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Old September 13th, 2006, 09:03 PM
Nill Toulme Nill Toulme is offline
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Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: Atlanta, Georgia USA
Posts: 1,407
Default 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.


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