Wildlife photography requires patience, technical skills, and a good amount of dedicated gear. And while many focus on high-end cameras and lenses, sometimes the monopod does all the work.
There’s no room for discussion that you often need camera support while photographing animals. Telephoto lenses used by wildlife photographers are heavy and difficult to handle for an extended period of time. Furthermore, they are susceptible to camera shake, if you cannot crank up your shutter speed to the speed of a cheetah or be saved by the vibration reduction. And while you are welcome to handhold the camera from time to time, it is not something you want to do all the time.
If you want to get the best light, your photo session may start at dawn and end long after sunset. You have to be able to shoot in worse light conditions and still produce sharp, free-of-noise images. A monopod stabilizes the camera and allows you to use lower ISO settings and slower shutter speeds to produce bright and beautiful animal photographs. In essence, what it does, is give you more opportunities to be creative and focus on composition.
But what is a monopod, and how to find the best one for your wildlife photography setup?
A monopod is the one-leg version of a tripod. It is lighter than its big cousin and thus easier to carry around. A monopod is also easier to set up and reach at a high height. It gives you more freedom to follow moving subjects, react to unexpected subjects, and capture outstanding life moments.
Therefore, although it is not as stable as a tripod, wildlife photographers prefer it because it increases their reaction speed and mobility. When you hide in the bushes to photograph birds or suddenly spot a good subject in your neighborhood or on the side of the road, you have to be fast and discrete. However if you crouch in a hide for what seems like an eternity, you might end up with a sour arm, even from just balancing the monopod. In that case, a tripod is obviously a better choice.
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Key Features to Look for in a Monopod for Wildlife Photography
However, not all monopods are the same. If you want a reliable companion that will be around for a long time, make sure it has the following features.
A monopod allows you to move the camera almost in any way you like. But it works only when the bottom tip is firmly grounded on any surface. The monopod should not slip. You want a stable monopod that works on any terrain.
Maximum Load Capacity
The monopod should be able to support the weight of the camera, lens, and all the accessories you may need (e.g., external flash, external microphone for video recording, filters, rain cover, etc.). Don’t forget that the best lenses for wildlife photography may be heavy.
Maximum and Minimum Heights
Wildlife photography includes photographing a wide variety of animals and birds. Some may be short, others tall. Some may hide in the grass, others in the trees. For some shots, you’ll have to get as close as possible to the ground. For others, you’ll need to place the camera as high as possible. Your workflow influences the choice of the monopod.
At the same time, you should consider your height. If you want to photograph faraway animals and camera height doesn’t matter, you will probably want to have the camera at your eye level. The more comfortable you are, the better you can focus on your photography.
The weight determines the portability of the monopod. It adds to the overall weight of your gear. If you find good places for wildlife photography near your home, carrying a few extra kilograms may not be a problem. But when you go on extended photo trips that include camping and covering long distances by foot, every gram counts.
If you want the monopod to stay on its own, it has to have little flip-out feet. On some models, the feet actually flip out, and you have to tighten them to hold the monopod. On other models, the feet are already out and fixed, and you have nothing to do. Consider how much the feet will improve your workflow as they add to the weight of the monopod.
Note, that with a heavy wildlife lens attached to your camera, you are begging for trouble if you rely on the tiny flip-out feets to be able to balance your camera setup hands-free.
Grip refers to the area of the monopod where your hands will be. It has to be comfortable and offer a secure grasp. Furthermore, it helps if the monopod includes a wrist strap to secure the camera and make it harder for you to drop it. Remember that cameras and lenses for wildlife photography are quite expensive.
Locking Mechanism Speed
To increase the setup speed, the locking mechanisms of the monopod should work very fast. At the same time, they have to be reliable and secure. Monopods available on the market have either twist locks (more secure) or flip locks (faster). Again, choose the mechanisms that fit your requirements.
Photography gear isn’t the most sustainable product. It includes plastic and composite materials, which makes it hard to recycle.
Avoid fast-consumption by choosing a product you will most likely use for a long time.
Best Monopod Selection in 2022
Considering all the above key features and trying to be open to whatever wildlife photography workflow you may have, we’ve come up with the following selection of monopods.
Why we chose it: It is lightweight, versatile, and reliable.
Steadicam Air has a lightweight carbon fiber construction, twist-lock leg sections, and a fixed rubber foot. It comes in two versions, Air 15 and Air 25, the difference being in weight capacity. Air 15 supports 15 lbs (6.8 kg), while Air 25 supports 25 lbs (11.3 kg). The monopod has three sections and offers a minimum height of 28 inches (71.1 cm) and a maximum height of 62.5 inches (158.75 cm). It weighs only 3.5 lbs (1.58 kg).
Why we chose it: It has a good maximum height and payload
XPRO is a full-fluid base monopod that provides a smooth pan, tilt, and swivel. It has three retractable feet for increased stability, a leg warmer for extra grip, and an ergonomic Quick Power Lock mechanism. The monopod supports up to 44 lbs (20 kg). The minimum height is 23.8 inches (60.5 cm), and the maximum height is 74 inches (188cm).
You can choose between an XPRO carbon fiber monopod and an aluminum one, the difference being in weight (carbon fiber, 2.2 lbs (1 kg), aluminum 1.54 lbs (0.69 kg)) and price.
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Why we chose it: It is extremely compact and has a good minimum height
An ultra-light, compact, and ergonomic carbon fiber monopod, Traveler is perfect for long trips. It weighs only 0.89 lbs (0.4 kg) and goes from a minimum height of 14.37 inches (36.5 cm) to a maximum height of 55.91 inches (142 cm) in 6-leg sections. The monopod features the Traveler G-lock system that aims to ensure extreme compactness. In case of wear, you can replace the stable foot and continue to use the monopod. It also has a wristband for hanging on your backpack or belt.
The Sustainable Option: Ries M600
Why we chose it: It is the most sustainable monopod option
M600 is a monopod mostly made of wood, and you can even select the wood (Maple, Jatoba, or Sapele). Its compact and lightweight design takes you closer to nature.
At the same time, the monopod provides optimal support for your camera. It has a crown size of 2 inches and is available with 1/4-20 inches or 3/8-16 inches mounting screws. M600 has three sections of approximately 20 inches (50.8 cm) and weighs 2.5 lbs (1.134 kg). It might not be the fastest monopod to set up, but it is definitely the most environmental-friendly.
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Wildlife photography isn’t just about photographing animals. It is also about caring for them, raising awareness about the continuous deterioration of their habitats, and protecting their environment.
Choosing the gear is part of the photography workflow and impacts your results. And technical parameters are just one side of the story. Accessories such as a monopod should also be comfortable, easy to use, and appropriate for your preferred photography genre. Regardless of their technical innovation, marketing, and reviews, photo accessories should match your style and preferences. No two photographers will use the gear in the same manner.
So, let us know if you use a monopod for wildlife photography and how did you choose it.