Stop fighting gravity! The Hitch Hiker provides smooth, uniform motions and precise control for fast, accurate photo composition.
About this project
Static Tripod Heads Limit Photo Composition
Are you tired of fighting the gravity flop-over battle that comes with a conventional tripod head? Are you also weary of the point-and-clamp then unclamp-adjust-pointing-reclamp routine? And what about the sticky, sloppy or high friction rotations of many conventional tripod heads? Tired of those, too? And are you frustrated by tripod heads that don’t even define left/right and up/down — correcting in one direction while creating an error in the other?
Conventional tripods heads simply are not built for rapid, precise composition of photos in a dynamic environment — especially involving up/down movements. Are you only willing to explore a flat world?
The Hitch Hiker Is a Dynamic Tripod Head.
The patent-pending Hitch Hiker is a lightweight, balanced-motion tripod head designed for people on the move — perfect for photography; birding; Nature-watching; video; and binocular astronomy. The nimble Hitch Hiker is light enough to replace standard tripod heads but enables precisely controlled, all-around rotations that normal tripod heads can’t do.
High megapixel digital cameras demand steady support for maximum resolution. But the Hitch Hiker doesn’t just provide support. It also provides control — deftly gliding along arching paths requiring simultaneous rotations in both left/right and up/down directions. The retractable guide-handle aids in tracing free-form paths, but it is the gravity-nullifying, balanced rotations that provide the key. Follow action wherever it goes with positive control. Let go and aim is maintained on-target — no clamping needed. Stay ready for the next shot. Compose photos rapidly, accurately, and easily.
A Subtle but Revealing Photo Taken During Testing
While the following photo of a Great Blue Heron taken during testing of the Hitch Hiker is not a showpiece because of the extreme distance, it does unquestionably indicate the precision and control of the Hitch Hiker by showing its ability to quickly center the bird in the frame before it could land after a chance spotting of the heron in flight. The telephoto lens was zoomed to 300 mm on a DX format Nikon D7200. Single-point auto-focusing was being used with the focus point fixed at the center of the frame. So, the heron had to be very precisely centered for the exposure to work — and the precision of the centering is clearly evident in the full frame. And the photo was snapped in single-shot mode, as well — no “shotgun” exposure burst. Also, the Great Blue was flying right-to-left while the camera was being panned left-to-right — so the direction of the pan had to be quickly reversed. And the heron was descending rapidly, which added to the complexity of centering the bird. But centering and snapping the photo was accomplished in about a second despite all of these complications. Only a tiny section of the frame is included in the inset. For this high total zoom factor, the Hitch Hiker had to be following the heron smoothly.
Better birding photos will come — but as a test of the agility and precision of the new Hitch Hiker, this photo was breathtaking!
Note: All of the photos of the Hitch Hiker shown on this project page are of one of twenty-one prototypes that have been in extensive use by various people for months. The purpose of the Kickstarter project is to place the highly developed and patent pending Hitch Hiker into regular production.
The Hitch Hiker is versatile.
Spotting scopes, large binoculars, and small telescopes also benefit from the Hitch Hiker’s smooth, balanced rotations and steady support. The CNC machined guide-handle with knurled grip is great for steering these instruments — and an optional finder bracket makes pointing to astronomical objects much easier.
The Hitch Hiker was developed with hiking in mind. Since it can be comfortably carried up a rocky, steep mountain trail it can be carried just about anywhere with ease. A perfect match for lightweight carbon-fiber tripods, put them in/on your pack or carry them over your shoulder.
Summary of Hitch Hiker Features
- Provides smooth motions and precise control for fast, accurate photo composition.
- Uniform rotations. No variations when turning up/down. No locking to hold position.
- Weighs only 2.5 pounds. Folds compactly. Versatility to be full-time tripod head.
- CNC machined aircraft-grade alloys. Anodized finish. Rigid; precise; beautiful.
- Smooth, slop-free, preloaded roller bearings.
- Lever-operated controls instantly fine-tune “feel” of axes for every situation.
- Accommodates most camera and lens systems to 7 pounds.
- Fore/aft adjustable payload platform eliminates reliance on long quick-plates.
