Let's face it, even the best monopod is effectively a one-legged tripod that you will still need to support! But the idea is not as crazy as it sounds. Even with image stabilisation, if you shoot handheld in low light or at long focal lengths you run the risk of blur from camera shake. Ramping up the ISO sensitivity is one solution, but for sharp shots with minimal image noise, a monopod can give you the extra support you need with a fraction of the fuss of a tripod.
Monopods are smaller, lighter and less time-consuming to set up than even the best tripod designs, with only one leg to extend rather than three. Most monopods weigh in at well under 1kg, yet there’s no need to sacrifice height, as many legs will top out at over 160cm and still pack down to around a third that size.
A greater number of leg sections enables a monopod to compress smaller for carrying. The trade-off is a slightly longer setup time if you need to extend all leg sections, as there are more clamps to operate. Each clamp is also a potential weak point that can introduce unwanted flexing. Another factor to bear in mind is that the more leg sections you have, the thinner and weaker the bottom sections will be. Choosing the best monopod often means balancing rigidity against weight, size against speed.
Whichever one you choose, a monopod can be a great support when shooting both stills and video, and it’s a must if you’re working with heavy telephoto lenses, because the monopod can take all the weight.
5 things to look for in a monopod
1. STAND TALL
Check that the monopod can extend high enough to enable a natural shooting position.
2. GET A GRIP
The ability to switch a rubber foot for a spike can be useful when on softer ground.
3. FLIP OR TWIST
Flip clamps tend to be faster but bulkier than twist-locks, and can work loose.
4. STABILISING INFLUENCE
Some designs offer optional flip-out feet to increase stability.
5. TOP IT OFF
Most monopods have a direct camera mount, but you can also fit a ball head.
1. Novo Explora MP20
Quite simply, it’s hard to find any fault with this monopod
Material: Carbon fibre | Sections: Four | Max load: 20kg | Extended length: 182cm | Packed length: 57.5cm | Weight: 480g
Let’s get the negative out of the way – this is the longest monopod here when compressed. It extends high though, and while using four rather than five leg sections reduces compactness, it ups rigidity. Combine this with the thick 20mm minimum leg diameter and twist-lock clamps that refuse to slip under much more than the rated 20kg, and the Explora rivals even the mighty Induro for stiffness. Everything stands on a good-sized rubber foot which can be removed to reveal a decent spike. Factor in the reasonably light weight and respectable construction quality and you’ve got unbeatable value. If you're having trouble tracking it down, you can buy it here.
2. Benro Adventure MAD49A
Superb reach and rigidity for modest money: a great buy
Material: Aluminium | Sections: Five | Max load: 18kg | Extended length: 191cm | Packed length: 54cm | Weight: 840g
This is the heaviest leg here by over 200g, but it’s also the tallest. It manages not be especially long when packed, and the aluminium tubing is impressively rigid. Flip clamps make for speedy set-up; they’re a more streamlined shape than the Manfrotto’s clamp design, and they can be user-maintained should they ever work loose. Another nice touch is the oversized 50mm-diameter foot: it offers unrivalled grip on flat surfaces and links to the leg via a manoeuvrable ball joint. If weight is an issue, a 620g carbon version is also available, albeit for well over twice the price.
3. Nest NT M229C
Good quality and versatility at an incredible price
Material: Carbon fibre | Sections: Five | Max load: 20kg | Extended length: 164.5cm | Packed length: 46cm | Weight: 450g
First, it’s worth noting that although the RRP for this monopod is £90, Nest has it on long-term sale at half-price. This makes it incredible value, as the extended height and maximum/minimum leg diameters closely match the Manfrotto XPRO, yet Nest’s design is noticeably lighter and more compact when compressed. The latter is thanks to splitting the leg into five sections, although this does compromise rigidity: there’s a similar amount of lateral joint play as in the Gitzo, but Nest’s 20kg load rating is credible. It’s a shame you can’t change the fixed rubber foot for a spike, though. It's a shame it's not easier to find, too, but you can buy it direct from UK Digital.
