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Are Monopods Still Useful?

Discussion in 'Accessories' started by Lcrunyon, Jul 18, 2015.

  1. Lcrunyon

    Lcrunyon Mu-43 Top Veteran

    758
    Jun 4, 2014
    Maryland
    Loren
    I'm trying to decide whether a monopod would be a useful thing to have. I did a search of monopod threads, and didn't find any recent ones that discussed if they are all that useful anymore (though several on which ones to choose). So, I thought I'd ask anew...

    While I suppose it could be useful for wildlife photography (which would be my primary use), I've not bought one for three reasons. First, I didn't have any lenses too big to use hand-held. Second, I've been dubious that I would find it all that useful, occupying a small situational niche between my tripod and IBIS. I love my tripod, and don't mind using it for when extra stabilization is needed or for travel shots of my wife and I. I've even carried it around with the camera attached, like some long civil war musket on my shoulder, for expedience. In most situations, I've felt I can rely on IBIS. Lastly, the few times I have used a monopod (primarily bird photography, and quite a while ago) I found it a nuisance - mainly because I was often having to aim up and ended up lifting the camera, monopod and all.

    But, more recent situations are causing me to reconsider. The Canon lens/tc combination I bought this year almost reaches 900mm equivalence, and maybe super telephoto reach should factor more, even though I can handle the weight? Secondly, my wife has developed a wrist problem and shooting (not holding) a camera seems to aggravate it. I'm not sure, but maybe a monopod would make it easier for her (won't know til we try it). Lastly, birds aren't the only wildlife I want to shoot. I'd love to shoot more land animals, I haven't tried a monopod for macro, and there is the occasional garden or dark building that doesn't allow tripods...

    So, my question is, do you all think that if I don't mind carrying my tripod if need be, and with IBIS being so good, is there a big enough space in between for a monopod to be useful anymore? My wife may or (more likely) may not like lugging one around, so even though she is a factor, I can't make the decision based on her wrist problem alone.
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2015
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  2. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jun 26, 2013
    Andrew Lossing
    I think they're dumb. They correct for one type of movement but possibly introduce a lot of the other types, since they are pushing the camera further out than your center of balance. I do, however, bow to anyone who's been able to make them work well for them!
     
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  3. tkbslc

    tkbslc Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    I think they are typically used for larger setups where you want some help propping up the camera for long shooting sessions, but you don't want to be tied down in one spot like a tripod. For any of the current m4/3 lenses, I can't see it being too beneficial. Maybe for some big adapted stuff.

    Here's the typical use case, they are nice for panning, too.
    sports-photographers-with-monopods. pros-cons-monopod.
     
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  4. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    Ken
    While I have not used one with my m4/3rd's gear because I do not have long lenses, I used one heavily when I shot college football and concerts, and still use one when birding and not using a tripod. A monopod really works best with a lens that is collared and has a foot since this balances the weight more or less (depending on the lens/body/plate combination). You really begin to appreciate having a monopod if you are going to be shooting for an extended period of time (especially sports). But, if you tire easily, or need a bit of extra support, a monopod can help if the subject matter allows you to use one. The great thing about monopods is that good stable ones are not that expensive unless you want one that is very compact and light weight. Can you rent one for a weekend to try it out?

    --Ken
     
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  5. felipegeek

    felipegeek Mu-43 Enthusiast

    113
    Jan 8, 2014
    Miami, FL
    Felipe
    @Lcrunyon@Lcrunyon

    I have two. A big, thick Bogen I was given sometime ago but I've not put to use due to being big and thick. I have a small Manfrotto monopod I bought at Best Buy many months ago for about $24 (MMCOMPACT-BK). It's compact and easy to strap onto a bag and seems sturdy enough especially is left shorter to shoot while kneeling or sitting. I've used it in lower light shots and when playing around with larger adapted lenses. I'd like to get a small ball-head for it to be able to use it at different angles without having to lean the monopod itself.
     
