All you need to know about monopods, and a bonus of a product review
I was asked to professionally gauge many professional photography items during the past few weeks. Today I present my critique on a monopod made by Miliboo.
The monopod model is MTT705.
This is important to note that despite the products were brought to me for the review, I advised the various manufacturers in advance that (, as always) my review/s are not bought for money or goods, and those will always reflect my true and real impressions out of the products, and be based on real-world usage that I do with the products. I also apply some further strain on the products that I review in order to mimic a long and demanding usage with the products for years, and hence some of my checks involved applying force onto the products.
Tripods, yes TRIPODS (no, you are not reading the wrong article. I simply start with tripods) have been a crucial gear component for photographers in so many genres. Many people usually start their route in photography in the landscape genre. While taking the shots can be of course done while one holds the rig in their hands, landscape photographers mostly benefit from using a sturdy tripod to capture sharp photos.
While tripods also have an absolutely irreplaceable role in architecture and Real Estate photography, some other genres can use the more “relaxed” form of tripod – the Monopod. That sort of one-legged “tripod” must be useful, right? So, what does a monopod do? And why should people use a monopod when they already have tripods?
Well, let us just remember that most of the times we do seek to gain sharp photos. As a side note, indeed, when I talk on behalf of myself, as an artist, I can definitely say that I do not always look for the sharpness, and sometimes I do INTENTIONALLY implement some (or a lot of) blurriness in my art compositions. Why? Because as an artist I need to express myself and my ideas through the work I do, and from time to time, sharpness simply does not serve me right. So, I do use slower shutter speeds, or incorporate some hand movements while shooting. If that sounds crazy – then you should really need to come over to one of my workshops.
Back to the subject matter, monopods come to assist us in stabilising the camera rig better than hand holding it while shooting. The monopod has only one leg, and hence one cannot leave the camera rig mounted on it without actually supporting the camera in their hands. If you think about it for a moment, the monopod allows you to prevent those micro VERTICAL shakes of your hands while shooting.
Why do I explicitly mention VERTICAL hand shakes? Well, if you currently have a camera in your hand (any photographic device, should it be a cellphone or a proper camera) and try to keep your hands still whilst aiming toward your nearest object, what would you see on the screen? You would find in the live-view that the image has small movements in both the horizontal plane and the vertical plane. Those movements are based on the strength of your muscles, your breathing, your heartbeats, posture, the way you hold the camera, and so on. You CANNOT eliminate those movements altogether. Those movements are indeed so tiny that without paying too much attention to them you would not even realize their existence (especially the beginners among you).
If we eliminate at least one of the movement directions, we can reach better stability to take the shot. Once we connect the camera-rig to the monopod we add more weight to the already heavy rig (compared to a cell phone). However, once the monopod’s “foot” it on the ground, neither the weight of the camera rig, nor the vertical micro-movements play any degrading role! We eliminate repeating those up-and-down micro-movements altogether and are able to shoot with markedly better stability in order to achieve sharper shots.
Why should we not eliminate also the horizontal pane micro-movements?
That’s a good question. If one want to completely eliminate both the vertical and the horizontal micro-movements then a tripod is the answer. The tripod stay on its three legs on the ground without the need to hold the camera in the hands, as opposed to the monopod. The tripod gives a much superior stability, as explained earlier. But a tripod cannot always be the go-to gear when we do need to actually pan the camera while shooting. Good examples for this are bird photography, racing, sports, wildlife and more. What we have here is an object that is in movement, and more often than not that object moves very fast.
Once we eliminated the vertical movement of the camera, and the object mostly moves horizontally, those micro-movements of our hands are not a problem as we intentionally panning (horizontally moving) our camera to follow the object. That is why the monopod truly shines in such photography genres.
One may ask the justified question: ‘why should I buy both a tripod and a monopod?’. That is a very relevant question indeed. Well, you DON’T have to buy both of those gear components. You also do not have to buy different lenses, or other gear. It is already known that in order to yield any photo you only need a camera body and one lens connected onto it. But since none of my article readers truly purchase a camera in order to keep on their photography quite average, we DO need to invest a little bit more in additional gear.
