GPN Media's Scrambler UL Modular Trekking Tripod
As always, we're looking at the GPN Media Scrambler from the point of view of long distance trekking over tough terrain (please note our disclaimer below).
Test item: Scrambler (with Highlights Lever Ball Head and Novoflex Micropod Base)
Kit Tests: Winter, Summer
Disclaimer: Scramble commissioned this product (thus its name) and was heavily involved in both testing and design feedback. So, we'd better like it and we do, but obviously this will bias our review. With that said, we're going to attempt to review it as we would any other product. Afterall, we only review products we like anyway.
|Component Materials: CNC Machined Aluminium Alloy
|Height (Upright with the Novoflex Micropod)
|Weight (pack) - Column Section (Column, Ball Head, Quick Release Clamp)
|Weight (belt bag) - Legs (Micropod Base + 4th Leg Component)
|Manufacturer RRP (depends on component choices) / incl. Micropod
|~ £80.00 / £110.00
|Outlet (SYSTEM / Novoflex)
|Arca Swiss compatible camera quick release
|Camera Quick Release
|Lightweight mini ball head with panning base
|Tripod column with ball head mount and base quick release
|Modular stabilising leg for uneven, steep or rocky terrain
|The 50g Novoflex Micropod is the ideal base for the Scrambler
|Tripod Base (Novoflex)
- Small Bodies: Ideal Cameras for the Scrambler
- The Scrambler In Action
- Waiting For The Model
- The Dreaded Selfie
- Trad Mode
- Any Negatives?
- Conclusion, Rating & Product Images
Introduction: Made For Me
Very simply, the Scrambler is for people like me - those engaged in long distance solo trekking that are required and/or want to take reasonably professional images on awkward terrain, in often less than ideal conditions. It's for people who are likely to be shooting in RAW format with cameras that have sensors of 1" or greater. It's for those who are trekkers, climbers and mountaineers first, and photographers / videographers second.
It is not designed for "serious landscape photographers who may be out for a day or two and are not likely to be climbing over exposed ridges and sliding across treacherous scree fields". These types can often afford to carry a few extra kilos of camera gear; people who are already carrying two weeks of food supplies probably can't. As GPN put it, "the last thing this group of scramblers, climbers and long distance trekkers want is an 800g+ tripod strapped to their packs". Correct.
The Scrambler is a modular, component-based, mini tripod that breaks down into three main parts: the column, the base and the fourth leg (or as our utilitarian friends at GPN Media named it, "leg #4"). This is very useful, as it means the added (pack) weight felt on the shoulders is just 166g. That's about 20g more than the cheap flexi tripods I learned to hate.
Pictured below is the Scrambler attached to the Crux AX50 during the 2023 Winter Kit Test (left, #1) and to the Blue Ice Warthog (right, #2) during the recent Summer Kit Test.
Ditching the Flex
With legs made from soft, malleable aluminium rods sheathed in rubber or neoprene drainpipes with cheap plastic ball heads and accident prone quick release elements; these bendy yet highly breakable monstrosities were the inspiration behind the Scrambler.
I talked to GPN Media, venting my frustrations, outlining something I thought must be out there, but couldn't find. GPN sum up the conversation quite well:
A couple of years back Scramble (whose editor had clearly tired of his flexible foam and plastic, not-so-fantastic tripods failing in every conceivable way) asked us to come up with an all-metal tripod with the following spec:
- tough and durable enough to survive extreme outdoor use
- modular and packable (be able to be quickly assembled, stripped down and packed away)
- every part must be able to be replaced should any component fail (a genuinely green product)
- enable the camera to shoot from at least 30cm above the ground
- be able to handle steep, uneven terrain
- have a secure arca swiss compatible clamp
- have a simple yet functional, single-lock ball head that will work with high quality 1-inch sensor cameras like Sony's RX0s and RX100s and smaller bodied MFT cameras like Panasonic's GM1, GM5, GX1, GX850s and the lighter bodied Olympus Pen cameras.
- and finally, ... it mustn't weigh more than 200g !
I was probably pushing it on the last point, but if you don't ask, you don't get. The final all-in weight of my Scrambler is 278g (incl. carabiner clip). But as I said, the total "on the shoulder" weight is just 166g. I store the Leg #4 in my camera bag (Lowepro Apex AW100), and the Novoflex Micropod packs away into my Machine Belt Bag.
Well, it turned out that there wasn't such a product on the market (the more serious flex tripods with proper ball head mounts all weigh in excess of 300g) and realising this would likely be a niche product, GPN Media took it upon themselves to see it they could at least get close to what I was after. After much testing, over a number of years, and a great deal of back and forth, we ended up with the Scrambler.
