With its 5-megapixel camera and 720p video recorder, the iPhone 4 can capture some pretty impressive-looking images--as long as you hold it perfectly still. Indeed, as any savvy photographer or videographer knows, if you want the best results, you need a tripod.
The Canopy Kapok is an iPhone 4 case with a built-in tripod mount. It also comes with a pair of shutter-control buttons and a stand. It's not a perfect product, and the impending release of iOS 5 (which will turn the iPhone's volume-down button into a shutter release) limits its overall value. But you may find it worthwhile, if only for mounting your iPhone on your favorite tripod.
The Kapok comes in a clear-plastic shell that's maddeningly difficult to open--until you realize that the thick black bottom of the shell is actually the included stand. Also, there's a finger-hole near the top where you can reach in to push the Kapok down and out.
The case is your typical matte-black two-piece, with about 5/8 of an inch extra at the bottom to accommodate the dock connector. Other than that, it's very slim and light--good all-around protection if you decide to leave your iPhone in it full time.
Also, the moment you plug your iPhone into the case, you're directed to the App Store page to download the free Canopy Camera Tools app--a nice little time-saver. More on that app in a moment.
You can use the case with the included base, which sports a mini-ball tripod, or any standard tripod. I like the base, though it's not terribly versatile: it's designed solely to sit on a flat surface and affords a limited range of movement.
The case sports two shutter-control buttons, the functions of which aren't immediately clear. Nor are they explained anywhere--not in the app, not in the included instruction manual, and not on Canopy's Web site (which does have some instructional videos, just none of them focusing on the buttons).
When used with the Canopy Camera Tools app, the left button locks the exposure and white-balance settings (or snaps a still photo during video recording), while the right one focuses and fires the shutter. These latter actions require a half-press and full-press, just like on many real cameras.
Canopy has released Kapok APIs to developers so that other camera apps can be made to work with it. For the moment, however, it's Camera Tools or nothing; the case doesn't work with Apple's stock Camera app.
Fortunately, Camera Tools is quite capable, offering such advanced features as separate focus and exposure points, time-delay shooting, and interval recording. What's missing is any kind of HDR option, which I've found can really help in light-challenged settings. (Tip: You can use the app even if you don't buy the Kapok.)
At $69.95, the Canopy Kapok isn't cheap, but it seems reasonable for what you get. Indeed, if you really want to maximize your iPhone's value as a camera and/or camcorder, this gives you the key ingredient: tripod support. (That said, there are much more affordable options available, like the $20 Glif and $39.95 Joby Gorillapod. And once iOS 5 arrives, you'll get a "free" shutter-release button to boot.)