Smartphones continue to improve in the quality of images they can take, but one could argue the ergonomics have either stagnated or gotten worse over that time. That’s where the ShiftCam ProGrip comes in.
It’s not like there haven’t been grips for phones before. LG was perhaps the most ambitious back in 2016 when it took a modular approach with the G5, and one of the attachments was a grip. That concept never took off, but the idea behind it never died, either, and ShiftCam is trying its own hand at being ambitious.
The ProGrip doesn’t discriminate by platform — iOS and Android users are on mostly equal footing. Contrasts are actually in areas that might surprise you, and the value proposition here doesn’t always have to include your hands.
Design and Build
People generally capture their images in portrait or landscape mode, and that’s why the ProGrip’s clamp system tilts the way it does. It’s not mechanical like a motorized gimbal, so you do have to manually rotate it how you want. In so doing, it has a satisfying click to confirm you did it right, and the orientation is always clockwise to go to portrait, and counter-clockwise to go landscape.
It’s pretty clear ShiftCam took a strategic approach by setting the clamp roughly three inches wide, putting it in line with a host of phones coming out over several years now. Not every phone fits in those dimensions, primarily because certain handsets are too small or slippery. I noticed this right away when trying to shoot with the iPhone 13 Pro. It was unusable without a case, though there is a solution in the box with the ProGrip itself: two silicone strips, when you place them along the two sides of the clamps, create a buffer to hold smaller phones in place. They lock in through perforated holes on the clamps, helping secure everything in.
You may not need to use them at all if you have a case that provides just enough thickness. That’s how it was with the iPhone 13 Pro, but not the 13 Mini, which needed the strips even with a case on. Little rubber stoppers are also thrown in for screens with curved edges that might slip out of the clamp. The clamp’s maximum range is 3.54-inches, which is just enough to accommodate big phones, like the iPhone 13 Pro Max, Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, and Vivo X80 Pro, among others. The spring mechanism isn’t especially flexible, but I didn’t have a hard time getting a phone in and out of the clamp, including if it was in a case.
The grip has a physical shutter button that connects to the phone via Bluetooth. Click it, and you take a still photo on an iPhone or Android phone. Hold it down and you start recording video on an iPhone, while you shoot a burst on an Android device. I couldn’t find any way to change or adjust those settings.
The other side of the grip has an LED array to indicate pairing status and battery life. One of the cool things ShiftCam was able to integrate was a Qi wireless charger into the clamp to bring juice to the phone whilst using the ProGrip to capture whatever you want. The charging pad itself isn’t hard to align with the coils in the back of compatible phones. If, however, your phone doesn’t have wireless charging, you could plug in using a cable out of the USB-C port at the bottom.
The setup largely depends on what ProGrip you actually have. No, there aren’t two variants, apart from the ash and charcoal color schemes, but there are two ways to get the product. The ProGrip comes on its own for $100, or you can pay $150 to get the Starter Kit, which also gives you a nice protective case, hand strap, cold shoe mount, and an adapter for hot shoe mounts. I got to test out the Starter Kit and see how much the extra pieces make a difference. My one gripe about the case is that it only fits the ProGrip itself. It does make room for the hand strap, but attach the cold shoe or hot shoe adapter, and it won’t close. You have to remove them first to close the case.
Pairing the ProGrip is easy out of the box, but to do it again, just hold down the Bluetooth reset button and click the shutter to put it back in pairing mode. The wireless charger also has its own on/off button.
The additional pieces in the kit do lend themselves to some pretty sophisticated setups. No doubt part of it is an upsell from ShiftCam for you to go in on its lenses and accessories to beef up the gear, but you can use whatever you have. I used a case and lens from Moment with a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, while also trying different LED lights on the cold shoe. The bottom of the grip includes a standard screw mount to attach it to tripods, monopods, or sticks. None of it was particularly hard to do. My only concern was that the cold shoe mount could sometimes get a little loose, but nothing bad happened during my testing.
Out in the Field
I would say the ProGrip has a greater impact when shooting video than it does for stills in most circumstances. One of the pervasive issues with capturing video handheld on a phone is that software often has to compensate for jitters and shakiness in hands. Hence, phone makers find ways to offset that, be it by using the ultra-wide lens more, or software to help stabilize the footage.
The ProGrip is more of a low-tech way of tackling that because it adds good old stability through its design. The hand strap proved very useful for securing my grip, especially if I was trying to shoot at high, low, or obscure and difficult angles to get the best vantage point. The ProGrip doesn’t care what mode you use on the phone. Just apply the settings, exposure, etc., and click the shutter to snap the photo. I found this worked well in low-light and Pro mode situations, simply because the sturdiness allowed for a steadier view.
I imagine vloggers would take to all that pretty quickly. Phones often force compromises on how and when to shoot, and especially in landscape, that’s usually a two-handed affair. The ProGrip changes that a whole lot. Even if I were to mount it onto a small tripod, I could just grab the phone from the grip with the tripod still attached to take a quick shot — something more ergonomically difficult without the grip.
Other Use Cases
ShiftCam presents the ProGrip as something of a desktop stand, and was right to do so. Placing a phone in either orientation proved useful while working or watching something on it hands-free. Video calls were easier, as were phone calls using the speaker. The only catch is that it’s a fixed angle, so if you’re too high or too low for it, you have to improvise.
I loved placing it on a flat surface to take long exposure shots. The only problem is the fixed angle, meaning it’s not possible to change its trajectory. If I wanted to capture something from a majestic perspective, I’d have to find a way to do that, or just use a tripod, if I had one handy. Same with a steeper bird’s eye view.
One thing I will say about the 6400mAh battery is that it’s super convenient to have. It did sometimes have a weird tendency to start wirelessly charging a phone, only to stop a few minutes later, but ultimately, it worked fine. The battery also has pass-through capability, so if you plug in to charge the ProGrip with a phone in place, the grip will charge the phone at the same time.
All About the Grip
Of all the phone camera grips I’ve come across, this was one of the more functional and elegant. It just works, which is really what you want from a camera grip anyway. While it would be nice to have other buttons for certain functions, I realized later that might have complicated things, notably for straddling the line between iOS and Android devices.
The Starter Kit is worth the extra money because the pieces that come with it make a real difference in how you gear up. Whether it’s a light or microphone, a tripod or external lens, the ProGrip does offer greater flexibility when you have the pieces in place.
Are There Alternatives?
There are plenty others out there, like the Pictar Pro with its retro styling and ability to both focus and zoom using the onboard physical buttons. It even has a detachable viewfinder, as well as a dedicated app to shoot in various modes, including full manual and RAW. ShiftCam is actually releasing a newer grip it’s calling the SnapGrip, which has a Kickstarter campaign before there’s any retail availability. It focuses more on content creation than pro photography, and clearly has a lifestyle vibe through the various color options.
The Joby GorillaPod Mobile Rig isn’t a grip unto itself, but it does incorporate a tripod with two arms to attach accessories for a full-on smartphone rig.
Should You Buy It?
Yes, if you feel like your mobile photography game could use the assist. The ProGrip really changes how you capture both still photos and video because of the steadier ergonomics it gives you. At $150 for the Starter Kit, it’s also priced well relative to the alternatives.