GPN Media were so pleased with it (they use them too), that they decided to release it as a modular kit so people can simply buy the components they need. All the components have standard camera fittings (mainly 1/4"-20) and so it's likely a photographer will have existing components they can already use to build their own versions.
One of the things that pleases me most about the finished product is knowing if any element breaks (none have yet) I can simply pick up a replacement part. This is what genuine green tech looks like - you don't need to recycle that which isn't disposable.
So, with that lengthy preamble out of the way, we'll briefly mention a few cameras that pair well with the Scrambler before looking at it in action.
Small Bodies (Ideal Cameras for the Scrambler)
The Scrambler is really designed for small bodied compact system cameras (GPN recommend a camera and lens combined weight of no more than 500g). I find the Micro Four Thirds camera system to be ideal for shooting high quality RAW images (with cropping and post-production) for the web. Sadly, the MFT alliance of Olympus and Panasonic have increasingly focused on large, video-centric bodies, but anyone who's handled a GM1 knows just how small these cameras can be without sacrificing image quality. Cameras like the Panasonic GX850 would make a great pairing for the Scrambler, as would the (1" sensor) Sony RX100s (240g) and of course the Sony RXO (110g, 200g in a cage) which features in this review. Personally, my favourite camera is the Panasonic GX1, it's a fantastic camera and even though it's over 10 years since it was first released, the 16 megapixel GX1 strikes a perfect balance between robustness, ergonomics, functionality and size.
The GX1 (318g) with the Panasonic 12-32mm zoom (24mm to 64mm full frame equivalent, 70g) pictured below comes in at 388g and personally I wouldn't want to go too much heavier.
The Scrambler In Action
Here we can see the Scrambler in what I call "dog mode" or what GPN call "lean-to mode". Making use of the 4th leg creates a very stable base and I reckon around 70% of the time, this is how I use the Scrambler.
Aside from the quality components used throughout (such as the Selens and SmallRig Quick Releases and the Ball Head options). There are three major elements that make the Scrambler somewhat innovative and are key to how it performs:
- Leg #4: The idea of adding a fourth leg came about when I reported that I'd like to be able to just lean the tripod onto and into stuff. GPN then came up with the idea of using a cold shoe mount to slot in an additional leg with a tripod spike.
- Micropod: The design of the Novoflex Micropod is a perfect match, as the legs are not hinged and instead are ultralight aluminium alloy poles (much like mini tent poles) that slot into the base. In the base, there are three holes at an angle for when the tripod is deployed and three holes for when it is stored away (or used as a selfie-stick). This lack of any hinge means the legs don't yield or collapse when the tripod legs are at strange angles.
- Dual Cube Mount Adapter: The last item is the dual cube mount, which adds some height but more importantly allows for a range of mounting options (including attaching the 4th leg component).
This combination of four stiff legs gives the "tripod" a broad range of stable options on uneven ground and the dual cube mount allows the ball head to be re-mounted perpendicular to the column. This is useful for when the tripod is practically horizontal and the camera (being top heavy) would otherwise over-balance and tip the tripod legs skyward.
Below, you can see the ball head runs parallel to the 4th leg, creating a stable base for the RXO. Pictured right (#2), you can see the green line showing where the ball head would normally be attached.
A Quick Note on the Sony RX0 (pictured above)
One of the best purchases I ever made was the tiny (~ 6 x 4 x 3cm) Sony RXO, with its 1" sensor and 24mm fixed aperture f/4 Zeiss lens (the only camera I've bought new). I was always frustrated that when the conditions were at their most horrendous, I couldn't capture and convey the horror. I wanted a point and shoot camera that could survive such conditions. The Sony RXO is fully waterproof down to 10m (without any additional housing) and is shockproof to 2m and crush-proof up to 400lb (and that's without a cage). Additionally, I use SmallRig's RX0 camera cage which has a screw thread so I can attach a wide-angle lens hood. It's also handy having a spare tiny camera when you need to photograph your camera.
Waiting For The Model
Unlike some outdoor review sites, at Scramble, the photographer is also the model. Here's the Scrambler setup for a quick "photo shoot" in the Rhinogs during the last Summer Kit Test.
Focused on the mini pyramid, all I have to do is take 10 seconds to get to the rock and just ... you know ... "be natural" and "make love to the camera" and stuff like that. The resulting masterpiece is pictured below (pic.#2), modelling Rab's excellent Borealis Tour jacket.
What this does show is that the tripod is pretty stable; there was no clever post-production magic required to stitch these images together, Instead, I was able to simply paste one image over the other and eveything aligned perfectly.
