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Nill Toulme September 13th, 2006 09:03 PM

Some musings on monopods
Ah, fall. Football season. And the young sports photographer's thoughts turn to — monopods!

Because I've started shooting football with both rigs (1DMkII's with 400 & 70-200) on monopods instead of one of them strapped around my aching neck, I recently found myself in the market for a third monopod. My primary unit is the uber-expensive Gitzo 1588, about which, other than price, there is little to complain unless you're an inveterate despiser of the twistlock. (I myself am a hardcore hater of fliplocks, but let's not get into religious discussions here, if you please.) My second monopod was an older, anvil-like Bogen that felt like it weighed 10 lb. (not to mention its axis-of-evil, shin-biting, strap-snagging, self-loosening fliplocks).

So I did some shopping, and I thought I'd pass on what I found. Here's a summary of some of what's available:

Brand Model ........... Max" .. Min" .. Wt-lb Load-lb Sections .. Price .... Ship .... Total .. Link

Gitzo G-1588 .......... 65.0 .. 22.0 ... 2.0 .... 26.5 ..... 4 ........ 295.00 .... 9.75 .. 304.75 .. B&H
Gitzo G-1578L ........ 77.6 .. 23.6 ... 1.6 .... 17.6 ..... 5 ........ 274.00 .... 9.75 .. 283.75 .. B&H
Gitzo G-1568 .......... 65.0 .. 21.9 ... 1.0 ... 8.75 ...... 4 ........ 237.00 .... 9.10 .. 246.10 .. B&H
Gitzo G-1564L ........ 78.7 .. 22.4 ... 2.1 .... 17.6 ..... 5 ........ 142.00 .... 9.25 .. 151.25 .. B&H
Gitzo G-1564 .......... 63.4 .. 22.8 ... 2.0 ... 17.6 ...... 4 ........ 127.00 .... 9.25 .. 136.25 .. B&H
Feisol CM-1471 ....... 66.9 .. 21.6 .. 1.5 .... 24.2 ..... 4 .......... 99.00 .. 28.00 .. 127.00 .. Feisol*
Feisol CM-1401 ..... ..64.2 .. 20.9 .. 0.8 .... 15.4 ..... 4 .......... 70.00 .. 23.00 .... 93.00 .. Feisol*
Bogen 685B NeoTec 66.9 .. 29.3 .. 1.8 .... 33.0 ..... na ...... 131.00 .... 9.90 .. 140.90 .. B&H
Bogen 681 ............. 63.4 .. 26.4 .. 1.7 .... 26.4 ...... 3 ......... 51.00 .... 6.25 .... 57.25 .. B&H
Bogen 680 ............. 60.0 .. 20.0 .. 1.7 .... 22.0 ...... 4 ......... 53.00 .... 6.25 .... 59.25 .. B&H
Bogen 679 ............. 61.5 .. 25.2 .. 1.3 .... 22.0 ...... 3 ......... 42.00 .... 5.60 .... 47.60 .. B&H

All prices as of Aug 2006
*Feisol now has a direct purchase link with prices somewhat below their eBay prices. The Feisol prices are from that link.

I ended up ordering the Feisol 1471. It matched my Gitzo 1588 almost spec for spec at 1/3 the price (not counting shipping from Taiwan). I figured if it was even 2/3 as good as the Gitzo at that price, it would be a good value indeed.

It arrived very promptly and in good order from Taiwan. I tried it at Friday night's football game, and I have to say I'm very pleased with it. I used it side-by-side with my Gitzo 1588, to which it begs comparison. (Shooting with two monopods sounds goofy I know, but it works better than I could have imagined.)


1. 1/3 the price of the Gitzo!
2. Slightly lighter than the Gitzo.
3. Same compacted length almost exactly.
4. 2 1/2" extra extension length (as I measured it, more than the specs indicate).
5. Very nice fit and finish. Quality gear.
6. Quick release hand strap.
7. Includes a nice padded bag.
8. Slightly cushier padding on the top section.