- Retractable guide-handle provides precise motion control. Angle adjustable. Knurled grip.
- Retractable payload platform travels small but holds wide loads like binoculars.
- Fast, secure lever-operated quick-plate clamp built into payload platform.
- Shift from landscape to portrait format in seconds without disturbing balance.
- RAM-ball integrated into yoke for easy attachment of a smart-phone or GPS.
- Can aim equipment straight-up or straight-down — without gravity-induced flop.
- Engraved azimuth scale to aid in spacing panoramic photos.
- Attaches to tripod via standard 3/8-16 screw.
- Optional quick-plate with ARCA-Swiss clamping cross-section includes safety device to prevent the plate from accidentally sliding out of the clamp when used with a Hitch Hiker. (Not included.)
- Optional device for locking the quick-plate clamp when carrying instruments over a shoulder. (Not included.)
- Warranted for one year against defects in materials and workmanship. Fading and changes to the colors of anodized finishes can not be included in the warranty since such changes are highly dependent on the environment to which the device is exposed. Clear anodize will not change.
- Made in USA.
A Few Hitch Hiker Features Highlighted
Balanced rotation about the altitude (elevation) axis allows the Hitch Hiker to follow up and down motions without fighting gravity and to remain aimed on target without clamping. To accomplish this feat, the Hitch Hiker provides for shifting the payload up/down as well as fore/aft. The following diagrams explain. For visual simplicity, let’s pretend that the center of the rotating mass coincides with the center of the heavy stainless steel weight. We will ignore the masses of the saddle, payload platform, and guide-handle — all of which also contribute slightly to the rotating mass.
- Diagram 1 shows that the position of the payload (depicted by the stainless steel weight) can be shifted both fore/aft (blue arrows) by moving the payload platform and up/down (red arrows) by adjusting the saddle. The red dot is on the altitude (elevation) axis of rotation.
- Diagram 2 shows that when the payload is too far aft gravity pulls the load downward to that side. The load will flop backwards towards the operator. If the payload were too far forward, gravity would pull the load in the opposite direction — and the payload would flop forward, away from the operator.
- Diagram 3 shows that gravitational flop-over can be temporarily defeated by centering the load over the rotation axis. But this configuration is top-heavy and unstable.
- Diagrams 4 and 5 show that, like standing in a canoe, if tilted a little to one side a top-heavy load will flop to that side.
- However, Diagram 6 shows that the Hitch Hiker can adjust the load in a second direction (red arrow) so that it is centered on the axis of rotation — making it stable at any angle to which the load is rotated.
The Hitch Hiker remains balanced in portrait mode.
The Hitch Hiker’s camera rotation device was designed so that a typical DSLR camera can be rotated from landscape to portrait mode without disturbing the two-axis balancing of the load. Balance is also closely maintained for mirrorless cameras. This remarkable property is demonstrated in the following video. Note the smooth, low-resistance motions of the Hitch Hiker — both before and after camera rotation. And note that the camera stays aimed without any clamping. And also note that the camera can be aimed straight-up and straight-down.
Manufacturing: Been there; Done it.
We have long experience in manufacturing precision mounts for astronomy. The Hitch Hiker was developed from the same high-rigidity/low-weight design principles that have been effectively utilized in our astronomical mounts. And exquisite CNC machining used for manufacturing elite telescope mounts has also been applied to the Hitch Hiker. Twenty-one prototype Hitch Hikers were built using our highly evolved production techniques — establishing most of the set-ups that will form the basis of actual Hitch Hiker production.
The Hitch Hiker is fully developed and ready to go into production immediately. Prototype Hitch Hikers have been rigorously tested by multiple users in a variety of circumstances and applications. As expected, a few tweaks have been incorporated into the Hitch Hiker for production, and everything is set to go upon the completion of the Kickstarter campaign. We’re limiting the total number of units available through Kickstarter to match the scale of production we’ve done many times, insuring timely delivery using the same manufacturing system employed for the astronomical mountings.
