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Photography Question 
Lee Klusky

hiking photos: monopod or tripod?

Hey, all. Did a search on the Q&A site here for monopod vs. tripod, and found some consistent answers as far as stability and usefulness. Does anyone have any personal anecdotes about the convenience of either one in hiking?

I use a Canon Digital Rebel, and I have a 15-year-old Bogen tripod that is just too heavy to take on hikes. I take fairly easy hikes most of the time but more strenuous ones at other times. I've gotten decent at keeping a steady hand (decent enough so that some sharpening in Photoshop helps a lot), but you can see from my Gallery that there's still some crispness that I'm not getting.

So I was looking into getting a light tripod, but a monopod looks both lighter and easier to deal with in a hiking situation (though I'd be giving up some stability). Does anyone have any wisdom on that they could share? I'm afraid I have to be cost-conscious on this purchase.

Thanks in advance!

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6/8/2005 10:56:51 PM

Irene Troy
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/27/2004
  Hi Lee,

I absolutely understand your concerns about weight and hiking! I have a great Bogan Tracker tripod that is rock solid but, it is also heavy and I resist carrying it with me when I go off hiking. Of-course, there is always carbon-fiber, if you have a spare $500 lying around. But, for the rest of us working stiffs, I found a Bogan tripod that weighs about 2.5lbs and is easily carried either by hand or attached to a backpack. It is made of aluminum and has a fixed ball head; I paid about $100 for it. Unfortunately, at the moment it is in my car and my car is in the shop. But if you want the model # let me know and Ill e-mail it to you. Keep in mind that while this tripod is light and easily carried, it is certainly not as solid as the Tracker. In high wind conditions I find that I must anchor the tripod legs by weighting the center column with my camera bag or other means. I have used a monopod, but, perhaps because I am something of a klutz, I find it hard to get sharpness with my monopod. They do make legs for a monopod, but I have no idea how well they work and it is another thing you must carry. I hope that this helps.

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6/9/2005 5:49:08 AM

doug Nelson   I have seen hiking staffs that have a screw-off knob and a screw underneath the knob for attaching a camera. See REI, Sierra Trading Post, Leki, and LL Bean. The resulting monopod can be extremely good for adding rigidity, if you can sit on a rock or lean on a tree, to give it even more stability.

Using a photographic monopod as a hiking stick is a bad idea, because you'd put too much stress on the joint mechanisms.

There are also tiny, very light table-top-type tripods you can set up on the ground or a rock, or even velcro to a small tree. Even so, in some low-light situations, you may have to take that Rebel off auto-exposure, and use a shutter-priority approach, giving up some depth-of-field.

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6/9/2005 6:51:17 AM

Irene Troy
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/27/2004
  Hi Doug - first, I love your gallery! I am particularly impressed by your selection of less well known sights when you travel. So many people simply photograph the same things that every other photographer shoots. it's wonderful to see some diversity. BTW: I really love your shot of the "Marshall" in Montana - its one of my favorite places.

On tripods: those table top tripods - can they handle the weight of a D-SLR with say a 200mm lens? I assume that, as you said, you would want to mount the tripod on someting stable, but just how much weight can you reasonably expect them to handle? It sounds like a great idea if they can handle some weight. Thanks!

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6/9/2005 7:54:51 AM

Lee Klusky   Irene, Doug: Thanks for the quick and helpful responses! I'm not really looking at a monopod as a walking stick. I just know I need some additional stability, but at the same time I expect to want to disconnect from the tripod often to go handheld. At least, I EXPECT I'll want to. Monopods seem to be less cumbersome, and more positionally flexible; perhaps I could get away with not removing the camera from a monopod as often as I would from a tripod.

So far I've been reasonably successful just using film speed and aperture settings to quicken my shutter speed as much as possible. It's fortunate that the Digital Rebel has such a small amount of noise even up to 800 speed, that's really helped.

Anyway, any wisdom about that? When you're on a photo hike, and you've got your tripod, do you find yourself wanting to remove from the tripod often?

