October 28, 2009

The Monopod That's a Tripod


 


One of the tips I always repeat to beginning photographers is the importance of a sharp photo. If you're photographing a stationary subject, the best way to ensure a sharp photo (one that's free of blur due to camera movement) is to put the camera on a tripod. And if you want to try photographing night scenes or inside without using the camera flash, a tripod becomes a necessity. (Exposure times in these situations are usually too long for you to hold the camera steady and get a sharp image.)

There is an almost endless variety of tripod designs, sizes and prices. For most people with compact digital cameras, I recommend starting with a table-top or mini tripod. These are inexpensive (usually $30 or less), lightweight, and small enough to fit in a fanny pack. (Does anyone use these any more?) With these advantages you're more likely to take the tripod along with your camera and have the support when you need it. A Gorillapod, a Flexpod, or even just a plain Pod (a beanbag camera support) all fit into this category. If you want a mini tripod more traditional in appearance, check out models from Slik, Sunpak, Hakuba or Manfrotto.


GorillaPod, The Pod, Hakuba Table pod

Last weekend I discovered another camera support: the TrekPod! This model is designed to serve as a monopod, tripod and walking stick all in one. It has a telescoping main section with a padded grip. The lower section fans out to three short legs, providing more stability than a monopod (one leg) alone. And it has a cool new camera attachment system...a super-strong magnet! You attach one magnet piece to the tripod socket of your camera and this magnet snaps to the top of the TrekPod, holding your camera securely in place, even when turned sideways.

While the TrekPod offers a taller support for your camera than a mini tripod, and one that weighs less than a traditional design, it's still not going to be as sturdy as a regular, three-legged tripod. Especially if you own a digital SLR (like a Canon Rebel or Nikon D40), I recommend buying a quality full-sized tripod for your camera support. Companies such as Manfrotto, Slik, Velbon, Impact, and Giottos all make good entry-level tripods for reasonable prices (~$150).

Look for models that do not have center braces (metal pieces) between the legs, which prevent you from lowering the tripod all the way to the ground for low-level shooting. And prefer a model that has a Quick Release (QR) method of attaching your camera. This is a separate plate that you attach to the bottom of the camera and click into the top of the tripod for mounting. To remove the camera, you release a lever and the camera clicks out. Way faster and more convenient than screwing your camera on and off the tripod screw!
 

Most people pay too little for their first full-sized tripod and fight with it every time they try to use it. It doesn't hold their camera steady; it doesn't let them position the camera the way they want to; maybe it doesn't even stand up!! As you might expect, these people hate their tripods and avoid them like the plague! But as soon as these people spend money for a quality tripod, they can't believe how easy it is to use, how securely it holds their camera and lens, and how much sharper their pictures become. Tripods are definitely an area where being penny wise usually means you are pound foolish!

No matter which camera support you decide is right for you, I recommend purchasing and using one regularly. You'll soon notice the difference in your pictures!