Getting sharper photographs is one of the most fundamental aim of all photographers. The sharpness of the photograph is determined by a number of factors like – Camera holding technique, Shutter-Speed, Aperture etc. However, the most basic factor which is often overlooked is the camera holding(stabilizing) technique. There are many ways people hold their camera, while some help in getting stable sharper shots other may actually induce shake(blur) into the photos. This can be remedied by using a ‘tripod’ – a three legged stand in a layman’s term. But wait, there is even his smaller sibling, ‘monopod’ – you got that right, it has just a single leg. So out of the two which one is the best for getting sharp stable shots? This question has a tricky answer as you’ll find out soon.
What do you shoot?
What do you shoot? This is one of the first questions you need to answer before you go the monopod or tripod way. Are you always by the water bodies shooting dreamy watery landscapes or are you the one shooting portraits indoors & outdoors? Most of the times landscape shooters are required to stop down their lens & shoot at fairly narrow apertures for large depth of field. If you’re shooting a water body & want the water to be turned into soft milky stream, then you will need a exposure often in seconds. In this case, you’ll be served better by a tripod for the simple reason that it can stand on its own & its three legs will provide you with the best stability.
On the other hand, if you’re shooting portraits(indoors), you’ll be working with a flash, if not then the available light. You’ll be probably be shooting wide open or close to the widest aperture of your lens. In this scenario, you should get a decent shutter-speed which you might be able to hand-held but still run the risk of blurring the shot. In this case, a monopod will be good. Since it can be setup easily, you can shoot fast & even change your shot orientation(vertical or horizontal) very quickly. You can even change your position & move to compose the frame easily with a monopod than with a tripod.
Where do you shoot?
The location(referred as the field) is another factor you will need to consider. If you’re a wedding photographer, you’ll not be in a position to setup a tripod, compose & shoot. By the time you do all these, the bride & groom may have left for honeymoon as you are left with a bunch of angry relatives around you. In this case, your best bet again would be a monopod for its small form factor which can be easily be setup even in cramped spaces. Same applies to sports photographers who often need to stabilize the shot but are in no position to setup tripods which often hinder their movements & cause inconvenience to others.
On the flip side, if you’re a macro shooter or a tabletop photographer, then by all means you need a tripod. At such large magnifications of macro even a small blur(by monopod) will ruin your shot. So for the best stability, you must use a tripod. Again being in a studio you’re in no hurry as your subject or your lighting won’t be running away. You’ve all the time in the world to setup a tripod & get working. So, if you do studio portraits, tabletop, macros, long-exposures, focus-stacking, star trails – you should go absolutely for a Tripod!
Do you travel?
How often do you travel? Often tripods are considerably heavier than monopods. Even travelling with a tripod for half of the day can be excruciatingly painstaking. It could leave you with an unpleasant mood that you might not even prefer to do photography for the rest of the day. In this case, a monopod will be good. Its so light & compact, that you won’t even feel its presence. You can easily roam the entire day & not feel fatigued at all(& even come back with many keepers). So the weight factor is crucial if you do travel a lot & are debating between a tripod & a monopod. However do keep in mind, if you shoot landscapes travelling around the globe then you’ve no option but to opt for tripod itself.
Do you shoot Video with your DSLR?
Are you into DSLR Video? Do you often like to record moments in full 1080p or perhaps even shoot a full fledged short movie? If the answer is Yes, then you should consider going for a monopod.(Ideally DSLR video shooters should have both – tripod & monopod). A monopod will offer you a lot of flexibility during shooting video. Shooting interviews on field with a monopod is way better than hand-holding your DSLR. Even doing dramatic panning or creative steadicam shots often demand a stabilizer which can be easily be maneuvered. Here a monopod scores way more over a tripod which is often not so mobile. However, it does offer stable footage than with monopod which is susceptible to the small hand moments. That’s the reason why I earlier said, ideally you require both for video but if you can just buy one, get a monopod for video – think no further!
As with all photography accessories, your budget will further narrow down your choice between tripods & monopods. Often tripods are way costlier than monopods. So depending on your budget you might need to go for one over the other.
Using Tripod as a Monopod?
You can do that but its cumbersome. You’ll still not be able to work quickly as you can with a monopod itself. Instead better get a cheap monopod & keep it in your camera-bag along-with a heavy duty tripod.