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6/9/2005 10:04:11 AM

John Rhodes
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/24/2005
  Lee, I understand about not wanting to carry the weight of a solidly built tripod when hiking. Irene and others gave excellent advice on lightweight tripods; but, there is another alternative: a beanbag. Although I haven't personally used one, I have read a great deal. The beauty of the beanbag is that it will fully stabilize your camera and you can fill it with whatever is handy when you need it; pebbles, sand, etc.

The main limitation I see with the beanbag is finding a suitable place to put it for each shot. There's always the ground or you could get a little more elevation by putting it atop your pack. Even a tree stump or large rock could serve as a base for the beanbag. Let us know how the solution turned out



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6/9/2005 10:58:52 AM

doug Nelson   Irene, that tripod is a rather flimsy plastic thing I used with an Olympus XA. There's a bigger version, but definitely not workable with a full-size SLR and a tele.

Lee, you're not gonna be happy with anything but a tripod. Look at the lightweights and carbon-fiber models from all manufacturers and secure it to your pack with its compression straps or under the top flap. Good tripods have a quick-release plate that stays on the bottom of yoyr camera.

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6/9/2005 11:46:14 AM

Lee Klusky   Looking at the feedback I'm reading I'd have to agree, Doug. I've got to go and find the right combination of weight, sturdiness, release and price. I do tend to over-analyze these kinds of things, lol.

John, that's a very interesting suggestion! Though I now CANNOT get this scene out of my head:

I approach the orchid in the steamy tropical jungle. I'm wearing a battered fedora, a coiled shutter release hangs from my hip. I squat and peer at the flower, thoughtfully rubbing my chin, and pull out my beanbag. I grab a handful of sand from the ground and carefully pour it in measured handfuls into the beanbag...

I wonder what happens next? I suppose when I shoot the picture the orchid slowly lowers to the ground, and I get shot by the hidden dart blowers, or squashed by the big rolling boulder. Or better yet my guide does.

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6/9/2005 12:11:46 PM

Irene Troy
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/27/2004

As to your question about how often I find myself taking my camera off the tripod - not often! Generally I attach the camera to the tripod when I make the first couple of shots and leave it there for the duration of the hike. I usually end up with the entire shabang slung across my shoulder as I walk. Of-course, if I am really hiking - versus just taking a 3-4 miles walk - across rugged country I might remove the camera and put it back in the pack. But, I actually don't do this very often. I suspect that this is not really great practice, but...

The one thing I will warn you about when hiking with the camera on the tripod is to make positive sure that the camera is actually locked onto the tripod. You don't want the camera falling off because you forgot to lock it down! (It happened to me once).

John, I often use a bean bag when I am shooting around my car - it can work well on a car window or door - but never thought of hiking with one. Interesting.

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6/9/2005 1:14:55 PM

Lee Klusky   Thanks for that input Irene. RIght now I'm mostly talking about 3-4 mile walks, short enough and easy enough to get by with, say, a fanny pack and not a full pack. But the occasional "real" hike as well, and that's what I expected: sling the tripod over the shoulder.

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6/9/2005 1:19:36 PM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
  Camera support while afield or hiking is a major concern. Do we sacrifice stability and sharper photos for better convienience and less physical burden?

When we weigh the pro and cons,...the cons far excede the weight of a medium-light full sized tripod slung over our shoulder in a carrying case.
There are a number of tripod manufacturers who produce light weight 'pods which will support an SLR and a medium-telephoto.
Granted,...they will not be as stable as the heavier models but they will be easy to carry and will offer much more support than the monopod.

Those table-top compacts and mini-pods are a lighter alternative and will also support a fairly heavy combo. With these though you will be limited to shooting from ground-level up to a few feet or so.
I recently built leg extensions for my compact out of three equal lengths of PVC.
These "legs" are inexpensive, easy to build and transport, and can give you a little extra shooting height from your compact when needed.

If you DO opt for one of those hiking staff/monopod combos, be sure to get a small (but strong) ball head to screw on top of it,...(so you won't be limited to shooting only horizontals). With the head attached, you can flip to vertical format if you want.
Just remember that a monopod only stabilizes the vertical movement of the camera.

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6/9/2005 6:03:49 PM

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