Cons (all relative to the Gitzo, not absolute):

1. Doesn't have the Mercedes-like quality feel of the Gitzo. Most notably, the twistlocks don't have the same silky solid feel. But they're OK. (But if you already hate Gitzo twistlocks, you'll hate these more.)
2. The extra lightness trades off just a bit of solidity and rigidity. Not noticeable with a 1-series and 70-200 f/2.8 on board, but with the 400 f/2.8 loaded I noticed a bit of "twang." Again, only as compared to the ultra-solid Gitzo, and nothing that's not controlled by reasonably good technique anyway.
3. As far as I could tell, the circular platform doesn't come off. This makes for a slightly less elegant QR-clamp installation, but it's no big deal.
4. The cushier padding looks like it won't wear as well, but that remains to be seen.

That's about it. The question I started with was: Can this monopod possibly be 2/3 as good as the Gitzo for 1/3 the price? The answer — yes, maybe even 3/4.

I'm glad to have the 1588 under the 400, and I'm just as glad to have the 1471 under the 70-200. I could easily live with it under the 400, and unless you're actually using the Gitzo side-by-side I doubt most people would ever know the difference.

Highly recommended.

I've installed Wimberley C-10 clamps on both of them. I particularly like the C-10 clamp for monopods because its extra set screw prevents rotation of the clamp on the pod. And there's something to be said for having things that work the same — I like working with two identical 1DMkII's, and I like having the two monopod clamps work exactly the same too.

Speaking of clamps on monopods, some have asked if using them is any more or less secure than screwing the pod directly into the lens foot or if they're just a matter of convenience. Well, they are more convenient, especially if you use Arca-compatible QR's on your tripods already. But I think it's about security too. I use a Wimberley replacement foot on my 400 f/2.8, so there's no extra plate-to-foot connection to add another potential point of failure, and it seems to me that because the replacement foot lowers the lens's center of gravity, it also reduces the torque on the mount, probably to a fairly significant degree. The Wimberley clamp's set screw prevents its coming loose from the pod unintentionally, and it attaches with the stronger 3/8" bolt.

Also, purely as an experiment, I recently removed the Wimberley foot and reinstalled the stock foot to see which I'd like better on the monopod. (My original reason for installing the replacement foot was so I could use the Wimberley Sidekick with the lens on a tripod.) After shooting one game that way I wasted no time in putting the Wimberley foot back on the lens and the stock foot back in the closet. What I had underestimated was the degree to which the replacement foot improves the handling of the rig by lowering the center of gravity. Intuitively that doesn't make much sense because it's all up there on stop of a long skinny pole anyway, but you tend to grab it and pick it up right where the lens and pod connect, and having the center of all that mass two inches farther away from your hand makes a big difference in how easy it is to handle.

Anyway, in my entirely non-scientific opinion, using a good QR clamp & plate allows you to put everything together more tightly without constantly stressing the connections, and without the (admittedly minor, but this stuff does last and get used for years) wear that results from frequent attaching and detaching via the bolt.

Purely subjective, no doubt, but I know *I* feel more secure about doing it that way. Not to mention it's a lot more convenient!

The second religious question that arises is whether to fit a head of some sort on a monopod. But again, we're not discussing religion here, so I'll skip that one (except to say that I've tried every sort of head from swivel to ball to gimbal and — for sports use, mind you — have come back to using, and strongly recommending, none at all).

The third and last question that tends to take on a religious fervor in this area is whether or not to use the RRS Lever Release Clamp on the monopod in lieu of a more traditional screw-release clamp. While I like that clamp a lot — I have it on both my tripods and one of my flash brackets — I vote no on using it on the monopod. When I'm shooting a game I'm constantly moving, putting my gear down and picking it back up, slinging it over my shoulder, trotting down the sideline and bumping into people. I don't want even to have to consider the chance that the lever release might get snagged on something and come open. Besides, I put the lenses on the monopods when I get to the game and don't take them off again until it's time to go home, so it's not like I need the smidgeon of extra convenience that the lever clamp offers. So for the monopods, I'll stick with that nice solid screw clamp, thank you very much.


Asher Kelman September 13th, 2006 10:34 PM

Hi Nil,

Nice report.

Could you post some pics of the work ends of the monopods? Also in use!


Nikolai Sklobovsky September 13th, 2006 11:28 PM

Nice review, Nil, thank you so much for sharing!

Nill Toulme September 14th, 2006 06:35 AM

Here are a couple pics of the Gitzo and Wimberley replacement foot in action, together with my should-be-but-not-patented BumberShooter™. I'll try to get a couple of snaps of the Feisol next time I drag it out.


tooltime47 October 4th, 2006 10:28 AM

Great write up Nill. It was very helpful in my decision to purchase the Feisol 1471.
Thanks a bunch.

