below is a detailed review of the spiderbeam 12m telescopic pole i used to lift the camera into the air for this video.

intro

for quite some time i’ve been interested in aerial photography and views from above. i’ve experimented with kites, a quadcopter, a powered parachute, very tall light stands, and other poles (and likely other techniques or methods i’m not remembering at the moment). with all of my equipment and techniques, i like to refine the process and make the setup as minimal as possible so i can focus more on the experience and journey rather than the technical process or having to carry around lots of heavy equipment.

there are pro’s and con’s for the various methods, techniques, and gear. a kite or quadcopter can obviously allow for a much greater height than a pole or tall tripod or light stand. a kite can be used some places where drones are prohibited, though can require much more time to setup and additional components of gear to carry around, not to mention sufficient wind and plenty of space to fly. a quadcopter can be very easy to fly (especially recent models where you get a first person view of what it’s seeing), though still does have some limitations (mostly due to rules and regulations, though also technically such as needing to carry sufficient batteries that are charged, especially if wanting to take it on many flights). a very tall tripod or giant light stand would be better suited for long time-lapses in the same position or tight spaces where one cannot fly as easily, however can be quite heavy and burdensome to carry far distances. a pole can be faster to set up and lighter to carry. [these are not all the differences but just a few general ones..]

i’ve experimented with a few different poles and tall tripod setups. the tall tripod setup i used was a light stand with an extension piece that could get me to a height of around 25 feet, however it was quite heavy to carry both pieces. once i also attached a smaller extension pole to it along with some narrow extension rods and was able to get to a total height of around 37.5 feet. the perspective from that height was nice though i had to make multiple trips to and from the car to carry all the parts (along with sand bags to be sure to prevent it from falling over), and it was a bit of a process to get all the pieces mounted and extended. once i carried most of this heavy setup much further into a park only to find out the path that used to be there wasn’t accessible as the lake had flooded — a tall pole would’ve been much nicer to have had with me that day when i couldn’t get the shot i wanted after struggling with (and getting frustrated by) carrying large, heavy, awkward gear. i had also experimented with various poles — one that i used pretty often was a microphone extension/boom pole that extended to 15 feet. i would hold this one over my head to get to a height of around 22 feet. it collapsed to just under 4 ft long and was very lightweight, weighing under 2 lbs. it also came with a carrying case so it was quite easy to carry around and use. the view from the ~22ft height using this pole was nice though i was interested in something that could give me a perspective from a higher height so i could render a wider straight-down view if i liked (without having to use a quadcopter or kite).

i had done a lot of research to look for various kinds of poles that would possibly work for pole aerial photography. i don’t recall exactly where i came across it online, though i discovered the spiderbeam 12m heavy duty telescopic fiberglass pole. it collapsed to just under 4 ft long like my shorter pole, though extended to 12 meters, or 40ft! it weighed 7 lbs and sold for $105+shipping. this was much nicer than other masts i had seen that went to a similar height but weighted 2.5 times as much and cost almost twice as much. the spiderbeam pole seemed like it could be a pretty good fit based on the specs, though without seeing any actual review of how well it worked for photography, it was hard to know for sure. the diameter of the topmost section was only 8mm so mounting a camera could be tricky. i reached out to spiderbeam to inquire about some of the details of the pole and if it could support a lightweight camera. after a number of emails back and forth, they were kind enough to agree to donate a pole to me in exchange for a review of how it worked for photography.

how-to, diy setup

i received the pole in the mail a few weeks ago and have taken it to a few of the local parks to see how it would work for photography. before testing it, i needed a way to mount the camera to it. i had come up with the idea of placing some sort of pvc pipe or tubing at the top of the pole with the camera mounted to the end of that. after a little research to see what parts were available that might possibly work, i ended up with a 1/2″ mnpt x barb drip irrigation male elbow made of polyethylene (“apollo” model aime12), attached to 1/2″ inner diameter pvc tubing. [the trick to not having the pole, tripod, or any part of the mounting rig show up in a 360×180 degree image is to place all of the rig directly under the camera and to use pieces that aren’t wider than the bottom of the camera] i started off with 2 ft long of pvc tubing, and figured this would be more than plenty long enough to hold the plastic elbow in place and prevent it from falling off the top of the pole, while being softer and safer for the fiberglass pole than another material such as metal. i drilled a 1/4″ hole through the elbow where it would stick off to the side of the pole a little [don’t hold small plastic pieces by hand when operating powertools.. my finger still has a little scar from when the drill slipped]. i inserted a 1/4″ bolt through the holes, placing a coupling nut at the end, and slipped the pvc tubing around the elbow, and i had a way to mount the camera to the pole. the smaller section of the elbow fit nicely around the tip of the pole, leaving just a little bit of room around it. the parts to do this were less than $2. sometimes your local home improvement store is your best camera supply shop. here’s a photo of what the camera looks like mounted on the top of the pole.

