Photo Tip: Suction Cup Mount ____ 2012/10

Suction cup attached to paddle, a unique perspective. GoPro Hero2, f/2.8,  1/1500sec, iso100.
Suction cup attached to paddle. GoPro Hero2.
GoPro Hero2 w/tripod mount and suction cup on a kayak deck.
Hero2 on deck.

I biked to the local Ace Hardware last week and picked up a pair of suction cup mounts.  Ace sells USA Progrip® Suction Cups online for $4.79/pair; free shipping if you pick it up at a local store. The rubber cup diameter is 3”. They have a ¼-20 female thread, so to mount a ball head, or to direct mount a camera, I also purchased a ¼-20 threaded stainless bolt (they didn’t have a stainless rod), cut it in sections, and threaded the parts into the suction cups. I then mounted a camera and stuck the unit onto the side of my office file cabinet as a test. The smooth surface held on so tenaciously I couldn’t pull the cup off. Sliding it over to the cabinet edge popped the vacuum (A fingernail under the cup edge will release it as well).  The suction cup adhered similarly to my clean kayak deck when I tested that surface.

The suction cup is a simple solution for securing a camera to smooth, non-porous surfaces—especially moving surfaces like a car exterior or kayak. In many such situations, there isn’t an easier solution. The images or especially the footage that can be captured this way are amazing: new perspective stills, edgy video. If you haven’t seen such, check out an online example at GoPro.

Underwater the GoPro Hero2 delivers out-of-focus images. GoPro has addressed this lack of sharpness with an optional Dive Housing. GoPro Hero2, f/2.8,  1/720sec, iso100.
Underwater the GoPro Hero2 delivers out-of-focus images.

Many commercial suction cup mounts feature extension arms to both lift the camera above the surface  and provide some flexibility in pointing the camera. The cheap and simple set-up that I used sits lower on the adhering surface for less side-to-side shake, but it also has less flexibility in framing a shot (Regardless of hardware, the camera should be tethered).

I drove to a clear Washington State lake for in-the-field testing. I wanted usable video and stills from the GoPro Hero2 sports cam and my Canon G1 X, both  while attached to kayak or paddle with a suction cup. The smooth surfaces of the boat deck and the inside of the paddle blade provide excellent adhering surfaces.

I was excited to use my Canon G1 X—which weighs 2 lb 12 oz in its waterproof housing—to capture images while using a suction cup (The GoPro Hero2 with housing weighs just 6.1 oz). I like the quality of the 14 MP G1 X RAW images at moderate ISO’s. They’re roughly comparable to the old full-frame Canon 5D, or to the less-dated 7D. The G1 X wobbled for sure on the suction cup base, but the suction held while the deck spun through a series of Eskimo rolls.

Canon G1 X in housing attached (vertically with ballhead) to deck with suction cup. The slow shutter speed caused some blur, but a wobble (spin) of the heavy camera on the flexible mount is evident as well. Canon G1 X, 28mm @ f/8,  1/40sec, iso200.
Suction Cup wobble with Canon G1 X

The Hero2 gave me more useable shots than the G1 X using the suction cup mount, but then I shot hundreds more images with it in a greater variety of positions.  A big disappointment was the lack of sharpness with the GoPro underwater. This wasn’t noticeable with fast-moving HD video, but it made the higher-pixel-count still images unusable. GoPro has addressed this issue with a flat-glass lens Dive Housing. If you’re shooting much underwater, the Dive Housing is mandatory. The Hero3 addresses this as well, built-in with its flat screen.

The G1 X wobble issue could be addressed with a bigger, 4.5” suction cup. (edit: I tried two 3” cups on a wood base. It also wobbled. If I stay with 3″ cups, three will be needed to form triangle, once again with a wood base). It should be a worthwhile project for October, before the lake water gets cold.

The follow-up step will be to take the suction cup mounts and cameras kayak surfing, a much higher bar.