Also, the same shop that has been machining parts for our telescope mounts and which machined the prototype Hitch Hikers will also machine the parts for production Hitch Hikers. Directed by an experienced industrial engineer who works closely with us to achieve the desired, high-end results, the shop utilizes nothing but nearly-new, state-of-the-art CNC machining and turning centers and premium tooling and fixtures.
Deliveries of Hitch Hikers to Kickstarter backers will begin in February 2017 and will be completed in April 2017. Domestic shipping of Hitch Hikers will be via USPS Priority Mail with full insurance and tracking. International shipments of Hitch Hikers will be via USPS Express Mail with full insurance and cross-border tracking.
We are sticklers for perfection! The Hitch Hiker prototypes were exceptional — and the production Hitch Hikers will be even better.
Hitch Hikers Available through Kickstarter
Clear anodize with black accent parts is the standard color scheme. Clear anodize never fades or discolors and remains cooler in direct sunlight. The regular price is $799 plus shipping. The optional black anodize version has a regular price of $829 plus shipping. Kickstarter backers making a pledge of $599 will receive the clear anodize version, including US shipping. A pledge of $629 secures the black anodize version, including US shipping.
All Hitch Hikers sent as rewards to Kickstarter backers will have special Kickstarter commemorative serial number tags.
The following timeline assumes that Hitch Hikers will be built for the maximum number of Kickstarter backers. Even with the maximum number of units we might beat this projection. However, doing quality work is our first priority.
- March 2015 — Hitch Hiker concept development launched
- November 2015 — First prototype Hitch Hiker completed
- January 2016 — Several parts replaced with revised parts and distribution of additional prototypes to multiple users
- May 2016 — New payload platform created
- June/July 2016 — Intense field testing and finalization of production design
- August 2016 — Planning for first production run and preparation for Kickstarter campaign
- September 2016 — Kickstarter campaign
- Mid October 2016 — Shop begins CNC machining of custom parts. Subassembly verification while machining in progress.
- Mid January 2017 — Part machining complete. Begin assembly phase with additional intense testing of early units.
- February 2017 — Begin shipping Hitch Hikers to Kickstarter backers.
- April 2017 — All shipments of Hitch Hikers to Kickstarter backers completed.
- Charles Riddel holds bachelors and masters degrees in mathematics, and also has taken a heavy concentration of physics courses. He has worked as an engineer for over 30 years — and has designed and manufactured telescopes and telescope mounts for 20 years. Charles has also used many optical instruments on all types of tripod heads — and began thinking about the Hitch Hiker while hiking. Charles took all of the photos and videos for the Kickstarter project while testing the Hitch Hiker.
Jake Riddel holds bachelors and masters degrees in mechanical engineering an has eight years experience engineering specialized drilling tools in the oilfield equipment industry. He has also been a part-time contributor to the design and manufacture of the astronomical telescope mounts. And he is the co-designer of the Hitch Hiker. Jake also enjoys outdoor pursuits including mountain biking and fishing. He is learning more about digital photography — and is thinking about a design for a pylon to fit in his boat to carry a Hitch Hiker and camera for photographing shoreline wildlife.
Thanks to Timothy Daniel Allen of +Timdan//Creative + Production for editing our video.
Risks and challenges
Manufacturing is a complex undertaking with many variables. But risks for the Hitch Hiker project have been reduced to an absolute minimum.
First, the Hitch Hiker’s design was evolved from the design of our astronomical mounts that have been manufactured and used for years. Moreover, prototype Hitch Hikers were produced using the same processes that will be employed for production — and the design has been extensively tested in the field. All tweaks to the design have already been fully developed.
Additionally, the manufacturing techniques employed for building the Hitch Hiker are the same as those used for building the astronomical mounts for many years. The same CNC machine shop previously used for building the astronomy mounts will now machine parts for the Hitch Hiker. Assembly methods are also the same. For the time being, the scale of manufacturing for the Hitch Hiker has been limited to be similar to the scale of our previous manufacturing efforts.
Costs for manufacturing the Hitch Hiker are well understood and where outsourced services are involved have already been negotiated.
The upcoming end of year holidays starting in late November will have some impact on the timing of the first production run — but the schedule has been adjusted to account for the holiday period.
We are ready to go.