Sat 19-Jan-13 02:23 PM | edited Sat 19-Jan-13 02:27 PM by Pilihp
Some food for thought...
I've had a fairly beefy Manfrotto monopod for a while. I use it with a tilt-head. Using a monopod without something to allow you to angle the camera relative to the support is really not practical for anything other than looking directly forward; this is an added expense if it is not built in. As others have noted a monopod will help, but with limitations. Obviously a monopod is a real challenge for long-exposure times.
A tripod is usually better than a monopod (for me) in most situations, except when shooting with fairly fast shutter speed or following a moving object. VR can help in poor light, but this obviously comes at a price.. a monopod has the advantage in regard to mobility. I bring both my tripod and my monopod with me (in my car) whenever I go out for a day.
Search the term monopod techniques and you can find all sorts of advice/tips about monopod use.
If your tripod is tall enough, try using it with only one leg extended, just to get the feel of it (a large Velcro strap, or equivalent, to bind the legs together helps with this.) You would be surprised how often I've done this while walking around with my tripod.
In certain scenarios, a monopod is much better than a tripod for me... but it depends on your specific situation. For instance, in scenarios with lots of other people and kids milling about (a zoo, an airshow, butterfly pavilion, or an arboretum are examples) a monopod is usually much easier (and safer) to use. Some places that ban tripod use will allow a monopod. (I had one guy tell me that my monopod was considered a tripod until I explained the difference, and found a diplomatic way to count fingers.)
You mentioned close-up scenarios... I have not found my monopod to be nearly as useful for macro/close-up work as my tripod. Except, perhaps, in scenarios like those mentioned above. But this is based my personal preferences.
For walking in the woods I find myself trying to carry my tripod more often than the monopod because I am trying to spread my wings and shoot more with shorter lenses (i.e., rather than just birds.)
As others noted in their responses a monopod can be a real back saver, primarily when using a heavier lens.
In combination with a ball head or rotating lens ring, leaning leaning the camera/lens against a tree, fence etc... will add a third dimension to support and it can be much more efficient. I added home-brew neoprene rings to my longer lenses so I can do this and not worry about scratching the lens barrel.
Lastly... as a side note, If you get into an uncomfortable situation, for any number reasons, a good monopod in your hand can be a lot more useful as a deterrent than a tripod...