Minox Tabletop Tripod: Form and function combined in a delicious veteran
I am a great fan of good industrial design. Some machines are works of art in their own right. Think of the trains designed by Raymond Loewy and Henry Dreyfuss, or the Olympus cameras of Yoshihisa Maitani, the Douglas DC-3 that came from the pen of Arthur Emmons Raymond or the Jaguar E-Type that was Malcolm Sayer's finest hour.
They are all things that look good and work well both as beautiful designs and as functional objects in their own right. Pilots are supposed to say that "if a 'plane looks right it will fly right" and I can see the logic in that.
In good design, form does not follow function, the two work in harmony in an endless loop. The result is both pleasing to own and to use, and does its intended job with efficiency and elegance.
A designer that has always had my respect in this regard is the Latvian-born Walter Zapp. His main claim to fame, of course, is that he invented the Minox sub-miniature camera, beloved of spies from Mata Hari to James Bond (who never used it right—pulling it apart and pushing it together just advances the film, it doesn't trip the shutter…). I have a Minox B that I have had for years and still run the occasional film through, as well as a really clever monocular which, although not designed by him personally, bears the DNA of his design mojo.
But this article is not about that. It is about the successful marriage of old and new and how a 65-year old design still trumps its modern equivalent and forms part of my travel setup today. Much as I am a hand-held shooter for 98% of my shutter releases there are times when I recognise that a little extra support is needed. I hate to lug a tripod around with me for those very rare occasions so I admit to being an aficionado of the tabletop tripod. There are a myriad choices in the market today, including a remake of the original Minox tripod that is my favourite and that has just earned itself a new lease of life for reasons that I shall explain.
Consider for a moment the purpose of a tripod. Foremost is the provision of stability, followed closely by portability and ease of use. In that regard Walter Zapp's original 1951 pocket tripod is both a thing of beauty and an exceptionally clever piece of design. Originally intended to be used with the 8x11 Minox cameras via an adaptor bracket, it is easily strong enough to support much heavier equipment.
Now, I confess that mine has lain unused for a few months, staring forlornly at me from my desk tidy. Its enforced lay-off was a result of my having carelessly lost the screw-on tightening plte. It was still usable but only by tightening the 1/4" thread right into the baseplate of a camera—something I was loath to do. It was only when I was doing some idle Googling about for something else that I discovered that Minox had resumed manufacture of this little marvel a few years ago after a long lay off. The irony of the fact that the accessory has outlived the camera line for which it was originally designed is not lost on me
Mine is an old one, its fluted shiny chrome finish is reminiscent of an old propelling pencil from someone like Yard-O-Led and it is honestly not much larger. Seven and a half inches long when "collapsed”, it fits in a pen-loop in a bag. When "extended" it stands just over five inches tall. The reason for the inverted commas is that one does not extend or collapse a Minox pocket tripod, one unscrews and assembles it. The clever bit is that all the legs are tubes that fit inside each other, held in place by screw threads. The thinnest leg in turn has a cable release in its centre, standard of course so still usable on today's Fujis. At the top is a tiny ball head which can be adjusted by turning the largest leg—design elegance at its finest. There is even a slot into which you can insert a small coin for leverage. Now that's clever.
Collapsed, it looks like an art deco sonic screwdriver. extended, it doesn't look strong enough to support its own weight, let alone a camera. But it is. In its enforced "absence" I had acquired a modern Manfrotto Pixi. It's interesting to compare the two. The Pixi is slightly shorter and about the same height and also features an integral ballhead. It's a tad quicker to use but considerably more bulky; appropriately for an Italian brand it has more of a "bella figura" than its svelte German counterpart. It's robust and well made and it does the job but compared to the Minox it is a mass-produced item that simply lacks soul.
Anyway, back to the plot. Upon my discovery that Minox are re-manufacturing the pocket tripod I dropped them a line to see if I could buy a tightening plate from them. I was delighted and pleasantly surprised when the Brand Manager for Minox GB contacted me and said that they would supply a replacement plate without charge. It is that type of service that costs a company little but earns a lot of what we used to call kudos, now more clinically referred to as "Net Promoter Score". Through their actions Minox have boosted their NPS—for the price of a small bit of metal and some goodwill. Others take note...
Whilst I waited for the new plate to arrive, I gave some thought to methods of attachment. It blends perfectly with my X100T, but is a little less comfortable with my X-Pro2. I have the Fuji handgrip on the X-Pro which, in common with many such things today, has the Arca Swiss baseplate grooves to enable it to be mounted to a compatible quick-release plate. This system, which has been around since the 1990s, has become a bit of a de facto standard for quick release mechanisms of late. My Minox pocket tripod obviously predates the concept by a decade or three, but there is a rather nifty answer.
Enter the "fish bone" mini quick release mount clamp. The one I have is manufactured by Neewer but there are others available. This tiny bit of cleverness comes with a 3/8" thread but a Manfrotto (ironically) adaptor collar soon converts that down to 1/4". It fits very well on the Minox, particularly without the tightening plate (having learned my lesson, I can now slip mine securely into a pocket when not in use) and enables the X-Pro 2—or, indeed, any other Arca Swiss-compatible camera—to be mounted quickly and securely.
Voila! A 65 year-old holding up a mere baby via a fishbone. My endless quest for ever smaller and more compact travel solutions claims another victory, and one that for once wouldn't look out of place at a silver-service dinner party. Thank you, Walter and Minox, both for inventing the elegant pocket tripod in the first place and then for having the good sense to resurrect it—and to supply parts to your customers without requiring the donation of an arm and a (tripod) leg.
Support has two meanings, and Minox is an exemplar of both. Well done.