28 December, 2017 by Piotr Mitros

Sudden failure of Joby GorillaPods, Revisited

This article is a follow-up to Sudden Failure of Joby GorillaPod Original which was published in 2016, an article I chanced upon when investigating how my own tripod broke.

I have a small collection of cheap Joby GorillaPods. I use them to show how effective educational videos can be made with just a modern cell phone and fewer than $30 in parts. But I digress. While working with my students in the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan, one of my GorillaPods failed. The head popped off (fortunately, it was about an inch off the ground, so no cameras were damaged). Looking closely, there was a hairline crack on the head:

Close-up of GorillaPod with lock ring removed

I contacted Joby to find out if I could get a replacement part for just the head. Joby told me replacement parts were not available and offered a warranty replacement for a receipt. I generally don't keep receipts and in either case I think it might be out of the warranty period at this point; not worth investigating whether a likely old receipt can be found for twenty bucks.

Searching on the web, I found others have seen the exact same failure, in the exact same spot, sometimes with broken cameras.

Curious! Are many GorillaPods failing?

Looking at the head more closely, I noticed the failure point lines up exactly with the edge of the thicker part of the lock ring when in a locked position which seemed odd to me...

Close-up of GorillaPod with lock ring removed

Even more curious. I removed the lock ring and popped the GorillaPod under my microscope:

Close-up of GorillaPod with lock ring removed

Here, we saw the cause of failure. The way the lock ring lines up was a red herring. It was now obvious where the failure came from: About 0.025 inches from where the failure occurred, there was a ridge in the plastic, presumably an issue with Joby's manufacturing process. I'm not quite sure where this ridge came from; this part was clearly injection-molded, and this was nowhere close to where the mold came together. Perhaps something related to how the groove above was made (which is used as a limit stop for the lock ring)? Perhaps when the injection mold was removed, some plastic dripped down or something? I'm really not sure.

In either case, my tripod was under no stress when it failed (or at any point before), and it was pretty gently used. Many GorillaPods have apparently been failing and damaging cameras for years due to this failure, with no notice or recall.

I have a small pile of GorillaPods at home. I was wondering if they were all camera death traps, so I took the lockring off of a working one (better no lockring than broken camera later!):

A working GorillaPod for comparison

And it looked fine! So it was probably a bad manufacturing run. Only some fraction of GorillaPods will spontanously fail and break cameras. How many? I reached out to Joby. I'll see what they respond with.

Test your own!

If you'd like to test your own GorillaPod, the lockring appears to be made as a C-clip, with a little notch opposite the lock side. Put a thin knife in there (scalpel or X-Acto or similar), and pry it open. The glue breaks easily. You can then take it off and look to see if you have a tripod from a good run or a bad run. Just keep in mind you'll probably never get the lock ring back on -- household glues (like superglue) won't hold the clip together when you turn it. My guess is you'd need some kind of tough UV cure glue. Even then, you probably won't be able to get it together without gluing the lockring in place.... As for me, I glued mine in place, unlocked, just for aesthetics.

Parting thoughts

The same group which makes the Joby GorillaPod also makes Manfrotto, Lowepro, Gitzo, Lastolite, Colorami, and Avenger products. Part of why I sometimes pay the premium for name-brand products is to avoid failures like this one or to get recalls if there is a design defect or bad manufacturing run... As can be seen here, higher price and recognized brand doesn't mean better reliability. These things never should have passed QA. Be careful out there!