When I did my tripod recommendations article, I had no idea it would be so popular. It seems that many of you were just as confused as I was about the dizzying array of choices and were just as eager as me for someone to narrow the selection down to a few reasonable choices. So I’ve decided to do the same as I’ve done with my tripods and tripod head comparisons and compare some of most common monopods sold today according to my friends at B&H.
My current monopod is a Manfrotto 3245 Automatic Monopod similar to this, and honestly I didn’t realize how bad it sucked until I tested the monopods for this article. ANY of them are better than the automatic monopod design. The reason why is that the automatic monopod design tends to wear out over time which causes the lens to drop when shooting intense action.
I tested these monopods doing activities such as shooting a professional football game, Christmas lights at night, and general photography usage. My conclusions are based on the performance and usability of these models that I tested. Naturally there are bunch of models that I didn’t test, but I feel I have a good representation of what people are buying today based on a variety of needs.
Why Should I Buy A Monopod?
I realize a lot of my readers are new to photography so you may be wondering what a monopod is and why you need one – especially if you already have a tripod. The reasons for owning a monopod are simple:
- It’s more compact and lighter than a tripod which makes it ideal for hiking and travel;
- it can usually be used at places where tripods are forbidden or require expensive permits (tripods are often considered a safety hazard at crowded locations);
- it allows for fast mobility (great for sporting events where you may be dodging athletes;
- it provides more support than hand-held, yet offers nearly the same amount of freedom;
- it is great for panning;
- and they are much more economical (no expensive head is required)
With this said, YOU STILL NEED A TRIPOD. Tripods are required for long exposures and that is something that a monopod is still not suited to do (but works better than handheld in a pinch). Tripods are also superior for times when your shutter speed needs to drop below the minimum speed required by your lens (i.e., 1 / (<focal length> * <camera crop factor>) – e.g., 1/200*1.6 or 1/320 sec for a 70-200mm lens at 200mm on a 1.6x crop camera like a 7D or 60D).
My thoughts on the models tested
Gitzo GM3551, Gitzo GM5541, Manfrotto 681B, & Slik 350 Extended
In the following sections I discuss each monopod’s pros and cons as well as offer my recommendation. These findings are my own subjective opinions which may differ from others so I encourage you to purchase from a place with a no hassle return policy and make your own informed decision.
Gitzo GM3551 – Ron’s Recommendation for Non-Big Prime Glass Usage (which is most mere mortals)
The GM3551 is a very compelling monopod because it is fairly lightweight at 1.4 lbs (620g), yet it supports 39.6 lbs (18 kg) thanks to its use of carbon fiber. I’m a big fan of Gitzo tripods, so I was immediately drawn to this one.
When collapsed this monopod is 21.3” (54 cm) which actually made it the 2nd shorted collapsed monopod of the bunch. However, it was the tallest of all models tested because extended it reaches an astonishing 75.6” (192 cm). That is taller than my 6’1” body! As a result I felt like I could have done without its fifth leg and gone with a shorter model to save weight and collapsed length. In testing I tried to avoid extending the last leg segment which made it feel like a 4 segment monopod.
I really enjoyed the beefy and seemingly durable foam grip and the thick wrist strap of this model. Both Gtizos really shined with that feature and their trademarked Anti-Rotation Leg (ALR) System made it the fastest to extend, and the most durable to travel with. Really the only other major fault I could find with this monopod was its price, but as the saying goes – you get what you pay for!
Sadly the 4 section GM2541 wasn’t a good alternative to me as it can only support 24.6 lbs (12.0 kg), yet is only 0.3” shorter and 0.3 lbs lighter. While you could save $50 by going with this model, I think it’s smarter to have the sturdier GM3551. I also don’t recommend the GM2561T for anything beyond point and shoot camera use as it simply isn’t suitable for telephoto zooms like the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR/IS lenses that no photographer should be without.
I’d recommend this model for anyone shooting with lenses weighing under 4 lbs (1.815 kg).
NOTE: My personal rule of thumb is that I want my gear to max out at 20% – 25% of the weight capacity of my monopod for maximum stability because I bear down hard on my camera during pans. Some may disagree with this recommendation, but I find in practice that it is a good rule of thumb.
