When the phrase “camera support” is mentioned, most of us think of the tried-and-trusty tripod, and for good reason—the tripod is the single best way to steady your camera for long shutter-speed exposures, group photos including the photographer, or just for minimizing camera movement to maximize image sharpness.
However, the tripod has definite shortcomings, and it is not always practical or permitted to bring a tripod with you to every location. Because of this, creative inventors in the world have developed alternatives to the three-legged standard.
One thing the tripod-mounted camera sometimes struggles with is panning speed and flexibility. After all, the tripod is designed to be static. However, if you’re shooting long telephoto lenses, camera shake is the enemy. The monopod gives the long-lens photographer a boost of stabilization while allowing movement to capture the action of sporting events or wildlife.
Cameras can be directly mounted on the monopod or attached to a tripod head. Ball heads, specially designed monopod heads, or pistol grip heads allow fast repositioning of the camera.
Some monopods have miniature legs that give the monopod more stability. Various models of these even have legs that can be detached to make a nice tabletop tripod.
A recent addition to the monopod family, and the perfect accessory for avid hikers, is the walking stick that converts into a camera support.
Sandbag / Beanbag
Sometimes all you need to stabilize your kit is something malleable on which to rest your camera and lens. Mechanical devices are not required. This is where beanbags or sandbags come in. Some bags have an integral ¼"-20 camera mount on top to secure your gear. Different bags ship with fill included, but can be emptied to lighten for storage in your pack or camera bag and filled with anything handy when needed. You can fill them with rice, sand, buckwheat, candy, or anything else you can find in the field.
Camera Stands / Extension Poles
Want to get your camera way above the crowd or above that annoying wall? There are a few camera stands that can help you do this. Some can raise your camera more than 20' into the air! Shorter, but more portable, extension poles put selfie sticks to shame with their long reach.
Chest Mounts / Shoulder Rigs
On the go and no room for a tripod? A chest mount might be what you need. Some models have an integrated vest that you can wear and some are based on neck straps.
Common to the video world, the DSLR shoulder rig also proves its usefulness in still photography.
In adverse weather, sometimes you’ll not relish the idea of stepping out of your vehicle to get a photo. So, stay undercover and mount your camera with a window mount. Similar mounts are designed too mount on your door sill instead of the window—better for heavy installations.
Along the same lines as the window supports, there are a number of clamps and clips that are designed to clamp on to, well, just about anything you can envision a clamp clamping on to—including poles and railings. Clamps are sold with different-sized jaws and different load capacities. Some come with articulating heads or movable arms to increase versatility.
Do you have a smooth surface handy? Suction cup mounts have recently become popular with the action-camera revolution, but there are some dedicated to securing heavier cameras. You can mount camera gear on the hood of your car, the hull of your sailboat, or the deck of your surfboard.
Tabletop Tripods and Short Supports
Not to dismiss the tripod completely, there are several tabletop and mini tripods that literally can fit in your pocket and give you the stability you need on the go. Some models are flexible to allow more compact storage and versatile setup and placement.
Also, there are some supports designed specifically for mounting your gear close to the ground or tabletop to get even lower!
Another option to stabilize your camera can be stolen from the world of video shooters with a video stabilizer system. Some of these are incredibly complex and heavy-duty, but others are portable and easy to employ for still photography.
Before we go, as you explore these diverse camera-support options, be sure you are aware of the weight of the gear you are proposing to support, and be sure that whatever option you choose for mounting your camera and lenses has a sufficient working load to safely secure your kit.
Which camera-support options work best for you and your shooting needs? Let us know in the Comments section, below.
Manfrotto 290 Carbon Fiber Monopod
Are you looking for that item? Or, do you own one? Or, do you have a question about it?
We do sell it here: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1175947-REG/manfrotto_mm290c4us_…
Thanks for reading!
I used to think monopods were a joke.
That is, until I got a camera with IBIS, and got a very heavy lens (Olympus OM Zuiko 350mm ƒ/2.8).
If you have IBIS, the monopod doesn't have to get you to 1/ƒ. It just has to support the weight!
I, myself, used to have a monopod, but said goodbye to it years ago and never looked back. However, there are some shooters who consider them as required equipment and your experience with IBIS and long lenses makes a great point of their, perhaps, newly revitalized purpose!
Thank you for reading!
@Todd Vorenkamp Would you be able to update this article with current links please? Some items are no longer available. I need ideas for shooting video on-site in tight spaces.
I will schedule a refresh for this article. Is there something specific you were looking for that I might be able to direct you to?
Thanks for reading!
I too shake now, but I have found that wedging the monopod between my feet and brace it against my body in most cases stabilize it quite well. In more extreme cases I'll use the same technique with my feet but use a fencerail or a boulder as a brace to get much longer exposures. Hope that helps.
Thanks for the tip, Jim! Good stuff, and important for many of us!
Thanks for this Todd. I will investigate further as I will need something to stabilize my intended purchase of a four and a half pound 150 - 600mm lens that I'll use at the Grand Canyon next year. I have a tripod but don't want to haul it from China when I do go. I have a good monopod but my hands shake so much that the movement is transferred to the monopod sort of circumventing its' purpose. The shaking is caused by that fear inducing first ever leap into Cotton Hollow decades ago. A lasting affect!
Ha! Cotton Hollow PTSD is very real. I never did the leap, so my hands are pretty steady!
With that lens and a DSLR you will need a steady support...regardless of how many legs it has. Carbon fiber may be the direction you need to go to save weight while supporting that gear. The tripod is your most versatile support as it will allow you to shoot at different elevations and terrain. Many of the alternatives are good if you have a platform before you, or if you don't mind getting dirty by laying down low.