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  6. faithblinded

    faithblinded Mu-43 Top Veteran

    929
    Nov 25, 2014
    Cleveland, OH
    Ken
    I love my monopod. Primarily for wildlife. It's much lighter than the tripod, and off my shoulder and ready to shoot much faster than a tripod. I also use it at jazz fest, where 8 hours of holding up super telephoto lenses will make even lightweight kit shaky by the end of the day. It was essential this year for my 300/2.8. Tripods aren't allowed at jazz fest, so a monopod is the only solution besides hand held.
    I will add that I was only somewhat convinced of the monopods usefulness for me, until I put the jobu jr gimbal on top of it. The combo is really an easy to handle and lightweight support kit for my ZD300. My monopod is carbon fiber.
     
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  7. tyrphoto

    tyrphoto Mu-43 All-Pro

    May 25, 2014
    Seoul | NYC
    ㅇtㅈyㅅr
    You could always get another tripod, like ones from MeFoto and Sirui, that have a removable leg section to convert it into a monopod. If you don't find the monopod to be useful, at least you have a second tripod.
     
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  8. Lcrunyon

    Lcrunyon Mu-43 Top Veteran

    758
    Jun 4, 2014
    Maryland
    Loren
    Thanks guys.

    It sounds to me like a monopod is more about longevity support than stabilization. I'll admit that my Canon can get heavy on long photo hikes, though I always looked at it as exercise (which is one reason I do this hobby). For my m4/3 gear, even with the 40-150 Pro, my arms don't tend to get overly fatigued even when shooting all day - at least no more than the rest of my body. Maybe once the 300mm Pro and/or PL 100-400 are out that will change, but I doubt it.

    So, it sounds to me like it won't be all that useful for me except for my Canon, which I use exclusively for birding and yet don't like a monopod for that application. However, a monopod might be good for my wife. I'll see if I can borrow a monopod so she and I can try it out. I'll also look at the MeFoto and Sirui hybrid options.

    Do you turn IBIS off when you use yours?

    I have read that a ball head on a monopod can be too wobbly, and that more simple tilt options are better. Maybe I would find it more palatable for birding. Anyone tried those?
     
  9. WendyK

    WendyK Super Moderator

    Feb 28, 2014
    Northern Virginia
    Wendy
    Yep, as a matter of fact, I bought a MeFoto tripod that converts to a monopod and I actually use the monopod configuration more often. I use it for my son's marching band and concert performances (video and stills) because it will fit easily in bleachers and cramped auditorium seating where the tripod would not work. I also use it sometimes for macro in the garden - I have so many plants and such uneven ground that a monopod will fit easily and quickly in spots where the tripod would be too cumbersome or time consuming or difficult to set up and it helps me follow the insects more easily.
     
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  10. RAH

    RAH Mu-43 Veteran

    269
    Dec 1, 2013
    New Hampshire
    Rich
    Yes, I agree with the others who have said that a monopod is really useful for when you are just trying to support the camera, like waiting for something to happen.

    There has been a lot written over the years about whether you should use IS with a monopod. I have always felt you should (I mean, a monopod isn't even close to being a tripod - they waver like crazy), but some say that it depends on the focal length, shutter speed, etc, etc. Enough to give you a headache! I have never been able to resolve the question to my own liking.

    I think that a simple tilt head is much better than a ballhead on a monopod. In fact, I cannot even imagine using a ballhead on a monopod - flop around much?
     
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  11. Ian.

    Ian. Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 13, 2013
    Munich
    Ian
    You can also use a monopod as a selfie stick.
     
  12. drd1135

    drd1135 Zen Snapshooter

    Mar 17, 2011
    Southwest Virginia
    Steve
    You can put a GM1 on a heavy Bogen monopod and pretend that you're Gandalf.
     
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  13. Tilman Paulin

    Tilman Paulin Mu-43 Veteran

    329
    Jun 10, 2013
    Dublin, Ireland
    for me it's indispensable for panoramas. (I'm using a small ballhead on my hiking pole)
    Try shooting a panorama of this length without any camera support and without veering off up or down along the way ;)

    18332413774_283445e4c7_k.
    the perfect lunch spot :)
    by tilman paulin, on Flickr

    It's also very useful for a bit of extra-stabilization with close-ups/macros when you're out and about where you don't want to carry a tripod all day long (which for me is 'always' :) ).

