Camera Pistol Grip

Camera Pistol Grip
Camera Pistol Grip

What is a camera pistol grip?

A camera pistol grip is an anatomical handle that attaches to the base of a camera, allowing you to hold and point the camera much like a pistol. This improves handling and stability in certain situations, thus expanding your shooting capabilities. Most pistol grips attach to the camera using the standard 1/4″ or 3/8″ tripod screw socket, so the accessory is fairly universal in terms of camera compatibility.

More advanced models offer a built-in shutter release trigger, further increasing the resemblence between shooting a gun and a camera, albeit with much less danger involved. This, however, requires a bit more in terms of compatibility between camera and grip. If you require a camera pistol grip with a shutter release trigger, do keep in mind that different cameras require different remote shutter connectors, while others support none at all.

GoPro Hero 6 with a floating pistol grip handle attached
GoPro Hero 6 with a floating pistol grip handle attached / photo by Jakob Owens

What is a camera pistol grip used for?

A pistol grip is a versatile accessory that can be useful in many different setups. It’s key application is to improve handling on small, less ergonomical cameras. Therefore, compacts, mirrorless rigs and action cameras benefit the most from the added stability. Dedicated action camera pistol grips have a side benefit of adding buoyancy to the small cameras, making them both easier to use and harder to lose. Furthermore, underwater housings for smaller cameras are also commonly equipped with pistol grips, as the added handle greatly improves handling underwater.

Pistol grips are particularly popular among DSLR and mirrorless camera video shooters, as the additional handle makes for more comfortable hand position and, consequently, smoother shooting. A DSLR with a pistol grip and an LCD viewfinder resembles a vintage 8 or 16mm camera in shape and ergonomics. Many still shooters also prefer the handling of a pistol grip, especially with a smaller camera.

A pistol grip is also instumental if you want to be using your compact mirrorless camera as a cinematography director’s viewfinder. In fact, Sigma offer a dedicated LCD viewfinder, which together with a suitable pistol grip transforms their fp camera into a fully featured director’s viewfinder.

Sigma fp with a pistol grip in a director's viewfinder configuration
Sigma fp with a short pistol grip in a director’s viewfinder configuration

How is a camera pistol grip used?

Using a camera pistol grip is fairly intuitive and straightforward. In essence, you simply secure the grip to the bottom of your camera and off you go. Most popular models come equipped with a 1/4″ screw with a thumbwheel to enable you to easily screw it to the bottom of the camera. If the handle is anatomically formed to provide a comfortable grip, make sure to orient it correctly before tightening the screw.

There are also cylindrical, bike handlebar type models, for which installation orientation does not matter. This type of pistol grip usually come with a fixed screw, and you need to turn the whole handle to attach or remove it from a camera. While simpler and sturdier, these grips are a little less comfortable than their ergonomically shaped brethen.

More advanced pistol grip models may come with a quick-release system in place to provide speedier attachment and removal. If yours does not, but you want this functionality, you can always place a quick release clamp onto the pistol grip and a matching plate on the camera. What’s more, this gives you the opportunity to make your pistol grip compatible with your tripod head’s quick release interface, so that you don’t have to swap plates when switching between the two. For example, if your tripod head(s) use an Arca Swiss standard clamp, adding one to your pistol grip will streamline your workflow.

If your pistol grip comes with a shutter release trigger, you will need to electronically connect it to the camera in order for it to work. Most such grips come bundled with the correct cables, provided you’ve selected the right model when purchasing. Usually, the cable connects to the grip using a 2.5mm jack, while the other end has to match the camera’s remote shutter release port.

Connecting the grip to the camera is a simple matter of pluging in the cable into grip and the camera. Once connected, the trigger should function as a reguar remote shutter release, no further setting should be necessary. On most cameras, the trigger will work both for stills and video start/stop (provided the camera has such funcionality).

Sony A6500 mirrorless camera in a AquaTech underwater housing with a pistol grip on the bottom
Sony A6500 mirrorless camera in a AquaTech underwater housing with a pistol grip on the bottom / Photo by Oliver Sjöström

Do you need a pistol grip?

A pistol grip can prove a valuable addition to your kit in many situations. If you often shoot video with a compact camera, a mirrorless or a DSLR, the change in handling a pistol grip can provide will be a welcome improvement. Furthermore, if you often shoot in challenging conditions, or find yourself needing steady footage with just one hand, a pistol grip may be just the ticket.

As discussed above, a pistol grip handle is a key action camera accessory for handheld shooting. Due to the tiny dimensions of these cameras, an extra handle will greatly improve handling and stability. In addition, most of these action camera pistol grips provide flotation aid for the cameras, greatly reducing the risk of seeing you precious little camera sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

Impaired dexterity, either due to injury or a condition like arthritis, may be another reason to consider this accessory. The large, comfortable grip will greatly aid camera handling in such circumstances, especially with a smaller camera.

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