this is the lg 360 cam r105. the picture quality (and operation) is not as good as the ricoh theta models though it costs much less and has a metal tripod mount so i preferred to use it for experimentation where something could possibly go awry. at the bottom of the lg 360 cam, i have a smallrig 1/4″ to 1/4″ threaded double head stud and a small piece of rubber between it and the camera. you could probably mount the camera directly to the 1/4″ bolt with some washers, though i felt this stud being attached to the camera would give it a little more support (from additional surface area at the bottom of the camera touching the thick stud) and it seemed to be quicker in switching the camera between various poles or other mounting rigs with it. i had originally started using this 1/4″ threaded double head stud setup with the ricoh theta m15 camera and then the theta s camera after the plastic tripod mount broke on the original ricoh theta i had. despite the lg 360 cam tripod mount being said to be metal, i kept going with the extra precaution.

in usage of placing the pvc tube + elbow mount on top of the pole, i found the 2 feet of length to be too long. the tubing i got was at the very end of the long spool at the store so it was curling up quite a bit, making it difficult to slide down onto the tip of the pole. i cut it down to around 15″ or so after the first few uses and it was much simpler to put it on the pole (and still kept the camera in place at the tip of the pole). after placing the tubing on the pole, the camera easily spun down onto the coupling nut and was fairly close to being centered over the topmost section of the spiderbeam pole. [the tripod mount is a little off center on the bottom of the camera and the 1/4″ bolt+nut is a little off center on the pole so they compensate for each other a bit — the camera still isn’t perfectly centered on the tip of the pole, however the setup worked well]

the spiderbeam pole did not come with a carrying case so i placed it in a 4′ long generic lightstand case i had that happened to fit it pretty well. despite the pole weighing 7 lbs, i found it quite easy to carry in this case. i was able to carry the case over my shoulder (with my arm through its handle) and walk easily with it. the first day i tested it out i took it to a spot not far from the parking lot at the park, and after that, ended up walking over a mile to the beach and it was very easy to carry it. it was many more times easier than carrying the tall light stand setup — i barely took that more than a couple hundred feet from the car and it was a lot of effort. i didn’t track exactly how far i walked with the pole during my tests this past month, though it was pretty easy to carry it for miles while stopping to take photos every so often. if one shoulder got tired after a little bit, i’d simply switch it to the other for a little while.

review, usage

the pole was suprisingly easy to extend and lift to its full height. at the first spot in the park, i was in a pretty open area so i’d have plenty of room if needed though found that each section of the pole lifted up pretty easily. toward the bottom there was a little more weight felt in lifting those sections though it was still quite easy to lift the pole with the camera at the very top. the pole did seem to have a bit of lubrication on it so i used some white cotton gloves (the kind normally used to handle photo prints) so i wouldn’t get my hands all greasy. when bringing the sections of the pole back down, it was easy to let them glide along with the gloves providing a tiny bit of friction to slow it down without feeling it rubbing along my hands.

some of the times i’ve lifted the pole up there has been some wind, though i never had any issues with the pole falling over. the pole sometimes would sway a bit at the top, depending on the wind, though this would be similar for other poles (unless you had one thick and heavy enough that carrying it would become problematic). i don’t know how much the actual wind was blowing — i checked the forecast on my phone some of the times when i was at the parks and the most it usually said was 8mph, though this might not be accurate. on the last day (at the first of three locations i shot at), the weather app on my phone said 11mph and the wind blowing the pole was much more noticeable (and i held it much more tightly) — it’d probably be best to stick to days with lower wind speeds if lifting it to the maximum height without additional support or mounting.

at a couple of the parks, i’d rest part of the pole against the wood railing on the dock or walkway, and did notice it was more difficult to extend the pole if it wasn’t going straight up. as the slight angle was noticeable, i repositioned the pole so it was going up closer to a vertical and it was then easier to lift again. when lifting the pole, i’ve mostly (if not always) lifted it up while inside the generic case, keeping the whole setup more compact and giving it a little bit of cushioning.

when lifting the pole, it’s important to make sure you lift it up so it will hold in place. i lifted each section until there’s some friction holding it in place (and perhaps twisting it slightly, though i mostly twist it when i’m bringing it down). if there’s not enough friction holding the sections, they could collapse into each other and the whole pole could collapse into itself very quickly with its own weight. i did have this happen a couple times though gratefully never lost the camera as it always stayed on the topmost section with the long piece of pvc tubing holding it in place. i don’t recall if this was when there was a little more wind or not, though it was probably just that i didn’t friction-lock the sections enough. after bringing it back up and locking it more carefully, it stayed up without any issue. it’s good to slow down and make sure the sections are holding, especially when you’re right next to water.