Nill Toulme October 30th, 2006 08:50 PM

Here's how I mount the flash on the monopod, using the Wimberley flash bracket system. For football I use two extensions, which puts the flash head either about 28" below or about 20" above the lens. (The difference is because it mounts to the QR plate on the lens foot.) It's very sturdy, and I very rarely get any red- or demon-eye with it even when shooting all the way across the field.

Not shown in the pix is the CP-E3 battery pack, which I just hang on one of the extensions.


Nikolai Sklobovsky October 31st, 2006 12:23 AM

amazing! I would never think a simple speedlite can be used to shoot across the field!!
I have a copy of 580EX, I'll try it next time:-)
Do you use ETTL or manual? Full power? How much of extra exposure can you get with that thing in the accross the field case?

Marian Howell October 31st, 2006 12:15 PM

thanks nik for bringing nill's original post back to the top page again. i missed it the first time 'round.
and thank-you nill for sharing your detailed knowledge and experience again with us! tripod discussion seems to be everywhere but serious monopod talk is rare. and your additional foray into wimberly parts, RRS clamps, and your use of the wimberly flash bracket system are thoughtful, practical, fascinating and inspiring.
and speaking of fascinating, i'll be interested to read your answer to nik's question:
"How much of extra exposure can you get with that thing in the accross the field case?"

Tim Gray October 31st, 2006 01:26 PM

Re your question 3, I would use the lever QR plate on a monopod as long as the lens plates have some kind of anti-slip mechanism. I had a 1d2 with a 100-400 slide out of the RRS lever qr last spring, fortunately about 18" onto soft sand. I've since upgraded the Kirk plates to their newer models that have 2 small screw heads (removable) protruding from the bottom of the plate, these prevent the plate from sliding out of a qr, including the RRS lever version. I think the newer RRS plates have something similar.

Nill Toulme October 31st, 2006 02:18 PM

They prevent the plate from coming out ONLY if you inadvertently open the lever just halfway. Snag it on something hard enough to open it all the way and you're SOL.


Nill Toulme October 31st, 2006 02:20 PM

I'm still experimenting with the flash on the field, but I'd say it's easily good for one or two stops at distance by itself, and for at least two or three if you use an extender like the Kirk or Better Beamer.


Ray West October 31st, 2006 02:39 PM

Hi Nil,

I've just bought a monopod, not used it much. I thought the idea was that it formed a tripod with your legs, i.e., it leant back towards you, which means the head has to swivel, with a ball head or something. Or do sports guys use it mainly to support the weight? I guess if the base is near your feet, you can swing it around more.

Best wishes,


Nill Toulme October 31st, 2006 03:02 PM

Ray, yes, there are two basic camps with respect to monopod use. For those using it in general photography as a somewhat more portable substitute for a tripod, there are all sorts of arcane techniques and contorted positions that purport to increase its stability. For that purpose, a swivel head like the Bogen 3232 is probably sufficient, although some of the touted positions are so tortuous (and torturous) that their proponents must use ballheads to achieve them.

In my opinion, none of that has any real application to sports photography, where you really are using the pod primarily as a support and secondarily as an aid — albeit it an important one — to stability. In that context, it's my experience that any kind of head just gets in the way and vastly increases the chances of a screwup.


Tim Gray October 31st, 2006 04:24 PM


Originally Posted by Nill Toulme
They prevent the plate from coming out ONLY if you inadvertently open the lever just halfway. Snag it on something hard enough to open it all the way and you're SOL.


May be because I'm mixing and matching different vendors, the plate would slip with a heavy camera/lens combo even if fully closed.

Nill Toulme October 31st, 2006 04:44 PM

There's that too; apparently the lever release clamp is only fully compatible with RRS and Wimberley plates. Certain Kirk plates are known to slip in it, for example. This is discussed on the RRS site.


