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What Monopod
by J. Ramon Palacios

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What monopod head?

You could use your monopod with no head at all, of course, by attaching the camera directly to it, or using a quick release shoe and quick release plate for your camera or long lens; but your gear mobility is not only greatly reduced, the stability of the monopod goes to shreds when inappropriately positioned to tilt the camera.

A frequently used head, for the purpose of having a good tilt angle is a very economic option: the Manfrotto 234 swivel head, previosuly known in the USA as the Bogen 3232, used in conjunction with a good Arca Swiss style quick release shoe. Kirk modified it for better performance, having a fixed integrated clamp, the MPA-1 now discontinued. Kirk has now produced its own and very nice newer MPA-2. Markins offers its superb Q3 ball head.


Kirk MPA-2 and Markins Q3 "Emille" ball heads

The Kirk MPA-2 is made of duraluminum alloy and designed for -90° to +90° tilt with cameras with small to medium lenses without tripod collars. With a good quick release clamp on top you can continue to use your industry standard Arka-Swiss type dove-tail plates. It weights 397 grams / 14oz. It has been successfully used with superguns for typical sports angles tilt.

An even better solution is to top the monopod with a small professional ball head. As someone has correctly written: "One thing that you don’t need on a monopod is some sort of fussy ball head (or pan-tilt head) to adjust." Of course, and that is why by professional I mean one with enough load capacity for total peace of mind and with a "sweet spot". Having a sweet spot means, a friction setting that will allow for movement of the camera-lens setup under your pressure but with no creeping and without having to touch the controls of the ball head at all.

Many have too quickly discarded this solution because they have not enjoyed a ball head with the above mentioned characteristics, therefore thinking they need a lock/unlock operation to move the camera and an extra free hand or a tail to do it. A pity, because a monopod with a professional ball head is what gives the most effortless flexibility and great results.

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A professional ball head will allow not only for straight forward and upward tilt movements, but also for side movements at an angle and even panning, and without rotating the monopod if you don't want that. It will also allow for flopping your gear into the open channel for quick vertical composition, if you don't have a lens with a tripod collar or an L-bracket when with lenses with no tripod collar.

Some of those discarding the use of a ball head on a monopod insist that you need to adjust it. As said before, with a pro ball head you don't need to adjust anything, that is only required with a "fussy ballhead".

Secondly, some others insist that you don't have a free hand -if needed- because one hand is holding the monopod and the other is shooting. Well, you will see in the next section that is not necessarily true. You can place both hands on the camera-lens. The monopod is not going anywhere, it is firmly attached under your gear.

I started using a Markins M10 for the task. It functioned very nicely on my heavy monopod but on my lighter one it felt a bit top-heavy.

Now I use a Markins Q3 "Emille", specifically designed at our suggestion for monopods and light tripods, weighting only 385 grams / 13.5 oz, with a load capacity of 30Kg / 66 lbs. Total bliss. Ready for all lenses, from wide angles to the really big guns.

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Like tripods and even more than tripods, monopods need your help to do the job well. Let's get into that next.

  Continue reading about monopods...»
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Tripods, Monopods & Heads Forum
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