Having a tripod gives us stability of both horizontal and vertical micro-movements; a monopod gives us that stability regarding the vertical direction. The usage of tripods and monopods can only sometimes be identical. The most prominent issue to emphasise regarding the differences between the former and the latter is that panning from one spot to another on a tripod could only reach an angle of up to 120° (I refer to degrees in geometry, not temperature). The tripod has three legs that when they are wide-open and on the ground the angle between each pair of legs is exactly 120°. If you reckon that 120° are enough then you should rethink it all over!
When your objects are relatively close to you while they are moving erratically from one side to another and you try to follow them with your camera, then you realise that at one spot you are no longer able to follow after them. That happens due to one of the tripod legs that you suddenly bump into in the heat of your movement! Since the tripod legs are kept wide into the ground, the tripod is hence less ideal to follow moving objects in such genres.
The advantage of a monopod
A monopod, as derived from its name, stands on its only leg. This gives it a superb advantage over a tripod. The chase after close moving objects while using a monopod is a genuinely whole different story. Here, you will not have any geometrical constraints of 120°. Here you have the possibility to do the entire 360° panning movement, as the monopod’s leg is turning around with you wherever you swivel your camera to.
Product: Miliboo MTT705 Monopod
Now that we finally get the idea behind why a monopod can be (and is, actually) a crucial component to carry on location, I can give some of my impressions regarding this specific monopod. The monopod that I got is made of three main components:
2. Carbon fiber legs
3. Heavy duty soft plastic for the three flexi-legs
My monopod arrived with a fluid head on which I will dedicate a separate article. This Miliboo monopod's build quality is impressive. I was trying to vigorously shake things around and to purposely, viciously, and vulgarly open up connections between the parts of the monopod, and in all my tries I was unsuccessful. I am very impressed because such build quality is what I expect of all of my professional grade gear. I want to know that I can count on my gear when I am in a session or a mission. There are absolutely no wiggly parts whatsoever in this monopod.
The only free moving part is located underneath the top part that serves as the base to the monopod head. That moving part is actually a tough plastic ring that holds the Miliboo-logo printed fabric strip for the hand that one can mount the monopod on their shoulder or wrap it around the hand for easy carrying. All of the materials that construct it seem to be of heavy duty. I usually do not rely on any of the manufacturers’ marketing wording or tricks, but this time around the materials do seem to correlate to the official marketing by the manufacturer. Well done!
If you compare the size of planet Earth to Jupiter, you’d understand that we are just a dwarf in a game of the big gas giant. If you compare us to Mars, then we’re quite big, aren’t we?!
Same thing in here. Measurements of the monopod can serve you right, provided you are located in the range of people having a height of up to about 2.10 metre or so. Miliboo manufactured here a product that easily fits to 95% of the people I know of, let alone most of the people in the world. If you are taller than 2.10 metre, then you’d probably need to either shorten your legs a bit, or bend over just a little so you can see what’s going on through the view-finder. (ehmmm..... I hope you don’t get me seriously with the stuff of shortening your legs, eight?!)
So, basically, this tripod fits 95% of the people. You won’t suffer any lower-back pain simply because you WILL reach the view finder as long as you are not taller than 2.10metre. that’s, for me, a huge advantage of this product. I am relatively tall person at 1.80metre, so I find the product as marvellous to my height.
The monopod can be easily divided into three areas:
1. The head-base
2. The body
3. The flexi-legs
The Head-base is made of a thick 8mm heavy duty rounded plastic. This base is flat and has groves in it that presumably come to create better contact with the tripod head. As I mentioned above, I was trying to open and shake the monopod vigorously in order to assess its build quality, and this monopod withstood my evil tests. I do it, so you will not need to!
