Adapting a Surveyor’s Pole for Photography

    07 Feb 2009 TKSharpless


The Crain Industries  telescoping surveyor’s prism pole (available at ) makes a very good pano pole.  It is light and rigid, with fast acting lever clamps, a built in bubble level, and a hard steel ground point (with a plastic boot for use on delicate surfaces).   Best of all, it comes with a simple but very effective “steady rest” – a molded plastic piece with a mounting stud socket, that simply clips onto the pole, leaving it free to turn.


The photo at right shows the steady rest attached to a tripod, holding the pole upright.  Of course outdoors with the pole extended I would use a heavier tripod.  But I rarely do.  Instead, I attach the steady rest to a belt and use myself as the support.  This leaves both hands free to adjust the camera.  While shooting, I need just one hand for the pole.  With the belt, the rest clips on between the level bracket and the lower clamp.


Here is the belt and the belt with steady rest attached.




The front part is a strip of soft aluminum with a thin aluminum bracket riveted on.  The C-shaped bracket is a snug fit on the steady rest and is secured to it with a short 3/8-16 stud and thumbscrew.  


I had to do a few things to adapt the pole for photography.   First off, I reduced the thread in the steady rest socket from 5/8-11 (the standard for surveyor’s mounting studs) to 3/8-16 so it would go on a photo tripod.  This was easy because the pole comes with a long aluminum 5/8-11 stud, already drilled with a hole the right size to tap 3/8-16.  So I just tapped a bit, sawed it off and screwed it into the steady rest.









Then I made a bracket to hold the two upper arms of a Nodal Ninja 3 at the top of the pole.   This has a 5/8 inch hole and a fixed width to suit my EOS 30D.  The foot of the NN3 fits in a 1mm deep recess to keep it from turning.  It is attached with one of the spare ¼-20 screws that come with the NN3, which is held captive in the bracket by a tiny O-ring.


The footprint of this bracket is small enough that I rarely need a nadir shot for spherical panos – just tilt down 15 degrees and walk around the pole to stay out of sight.


A 10 foot Opteka shutter release cord ($15 at B&H) is attached to the pole with ball-end elastic ties.  I now use a Yong Nuo radio-controlled release (under $20 from DSLRBaby on eBay).


The final modification is 12 marks, 30 degrees apart, on the top surface of the level bracket.  I made them by milling shallow 1/16 inch wide slots in the top of the bracket and filling them with white paint.  With these as a guide, I can turn the pole accurately enough to shoot with a 24mm lens without mechanical support.


Working with this rig is quite a pleasure.  It only weighs 4 pounds.  It is easy to carry with the camera attached, because there is no loose rotator joint.   Its collapsed height puts the viewfinder right at my eye level.  And the sections are graduated so it is easy to reset camera height.


There are 2 section (8 foot), 3-section (12 foot) and 4-section (15 foot) versions of this pole, in aluminum, fiberglass and carbon composite.  This 15 foot aluminum one cost  $166 including shipping.