Manfrotto 685B Monopod
A Field Report and Video Review
Monopods get no respect. After all, they only have a single leg to stand on.
I've owned and used a few over the years but other than for supporting very long lenses (and then mostly in the days prior to Image Stabilization) I haven't had much need for one.
Recently though I have been working with several of the most recent pocket digicams and have found some of them, especially the Canon G10, to produce extremely good quality results, especially when their size, weight and cost are considered. But, and its a big but, this is only true when used at their lowest (native) ISO – in the case of the Canon G10, ISO 80 and 100.
Most of the time when outdoors this isn't an issue. But when doing landscape and nature photography light conditions are rarely optimal, and indeed the best light is often difficult light – at least from a hand-held exposure point of view.
With a DSLR I'll use a tripod more often than not, and with a medium format rig almost all of the time when shooting landscapes. A tripod doesn't make much sense with a pocket-sized camera though since it defeats their low weight and small size advantages. But, if one wants the best image quality possible from these remarkable small cameras, native ISO is almost a must. What to do?
A New Style Monopod
On a recent visit to a local equipment retailer I was looking at a display of Manfrotto brand tripod and heads and happened to see something that I hadn't seen before – a monopod called the 865B. What captured my interest was that it is the first monopod that I've seen that has a one-way friction lock, other than a Linhof monopod from quite a few years ago. What this does is allow you to extend the monopod's length by pulling it open, but then it locks at whatever point you've opened it to. Pressing down won't collapse it unless a trigger is pressed.
The advantage of this is that there are no latches, knurled wheels or such to open and close. And since the 685B has a fold-out foot for stepping on, it's quick and easy to pull it upwards to the right height, and then collapse when moving on with a single squeeze.
Canon G10 @ ISO 80
1/5th second @ f/4.5
30.5mm (140mm equivalent)
The photograph above is an example of one which was made possible with this monopod. (Of course any monopod would have worked – but likely not as slickly).
I was hiking in the woods on a warm late autumn morning. Early morning mist and a low sun created these sweet rays of light in the forest but because of the dense foliage light levels were very low. Using the 685B I was able to keep the ISO at 80, and shoot at 1/5th of a second, something that I couldn't have managed unassisted, even though the G10 has decent image stabilization. Even going to ISO 400 would have only raised the shutter speed to 1/20 sec, still not fast enough for this 140mm equivalent shot.
There's nothing like seeing a product in use in the field to help show whether or not its going to work out for ones own needs, so below is a link to a brief Quicktime streaming video which will show what this new monopod is like to use in the real world.
If you watch the video and are wondering
what's with the florescent yellow hat
it's because it's hunting season, and I didn't want to get shot while walking in the woods.
The Manfrotto 685B currently sells for about US $150 and the Manfrotto 482 Micro-Ball Head, suitable for use with a small camera such as the Canon G10, sells for a further $35.