If you are considering buying a tripod or maybe even own one already, you should also think about getting a monopod. Let's start from the beginning and find out exactly what a monopod is and why you might need one in your photography kit.
What Is A Monopod?
A monopod supports your camera like a tripod but only has one leg. Mono means one and tri means three.
When To Use A Monopod?
Monopods are not as stable as tripods but have many advantages. Depending on what kind of photography you are covering, where you are shooting, and how long you are shooting for, you might be better off with a monopod.
There are times when it is easier to use a monopod than a tripod. If you have limited space, a monopod can be a great help. For example, many fashion and sports photographers will use monopods when shooting in press areas with many other photographers around.
Photographers using long telephoto lenses often use monopods to handle the lens weight to get sharper images. You see sports photographers using them and fashion photographers at the end of the runway often use them too. Even paparazzi on standby for long periods waiting for the A-lister to walk out a door use monopods. They also might be waiting for ages then need to be on the run to get the money shot.
If you are standing in the same spot for a long time, it will give you valuable support. At the same time, if you need to move suddenly to catch the shot, you have increased mobility. For example, a safari photographer might spend hours somewhere the king of the jungle is expected to appear but then need to move quickly if there is a sighting somewhere else nearby.
With a monopod, you can use slower shutter speeds and a longer focal length lens while retaining your image's quality and sharpness.
If you have back issues or are not strong, a monopod can enable you to shoot for longer. Some photographers even use their monopods as a kind of walking stick going to and from photography assignments (or perhaps a weapon if you stumble across a grizzly bear on your way back to your car).
If you are strong and in perfect health, you can shoot all day and night with the support of a monopod.
A monopod folded up can be around 55 cm (but can extend to 200 cm if needed). Many are lightweight, weighing not much more than a pound but can hold up to 40 pounds of weight. So for moving around quickly and discreetly, a monopod is your friend.
This monopod is turning you into a superhero ninja photographer!
Monopod versus Tripod
Tripods are excellent for landscape photos or astrophotography, but they can be a pain to pick up and move. If you are a photographer who is moving around often and also needs to move quickly, a monopod can suit your needs more.
With tripods, you can shoot longer exposures than what is possible with a monopod. If you are aiming for long exposures that take several seconds or minutes, a tripod is more effective than a monopod. If you are shooting a waterfall and want to blur the water and keep the forest foliage sharp, then a tripod is best. If you are shooting dancers and want to shoot sharp images and move around the stage area now and then, a monopod will be better than a tripod.
Monopods are light and easy to carry around, while tripods are often heavy, bulky and take longer to set up and put away. On the other hand, with a tripod, it is easier to change lenses.
What To Look For
Look for a monopod that gives you the maximum height to cover your needs. Think about what kind of photography you will be doing when you use the monopod. Will you be standing or sitting?
Check how much weight the monopod can hold. To check your needs add your camera weight plus your heaviest lens (including your dream lens if you might be buying that soon).
Do you want to buy a carbon fiber or aluminum monopod? There isn't much difference in weight. Aluminum is more sturdy and durable, so ideal if you are shooting outdoors in an environment like forests or mountain areas. While it can come down to personal preference, there is some debate between photographers about if carbon fiber monopods and tripods carry more or less vibration than aluminum versions.
Check how the monopods extend. Lever releases are faster, so they're useful if you need to move fast. Twist locks take a little more time to adjust and are usually on less expensive models.
Invest in the best monopod you can afford. You will be using it for many years to come. Prices range from $50 right up to $400 so every photographer can find one to fit their budget.
Tripod Collars and Tripod Mounts
If you are using cumbersome lenses, you will need a tripod collar at some point.
When a lens is too heavy, it becomes dangerous to mount the camera to a tripod because the weight would put too much pressure on the lens mount. A tripod collar is used on the lens to support your setup under the lens instead of the camera.
If you don't have a lens with a tripod collar, you can also use a one-way tilt head like this one by Manfrotto. This one-way tilt head can attach to the monopod.For smaller lenses, this one would be suitable.
A monopod, sometimes called a unipod, can also be useful for taking video footage.
We hope you have a clear picture (excuse the pun) of the difference between a monopod and a tripod. Some photographers who are shooting many genres of photography own both. Invest, experiment and watch your portfolio shine!