Tripod versus Monopod – a Comparison and When to Use Each

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Tripods and monopods, you’re very likely to have seen them. They both have their uses and their purposes for existing. But when do you use one over the other and what advantages do each have? In this article, I’ll look to explain when you would use a tripod versus a monopod and how they’re not necessarily exchangeable in their properties.

Tripods

Jake Khuon

By Jake Khuon

Uses and pros of tripods

Let’s start off with tripods. You know, those three legged stands that nearly all photographers have?! They provide your camera with a sturdy platform to which you attach your camera. Tripods come in all different sizes and have a huge variety of heads (the actual mounting point) to suit different shooting styles. They are especially helpful for avoiding camera shake when using slow shutter speeds. This is most useful when you want to blur water in a stream, show car light trails at night or simply do a long exposure.

tripod versus monopod - use a tripod for long exposures

With this frame, I used a tripod to prevent camera shake that would have been caused by the 3.2 second shutter speed. This shutter speed was used to blur the water.

Tripods can also be extremely helpful with macro, still life, and studio photography as they hold the camera in the exact spot you want while you set your shot up. Time-lapse photographers can also benefit from using a tripod over a monopod as it will ensure that there is no jumping between each frame as the camera is securely locked in one position. However, tripods are not without their cons.

tripod versus monopod

Use a tripod for long exposures like this.

Cons of tripods

However, tripods are not without their cons. They can be heavy to carry around and take some time to set up. Depending on which head you are using, tripods can also be very limiting for quick camera movements which you may need when photographing moving objects. Everything about using a tripod is slower. So if it’s speed, and ease of portability that you’re looking for and stability isn’t your main priority, then perhaps a tripod is not the best item for you.

Monopods

tripod versus monopod - use a monopod for more mobility

This is the monopod I use. Here, it is compacted (54cm/21.26″) but it extends to be 192cm (6’2″). It is made of carbon fibre and weighs in at only 620g (1.36lb) but can hold up to 18kg (39lb).

Uses and pros of monopods

When a rock solid platform for stability isn’t a priority many photographers turn to a monopod for their camera support needs. Just as the TRI in tripod means three, the MONO in monopod means – you guessed it – one! They are simply a single leg support on which you can mount your camera and/or lens. They too come in different sizes and will support different weight limits.

Monopods are perfect for taking the weight of a heavy lens/camera combination to stop aches and pains from a long day of shooting. If you’ve ever seen sports photographers with their long lenses, then you may have noticed that they are often being supported by a monopod. Monopods also offer much more versatility in movement as you now have only on one leg, not three, and they are much quicker to set up than their three-legged brethren.

tripod versus monopod - use a monopod for more mobility

This photo was taken using a 400mm f/2.8 lens. These lenses are quite heavy, so using a monopod is a great way to take the weight off your arms. Daniel Smith/Getty Images.

Cons of monopods

A monopod, however, will not offer you the same stability as a tripod, so if you’re considering a monopod as a lighter alternative to a tripod, do remember this. If it’s milky streams and flowing car lights that you’re after, a monopod will not help you here at all; you will still need a tripod.

But if your arms get tired from holding your camera up all day, then a monopod may well be very suited to your needs.

Conclusion

tripod-versus-monopod

While tripods and monopods offer extra support and in some cases, stability for your camera, there are times when one is more useful than the other and one cannot always be used in place of the other. Generally, for very long shutter speeds or time-lapse photography you’ll want to use a tripod to avoid camera shake and to maintain consistency between each frame. But if it’s a little extra support and to take the weight of a camera/lens combination, you can’t go wrong with a monopod.

Do you have either or both of monopod and tripod? How do you find using each of them?

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Daniel is originally from Melbourne, Australia, but now resides in the UK. He specializes in sport and editorial photography and is a photographer with the worlds leading digital content suppliers. You can see more of his work by following him on Instagram.

  • darryl3

    I use a tripod but frequently extend just 1 leg and use it as a monopod.

  • That’s a great idea if you don’t need a monopod all the time, or even if you’re just the use of a monopod and don’t have one with you.

    Thanks for the comment!

  • Susanne

    I bought the monopod for when I need to support the camera a little bit but don’t need total stability. I haven’t used it a lot but will try to use it more, it’s a nice little gadget and more convenient than the tripod when I don’t do longer shutter speeds.

  • Sandy Logan

    I have a Zonei tripod with one leg that unscrews and becomes a monopod. That way I have both, and can leave the tripod in the room or car when I don’t want the weight. It was great filming the watering holes in Africa, and the monopod was so useful in the land rover on the game drives to hold up the telephoto lens. I also used the bean bag more than I thought I would.

  • pete guaron

    I love my tripod dearly & use it almost always, for macro work. But when travelling, the bulk and weight of a tripod means it stays at home.
    Modern digital gear can provide some relief – we’re no longer confined to 100 ASA (in old money – now 100 ISO), and with a good prime, a higher ISO, and a wide aperture, hand held shots become a realistic alternative in many situations. Not ALL situations, of course – and I must admit I am attracted the possibility of taking a monopod.
    With vibration control or whatever, in many modern lenses, it’s quite possible to take tack sharp shots – good stance etc of course is essential – but it is self-evident that the failure rate would drop dramatically, or disappear altogether, with the use of a suitable ‘pod.

  • David Prince

    I have both, I us the monopod most when walking, particularly in the mountains where I use it as a walking pole, this eliminates the weight of carrying. Whilst the monopod is not as stable I can sometimes find a crevice for the foot to add extra stability

  • Pete Mueller

    Remember also that many venues/locations that could force long exposure times may prohibit use of tripod… museums, shows, etc. Monopod is the next best solution for getting those shots…

  • Yes that is also true.

  • Bill84

    I use a Sunpak VersiPod 2 that is great as a hiking pole, the bottom 16 inches break out into a tripod foot, Of course I also have two heavy tripods and a leica tabletop tripod/

  • drdroad

    I rarely shoot hand held. Certain subjects/scenes require a tripod (I do LOTS of night/urban photography), but otherwise my camera is almost always on my Monopod. I’ve successfully shot as slow as 1/20th with the Monopod, pretty sure I’d be disappointed if I tried that hand held. I also used to extend just one leg of my tripod, but decided the Tripod was just too heavy to carry around full time.

  • TW Douglass

    I have a MeFoto tripod. One of the legs screws off for use as a monopod. This versitility comes in real handy sometimes.

  • Sazzat

    How is the performance of zonei? Good enough for sigma 150-600mm sports?

  • Sandy Logan

    It should be fine, it’s ZoMei (slip of the finger) and you can get them in a couple of days from Amazon. Best part is they are returnable if it doesn’t hold up that huge lens.

  • Eduardo Portillo

    I have both, the monopod is the best to carry and street photo for stability and for the night and long exposures have a compact manfrotto tripod, so for me the rulo of thumb is daylight monopod and night and dark places tripod.

  • Ffaelan Condragh
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