The Dreaded Selfie
Often I need to photograph headwear. The scrambler combined with a decent wide angle lens (here at 24mm FF equivalent) will get you selfies that cover you from about the navel up with some headroom to spare. Here you can see the legs of the Micropod are in their storage / selfie-stick configuration.
With my arm fully extended (as pictured above), the camera is approximately 85cm away from my face. I set the auto-focus to tracking and the timer to 2 seconds and snap away until I have a usable result. Not a huge fan of the selfie process, but it has its place.
The Scrambler is essentially a re-imagined mini lightweight (desk) tripod. Occasionally in the outdoors you'll get a reasonably flat surface and here the Scrambler can act as a regular upright tripod (pic #1 below). The tripod stands 29cm from the ground and the actual shooting height (depending on camera) is around 35cm. Of course, there's nothing stopping the user picking up a spare column rod component to gain an additional 10cm of height at the cost of £7.90 and 21g.
The tripod's 4th leg works well on turf and can be rammed into soil to anchor the tripod on quite steep slopes. Pictured above (centre, #2) the Scrambler is shooting me simulating my climb toward a steep gully. I'm pretty sure the way it will end for me is taking stupid risks to get a "glamour" shot of me doing what I'm doing all the time anyway, but in my own time and not within a 10 second window. In this case, however, those pointy rocks seemed worth it.
There's a couple of niggles that seem largely unavoidable with the Scrambler's modular design:
- Compared to the cheap and nasty flex tripods the Scrambler takes a bit (but only a bit) longer to set up. You've got to remove the legs from their slots and insert them into their angled slots. The SmallRig quick release allows for a quick connection of the base to the column, but again it's an action (no matter how quick) that needs to be completed. The 4th leg is very quick to attach and isn't always required, but if it is, it's another quick step that needs to be completed.
- Because everything screws into everything else, it's worth quickly checking that everything is tightly screwed together. However, this is the sort of check that becomes habitual and you don't really notice.
They're the main niggles I have with the Scrambler, a little more time to set up, but once you've got it planted, the adjustments via the ball head and the overall stability make it a joy to use and I've been very pleased with the results both for selfies, modelling setups and also for low light photography, which I might append to this review at some point as we're testing a torch this upcoming Winter Kit Test.
Conclusion & Rating
GPN Media sum up the Scrambler very nicely:
The Scrambler Ultralight Modular Tripod is an all metal, ultralight yet highly durable modular tripod kit for extreme outdoor pursuits; a quick release, column and ball head for the Novoflex Micropod and other lightweight mini tripod bases.
The Scrambler's dual cube mount, optional 4th leg stabilising component in combination with the Novoflex Micropod make for a rather unique and capable tripod for trekkers, climbers and even mountaineers. Easily attaching to the outside of most packs and adding just 166g to ones "on-the-shoulder" pack weight, it's competitive with even the cheap flexi-tripods. The base and 4th leg components are very quick to attach and release yet provide a secure and reliable connection when attached. The base (tripod legs) and the 4th leg have a combined weight of 122g and are small enough to fit in belt, camera or bum bags and jacket pockets.
The Scrambler is a genuinely green product. GPN Media purposefully designed the Scrambler around a series of high quality "building-block" components from well-established photo-video brands such as SmallRig, Minifocus, Selens, Camvate, Highlights and others. This modular, component approach means, unlike the disposable cheap flexi-tripods, the Scrambler has longevity built-in. Should any component break or get lost, you can always simply replace the part you need.
I'm extremely pleased with the Scrambler and very grateful to GPN Media for taking on a project that wasn't easy by any means. I know they did a ton of research and spend a ridiculous amount of time dealing with suppliers to get exactly the parts they needed. It took over two years to get it to its final form and between their hard work and our thorough testing I believe we've come up with a pretty handy tool for a very niche segment. So, for those that need to take high quality images on awkward terrain, in demanding conditions, the Scrambler Ultralight Modular Tripod is our top pick in the Ultralight Trekking Tripod category.
Rating (out of 10)
* The value score is derived from two factors:
1) Competitive Market Price (CMP). This represents our judgement of a competitive online price point if we were to stock the item. e.g. if we feel we would need to sell an item at 40% off (i.e. 60% of its full RRP) to be competitive, then our CMP score will be 6/10.
2) Customer Value Price (CVP). We then make an honest appraisal of the maximum price we would be willing to pay for the item (and we're mean). So if we'd pay 80% of its RRP our CVP score would be 8/10.
We then average the two scores to get our final value score, which in our example would be 7/10.
Last Updated: 13/12/23