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Choosing a Monopod for Sports Photography

Updated on April 23, 2013
Manfrotto 679B Monopod
Manfrotto 679B Monopod | Source

Speed and swiftness is the name of the game, and you’ve got to have to ability to use and move your D-SLR equipment quickly to cover sporting events.

Apart from the essential D-SLR camera bodies, lenses and filters, you may also need a monopod. A tripod is ideal for camera stability (generally speaking), but in situations where space is minimal and quick moving is mandatory, a monopod suits the bill. In fact, some sports organizers may restrict the use tripods in certain areas.

Monopods are one-legged supports for cameras as opposed to tripods which are three-legged support systems. A monopod can be adjusted in length to suit your needs, whether you’re sitting or standing. There are a variety of monopods available with differences in material used and the number of sections. Some monopods may have 3 sections whereas others may have 4 or 5. Particular monopods have an additional self standing base which reduces the need for you to hold the monopod.

Monopod Head

Along with getting a monopod, you may do well to consider getting a monopod head. An economical solution is to get a tilt swivel head, or to get the more flexible alternative -- a ball head. Tilt heads have an adjustment feature that requires you to lock your camera into a particular position be it vertical, horizontal or otherwise. A professional ball head doesn’t necessarily require you to have to lock in place each time you make a movement of your camera. This makes it much easier to change the position of your camera and within a shorter time compared to the tilt head.

Note: There are several variations of heads based on the fundamental tilt shift and ball designs including (but not limited to): hydrostatic, joystick, 3-way, 2-way, geared and panoramic.

Quick Release

Additionally, you may want even greater ease of getting your camera off the monopod, so that instead of screwing your camera from the head, or having to open your lens collar, you can simply open a lever -- and voila! -- camera is now off monopod for you to capture some quick hand held shots. You can get a monopod head plus a quick release as a bundle. Actually, there are prosumer and professional monopods that come with the head and quick release.

The truth is that you don’t need a monopod head (and quick release) to start using a monopod. You can directly screw on your camera or lens collar to your monopod. It’s still more flexible to have a monopod head though, better yet a ball head.

Basic Monopod Specifications

The specifications of a monopod are important for you to consider in relation to your unique situation -- meaning your height, how you intend to carry around your monopod, subjects that you may be photographing and also what D-SLR bodies (along with lenses) that you’ll be placing on it.

Maximum height

The maximum height of monopods vary quite a bit, so it makes sense to check out if the height suits you, especially if you’re a tall person.

Closed length

The closed (folded length) can be an issue if you’re carrying around your monopod on or in for e.g. a backpack or carrying case. Usually, the more sections a monopod has, the shorter the folded length will be.

Load Capacity

You may see a monopod which is very popular, but you need to make sure to check on how much weight it can bear. A number of budget monopods cannot support a D-SLR equipment.

Leg Sections

3, 4 or 5 sections are the options that you may find for Monopods. As stated before, the more the sections, the shorter the folded length. Also, more sections offer more convenience in adjusting the height of your monopod.

Leg Lock Type

Flip locks are the typical locking devices for a monopod. But the sophisticated G-Locks are incorporated in the design of certain monopods such as the Gitzo GM5540. However, flip locks secure legs quite well, and are relatively easy to open and close.

Male Thread Size

Most monopods have a dual screw of size 1/4"-20 & 3/8"-16 for mounting camera or head. These are standard specifications, and typically no problem here.

Weight

Monopods like Tripods are typically made with one of two materials -- Aluminium or Carbon Fiber (CF). Both are light materials, but Carbon Fibre tends to be more expensive based on production costs. Since CF is a blend of materials, thus synthetic, it can be tweaked to be more durable and stronger than it’s aluminium counterpart -- and yes lighter.

With these keys, you can make an informed choice of a monopod that you desire. There’s a final factor -- cost, and naturally you’ll have to work within your budget. If you can spare some extra dollars, then seek to get a professional grade monopod if you’re seriously into photography especially sports where you’ll need to support a D-SLR with heavy pro lenses attached.

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