There was a time when monopods were not as common as tripods but lately I have been seeing them all around. What started off as a portable option to tripods has now become one of the most useful supports available for cameras. Monopods as the name says are the camera supports that usually have just one leg.
Advantages with Monopods
- The obvious fact is that these are very light and portable. The reduction in mass compared to a tripod, due to the absence of two legs, is significant. The monopods are therefore light and easy to carry around.
- Setting up a monopod takes very little time. Fewer legs to extend!
- On long walks, a monopod can double up as a walking stick. With a good spike and a foam grip, these do help in difficult treks.
- Monopods cost less than a tripod (usually but not always).
- For wildlife and macro photography, monopods prove to be more useful than tripods. Yes, they do! The reason is the ease in changing the direction where the lens points. Just turn it around or tilt it as needed.
- When it comes to street photography, once again monopods are less conspicuous than tripods, easier to set up, and due to small foot-print, very comfortable to use in crowded locations.
Choosing a monopod
- First and foremost, unlike tripods, monopods can support a higher weight than what they are made for. To find out the total weight of your camera and the heaviest lens that you plan to use, add to it the monopod head’s weight and this is the rough value that you should be looking at while buying a monopod. My rule of thumb is to always have a spare weight when you calculate for a tripod but with monopods, calculate the weight and go for something that falls near about that range.
- Do not choose monopods that have the option to open up at the far end like a tripod. These are unstable and not very comfortable to use. If you are going for a monopod, understand that it is a monopod and so buy the ones that are with a single leg. Go for a tripod if that is what you require (Buying a Tripod). The hybrids are neither monopods nor tripods, and are a pain to work with.
- For heads, either choose a ball-head or a trigger/joystick based head. These permit operating the head with a single hand. Under no circumstances should a tilt-pan kind of head be used with a monopod. It is very impractical. Gimbal is another good option for mounting on a monopod if you are into wildlife/birds.
- Select the head that has a similar quick release system as any other head that you own. It makes sense if you consider the quick release plates can be interchanged or left mounted on the lens forever.
- For the foot end, a spike is better than rubber mount, especially in the wild. However, if there is an option for both, go for that. Some good monopods have a spike and turning the rubber knob hides the spike and converts into a rubber foot end. These are the most convenient.
Using a monopod properly
There are a lot of guides and confusions related to monopod use. The most common misconception that is going around is to use the monopod at an angle so that the foot supports the lower end of the tripod. I am sure that the person who initially came up with this was just another armchair photographer who never actually used a monopod. The best way to hold the monopod is to hold it vertical. It is basic physics. The monopod feels the lightest when it is held straight up and it is also the most stable. Regardless of what people say, try using it straight and feel the difference.
When using it on ground, press the spike down a little. This provides further stability to the monopod.
If you want to use your foot for support, instead of tilting the monopod to do so, move your foot forward and support the monopod using it from one side.
Some monopods have a small ribbon attached at the top end. By inserting the hand through this, the ribbon essentially safeguards the monopod from falling. On letting the hand rest on it while holding the monopod tends to provide further stability (see the photograph above). There’s no need to press on it further. Doing so will just tire out your hand.
Use the optical viewfinder of the camera where possible. Pressing the face lightly against the camera provides further stability to the monopod.
Combine some of the tricks given on this page with monopod use – Camera Shake – How to avoid it?
(Goose captured with a Nikon D200 and Sigma 105mm lens at f/5.6 and 1/125 sec shutter-speed, mounted on a Manfrotto 680B monopod)
I use a Manfrotto 680B monopod with a Manfrotto 496RC2 ball head. This monopod folds down to a small size and is quite comfortable to use. It does not have a spike but the rubber end also works fine.
If you are looking for a tripod, do read this article – Buying a Tripod