Using A Camera Beanbag

Using A Camera Beanbag

My Pentax K-5 camera and Sigma 150-500mm lens on a camera beanbag on some rocks by the lake
Beanbags give great protection against hard surfaces like these rocks.

You have probably heard that getting a good tripod is one of the best investments you can make to your photographic equipment arsenal to reduce camera shake.

I totally agree with that, but what about those times when a tripod is too difficult to bring along for whatever reason?

For example, if you’re hiking in difficult terrain and want to travel light, a tripod can be cumbersome (or just too heavy) to carry with you.

Other times you may want to use things from your surroundings as support like rocks, fences, branches or the ground, and you don’t want to damage your camera equipment (or yourself).

The solution for all this?

A camera beanbag.

Beanbags are lightweight, can be filled with different materials like beans (duh), rice, seeds, peas or Styrofoam beads.

These types of material absorb vibrations and reduce camera shake.

The bags you buy come in various shapes and sizes, or you can easily make one yourself to get exactly what you need.

 

How I use my camera beanbags

I use my beanbags mainly when shooting from the ground, from the window of my car or when hiking in rough terrain.

Actually, when shooting from the ground I’ve come to prefer the beanbag over my tripod.

My Pentax K-5 camera and Sigma 150-500mm lens on a beanbag in the wet grass
Beanbags provide excellent protection for your camera gear against dirty or wet conditions while reducing camera shake.

You can buy or make bags that have mounting plates on them, but I just prefer the straight beanbag.

It provides a lot of freedom to move around quickly as your camera rig isn’t tied down, and the bag readily absorbs all vibration.

This is a good thing when you’re lurking in the bushes ready to shoot birds or wildlife and have to adjust your position quickly.

When shooting from a car window these bags also come in handy.

Because of the shape many of them come in, they straddle the car door easily when the window is open. I tend to use my smaller sized beanbag for this purpose although I shoot with a long lens, as I feel the larger sized one I have is a bit bulky in the car window.

My Pentax K-5 camera and Sigma 150-500mm lens on a camera beanbag in the window of my car
Beanbags are excellent support for your camera when shooting through a car window.

(Side note: Here comes a little wildlife-shooting tip. Shooting from a car window is often a better way to approach wildlife (especially birds) than trying to creep up on them on foot. They seem to be less scared of this box with wheels than of a human waving its arms and feet around. Of course, there are limits to this method. You should always consider how not to disturb wildlife, and how not to damage the landscape by driving. Use some common sense before you drive your truck straight into the nearest forest.)

As I mentioned, the shape of my camera beanbag makes it a perfect fit for a car window. It also makes it a very good fit for use on other surfaces you wouldn’t want to lean your camera on, like fences, branches or a pile of rocks.

The bags I use are made from waterproof material filled with Styrofoam (polystyrene) beads. This keeps them really lightweight and unlikely to be damaged by moisture. They also absorb vibrations really well.

I have two different sizes of bags that I use, depending on the size of lens I’m using and the shooting situation

The only minor downside I can think of about them is that the polystyrene filling doesn’t make them 100% quiet. They make a bit of noise as you put weight on them and shift the weight around as the beads are squeezed. This is a minor thing though. (Side note: I actually tried using one of these as a pillow when sleeping outdoors once. For the reason I just explained that was not a good idea 😉 )

If you buy or make a bag, that you fill yourself with any organic material (like peas), make sure it’s made from some waterproof material (if you plan to use it outdoors).

If not you can end up with a nasty mess of mold and bad smell.

My Pentax K-5 camera and Sigma 150-500mm lens on a beanbag in the grass
Beanbags are flexible and can quickly be set up in different ways.

Why buy a camera beanbag?

Maybe you’re not that handy, or you don’t have time for any DIY stuff.

Then you can buy yourself a beanbag. They are actually quite cheap most of them.

You can follow this link here and browse some beanbags at Amazon.com (I may receive a commission if you buy from them through this link).

The beanbags I use come from this company in the UK.

The particular two models I use, which are depicted in this post are the “Standard Waterproof” and the “Supersize Waterproof”. Both in the “Green Cammo” color.

They come prefilled with polystyrene beads, but they can be easily opened (Velcro), and the filling changed with anything you like.

I can recommend both of these models. (I do not receive any commission by endorsing this, nor am I affiliated with www.camerabeanbags.co.uk in any way.)

 

 DIY camera bean bag

If you don’t want to spend the money, or you just want to tailor the camera bean bag to your specific needs you can make one yourself.

Here are some websites to get you started:

DIY Bean bag 1

DIY Bean bag 2

Do you use camera bean bags in different ways, or do you make them yourself?
Please tell us about it in the comment section below.

 

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