when outside in fairly strong wind. And when I used a Mini iPhone Microphone I got from ThinkGeek (did I mention that the cradle allows access to the iPhone’s ports?) the sound improved, so this wasn’t a serious issue.
Design: Lightweight, durable, secure. It has a smooth ball joint and holds a smartphone securely. The compact and lightweight design makes the SlingShot very portable. The only real physical issue is the tripod legs, which the designers are aware of and are addressing before final production.
Ease of use: Excellent. The handle grip is very comfortable. Inserting and removing a phone is easy. The brass screw mount attached effortlessly to every tripod I tested it on. It isn’t perfect for those “OMG I have to get a picture of this!” moments – no tripod or stabilizer is – but it takes under 10 seconds to get it set up (yes, I timed it).
Does it do what it’s supposed to? Yes, with caveats. Don’t expect much improvement to video while walking, but video while standing still, and still photos, look good. This isn’t a full-on stabilizer, but an amateur like me saw noticeable improvement and that’s valuable.
Would I buy one? Yes! For $14 (shipping included), this accessory is definitely worth it. The quibbles I had with it were minor ones and were overshadowed by the obvious benefits.
The SlingShot Kickstarter campaign runs until this Sunday.