In this informative article, we’ll compare monopods vs tripods as they relate to video production along with some of their most common accessories.
That belongs in a museum
I doubt it comes as much of a surprise that “tri” is Latin for three and “pod” Latin for feet. But what you might not know is that the tripod had been around for many millennia earlier than had a single word of the classical language ever been spoken.
Archaeologists have dug up tripods in the form of ceramic cookware, decorative pottery, and bronze sacrificial altars from early Chinese cultures that predated Rome by about 7,000 years. It turns out, humans recognized the usefulness of three legs about as early on as it gets.
Particularly for civilizations where level ground was hard to come by, the design of three legs was better than four. You can perform this experiment at home by shaving off an inch from one leg of your coffee table and observing an infuriating teeter-totter when kicking your feet up after a long day at the office.
Even as much of our modern surfaces have become more level, the otherwise primitive design of the tripod has continued to stay relevant with our most advanced technologies. From astronomy to land surveyal to marksmanship to alien fighting machines (see War of the Worlds) the tripod does quite a bit more for our modern world than just photography and film.
But when it comes to stabilization, tripods aren’t the only option. While three is better than two and four (five is right out), sometimes one is better than three. Enter the monopod, a single pole that provides support to cameras, binoculars, and other tools that require steady precision. The first documented monopod was Gandalf the Gray’s staff (~The Third Age).
In the heights
When looking for either tripod or monopod, an adjustable height is a no-brainer. Most tripods have adjustable legs and a central post that lowers up and down. A monopod will have two or three adjustable clamps for its single leg.
When shopping for a ‘pod, I recommend checking the listed maximum and minimum height. Better to have the maximum height out of tippy-toe reach so you can reach as many possible angles on any given shoot. Unless of course, you’re just planning on shooting eye-level interviews. Still, you never know when you might interrogate Shaq about his latest restaurant venture.
I also recommend reading some reviews that talk about the ‘pods grip strength. Sometimes the clamps that hold the adjustable legs lose their grip resulting in a camera that slowly slips towards the ground. A lot of times this is because the camera and accessories are too heavy to hold everything up. Some high-end manufacturers include a tool that allows you to tighten or loosen the bolts holding the leg locks.
Release your anger
Quick-release plates are pretty common to tripods and monopods, but some manufacturers like Manfrotto and Acratech take the convenience a step further by creating a universal plate size for quickly switching between their products. Even DJI, the drone and gimbal company, has designed the quick release mounts on their stabilizers like the Ronin S to be compatible with the Manfrotto “bridge system”. Not having to unscrew and re-screw a separate tripod plate to my camera is a frustration-saver I’ve found to be worth the money.
Let them fight
The big matchup between monopods vs tripods pretty much boils down to stability and mobility. It’s like a matchup between Godzilla (tripod) vs King Kong (monopod). In a toe-to-toe matchup, King Kong doesn’t stand a chance against the sheer size and sturdy stance of Godzilla. But given a metropolitan jungle gym to swing around on, King Kong might just have the upper hand.
If you’re going to plop your equipment down, sit tight, and only move a couple of times per shoot then the tripod offers you the stability to hold your ground. The drawback is that folding the legs in and out and adjusting for a level shot takes a bit of time and effort.
If you don’t have time to be fiddling with legs or the strength to lug around a big hunk of metal all day, a monopod can save you a lot of effort. Moving a monopod is simply a matter or picking it up and moving to the next location. The drawback is that you can’t let go of a monopod without it tipping over and doing a number on your camera.
Monopods vs Tripods: Pros & Cons
Accessories to consider
Besides adjustable heights and quick-release plates, there are a couple of ‘pod accessories I’ve found to be useful over the years.
The first is a spirit level, or that little neon green bubble that you see in those levels you use to make sure your picture frames are straight. These little bubbles help you make sure your footage is level before you get to post-production to find out that your shot was just out of whack. Most of the time, these levels are built into the head of the tripod itself, but some companies also sell them as cold-shoe accessories.
The second accessory, pop-out support legs, only apply to monopods. Ironically enough, even a monopod needs the benefit of three feet. The support legs boost the stability of a monopod while staying small enough to maintain a portable, and lightweight support.
Lastly, is a couple of top brands I recommend checking out for your next ‘pod purchase. If you haven’t guessed it already, I’m a big fan of Manfrotto. Their reliable construction and standardized quick-release plates are a far cry from the cheap-plastic and easily-broken tripods that I started out with. Gitzo, Acratech, Really Right Stuff, and Neewer are some other solid brands to check out.
While it’s tempting to skimp out on a seemingly insignificant piece of gear like a tripod, taking a little time to research a good ‘pod can save you the hassle of dragging your feet back to the online store when that cheap one inevitably gives out. With a sturdy pod in hand (and historical appreciation for tripods), you might just find a newfound connection to that ancient human practice of finding some stability on uneven ground.
For more Indiana Jonesian archaeological expeditions, keep it bookmarked to JuicedLink.