Ryu: That stick thing

Monopods.  No sports photographer can be seen without it.  It acts as an anti burglary device in the depth of South Africa.  If you are in a cheerleading squad, you might be able to use it to practice your routines.  You could also annoy someone from a safe distance and it’s plausible that you can use it to push buttons from about 1.7 metres.  If you’re into golf, tennis, or baseball, you can swing it whenever you want it.  By suspending it between two chairs, you can even hang some clothes on it. And if you want to do this sports photography thing right, you need to buy one asap.

Eventually, you will realise that the act of holding an object that is a lot heavier than you think for a prolonged amount of time becomes quite annoying.  There are two solutions to this otherwise simple problem.  A) Goto the gym and be like Arnie.  You might get lucky and pick up a 13 year old son on the way back home from the gym.  B) Don’t goto the gym and dive right into the wonderful world of GAS, I mean necessary unavoidable essential equipment purchases.  Remember, you NEED it and you can’t possibly live without it

As with everything in life (except for love and ladies/gentlemen of the night ), you can go cheap or you can go all out. Amazon.com is showing that I can buy a monopod for less than $20 or as much as $350. Here’s what you do.  Take one of your credit cards which isn’t maxed out already due to your past necessary unavoidable essential equipment purchases.   Click on the link and voila, you’re done.  It’s like hiring Jose Mourinho as your manager, because if money is not an objective, you can’t possibly get any better than special one aka Gitzo GM5541.  In a world where the best lens can easily fetch 4 digits and beyond, to think that the absolute best in this particular equipment category that is nearly as important as the stool (more on that some other day) can be had for less than $500 is an outright bargain.

But then, your credit card is probably maxed out and your partner is looking at you with one evil eye from the opposite side of the dining room,  let’s look at some other options.

1.  Screw or Snap?

I like the screw, because… ahem… this is still a family program.  Depending on the monopod, you can either screw or I guess if you want me to go “family” style, “turn” the knob… somebody help my 3rd grade brain.  Essentially, you turn it one way to release the leg and you turn it the other way to tighten it.  But you must make sure that you get one with some kind of an anti leg rotation system where it requires you to only make half a turn to lock and release.  Otherwise, you’ll be lucky to be locking it by the time Christmas rolls around (I’m typing this in June of 2011).  Go with Induro or Gitzo if you want the screw or however you want to call this fancy mechanism.

Alternatively, you can lock the legs by snapping a lever.  If you’re not afraid to have parts of your finger mauled by your monopod, all I have to say is that you’re brave and I wish you the best of luck.  Check out Manfrotto, Velbon, or Slik  (except for the PRO Pod 382).

2. How many sections?

Nothing really clever to say about sections other than the fact that the more you have, the more locking of legs you will need to do.  The advantage of having lots of sections is that the monopod will become very small.  So small that it will wobble like barley shaking in the wind.  Yes, I like to go poetic like that from time to time.  Yes, I took it straight from a film title and I’m not apologising.  For sports, you need your stick to be as stable as possible.  Don’t go for anything more than 4 sections.

3. Maximum weight?

No, not the all important Carbon v other materials, rather how much weight the manufacturer of the monopod is comfortable you putting on their love sticks.  It’s called load capacity or maximum load.  GM5541 can take up to 25kg and Induro 18kg or that’s what they want you to believe.   You have to calculate how heavy your equipment is and go with one that has a maximum load a level above that.  This is because if you upgrade your gear and your new equipment is now over the maximum load of the monopod, you will have to buy a new one.  Just so you know, I have in the past used the Velbon Carbon monopod with camera and lens combo that weighed exactly at the allowed load of the monopod.  It worked fine until the sections started to sink into each other, even though the legs were locked.

4. How high?

Simple.  The maximum extended height must at least be up to your chin whilst you stand up.  If it’s any shorter, you might want to contemplate cutting off your legs.

5. Carbon or not carbon?

Once you go carbon, you will never go back to aluminium or basaltic vinegar or whatever.  It’s more rigid and therefore doesn’t vibrate like aluminium.  It doesn’t get cold, so you can touch it in -45 C weather and your fingers will still be attached to your palm.  Carbon is the lightest and if you don’t think there is a difference between couple hundred grams, you are just a plain old crazy person.   Aluminium is used for cooking.  Mind you, I wish I can cook with a carbon foil.

Were you waiting for an actual recommendation from me?  Really?  Okay, if you want to be as cool as me, you’ll go for the Induro CM34 .  It’s $152  and I have my D3 and 400 2.8 on it with no problem whatsoever.  Unless someone comes and break it over your head for no reason, you will never have to buy a monopod for the rest of your sports photography life.

But if it does break, I’m sure I’ll be reaching for my yet to be maxed out credit card to get the GM5541.  :)


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4 thoughts on “Ryu: That stick thing

  1. Great info on monopods, Ryu. I have one myself but don’t use it as often as I should. With action that moves across the entire playing surface and changes shooting angles quickly, like hockey, it seems like the monopod gets in my way more than not. Perhaps it’s just a comfort level that is overcome with practice. Are there any favorite shooting tips you have for monopods?

    Also, I was wondering your thoughts on using a ball head, tilt head, or any other type of axis adjustment when shooting off a monopod. Do you use a quick release plate on your camera (or lens mount) so you can quickly ditch the monopod to shoot handheld when necessary?

    I really enjoy the BLFS website and the podcasts. Thanks to you and Syd for sharing your world with amateurs like me!


    1. Ken,

      Sorry for the later reply. Still doing the honeymoon thing. :)

      Thanks for the support. It’s always good to know that the gospel of BLFS is shared around the globe. :)
      As for monopods in a sport like hockey, I think you have a really valid point in not using a monopod. There are in my mind too many vertical movements and unless you are using a heavy and long lenses exclusively, you are better of hand holding it without the monopod.

      I have seen some sports photographers use a 300 2.8 and 400 2.8 with a head + monopod. I honestly think this is a matter of style and taste and what you think works best for you. When I’m shooting football, mine is glued permanently to the 400 2.8 without the head. If I need to go mobile, I’ll just take my other camera which has a much shorter lens attached to it. In my opinion, too many parts means too many things that can possibly go wrong. Simple is the best.


  2. I own a carbon tripod and a carbon monopod, both from Gitzo, and you know what? in the kinds of sports I photograph (horseriding, sailing, mostly), I’ve never really found the monopod useful. The tripod, yes ! I use it in combination with a Wimberley head (you should do a topic on that) to track moving subjects and it’s an amazing combo brought into sports photgraphy from wildlife photography… but the monopod ? Not really. Maybe if I did more sports like soccer, where movements can often be unpredictable, then a monopod would possibly offer much flexibility than my tripod + Wimberley combo.

    P.S.: thanks for second place in last month’s contest ! :o)

    1. Dominique,

      As I have said before, when there is a lot of vertical movement in the sports you shoot and if your lens is not in the weight class of 300 2.8 and above, I still think hand holding (and an occasional rest here and there) is the best.

      If you have a lot of space around you and you don’t need to move around that much inside the venue where you are shooting your sport, tripod will be a lot steadier.

      Congratulations on the last month’s competion and don’t foruget to enter into this month’s competition. :)


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