even with more carefully locking each section into place when raising the pole, it goes up and down pretty quickly. the whole process, of stopping at a location and getting the camera mounted on the pole, connecting to it on the phone app, starting the time-lapse, and lifting the pole, probably didn’t take more than a couple minutes. letting the time-lapse run for a minute or two and then bringing it back down, downloading a shot to see what it looked like, turning off the camera, and putting everything back in the case would bring the whole process to only a few minutes per location. one could easily photograph many shots in a short amount of time with this pole setup.

results

below you’ll see several sample images that i made out of the 360×180 degree aerials at the full 40ft extension of the pole. the ones with the “little planet” look are rendered as stereographic images with a HFOV of 300 degrees i’ve also included some square rectilinear shots showing what more ‘normal’ perspectives would look like if one wanted to use this setup for professional or commercial work, such as for real estate photography. (these rectilinear samples were rendered from the same 360×180 degree equirectangular files that the little planet ones above them were) the wider ones are 150 x 150 degrees and exhibit a good bit of wide angle distortion near the edges. the less wide ones are 120 x 120 degrees (which is still extremely wide, vertically and diagonally wider than a 10mm rectilinear lens would be on a full frame 35mm 3:2 format). the picture quality would be much better if i had used the ricoh theta s or another camera with better quality than the lg 360 cam, though they are still pretty good, especially for something that i could shoot so quickly. also, please note that some of the sample shots are oriented along the seam where the camera stitched together its two fisheye images so there will be additional distortion and softness there. if using the theta s camera, the white or grey you see in the center of some of the images would disappear as the stitching is much nicer and the camera doesn’t “see itself” as much as the lg 360 cam does.

when i first created elevated 360 degree time-lapses a number of years ago, my rig weighed close to 50 lbs and wouldn’t go anywhere near as high (and took much longer to set up and required precision and a very long stitching process afterwards on the computer to work properly). it’s so much nicer to have gear that one can easily and quickly take many places to be able to get more unique shots. yes, there is a time for slowing down and being more meticulous in creating higher quality shots (i recall the days of large format photography..), though there’s also a time and place for having a rig that’s much simpler to use that you can easily take when exploring and shooting more for fun. and although this pole is quick to use, it could still be used to create professional quality images when used with a better camera (with a heavier camera, you might need to remove the smaller section(s) at the top for the pole to properly support it).

above is one of the still shots using the lg 360 cam on the spiderbeam 12m pole at its maximum extension, and here is a link to a shot i made just over a year ago at almost the same exact spot with the 37.5ft tall tripod/lightstand that took much longer to setup: markmarano.com/2016/02/01/16758/ the light is a little different between the two shots, and the image last year was shot with the ricoh theta m15 camera instead of the lg 360 cam and was rendered by a couple apps on my phone rather than on the computer — aside from the differences in picture quality, you can see both gave a pretty similar perspective, though the pole was much simpler and quicker to setup than the crazy light stand rig.

you can find more little planet videos and photos by browsing around my site. here’s a link to a time-lapse video that includes a number of unique techniques that’s been pretty popular: www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DqCMpFKkt0

here’s are links to the spiderbeam pole on both their u.s. and european websites:

www.spiderbeam.us/product_info.php?info=p3_Spiderbeam%20HD%2012m%20fiberglass%20pole.html
www.spiderbeam.com/product_info.php?info=p3_Spiderbeam%20HD%2012m%20fiberglass%20pole.html

here’s are links to the lg 360 cam r105:

amzn.to/2ngumS3
amzn.to/2n23ses

and here are links to the ricoh theta s and theta sc cameras that would yield better quality images:

amzn.to/2nExQio
amzn.to/2ngdf31

here’s a link to the plastic drip irrigation elbow i attached the bolt and 1/2″ tubing to:

www.lowes.com/pd/Apollo-1-2-in-Polyethylene-Drip-Irrigation-Elbow/50030692

thank you spiderbeam for donating the pole and giving me the opportunity to review it. i really don’t know if i would’ve purchased it without having had any concrete evidence from others as to how well it worked for my application in pole aerial photography, and am glad to have been able to test it out and see how well it works. i now look forward to using it in future projects as a great alternative to other methods for elevated or low aerial photography. i’d be more than happy to review one of your taller poles for usage in pole aerial photography if you’d be so kind as to donate one of those.

if anyone else reading this has a pole, quadcopter, kite, camera, lens, or other photographic product you’d like to donate in exchange for a review for usage in aerial photography or any other creative technique, please feel free to write me at the contact form at the following link:

markmarano.com/contact