Monopod for sports photography?

Discussion in 'Accessories' started by SVQuant, Mar 2, 2017.

  1. SVQuant

    SVQuant Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Sep 20, 2015
    SF Bay Area, California, USA
    Sameer
    I have been shooting my older son's lacrosse games for a couple of years now and my older two kids' martial arts shows for a while longer and have been doing it handheld. Talking to a pro at my son's last tournament convinced me that I should try a monopod.

    I have never shot with a monopod. I tried once years ago, hated it (not sure why) and never tried again. I would like to hear from more experienced folks if this is a good idea. Also, recommendations for what to look for in a monopod, need for a head, etc. would be most welcome.

    Some my shots:
    Lacrosse in the rain (image heavy)
    Showcase - Olympus 50-200mm f2.8-3.5 ZD 4/3 SWD
     
  2. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Don't do it................I shot sports for a long time with Canon and hated using one, they are so restrictive. That is the most liberating thing about shooting Olympus. So much easier to shoot different perspectives, laying on the ground, sitting, kneeling or standing..................can all be done without any forth thought and at a moments notice. When you are using a 500mm lens you have decide, ok I want some lower perspective shots and make adjustment then shoot then make more adjustments to go back to another perspective. That "Pro" you talked to probably uses much bigger lenses that you can't handhold for an entire game. With the IBIS in your EM1 and the light weight of your lens, you gain nothing by using a monopod................well you do gain all the disadvantages of a monopod.
     
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  3. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Oct 1, 2010
    USA
    I seem to frequently be the monopod zealot in threads around here so I'll weigh in. My use is for travel photography, which requires a lot more flexibility than sports.

    Starting with sports, this is a case where the monopod really ends up just being a vertical stick that holds up the camera. It's great for that, though, because it takes the camera/lens weight and contributes significantly to stability. (My view is that there is no such thing as a camera that is too stable. Get it as stable as possible, then take whatever IS gives you. But IS is not an excuse for shooting an unstabilized camera.) If you are shooting with the camera more or less level and are content to shoot only landscape-format images, then you may not need a head at all. If you are tilting the camera down significantly and/or want to shoot portrait-format sometimes, then I'd jump right to a ball head. IMO the "monopod" heads with only one tilt axis are a brain-dead design, though they seem to be fairly popular. Think about using one of these heads, turning the camera to portrait format, and then trying to tilt downwards 45 degrees to take your shot. Not good. But that kind of thing is a piece of cake with a ball head.

    For travel and general use, there are many monopod positions where it is not a vertical stick. Lashed to a tree with a bungee cord, for example. Tilted laterally 30 degrees to brace it in a game drive vehicle on safari. For all these uses a ball head is mandatory. A quick search will find you several pages illustrating very creative ways to do better than the "vertical stick" position.

    What to look for in a monopod? For myself, traveling, I want minimum collapsed length. This means a five or six-section monopod that collapses to around 17 inches. For your sports application, probably this is not an imperative. I also want twist-type locks, not levers. Levers are bulky and catch on things when carrying the monopod. Levers are arguably a second or two faster when setting up but setting up, for me, is rarely an emergency where this would matter. Carbon/light weight is probably more important to me than it would be for a sports photographer but if you look at the total weight of the rig, the expense of carbon may not even save you 10% so I think its value is marginal. Nice stuff, though. As for specifics, I suggest that you start looking at Gitzo on eBay. Top quality and usually relatively inexpensive. There are more than ten used ones on offer right now, beginning at $72.50 shipped. The ones with fewer sections and longer folded length tend to be cheaper and would probably suit your needs very well. There is also one with a shoulder rest -- probably specifically intended for sports photography. I have not used this type but you might find it to be exactly what you want.

    Re ball heads, the bad news is that really good heads cost money. I use an Acratech SP which weighs just a pound and is wonderful. The good news, though, is this: The big problem with cheap ball heads is jerky action when making small motions. A monopod virtually eliminates this issue because the small motions can be made by tilting or twisting the monopod. So a medium-sized Manfrotto, Sirui, Benro, etc. ball will probably work fine. Ideally you will have a mounting plate and quick release clamp. My favorite for monopods is the Manfrotto RC2 system, where the clamp automatically locks the plate when the plate is inserted. More flexible is the Arca-Swiss system, but AFIK there are no automatically-locking clamps available. If you want to go Arca, look for a lever type clamp like the Acratech where the lever locks and cannot be accidentally bumped and released. There is a similar lever-lock Chinese one on eBay that goes for about $50. Look at the RRS lever clamp to see what not to buy; the lever does not lock when the clamp is closed.