    18147834961_194cee09b8_c.
    Wild Columbine
    by tilman paulin, on Flickr
     
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2015
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  14. dogs100

    dogs100 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    965
    Nov 12, 2011
    N Devon UK
    Geoff
    I use mine when I am walking and looking for butterflies, dragonflies etc ... but it's main use is to act as a prop when I am getting off my knees ...
     
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  15. RAH

    RAH Mu-43 Veteran

    269
    Dec 1, 2013
    New Hampshire
    Rich
    That does look like the perfect lunch spot. Where is it? Presumably somewhere in the southwest.

    What do you think on the question of IS on a monopod? Do you use it or turn it off? I'm thinking with the E-M10 I have, maybe one of the options (like horizontal movement) might be good, but I don't really know...
     
  16. bikerhiker

    bikerhiker Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 24, 2013
    Canada
    David
    I have used my monopod mainly for Sports and Wildlife at the longer focal lengths; like from 200mm to 300mm on my 70-300 Zuiko 4/3 lens. If you want sharp photos from the 300mm, you need at least a monopod or a tripod. The 5 axis IBIS is simply I think not up to the snuff in delivering sharp photos at extreme long focal lengths (300mm and up).

    One thing to remember is that, IBIS introduces movement. No IBIS will be as sharp as photos taken from a tripod or a monopod at higher shutter speeds and I have witnessed this when shooting with pro-Nikon full frame gear or with my m/43 and long lenses at the pixel level. I think Thom Hogan talked about this in length.
     
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2015
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  17. Tilman Paulin

    Tilman Paulin Mu-43 Veteran

    329
    Jun 10, 2013
    Dublin, Ireland
    Northwest actually :) It's Hells Canyon between Oregon and Idaho.

    Unfortunately I'm not sure I have an answer to the stabilization on/off question.

    For macro/closeups I definitely still need it on, because even with monopod it's still a shaky situation on those small distances.

    For panoramas I'm not sure if you need it (or if it even makes things worse to leave it on). I simply leave it on because I don't want to switch it on and off again all the time (and forget to do so half of the time).
    And I still think that I'm moving enough for the IS to be useful. With better monopod technique it might be less necessary though :)
     
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  18. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 All-Pro

    Oct 1, 2010
    USA
    Wow. So much misinformation and misleading information in just one thread! From the perspective of one who is mainly a travel photographer and has used monopods for years:

    Stability: Thinking that a monopod only stabilizes in one axis can only indicate a lack of imagination or a lack of education. There are many places on the web that illustrate how to use monopods for much more stability that this. Random example: http://www.outdooreyes.com/photo5.php3

    A monopod can also be braced against things or even lashed to them. I have a very nice long-exposure shot of the lobby of one of the Glacier Park hotels shot with my monopod lashed to a railing with a bungee cord (carried for just that purpose). I have another nice long-exposure shot of the sphinx at Giza shot during the after-dark light show by just gripping the monpod against a railing. Seated in an audience, it's easy to brace a monopod between your knees. I probably have a hundred shots of African wildlife shot by bracing my monopod against the frames and sides of game drive vehicles, typically with my 100-300mm zoomed all the way to 300.

    Heads: Logically, how can a ball head be less stable than any other head? Clamped down, any of them is stable. On that subject, though, IMO the Manfrotto "Monopod Head" is one of the most brain-dead designs of all time. Think about how you're going to take a vertical-format shot with the lens angle anything but close to horizontal. You can't do it. A small ball head is essential unless you don't ever take vertical format shots. Small balls, of course, are not as smooth as large ball heads when making small adjustments. But the monopod bails you out here; the small adjustments are made by tilting and twisting the monopod, not fussing with the ball.

    BTW I was appalled to find that Really Right Stuff has copied the brain-dead Manfrotto design. The only reason I can see is that they want to stimulate sales of L-brackets.

