Manfrotto's Magic Arm is a sturdy elbow joint between two ball joints. It can position up to 6 pounds of camera or lighting gear anywhere within a half-meter radius.

Here's the most recent addition to my kit: a Manfrotto Magic Arm. It holds things in unusual positions, and it is sturdy enough to support heavy objects- up to 6 pounds- without budging. I am glad I have it.

The magic arm is a bit like a human arm: it's got a ball joint at each end and an elbow joint in the middle. It's a clever contraption. Within a half-meter reach, whatever is secured to the ends can be placed anywhere, facing any direction. Clamp one end to a table and you've got a flexible studio mount for a strobe. Or, attach a camera to a moving vehicle for perspective impossible with hand-held gear.

I have been using mine to position strobes in the field. I usually hand-hold a camera and a strobe. Since I only have two hands, though, outsourcing the strobe to the magic arm makes my life easier. It's like I grew a new appendage.

The magic arm can be bought as a kit that includes a tripod. Here, it makes an effective field light stand. A regular tripod would not work so well as the legs interfere with the plant.

Fixing a diffuse strobe above the goldenrod gave me the freedom and control to easily capture the following photograph of a tachinid fly:

A backlit tachinid fly on the fall goldenrod.

In conjunction with a regular tripod, the magic arm creates a simple field studio for macro photography. With the tripod's primary head holding the strobe & softbox diffuser, the magic arm arranges a small subject exactly where I want it:

A tripod + magic arm becomes a field studio for insects.

The above configuration, plus a hand-held camera and a slight kick from natural sunlight, yielded this shot:

A female carolina mantis poses for the photographer.

The magic arm is sturdy, flexible, and worth the modest cost. I now consider myself a well-armed photographer.