    HTH
     
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  4. SVQuant

    SVQuant Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Sep 20, 2015
    SF Bay Area, California, USA
    Sameer
    Appreciate your input here. I totally get what you are saying about getting the perspective you want in a shot. I really like some of the shots I get from the ground level and the boys are still shorter than me, so I try to shoot at their eye level. In fact that was one of the things that made me think about a monopod with some seriousness. I am 5'10" and rather than shooting standing up, I could keep the camera at around 4.5' high on a monopod and get better angles on my normal game shots. It is a little awkward to crouch down just about a foot to do it. Having vision in one eye does not help much either!

    Here's the man. Shooting an L lens as you can see. Though he is also shooting at his eye level.
    Lacrosse Photog 20170122.JPG
     
  5. SVQuant

    SVQuant Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Sep 20, 2015
    SF Bay Area, California, USA
    Sameer
    Thanks for the detailed reply and specific recommendations. I was actually looking at a couple of those Gitzos when I posted the OP. I am going to see if I can borrow a monopod, put a Manfrotto ball head on it (already have one) and try it out this weekend. I am not too concerned about portability at the moment, but more about whether I can get along with one and whether it will help or hinder.

    Your reply has also made me think about a monopod for travel. I usually lug my bulky Manfrotto on road trips, but end up using it less than I should. Maybe I'll use a monopod more, or maybe I won't :) It may be worth it to try and find out.
     
  6. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    That photo is why I hate monopods and dislike a lot of sports photography I see.

    For what you want to do it could work out. Especially if you ditch it now and then for different perspectives. The one thing I hate when looking at someone's shots from a game and they are all the exact same perspective. Gets boring going thru them. Different perspectives really spice up an album. My problem is I shoot little to no vertical shots and I really need to work on that. One reason is I move the focus point and hate focus and recompose. When vertical moving the focus point is a pain in the ass. At least with my Canon I could set different home points for both positions and as I switched from one to the other the focus point moved to the home position. Now the grip on the EM1mk2 changes that with the D pad on it that you can easily reach with you thumb. You don't know how happy I am about that one thing.
     
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  7. SVQuant

    SVQuant Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Sep 20, 2015
    SF Bay Area, California, USA
    Sameer
    I thought I was the only one who found moving the focus point in portrait to be a total PITA.

    This is my favorite shot from last weekend's game. First shot in sequence after the faceoff whistle was blown. Taken sitting on the ground. Tried to get the camera to be level with their eyes.
    M2263040.
     
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  8. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Great capture
     
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  9. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    Ken
    Does your 50-200 have a lens collar, and is it heavy? If yes to both, then you might like using a monopod. I used one when I shot college football and found it indispensable. Holding large glass by hand from pre-game to post-game would have been a nightmare. I shot with an aluminum Manfrotto with lever lock legs. I liked the lever locks because when I was on my knees, I could make very quick adjustments with the flip of a finger. If you plan on shooting at or near ground level, don't forget to buy a good pair of knee pads.

    Good luck,

    --Ken
     
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  10. Clint

    Clint Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Apr 22, 2013
    San Diego area, CA
    Clint
    Monopod for lacrosse games, only if I had to use a long heavy lens.
    Monopod for martial arts - no way Jose. Unless I was a long ways away using a long lens.

    My monopod seems to get more use these days from extending a light source or my camera to get a unique viewpoint.
     
  11. SVQuant

    SVQuant Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Sep 20, 2015
    SF Bay Area, California, USA
    Sameer
    It does have a tripod collar and I guess you could call it heavy (about 3.5lbs for camera + adapter + lens). I rarely hold it for the entire game because I also spend time socializing and cheering :), but I imagine that a monopod would help. Good point on the lever locks, all I have ever used is a Manfrotto tripod, so I can certainly handle those. Though @oldracer@oldracer pointed out, they do get snagged in all sorts of places.

