Tripod versus Monopod – a Comparison and When to Use Each

Tripods and monopods, you’re very likely to have seen them. They both have their uses and their purposes for existing. But when do you use one over the other and what advantages do each have? In this article, I’ll look to explain when you would use a tripod versus a monopod and how they’re not necessarily exchangeable in their properties.

Tripods

Jake Khuon

By Jake Khuon

Uses and pros of tripods

Let’s start off with tripods. You know, those three legged stands that nearly all photographers have?! They provide your camera with a sturdy platform to which you attach your camera. Tripods come in all different sizes and have a huge variety of heads (the actual mounting point) to suit different shooting styles. They are especially helpful for avoiding camera shake when using slow shutter speeds. This is most useful when you want to blur water in a stream, show car light trails at night or simply do a long exposure.

tripod versus monopod - use a tripod for long exposures

With this frame, I used a tripod to prevent camera shake that would have been caused by the 3.2 second shutter speed. This shutter speed was used to blur the water.

Tripods can also be extremely helpful with macro, still life, and studio photography as they hold the camera in the exact spot you want while you set your shot up. Time-lapse photographers can also benefit from using a tripod over a monopod as it will ensure that there is no jumping between each frame as the camera is securely locked in one position. However, tripods are not without their cons.

tripod versus monopod

Use a tripod for long exposures like this.

Cons of tripods

However, tripods are not without their cons. They can be heavy to carry around and take some time to set up. Depending on which head you are using, tripods can also be very limiting for quick camera movements which you may need when photographing moving objects. Everything about using a tripod is slower. So if it’s speed, and ease of portability that you’re looking for and stability isn’t your main priority, then perhaps a tripod is not the best item for you.

Monopods

tripod versus monopod - use a monopod for more mobility

This is the monopod I use. Here, it is compacted (54cm/21.26″) but it extends to be 192cm (6’2″). It is made of carbon fibre and weighs in at only 620g (1.36lb) but can hold up to 18kg (39lb).

Uses and pros of monopods

When a rock solid platform for stability isn’t a priority many photographers turn to a monopod for their camera support needs. Just as the TRI in tripod means three, the MONO in monopod means – you guessed it – one! They are simply a single leg support on which you can mount your camera and/or lens. They too come in different sizes and will support different weight limits.

Monopods are perfect for taking the weight of a heavy lens/camera combination to stop aches and pains from a long day of shooting. If you’ve ever seen sports photographers with their long lenses, then you may have noticed that they are often being supported by a monopod. Monopods also offer much more versatility in movement as you now have only on one leg, not three, and they are much quicker to set up than their three-legged brethren.

tripod versus monopod - use a monopod for more mobility

This photo was taken using a 400mm f/2.8 lens. These lenses are quite heavy, so using a monopod is a great way to take the weight off your arms. Daniel Smith/Getty Images.

Cons of monopods

A monopod, however, will not offer you the same stability as a tripod, so if you’re considering a monopod as a lighter alternative to a tripod, do remember this. If it’s milky streams and flowing car lights that you’re after, a monopod will not help you here at all; you will still need a tripod.

But if your arms get tired from holding your camera up all day, then a monopod may well be very suited to your needs.

Conclusion

tripod-versus-monopod

While tripods and monopods offer extra support and in some cases, stability for your camera, there are times when one is more useful than the other and one cannot always be used in place of the other. Generally, for very long shutter speeds or time-lapse photography you’ll want to use a tripod to avoid camera shake and to maintain consistency between each frame. But if it’s a little extra support and to take the weight of a camera/lens combination, you can’t go wrong with a monopod.

Do you have either or both of monopod and tripod? How do you find using each of them?

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