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Question of the Month
March 2012


How did a Monopod work on a real shoot?

In a recent Tip of the Month, I discussed the Gitzo 5561T Monopod and I stated that I would be trying the monopod on our upcoming Rwanda Mountain Gorilla treks, marking our 61-65th treks. I am a huge proponent of using a tripod, and virtually 90% of my shooting is always done with one. With a tripod, I am not only closer to being rock-steady, but I also have the luxury of sweeping my composition's edges to make sure that all the importants are in, and distractions out, as I'm not concentrating on keeping a camera steady. I love using a tripod, regardless of the potential inconvenience.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I decided to try using my Gitzo monopod for the gorillas. The gorilla treks can be rough, and with walking uphill or bobbing and weaving through vegetation one can get winded, and I worried that I might be too shakey at times. It really was a concern.

On the other hand, I suspected that using the monopod would allow me to move quickly and efficiently, and to pop into position, high or low, with a minimal amount of effort. Obviously, when going from a low position or high, or vise versa, with a tripod three legs need to be adjusted, and this can eat up time. Conversely, with a monopod only one leg's adjustments are at work, so theoretically I'm three times faster. That's not quite true, because the monopod has smaller leg sections, so there was a few more leg adjustment required per leg. Still, it was faster than adjusting three legs.

So, how did it work out in the field? Did I like using a Monopod?

The answer is, I LOVED IT! I was using IS (image stabilization) lenses, so some wobble that I might have, left-right or up-down, was addressed and corrected by the IS. I found that I was extremely speedy, getting into positions quickly -- far faster than I'd be with my tripod, and I was often squeezingt into tight spots between trees, or between the legs of other tripods, where a bigger footprint of a tripod wouldn't go or fit. On several occasions, I found myself wedged in between the slender trunks of trees where I could still shoot, but this would have been difficult, or impossible, dealing with several legs.


My keeper rate for sharp images was comparable to when I used my tripod, so nothing suffered here. I really enjoyed the lighter weight, and I didn't feel like I was exercising or weight-lifting in the jungle, carrying a heavy tripod. A participant on our recent Antarctica trip had used his monopod with the special RRS monopod head, but I didn't think that was necessary and I simply used my BH40 ballhead, which worked perfectly well. I had the option of fine-tuning leveling either by using the ballhead itself or by loosening the lens tripod collar, and rotating the lens within the collar. Both worked.

Interestingly, one of our participants had both a monopod and a tripod and tried both. He liked both systems, but he ended up using, and feeling more comfortable, using the tripod. His reasoning: he was hoping that the tripod would give him a better chance of sharp images, and, quite rightly, he suggested that with as many treks as I had in if I messed up on some sharpness it wouldn't be as critical. For him, a potential once-in-a-lifetime experience, he wanted the added insurance of the tripod.

gorillaFair enough, but I think he'd actually have done just as well with the monopod, and probably would have had more shooting opportunities with that flexibility. On virtually all of our shoots I usually see someone hand-hold their camera at some point, if not quite alot, because of the frustrations of using the tripod. By any measure, hand-holding is not as secure as using a monopod, and if using a monopod eliminates the frustration of the tripod, then being tempted to hand-hold will be reduced or eliminated.

Next year, even Mary, who is the last to ever change her ways, will be using her monoIpod. In our pre-trip information we'll be suggesting a monopod instead of a tripod, and we'll be refering everyone to this Question as well.

Finally, I also put my monopod to use in mounting flashes for my night time setups, using the monopods as 'booms' to extend a flash out over an area where I wanted my lights. I'll probably take the monopod out to Yellowstone next fall, and try it out on the wildlife out there as well. That will be an interesting test, and something of a philosphical debate as well, with pros and cons that can be addressed in a later Question..

Questions of the Month

Is there a Mountain Lion Conspiracy?
What gear do you need for Antarctica?

What gear is essential for being in the field?

How Easy is NIK's HDR Program to use?

What is the most endangered big cat to photograph?

Why did we drop our NANPA membership?

What is the best $69 you can spend in photography?

More Questions about Pumas in Pennsylvania

Are the Latest Fast CF Cards worth the Expense?

How does the 7D hold up in a recent shoot?

Which is the better camera, the Mark IV or the 7D?

Are there Mountain Lions (Pumas, Cougars) in Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic States?

Why is bat photography so difficult?

What do I think of the Canon 1D Mark IV?

Why do I advocate manual exposure so avidly?
Where can I find Depth of Field reference charts?

What is the Keboko backpack? Is it the New Best Pack?
Is there a correct position for the upright on a Wimberley actionhead?

How, Who, and Why? The story behind our new web site.

Archived Questions of the Month
Most of my original Questions of the Month for the last several
years are available through this link. The 'look' is from my
original web site, although if I ever have enough time I might
redo these pages to match the new web site But that's not
a high priority.