C. David Tobie: Video Basics – Video Monopods
Dec 2013 03

When Is a Monopod Not a Monopod?

We’re all familiar with monopods. They have a telescoping leg, a camera mount on the top, and a rubber pad or metal point on the bottom. Or do they? Video monopods are stretching that definition, and creating some interesting opportunities in the process.

The Key

The magic feature to the latest video monopods is that, while they still have only one leg, they now have three foldable feet; three feet large enough to hold the extended monopod in an upright position without any assistance when extended. This is not a trick you’d care to try with a camera mounted on the monopod, but it does point out how different these devices are from walking-stick style monopods.

Manfrotto Video Monopod detail, also shown in header image (# 561BHDV-1)

The Value for Still

The first thing to consider, ironically, is the value of this new design for still imaging. One of the reasons for carrying a monopod instead of a tripod is the reduction in size and weight. These additional feet do not produce the bulk or weight of three legs and a pivot system to hold the three legs at the top. So much of the convenience of a monopod is retained.

The other key reason for using a monopod is to shoot in locations where tripods are not allowed. Some cities, including DC and NYC, have regulations requiring a permit to shoot with a tripod, even if these regulations are only enforced selectively. Many locations which charge an admission fee also do not allow tripods, as they feel that the paying public is inconvenienced by tripods blocking access, and that photographers are willing to block a given location for much longer when their camera is on a tripod. Given the current vogue for timelapse shooting, this is certainly true.

A video monopod is not sufficiently stable to shoot timelapse work, but it does provide an allowed (at least until they become popular enough to be included in any bans) method to shoot in such locations with increased stability above that a standard monopod offers. So even still photographers may prefer owning a video monopod to a standard one. But what about it’s advantages for actual videography?

Benro Classic Aluminum Monopod (# A38TBS2)

Headed in the Right Direction

Note that both monopods in the images above have dedicated video heads included. This style of head allows freezing the camera in any location as needed (though not quite as conveniently as a ball head), but also allows what no ballhead can do: smooth, controlled sweeps vertically or horizontally. There is some question about the need for a videohead to make these motions on a monopod; after all, it is possible to rotate the monopod to create a pan shot, and to tilt it to move the camera up or down. However, depending on the situation, and how the pod is braced, one action or the other may be preferred.

Special Functionality

It is important to describe how the collapsible feet are connected to the monopod, as that is where the magic happens. First, each foot can be pivoted up, against the sides of the monopod for storage and transport. When flipped down each foot is rigid, but the base where the three feet join is attached to the monopod with a friction ball and socket joint. The amount of friction can be adjusted. Finding just the right balance between resistance and smoothness will allow moving the monopod during a shot. If the goal is to keep the monopod rigid, and to move only the video head and camera, than tightening the ball joint is appropriate, but keep in mind that attempting to rotate the ball in this state will cause visible lurching in the shot, and audible creaking in the audio track! Users will develop their own preferences for how to perform motion shots.

And One Last Thing

Both the monopods shown above are sold with a dedicated video pan head. If you do not currently own such a head, or don’t own enough of them, then adding one more video head (which can be moved to a tripod when needed) to your gear may pay for the cost of acquiring a video monopod over time.

C. DAVID TOBIE has been involved in color management and digital imaging from their early development. David has worked to see affordable solutions put in place for graphic design, prepress, photography and digital imaging, and then taught users how best to utilize them. He has consulted internationally for a wide range of color-related companies, and is best known by photographers for his writing and technical editing of texts and periodicals for the photo industry such as Mastering Digital Printing, and Professional Photographer magazine, and his seminars on color and imaging at photographic workshop around the globe. David is currently Global Product Technology Manager at Datacolor, where he develops new products and features for their Spyder line of calibration tools. His work has received a long line of digital imaging product awards including the coveted TIPA award, and a nomination for the Spyder line of calibration tools. Much of David’s recent writing can be found at his photography blog: cdtobie.wordpress.com, and his samples of his photography can be seen at: cdtobie.com.