Tony Panzica October 31st, 2006 04:46 PM

I have shot HS Football for years. I gave up on flash once I started using the MIIn, I use the H mode, at 3200, and get 500,2.8 shots all night. I recommend you try it. You will be able to get longer sequences, or sequences period. That shot on my from page of my site was at 3200iso, 500, 2.8, lens is old nonIS 300, 2.8, with monopod Bogen 680B. I think I got about 25-30 images of that TD carry. Of course this kid is already being offered full scholarships to every D! football program, as a junior. So I want to have of a lot of choice to pick the best image. If this kid ever goes pro, having lots of choices may pay of someday. You will be amazed at what you get. The grain is worth the sacrafice, especially when you can stop the action with horrible lighting. MHO...

Nill Toulme November 1st, 2006 07:48 AM

Heh, Tony, you're preaching to the choir on that one. I have been dragged kicking and screaming to flash this year. I'm fairly new to football, but I've always shot night soccer without flash at ISO 3200, 1/400 f/2.8. I hate flash. But on our fields, especially in the end zones, it just doesn't work.

Heck I shot a game the other night that metered ISO 3200 1/100 f/2.8 at midfield, and the end zones were probably two stops darker. Add in the shadows that the helmets throw on the faces, and the fact that one of the teams I shoot wears dark red and black unis, and it adds up to I might as well go home if I don't put some flash out there.

So what I've been doing for the last few outings is shooting the 400 without flash until they get well into the red zone, then switching to the 70-200 with flash when they get down there in the dark. And I'm still learning what works and what doesn't. At first I was still shooting ISO 3200 1/400 f/2.8 and putting the flash on HS sync and dialing it down a stop to try to just get some fill from it. More recently I've gone heavier on the flash, ISO 800, 1/250 f/2.8 with the flash on ETTL. I'm still experimenting.


Tony Panzica November 1st, 2006 05:12 PM

Nill, your later choice is really the best. You will just have to be more selective as to what player and their location you are going to shoot.
You will have to be in tune with the game probably more so with the flash. For ie: if ball is on your side of field hash marks, go for it. Lineman, center, dbacks, pretty much all players except for far side kids. When ball is on far side hash marks, you will decide to wait and see what happens. Hope a sweep to your side comes, or a pass play to your side. You will also need to be really active in moving up and down the field. With the 70-200, dont be more than 10 yards up or downfield. Some coaches are cool about you beng there, other schools will request you keep outside the "box", 25 to 25 yard line. The real challenge is keeping those "parents" and year book kids out of your way while you shoot. With lighting that bad, you may concentrate on the kids on sideline.
No helmets on, sweaty face, water bottle shots are pretty cool to. Flash is great for that. If team is winning good, you can start to shoot buddy photos. School field lighting here in so cal are pretty good. I shoot from 640-320, 3200 with my 300,2.8. Get great stuff. Other school fields that are bad, I dont bother. Its nice to have that flexibility.

Nill Toulme November 3rd, 2006 11:21 AM

Good advice Tony. I do tend to stay outside the box and shoot the 400 when they're towards midfield, as the light is better there.


Nill Toulme November 18th, 2006 11:43 AM

I've decided I like having the flash above the lens better than below. Having it below can produce some remarkable shadows, even in the occasional field shot...



This is brought home painfully on sideline shots and shots of the stands.

Having it below does make it easier to handle, and *maybe* does a marginally better job of throwing light up under the helmets, but I don't think it's worth the tradeoff.


Lucio Gomes January 1st, 2007 10:13 PM

Wimberley Sidekick on a Monopod
Hi, all

An English friend just sent me a link to this thread about using monopods with
Arca-style clamps and it made me want to share my set-up.
I shoot mostly birds, so I'm not sure if this is a good set-up for football,
but I get the feeling it's great for any type of action photography.
I have pretty much retired my tripod in favor of a Feisol 1471 carbon fiber
monopod with a Wimberley Sidekick and a custom-made aluminum block that
allows the Sidekick to work on a monopod.
It's an awesome combo!!! I use a Canon 1D MkII with a 500mm f4 IS
and once I balance everything, tracking moving subjects is a piece of cake!
The rig stays put with the lock knob completely loose, and I carry it around
over my shoulder while holding on to the twist lock on the monopod to
keep everything from twisting around and hitting me on the head.
I'm not sure if all Sidekicks have the two extra screw holes, but if yours
has it, it is definitely worth a try! All you need is a block of aluminum with
a 3/8" threaded hole on the bottom and two through-holes to reach the
Sidekick's 1/4"-20 holes and make a rock-solid connection; or, if you wanna
go the extra mile, attach an Arca-style clamp to the block so you can remove
the sidekick more easily to use with your ballhead on a tripod.