    Selfies: Not my cup of tea, but a monopod will give you great overhead perspectives! A cabled shutter release helps with this. Here is an example that couldn't have been gotten any other way:
    P1070988-lores.

    Gandalf
    : I often use my monopod as a hiking pole/walking stick. I have a convertible spike/rubber tip end on it and find it great in uneven terrain; slippery rocks for example. Generally I prefer to not have the camera mounted (it's on a Manfrotto RC2 quick release base) because the balance isn't too good for walking. NB: There are hiking poles with 1/4-20 studs on top that are sold as being useful for photography. I have never seen one that is tall enough to be really useful and almost all of them cannot collapse below 22" which is the available length in a carry-on bag. They are also quite flimsy vs a good photo monopod. So even used solely as a walking stick a monopod is superior to the competition.

    Combo Mono-/Tri- Pod: I have a Benro Travel Flat C2192, which is a combo carbon-fiber with nice fat leg sizes. Carrying it as a tripod when being a tourist is often a PITA, but carrying just the monopod portion (well under a pound/half kilo, 15"/40cm.)) is zero hassle. So the two tripod legs often stay in the hotel room. On a January trip to Ethiopia I didn't even take the tripod portion, just the monopod. But yes, I think a combo is the way to go.

    Flexibility: A tripod is a one-trick pony: Excellent camera stabilization in situations where it is feasible to set it up. End of story. It is not feasible to set up a tripod in many situations, including when seated in an audience, in churches, caves, and other indoor tourist venues, and in vehicles.

    A monopod is much more flexible. It will stabilize a camera in many more situations than a tripod can, often as well as the tripod, plus it is an overhead camera platform, a walking stick, and much less of a burden to carry.
     

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    Last edited: Jul 18, 2015
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  19. Lcrunyon

    Lcrunyon Mu-43 Top Veteran

    758
    Jun 4, 2014
    Maryland
    Loren
    Thanks again, everyone, for all of the responses. It seems - like everything in photography - that there is a wide range of opinions.

    Oldracer, I hear a lot of what you are saying, and thanks for that excellent article. I like the idea of a belt brace for my wife. I also always embrace the idea that one must employ proper technique with any equipment. Using it for a heightened vantage also is compelling.

    I do, however, already use RRS L-Plates and find them fantastic. I do tripod photography quite often (may be a one-trick pony, but it's a tremendously useful trick), and I also use the plate to attach my shoulder strap. So, for me it's versatile.

    When loosening a monopod ball to reposition the camera on the head, all that left/right/roll play is extraneous and awkward. That's what they are referring to, and where a tilt head apparently has the advantage. That's not to say, though, that a ball head wouldn't work just fine, too.

    Tilman Paulin, I hadn't considered using a monopod for panos. Very nice shots!
     
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2015
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  20. bikerhiker

    bikerhiker Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 24, 2013
    Canada
    David
    In truth, a monopod only stabilizes one axis. To suggest that it can be used to stabilize all axises means that we are making an assumption that the person holding it provide the remaining stability. But how many people have a good standing posture? If you do, you wouldn't have so many aches and pain which can be a cause of our posture instability. How many people have a calm mind with good breathing techniques like a Navy Seals sniper and not have micro-tremors on their hands?

    Same with VR when an ex-Navy Seals sniper pro-shooter could handhold a Canon 600mm f/4 Canon lens with a full frame body and get sharp images even at 1/60 sec is appalling. Does this mean that anyone who followed the same way as this Navy Seals sniper would also get away without using a monopod or a tripod and get the same level of sharpness?!? Maybe...

    Learning good techniques using a monopod is a must, but unless you are looking for the least movement in pixel sharpness, nothing beats a stable beefy tripod. Which is why nature landscape photographers still carry them. This is why I still carry it, because if I intend to print really really big, I know my pixels are going to be sharper than if I do it with only a monopod. But surely, a monopod provides sharper images at 300mm better than using IBIS alone.
    I turn off IBIS when I'm using support because IBIS creates movement and I want little movement in my photos to attain high level of pixel sharpness.
     
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