Ground Pod mount for the
Flying Saucer Ball Head

The Flying Saucer Ball Head
      I use my homemade "Flying Saucer Ball Head" mostly on my bean bags to give my lens the smooth panning motion I want. It's far superiour to fighting with the lens foot twisting up in the bean bag when I try to pan. If you haven't seen the "Flying Saucer" yet, check it out here in my article.

      For quite some time I've wished I could manage the expense of a ground pod for when I'm shooting shorebirds with my 500mm f/4. However, I just could not get past that wall consisting of a $100 plastic pan, plus another several hundred dollars for another gimbal head and clamp. And I certainly wasn't going to fiddle with swapping my gimbal head back and forth between the tripod and any sort of ground pod "pan", whether bought or homemade. Even if I made a ground pod from an old frying pan, there is still the huge expense of another gimbal head, so the ground pod has eluded me until now.

The template
Plywood blanks
screwed together
Two "cradle" arms cut out
     The other day I had an epiphany ..... an idea how to use my Flying Saucer Ball Head with a ground pod. After some thought and doodling, and the wife's donation of an old aluminum frying pan she could no longer use because the non-stick coating was flaking off, I had what I needed for this project. The pan was perfect.... just the right shape so it will glide easily, plus it was sturdy enough and large enough.

     I started by cutting out two paper templates. One fit the shape of the ball head bottom, and one fit the inside shape of the pan. Then I lined these up, adjusting for a good height and taped them together. I doodled some ideas and notes on the template, some of which I ended up using, and some not. This template would become two arms crossed in an "X" to "cradle" the Flying Saucer Ball Head, in essence a very simple concept. I took two pieces of 5/8" plywood salvaged from an old shelf I no longer needed and screwed them back to back. Then I traced the template onto the plywood and cut it out with a jigsaw. This gave me two matching pieces. After removing the two screws that held them together, I cut out a notch in each so they would interconnect, crossing in an "X" pattern shown below left. The cradle arms are attached to the pan by wood screws through the sides of the pan. This method avoids any bumps on the bottom of the pan from screws or bolt heads, which is an issue if using a gimbal head on a pan to make a ground pod.

Rough cradle arms assembled Cradle arms with tabs added
Inserting the ball head
     Next I cut some "tabs" from thin vinyl. You could use a scrap of vinyl siding for a house, the side of a very heavy empty plastic jug, or some other material. I used pieces cut from a scrap piece of vinyl leaf screen from my gutters. Both vinyl and polypropylene plastics have a "slippery" kind of surface that does well when used as glides. It needs enough thickness in this application to make "tabs" stiff enough to hold in the ball head while making it easy for the wood to glide when panning. I screwed three of these tabs right onto the cradle arms. I made a fourth tab attached with a bolt and wing nut so I could loosen it and turn it to one side, allowing me to insert the ball head easily (shown in right image).

     I decided to cut away excess wood from the cradle arms with a jigsaw in order to remove a little weight (and admittedly add some stylish shape to the design). Then I stapled on some "slippery" glides cut from the sides of a plastic milk jug. This avoids having the wooden ball head rubbing the wooden cradle arms, allowing the ball head to rotate more smoothly. To accomodate the additional height caused by the glides I used additional pieces of vinyl to shim each of the tabs, raising them a tiny bit. Also note how I used a dab of latex caulking on the bolt tip (you could also use silicone) to keep the wing nut from accidently unscrewing all the way off and getting lost. This tab has a second tab layer on top of a slightly thicker piece of vinyl to stiffen the pressure of the wing nut against the tab tip. All these tabs proved strong enough that I can lift the whole ground pod by the ball head if necessary. Finally, I sprayed the completed project with a bit of camo paint colors that I had on hand. This keeps it from looking quite so crude, and serves to dull down the shiny surfaces.

Cutouts minimize weight Detail of bolted tab Detail of screwed tab The completed ground pod With lens & camera mounted
     I completed this project for exactly zero dollars by utilizing a defunct frying pan slated to be thrown out, salvaged pieces of plywood and other assorted scraps of material, plus screws and a bolt and paint I already had. It doesn't have the tilt range of a ground pod and gimbal costing $400-$700, but then I don't foresee the need for much tilt when I'm lying on the ground photographing small subjects also on the ground, which is my sole intended purpose for it. For anything else I would use a low tripod anyway. I still have use of my Flying Saucer Ball Head on a bean bag, yet in ten seconds or less I can insert it into the ground pod for those cool low angle ground shots.

     The last image at right above shows the 500mm and 1D Mark IV attached to the ground pod, ready for use. I can't say it's as elegant as a good gimbal, but the price is certainly right. For the infrequent occasions where I have need for a ground pod, it will serve my needs. Of course, when I hit the lottery, I'll go out and get another gimbal and bolt it to the same pan. In the meantime, this will do nicely.