This set-up should be even better to use with a Wimberley replacement foot,
for those using 400mm and 600mm lenses.

Happy New Year to all!!


Nill Toulme January 2nd, 2007 09:35 AM

Lucio, that looks great. Thanks very much for posting this.

I checked both of my Sidekicks, and they do both have the extra screw holes.

Did you have the block made up for you at a machine shop? How much did that cost?

I wish Wimberley would make something like this available. You can of course accomplish more or less the same thing using the Bogen 3232 swivel head tilted 90 degrees, but that solution is neither as secure nor as well centered as yours — and not nearly as elegant.


Tim Armes January 3rd, 2007 07:10 AM


Thanks for the great review. Very interesting.

One thing you haven't mentioned are options such as the GoPod and it's alternatives. I hadn't actually heard about them myself until I saw this page yesterday:

Supporting the camera on the chest seems like it would offer a lot more manoeverability than a classic monopod - have you ever tried one?


Nill Toulme January 3rd, 2007 07:49 AM

Thanks Tim. I have not tried the GoPod although I have referred any number of people to that same article, and have never heard back from anybody who followed through and actually bought one. The cost is a little daunting.

I've often thought you could accomplish much the same thing by setting a retracted monopod in some sort of pouch hanging off a utility belt. Never tried that either though. ;-)


Tim Armes January 3rd, 2007 08:37 AM


Originally Posted by Nill Toulme
The cost is a little daunting.

Yes. There's also the Cullmann ChestPod, which is much cheaper. I can't find much info on it thought. For example - can you replace the silly quick release with an arca/swiss style clamp? How good's the build quality?

Anyone here ever used one?


I've often thought you could accomplish much the same thing by setting a retracted monopod in some sort of pouch hanging off a utility belt. Never tried that either though. ;-)
Not really, the weight would be on your hip, not your shoulders. I don't think it would be as stable.


Nill Toulme January 3rd, 2007 09:34 AM


Originally Posted by Tim Armes
...Not really, the weight would be on your hip, not your shoulders. I don't think it would be as stable.

Hmmm ... why do you think your shoulders are any more stable than your hips? I'd think it would be other way around.


Lucio Gomes January 3rd, 2007 11:30 PM

Sidekick on Monopod

I actually emailed Clay Wimberley those two pics and suggested they sell
the adapter. He said he had tried in the past to sell the idea to sports
photographers but had little luck. I suggested he try again, as they
must have sold quite a few Sidekicks by now.
It would be great if they made it with a quick-release clamp.

I actually used to use a Bogen swivel-tilt head with a Kirk
clamp, but the Bogen head can't handle the weight well, and
I was always worried the whole contraption was gonna fly right
out of the monopod. I don't worry anymore! :-)

A friend made me that adapter. He makes telescope rings
and plates, and had a block of aluminum around that was
perfect for my application.
You could try your local machine shop and see if someone can
make you one. It could cost you $50.00 or maybe a 12-pack!

If you can't find a shop, email me and I'll try to get you one.


Nill Toulme January 4th, 2007 07:12 AM

Now that you mention it, I think I had a similar conversation with Clay a couple of years ago, about the time I was experimenting with the 3232 head as a way of mounting the Sidekick on a monopod. His market for this should be bird photogs though, not sports. As I mentioned in the top post kicking off this thread, I've concluded there's no need for any kind of head at all on a monopod for sports shooting.


Roger Lambert January 4th, 2007 05:00 PM

Perhaps I am clueless, but after viewing your set up, and description of the sports field and your access to it, I am wondering why you do not use a tripod?

The weight of your rig is substantial already, and a tripod would not really increase your rig's footprint. Even if space was an issue, I would think that setting up a tripod, even with its legs not spread apart very much, would still be much preferable to any monopod as far as stability goes.

I can understand the benefit of a monopod if your set up is very light a/or where space is a real issue, however, and really appreciate your review of the available options. :)

Nill Toulme January 4th, 2007 07:02 PM

One word — mobility. Not only do you need to be able to move around the field quickly for different shooting situations, but you also have to be able to cut and run *very* quickly to get out of the way when the play comes your way. In many typical field shooting situations, a tripod would literally be unsafe.


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