It’s happened to me three times. I’ve started preparing for my next shoot when I realize that I’m missing my secret weapon, my monopod. I’ve left it at the reception site of my last shoot. Again. Without hesitation, before I even find out if I can retrieve it from the venue, I order another one. The monopod has become so important to my shooting style that I can’t fathom even the possibility that I won’t have one with me at my next shoot. I love my monopod.
Friday Night Lights notwithstanding, a steady camera with thoughtful movement is one of the most obvious cues that the operator knows what he is doing. It adds production value that can’t be matched by amateurs. Luckily, today there is a vast assortment of options that can give your productions that stable, professional look with the added bonus that the footage is easier to edit. I’ll be talking about the relatively new Manfrotto 560B monopod, which was a pleasant surprise when it was announced in 2006 and rightfully garnered some prestigious awards. It clearly shows that Manfrotto was listening to what run-and-gun videographers wanted when it designed the 560B.
The 560B weighs in at just 1 pound, 6 ounces without a head, yet it’s stable enough to support any of the hand-held cameras available today. It extends to a height of 65" and folds down to just 26". The revolutionary aspect of the 560B is its base. While some monopods have had rudimentary legs, the 560B has three all-weather, retractable, rubber-tipped feet that are connected to the monopod shaft via a unique fluid cartridge. This gives the monopod movement in every direction as well as a solid, stationary base from which to perform further camera movements from the head itself.
Street price for the 560B is approximately $150 with a tilt-only friction-drag head. I’ve replaced that head with one that matches those that are on my tripods, which allows me to move my cameras seamlessly from one support device to another. A more robust version, the 562B, is available for a street price of approximately $220. It can support more weight, extends an additional 12", and ships with a fluid head. The support necessary for rock-solid shots didn’t always used to be so inconspicuous. In the ’90s I admit to pushing a tripod-mounted camera around on a dolly. The cameras were bigger then, and so was the support. With a desire to be more mobile I started using a monopod topped by a fluid head made by Uni-Loc called the DuoPod. I was using a heavy, shouldermounted Sony DSR300 at the time, but the DuoPod was more than up to the task. The defining feature of the DuoPod is a foot that folded out from the shaft to stabilize the monopod. It was an epiphany for me: Here was a way to create sequences that appeared as if they were shot from a tripod, yet I took up no more space than if I were hand-holding the camera. The DuoPod is no longer in production, but luckily for us, Manfrotto saw the need and designed the 560B with near-perfect insight.
The best way to describe how I use the 560B is to handhold a compact camcorder in the standard way, with the right hand in the strap controlling the zoom, the left hand controlling the iris and focus, and using the viewfinder instead of the LCD screen. With the monopod tucked in tight and three points of contact between you and the camera (your two hands and your eye), you have an extremely stable platform to shoot from. Zooming all the way in for close-ups and tight detail shots with subtle and controlled movement becomes a delight. Because the shots are captured from an inconspicuous distance, they are more candid and thus more natural.
The shots also have the added benefit of showing a film-like, narrow depth of field due to longer focal lengths. It’s a look which can be duplicated at shorter focal lengths only with a 35mm lens adapter (see Daniel Boswell’s In the Field article on the Letus Extreme 35mm Adapter). For scene-setting shots and other wide-angle views, it’s possible to use the monopod to get the camera up high over your head. (The shaft itself does bend, but I trust it enough to put it up over a crowd.) A monopod can also be used as a pseudo-stabilizer by folding it down to its shortest length and holding it under the camera. The weight of the base stabilizes it somewhat, and short, gliding movements are possible with practice.
For the past 8 years I’ve relied on monopods to bring the level of my productions up while at the same time allowing me to shoot more discreetly. The resulting footage is stable, dynamic, and deliberate, all of which makes editing more efficient and enjoyable. They’ve given me the confidence to use longer focal lengths than shooting handheld would allow. The Manfrotto 560B takes these benefits one big, creative step further by adding a smooth pivot point at the base which, by the way, now has my name, address and phone number on it so that when I forget to bring it home, it has a better chance of getting there anyway.
Joel Peregrine (joel at weddingfilms.com) runs Wedding Films, a Milwaukee-based studio focused on cinematic wedding video. A 2005 EventDV 25 honoree, Peregrine is co-founder of the Association of Accredited Wedding Videographers and runs the videographer resources and training website EventVideographer.com.