The body is actually one long leg that is essentially constructed out of three carbon fibre tubes. The tubes are getting into one another when you would like to mount the monopod on your camera bag. The thickest tube’s diameter is approximately 3.5centimeters (1.37 inches). That is perhaps not the thickest tube you’d find in the market, but for such of a study monopod it is more than enough to safely and conveniently hold a heavy rig. When I open the three tubes and tried to swivel one inside the other (as part of my vigorous tests), the rotation movement was only 2 millimetres. That adds to the sturdiness, and I tend to believe that inside of tubes there is some sort of a stop-system that prevents unwanted free rotation of either of the tubes; that is very similar with another Miliboo product that I have purchased in the past.
As opposed to aluminium, the carbon fibre does not feel so cold during cold days. The foamy coat that the top and thickest tube has attached onto it assists very well in handling of the monopod and moving it from one location to another. Overall, no wiggly stuff there, and it seems quite well that product was well assembled back in the factory. Opening the sections of the legs is done with tensioned clips. One needs to use some meaningful force in order to open those clips. Now, do not be bothered by the word “force” above. I reckon that this is actually a good thing. You would not want to have loose parts in there.
I find the those clips to be of an adequate quality. They seem to conform with the rest of the few plastic parts that construct the monopod. Together with the carbon fibre and the aluminium those three components work in a great synergy! In my checks, when I opened up the tubes, the clips held a substantial force when I tried to forcefully close them in. For those who remember from the physics lessons back in University or high school, applying force against an object is remarkably similar to putting weight on the object. Hence, in my tries I actually mimicked mounting heavy weight on the monopod. The clips successfully held up against my resistance. Well done, Miliboo!
The lowest part of the monopod is actually a three small flexi-legs. Those legs can be opened and closed at will, and if I needed an impromptu tripod, say when I was on a promenade, then it successfully turned the monopod to tripod. The flexi-legs give me an opening of around 16.5 centimetres (6.5 inches) in diameter. That’s enough to hold my mirrorless rig (Fuji X-T4 + Tokina 33mm lens) on it very steadily, however, my full frame rigs were naturally more heavy on it and hence it was a bit wiggly.
I find the flexi-legs to be a bonus to the monopod, rather than a must-have component. When I look for a monopod, then I look for a monopod. Period! The fact that this Miliboo model has the flexi-legs is truly a nice additional function for the product. So, what do I recommend when one opens up the monopod and mount on it their rig? First, when having a monopod, never (, but NEVER!!) leave your camera by itself. Never lean it on a wall or any other objects. A monopod is not a tripod in any possible way, and it is only assisting you in eliminating some vertical movements. So when you open the flexi-legs and it seems to you as if it is really steady, just remember, that the stability that comes from a 16.5 centimetres diameter mini-tripod can NEVER compare to a real tripod. These bonus flexi-legs are having one major role – helping you in stabilising the monopod even further to “regular” monopods, but never turning it to a full tripod. Please tell me you get this!
The materials that comprise the flexi-legs are strong aluminium and the high quality plastic that I mentioned earlier in the article. I could not quite understand what the red bulb-shaped at the top of the flexi-legs is made of, so I made a contact with Miliboo, and they promised me that this is also aluminium! I really wanted to find the Achilles heel of this monopod, material-wise, but could not really find it! I am so happy that this red bulb is not cheap plastic as one can find from other Chinese manufacturers. As a professional photographer, I wrote to Miliboo and recommended their production department to truly consider changing the red colour of the bulb to be as the rest of the body (black) and to keep on the texture of it as the lower part of it. That way this will not create any illusion that it is a cheap plastic. I do hope they get my recommendations to the right direction.
I have checked the monopod day and night, in cold and warmer weather. The usability of this monopod does not fall short in any way of any other, much more expensive branded monopods in the market. In fact, this monopod is built so well, and has stood some irrational resistance force that I applied onto it that I truly reckon that we have here a fully professional product. And yes, this is made in China! I reckon that one needs to completely shift their minds in regard to products made in that country. I do happened to foolishly purchase other Chinese gear that held up about one or two sessions; but not my Miliboo products so far.
Would I recommend it to my students? Yes, absolutely! Would I recommend it to my colleagues around the world? Absolutely positive! I see no reason to invest in other similar products that cost more and give similar or even inferior durability or use.
But do not listen to what I say; simply try it for yourself...