4. Induro CLM304L Stealth
Rock-solid support that’ll stand strong under immense weight
Material: Carbon fibre | Sections: Four | Max load: 18kg | Extended length: 158cm | Packed length: 52.5cm | Weight: 520g
The Stealth could well slip under your radar, with its average weight and size specs, and few frills. But there are hidden depths here. Induro’s nine-layer carbon tubing and generous 21mm minimum leg diameter help make this the stiffest support of the bunch. The tube sections are linked by extra-wide twist-lock clamps that are wonderfully easy to grip in all weathers; and they don’t slip, even when subjected to far more than the recommended 18kg payload capacity. The only minor issue is a fixed foot that’s considerably smaller than Benro’s design, and can’t be changed for a spike.
5. Manfrotto XPRO MPMXPROC4
A great all-rounder, but some rivals offer slightly better value
Material: Carbon fibre | Sections: Four | Max load: 7kg | Extended length: 164.5cm | Packed length: 53cm | Weight: 600g
The standout feature of Manfrotto’s entry is its user-serviceable Quick Power Lock extension clamps. The levers extend on both sides of the hinge, creating a push/pull design that’s faster and more satisfying to use than conventional clamps, although they’re also less compact. Overall rigidity is good, if not quite up there with the Induro or Novo legs, partly due to Manfrotto’s slightly narrower 16mm leg diameter. The price is justified by a quality embossed rubber grip that’s a cut above foam alternatives, and a clever camera fixing screw which automatically switches between 1/4 and 1/3 inch.
6. Gitzo Series 2 Traveler GM2562T
Pricey and not especially rigid, but a fine travel companion
Material: Carbon fibre | Sections: Six | Max load: 12kg | Extended length: 142cm | Packed length: 36cm | Weight: 405g
Here we have Gitzo’s lightest and most compact monopod, but it doesn’t compromise on quality despite those attributes. The Carbon eXact tubing is incredibly rigid, even down to the spindly 11.2mm-diameter bottom section. However, Gitzo’s Traveler G-lock twist-lock clamps, while ergonomic and precise, have more lateral play when they’re fully tightened than we found in rival designs, compromising overall rigidity. They hold fast under compression, though, and the Traveler is a joy to use on the go when you need to travel as light as possible. It’s pricey, yes, but a fine travel companion.
7. SRB Onit Carbon Fibre Monopod
For occasional use, you can’t really go wrong at this price
Material: Carbon fibre | Sections: Five | Max load: 4kg | Extended length: 144cm | Packed length: 41cm | Weight: 360g
The SRB is not widely available, but if you're having trouble tracking down this particular bargain, you can buy it direct from SRB Photographic. Not only is this the least expensive monopod here, it’s also the lightest, beating the featherweight Gitzo that costs nearly eight times more. The Onit’s 41cm packed length is also impressively compact, though inevitably results in a short extended height. You’ll never get top quality for this money, and the rubber covering on one of the twist locks on our sample had come a bit loose, but the clamps all hold tight under pressure, making SRB’s 4kg load rating look quite conservative. Overall, the build is acceptable, and the foot can be swapped for an optional 3/8-inch compatible spike.
8. Kenro 301 Photo Monopod kit
Light and good value, but only if you need a head included
Material: Aluminium | Sections: Four | Max load: 6kg | Extended length: 164cm | Packed length: 53cm | Weight: 440g
Here’s proof that you don’t need carbon fibre to make a lightweight monopod. However, Kenro’s aluminium tubing is considerably narrower and feels noticeably cheaper than Benro’s, resulting in significantly lower rigidity. Compact flip clamps contribute to the overall lightness, but they’re very basic with no adjustment, meaning slippage could be an issue over time. But Kenro has an ace up its sleeve, as this is the only monopod here to be bundled with a head. It’s a basic but functional ball design that adds 240g and 88mm to the specs quoted above and comes with an arca-compatible top plate. You can buy it direct from Wex.
• The best tripods you can get right now: take sharper shots with the right base