Eight Unique Monopods; Multifaceted Camera Support Options

A monopod can be as simple as a walking stick with a 1/4"-20 camera screw on top, or a high-end industrial model created for field use with professional TV and video cameras. Yet many photographers fail to comprehend their benefits, other than being handy for chasing the cat out from under the bed. They reason that if you can't shoot handheld for whatever reason, then you need a tripod. But while a tripod is frequently the ideal first choice for camera support, it may not, according to circumstances, be the most practical solution.

Compared to a tripod, a monopod is 1) lighter; 2) less bulky; 3) faster to set up; 4) much less likely to be prohibited in crowded public areas. OK, you say, but isn't a monopod, by definition, 2/3 less effective than a tripod? Well, actually, no.

The line-up, all at minimum extension (left to right): Gitzo G1566 Mk 2; Slik E-Z Pod; Giottos P-Pod MM5570; Giottos Professional Monopod MM8950; Uni-Loc 1600M/3; Manfrotto 3245 Automatic monopod; Manfrotto 682B Self-Standing Pro monopod; Cullmann Titan CT 304.

Consider gravity. When hand holding your camera, the lion's share of your physical exertion is expended trying to keep gravity from smashing the camera to the ground; not left-to-right movement, not forward or backward movement, mainly up/down. A monopod, with a properly balanced load, totally eliminates this vertical movement. Any remaining lateral and forward/backward motion is a comparatively small percentage of the overall camera motion, and can be further dampened with a few carefully chosen accessories.

Obviously, monopods do have their limitations, and I'm not for a second advocating getting rid of your tripod. But how many pictures aren't quite as sharp as they could be because the photographer couldn't be bothered with setting up a tripod? Once first-hand experience is gained, many photographers who disdain tripods can learn to tolerate the lesser encumbrance of a monopod, and dedicated tripod users can up their quick-response batting average with a one-legger. Indeed, most photographers will find monopods to be wonderfully versatile shooting aids, after getting over their initial skepticism.

Chicken feet and flat feet (left to right): Manfrotto 682B Self-Standing Pro monopod; heavy-duty Uni-Loc DuoPod Pro accessory foot brace on Uni-Loc Major monopod; Giottos Professional Monopod MM8950; standard-duty Uni-Loc DuoPod on Uni-Loc 1600M/3 monopod; Giottos P-Pod MM5570.

A Monopod Sampler
So let's take a look at eight monopods, each chosen for its particular unique attributes. Whether amazingly compact, fast to set up, or featuring clever built-in accessories, they all stand out from their more ordinary brethren. Please note when comparing prices that some are "street," while others are "list," to which substantial discounts usually apply.

Cullmann Titan CT 304
Specs: Two-section; aluminum-alloy leg sections; flip-lock leg release; 34.5" (plus 2" for supplied CT 6 head) minimum collapsed length; 59" maximum extension without head; weight is 3.5 lbs with head; 2" platform without head; $219, list.
Special features: The CT 6 head has a 2.5x2.75" quick-release plate; 2" swiveling rubber foot for good grip on slick flooring; leg release/lock via large, flip-up quick-release catch; trapezoidal leg cross section; lower segment is largest diameter, waterproof.
Pros: The two-section design, coupled with the extremely rapid leg release, makes the CT 304 almost instantaneous to set up; construction is robust; plastic grip easy to keep clean.
Cons: Least compact of models tested; rather heavy; included CT 6 "no-way" head offers no tilt movement, OK for 6x6cm medium format cameras if up/down tilt isn't needed.
Comments: Column-to-head attachment is proprietary via mating serrated surfaces (the ultimate anti-twist solution), requires CT 74 connection plug to adapt other makes of heads.

The long and short of it: Gitzo G1566 Mk 2 monopod with Manfrotto 3422 Monopod Support and Giottos Multifunction Shoe; Cullmann Titan CT 304 with Uni-Loc Super-Tilt head and DuoPod foot brace. You can have compact storage or near-instant readiness, but not both in the same monopod; accessories increase stability and versatility.

Giottos Professional MM8950
Specs: Three-section; carbon-fiber leg sections; twist-lock leg releases; 24" minimum collapsed length; 59.5" maximum extension; weight is 1.4 lbs; 2.25" platform; foam grip; $128, list.
Special features: Spring-loaded, folding foot brace for added lateral stability; 2"-plus, swiveling large rubber foot for slick-floor traction; foam grip; tool kit included.
Pros: Very lightweight; economical price point for carbon fiber.
Cons: Due to low attachment point on leg, foot brace not as effective as more elaborate Uni-Loc accessory foot braces (which require a monopod with greatest leg diameter on bottom section).
Comments: Rubber foot unscrews, accepts accessory FP-2021 Multifunction Shoe and FP-3021 Snow Shoe.

Giottos P-Pod MM5570
Specs: Five-section; aluminum leg sections; twist-lock leg releases; 23" minimum collapsed length; 72" maximum extension; weight is 2.7 lbs; 1.5" camera platform; foam grip; $93, list.
Special features: Bottom tip unscrews, stores set of three separate legs that screw into tip, allows monopod to stand without assistance; can screw two of the legs into base of head for use as bipod or wall brace; built-in tilt head with round quick-release plate.
Pros: Heavy-duty construction; multiple bracing options; with feet installed, both hands are free to change lenses and film or media cards.
Cons: A bit heavy.
Very versatile "straight out of the box" with no additional accessories; robust head adequate for heavier cameras; slightly loosening lock screw of quick-release plate allows rotating for fast vertical camera orientation; accepts accessory Multifunction and Snow Shoes.

Uni-Loc Super-Tilt two-way head; bottom plate pans, top plate rotates to adjust camera orientation.

Gitzo G1566 Mk 2
Specs: Six-section; aluminum leg sections; twist-lock leg releases; 15" minimum collapsed length; 54.5" maximum extension; weight is 1.5 lbs; 2.25" platform; foam grip; $126.95, street.
Pros: Lightweight; extremely compact.
Cons: Its five twist-locks make it slow to deploy; by far the shortest model reviewed at maximum extension, could be problematic for tall photographers.
Comments: Top candidate for transport in carryon luggage or camera bags.