Post & Photo by Joe Farace Follow Joe on Twitter
Sometimes you can’t carry a tripod or theres just no space to use one. That’s where a monopod comes in handy. A monopod is a one legged tripod! If you’re shooting sports, a monopod is handy for both the long lenses you use and the little bit of space you may be working in. The above image was shot at the top of the famous Corkscrew turn at Mazda Speedway at Laguna Seca using an EF 500mm f/4L IS USM lens that weighs 8.5 pounds. Maybe you can hand hold a lens and camera combination that weighs ten pounds but I can’t. The lens was loaned to me by ace motorsports photographer Regis LeFebure and came with a hefty Manfrotto monopod attached.
If you’re photographing motorsports from the stands, a tripod cam interfere with the other spectators and some venues might not even let you carry one in. But a monopod usually won’t create the same kind of disruption, especially if you try to get along with your fellow spectators.
For the photographer with space and weight at a premium, like a backpacker, the monopod is ideal. A carbon fiber Flashpoint tripod weighs 10 ounces but will support 11 pounds. Thats because weight is one-third of a tripod of similar quality. Monopods can be used with the same type of heads that tripods use but they can also be used without any head. The 1/4″-20 threaded bolt sticking out from the top of the monopod can be screwed into the bottom of your camera or the tripod collar on really long focal length lenses. Why lose your head? Big tripod heads can get in the way, but since a monopod, unlike a tripod, can be easily moved to get that perfect angle you may not need one.
The monopod seems to be making another one of its many comebacks. Manufacturers have even designed tripods that can be quickly and easily converted into a monopod. While that may seem like a gimmick, it’s not. As in other areas of photography, any monopod is a compromise. They’re certainly not as rigid as a tripod but they are better than hand holding a heavy long lens, slow shutter speeds, or both.
While shopping for a monopod, remember that the same quality/price standards that apply to a good tripod also apply to the monopod. One side benefit is that because of the simplicity, even a top of the line monopod is surprisingly affordable. If your camera support needs are simple and occasional, a monopod may be all you need!
Joe Farace is the author of Studio Lighting Anywhere the second book in a trilogy from Amherst Media. Its available on Amazon.com.