Despite point-and-shoot camera manufacturers' best efforts to reduce the effects of hand shake--digitally, optically, and mechanically--as long as you're holding the camera there's a very good chance you'll end up with blurry shots. Add in softening caused by noise reduction at higher ISO sensitivities, and getting a sharp shot of moving subjects or in low-light conditions can be tricky. The disappearance of viewfinders from compact cameras doesn't help things either as it encourages you to extend your arms to use the LCD.
Taking the camera out of your hands and putting it on a tripod or other support is one of the best ways to improve your odds. However, when I suggest this to point-and-shoot users I typically get in response that it's not practical to carry a tripod and it kills the point of having a very portable camera. But the solution is easy: get a very portable mini tripod.
Below are five favorites ranging in size, price, and flexibility, and though they aren't all technically tripods, they'll certainly help keep your pocket camera still whether you're behind or in front of it.
In lieu of buying a support, there are free options for helping control hand shake. Look for a lamp post, wall, tree, or any solid vertical structure you can lean against for support. Don't fully extend your arms, but instead pull them into your body as closely as possible with your elbows tucked into your sides or rest on a ledge or wall. Also, even if your camera has a lot of zoom range and optical image stabilization, it's always better to move yourself closer to a subject if possible than using your zoom. Lastly, if you use a tripod or anything else that's stable to support your camera, be sure to shut off any in-camera image stabilization--in this case, more stabilization is not better.
- Joby Gorillapod
The original Gorillapod is still one of the best supports around for compact cameras and it's barely more than $20. The bendable rotating joints allow you to quickly stabilize your camera regardless of the surface it's on. The joints and feet all have rubberized grips so you can wrap it around polls, fences, tree branches, and it'll stay in place. The tiny quick-release mount makes it easy to attach it to your camera in seconds. Plus, it's just fun to play with.
- Bottle Cap Tripod
With one of these you really have no excuses for not putting your camera down to shoot. OK, well, maybe one excuse since you do need a bottle fairly full of liquid. But once you have a bottle you're set to start snapping. You can DIY it if you want, but the $7.99 one pictured allows you to tilt the camera so you get just the right angle.
- Hakuba Multipod
What's great about this Hakuba is that it'll work with almost any device--with or without a threaded mount. It has a small padded clamp on top that can be used to secure a compact camera just as easily as a camera phone or mini camcorder. With the telescoping legs extended you have 10 inches of height at your disposal, but closed it's 7.5 inches and weighs only 4.8 ounces for travel. Not bad for about $17.
- Manfrotto Modo Pocket
For its size you might find the Modo Pocket a bit expensive at around $20, but it's about the most portable support you'll find. Solidly constructed and still lightweight, it's basically a key-chain-size tripod that can be used with cameras up to 17 ounces in weight. The hinged legs allow you to angle your lens up or down. There's also a threaded hole in it so you can quickly screw your camera onto a larger tripod without removing the Modo Pocket first. It works great for tabletop macro shooting, too.
- Quik Pod Pro+
Probably the ultimate device for self portraits, the Quik Pod is a relatively small, lightweight telescoping wand with a threaded mount on the end and a tiny mirror below it. The Quik Pod alone is OK for keeping your shots steady because at least you're able to keep your arm at your side. However, the $30 Pro+ version includes a compact folding tripod that screws into a mount in the base of the wand. This way you get the benefits of being able to take handheld self portraits and overhead or ground-level shots as well as a very portable tripod.