    Definitely not a monopod for martial arts, but I am thinking that having a monopod will actually help me get a better viewpoint (lower than my eye level). Given that I have never seriously used one, it may be worth the experiment.
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2017
  12. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Oct 1, 2010
    USA
    A couple of quick points:

    First, I defer to @Replytoken@Replytoken on the lever leg locks. What he says makes a lot of sense for sports if you are frequently raising and lowering the camera.

    Second, I want to draw attention to what @Clint@Clint said about using the monopod to get a high viewpoint. I am not a sports guy but I think this could be a very important advantage of using a monopod. The way I do this is to use a wired remote shutter release, hold the camera high with the monopod and shoot blind. This isn't going to work with a heavy and narrow-view telephoto but shooting with a wider lens and maybe expecting to crop a bit should get some good photos. Here is a non-sports example:

    full.
     
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  13. SVQuant

    SVQuant Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Sep 20, 2015
    SF Bay Area, California, USA
    Sameer
    The high viewpoint for sports could be very interesting. I will definitely try it once I have a monopod in hand. Do you find that the RC2 clamps hold up fine to being tilted? Also, I usually shoot single-point AF but that clearly won't work for something like your shot above. What AF points do you use?
     
  14. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Oct 1, 2010
    USA
    • Yes, high is fun. Plan to hold the monopod approximately vertical and tilt the camera to get your viewpoint. Tilting the monopod forward gets difficult very fast because of the weight of the camera.
    • Re RC2 those things are beefy to the point of overkill. I have one clamp that I have converted to Arca and I think I milled off 1/4" or more just to make it lighter.
    • Re autofocus I always use center-weighted. Shooting outside it shouldn't be hard to get to f8 or f11 at which DOF will make precise autofocus moot.
    Edit: Chinese RC2 plate and clamp copies are available for practically nothing on eBay. I have a few and they are indistinguishable from the real thing.
     
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  15. Mike Wingate

    Mike Wingate Mu-43 Veteran

    446
    Feb 21, 2017
    Altrincham
    Mike Wingate
    I use a monopod for many of my shots. Rather than carry a tripod which can get in the way. I have a Cullmann monopod strap that goes over the neck and shoulder and the fold of the webbing gives a cup or pocket into which the base of the monopod slips into. I have this cup at waist level, and it enables me to walk, crouch and take steady shots. I am undecided about heads for the monopod. The Manfrotto 234 is limited to landscape format, unless I rotate the QR shoe on the camera. My Manfrotto 498 is really heavy. I may buy a 496/494 head and hope it will work ok with my Lumix 100-300 lens
     
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  16. SVQuant

    SVQuant Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Sep 20, 2015
    SF Bay Area, California, USA
    Sameer
    Thanks for input, Mike. May I ask which monopod you are using? Isn't the 234 the tilt head? Does that not work for portrait orientations?

    I have a 498 head as well currently mounted on my ancient 190D tripod. I was going to try it on whichever monopod I end up getting, though I can see that it might be a bit heavy.
     
  17. John M Flores

    John M Flores Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 7, 2011
    Somerville, NJ
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  18. SVQuant

    SVQuant Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Sep 20, 2015
    SF Bay Area, California, USA
    Sameer
    Ooh! That's a cool one. And it is stock locally near me. I will go take a look this afternoon.
     
  19. Mike Wingate

    Mike Wingate Mu-43 Veteran

    446
    Feb 21, 2017
    Altrincham
    Mike Wingate
    I am using my old Cullmann 3 section monopod at present with the 234 head. It does tilt which is useful. I have ordered a Sirui P 326 monopod which is longer and folds up shorter. My friend just bought a Manibilly C 222 monopod, which is not bad at all. I was going to buy the Manfrotto C 290 but did not like the bulky latches and the Sirui has got some good reviews.
     
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  20. RAH

    RAH Mu-43 Veteran Subscribing Member

    465
    Dec 1, 2013
    New Hampshire
    Rich
    A tilt-only head will not work in portrait orientation because you have completely used up its adjustability by going vertical (by flopping it over). There's nothing else you can do at that point. It can work in portrait orientation if you have an L-plate on the head, of course. A good Arca/Swiss tilt head is the Benro DJ90 Monopod Tilt Head:

    Benro DJ90 Monopod Tilt Head With PU60 Plate DJ90 B&H Photo

    (actually, it's the only one I know of, but it's good; lighter than the Manfrotto tilt heads; kind of pricey, however)
     
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