Gitzo GM5541 – The Sports & Bird Photographers Ideal Choice
This thing is a beast that can double as a baseball bat or weapon in a back alley street fight! Seriously, it’s so wide at the stop that some smaller shooters may not be able to wrap their hands around it completely. However, if you are going to be shooting with a big 300mm f/2.8 or 400mm f/2.8 lens, then this is the monopod you want. In fact, when I recently shot a professional football game this was the one I immediately reached for as I knew it could handle the load of any lens I’d be using that day.
When collapsed this beast is only 21.7” (55 cm) thanks to its 4 leg section design, yet it still extends to a respectable 63.8” (162 cm). This was virtual identical to the Manfrotto and Slik, and about what I’d call the perfect height for most applications.
With a staggering load capacity of 55 lbs (25 kg), I’d be easily comfortable with putting a pro body and a 600mm lens on this one. Of course this massive load capacity comes at a cost of weight, but at 1.9 lbs (0.9 kg) I found it to be totally manageable to carry around in my hand for a long length of time.
With an identical design to the GM3551, but with one less segment, I’d say this is the perfect sports or bird photographer monopod. If you aren’t going to be shooting with big gun prime lenses then GM3551 makes more practical sense.However, I think this is one of those investments that you’d make and never need to revisit again.
If I had the spare cash to buy a new monopod today, this would be it.
Manfrotto 681B – The Budget Solution for Non-Pro Gear
Honestly the best thing I can say about this monopod is that it is inexpensive, but also keep in mind that you get what you pay for. In this case you end up with a 1.7 lb (0.77 kg) monopod that feels just as heavy in your hand as the GM5541, yet it can only handle a measly 26.5 lbs (12 kg). However the part that bugs me the most is that it uses the crappy Manfrotto flip levers that break easily if the goons at the airlines ever handle your gear.
What I disliked the most about this monopod was that it only has 3 sections so its folded length was the longest of all models tested at 26.4” (67 cm), yet its maximum height of 63.8” (162 cm) was the same as the Slik and the GT5541.
I wasn’t a big fan of the hand strap on this one, so my advice is for readers to steer away from this model. If you are really on a tight budget, I’d probably take a look at the Induro CM34 as an option to consider as I’ve found their carbon fiber tripods to be a much solution than a Manfrotto product and the Slik unit in this article.
Slik 350 – The Point & Shoot Photographers Solution
Let me be clear when I say that I do not recommend this for any DSLR shooter. I consider this to be a great choice for point and shoot cameras (including mirrorless and micro four third cameras). While the flip levers drive me nuts due to their fragile design, it’s hard to beat the value of this unit over the carbon fiber twist lock design of the 382 that doesn’t really support any more weight than this one.
This is a simple 4 section design that extends to 63” (160 cm) yet it was the shortest folded unit (20.5”) in this test. It was also the lightest at 0.65 lbs which makes sense given its 11.02 lb (4998 gr) load.
I really enjoyed using it with my point and shoot for shots like this that probably would have totally failed had I tried entirely freehand:
Multiple-Exposure Pano (in-camera stitching) taken with a Fujifilm X10 on a Slik 350 monopod
Click here to learn more about the Slik 350 on B&H’s website.
What about heads?
Simply put, I don’t recommend using a head on a monopod. If you have really big glass you might consider a gimbal head, but honestly I’d rather use that on a tripod. I’ve tried various ball heads and other solutions and I simply didn’t care for them. If I need a different angle I just tilt the monopod to get the angle I need and shoot.
Just like with tripods, Gitzo offers a great selection of products but for a painful price. I know Gitzo is distributed by Manfrotto in the US, but they are entirely different build quality (it’s like comparing a Fiat to a Ferrari).
Monopods are certainly a place where you can cut corners in the never ending photography gear spending. However, I recommend all DSLR photographers consider a wise investment in a monopod that can support at least 30 lbs (13.6 kg) and can extend to 63 inches (160 cm). I also advise a twist lock design and a traditional design over the failure prone automatic gimmick design. This means for those units featured here, my best overall solution has to be the GM3551 unless you’ll be shooting with big heavy primes (5 lbs+) in which case you’d be wise to get the GM5541.
If you are really on a tight budget, I’d probably take a look at the Induro CM34 as an option to consider as I’ve found their carbon fiber tripods to be a much solution than a Manfrotto product and the Slik unit in this article.
I worked closely with B&H for recommendations based on the advice of their monopod experts and sales history. My goal was to have popular monopods with different price points and configurations. If you make a purchase using links in this article, I may get a commission.