In the monopod vs tripod debate, these camera supports share some attributes. Both monopods and tripods offer more support than shooting handheld alone.
A tripod is more stable. A monopod is more mobile. And one may be better suited to your photography work than the other. But in some cases, you may want to use both!
Monopod vs Tripod – What Is a Tripod? What Is a Monopod?
A tripod has three legs (that’s the “tri”). A monopod is a camera support with one leg (the “mono”).
Much of the rest of the design is similar across both accessories. Both are height adjustable, for example. And both often use quick-release plates for easily adding and removing your camera.
Construction is often similar, and many brands that make tripods also make monopods. But the number of legs creates some major differences between tripods and monopods.
Tripods Perks of Three Legs
With three legs, tripods are more stable. Using a tripod, you can shoot longer exposures than with a monopod.
A monopod will reduce some camera shake. But tripods are best for taking seconds or even minutes-long exposures.
Wind or even poor build quality can create shake even with a tripod. But tripods are still among the most stable camera supports.
A tripod’s design means you can leave a camera on top and walk away. Do this with a monopod, and your camera will literally eat dust.
If you want to take a selfie or set up a camera to shoot wildlife photos while out of sight, a tripod is the only option.
Tripods will also keep the camera fixed in one location. A monopod isn’t quite as precise.
Tripods tend to be the more popular option. While there’s no shortage of monopods, there are often more choices in the tripod category. Plus, there are also tripods that turn into monopods.
Why Shoot With a Monopod?
So why would photographers want to use a monopod if a tripod is a better stabilizer? The advantages of a monopod largely stem from the smaller size of the single-legged camera support.
First, tripods take some floor space to spread out those three legs. Monopods, in comparison, take up a tiny dot of floor space.
A tripod may also be a trip hazard if you’re shooting in a crowded venue. Some locations even ban tripod use for that reason.
The smaller profile also makes monopods more mobile. Imagine you are shooting a soccer game and need to continuously adjust your position at the side of the field to keep up with the action.
With a tripod, you must fold up the legs to move quickly down the sidelines. With a monopod, you just pick it up and go.
You can follow the action much faster with a monopod. And you can still sport that heavy sports lens.
This speed also extends to setup and takedown. With only one leg to unfold and adjust to the right height, setting up and taking down a monopod is faster.
And, of course, ditch two legs and you have a lighter accessory. Monopods tend to weigh less than tripods. This makes them more pack-friendly for travel, even when folded up.
Deciding Between a Tripod and Monopod
A tripod is the more stable camera support but tends to be bulky and can slow down your movement. A monopod isn’t as stable but restricts movement much less than a tripod.
If you need to be mobile, a monopod is the best bet. You’re not stuck in one location. Plus, you can still support the weight of some big lenses and get light protection against camera shake.
If you need to shoot seconds-long exposures, such as blurring a waterfall, you’ll want the stability of a tripod. What a tripod lacks in mobility, it makes up for in stability.
You can shoot long, sharp-looking exposures with a tripod. And you can shoot with the biggest, heaviest lenses.
Convertible Tripods and Monopods With Supports
But if you need both, you may not have to buy both a monopod and a tripod. Some tripods are two-in-one. They convert from a more stable system to the more mobile one with just a few adjustments.
Convertible tripods typically work in one of two ways. The first kind converts the center post of the tripod into a monopod. This is easy to use and doesn’t require much to switch between the two.
The twist locks necessary to make the center column small enough to work with both tend to be less stable than flip locks.
Other types of convertible tripods work by removing one of the legs. And then, you can reattach it to the center column.
This creates less of a height restriction and allows for more stable locks. But it may be more time-consuming when switching from a tripod to a monopod and back again.
Buying both may be easier than taking the time to convert back and forth.
But a convertible option will take up less space than packing both on a photography trip. And, of course, buying a single convertible tripod is often cheaper than buying both a tripod and a monopod.
Some monopods also have small, pop-out support legs at the bottom. These are called support bases or folding bases.
You still can’t walk away from the monopod with the mini legs out. But you can get a bit more stability than a monopod alone.
Ready to buy a tripod or monopod? Check out our posts about the best ones out there:
- Best monopods and tripods to buy on a budget
- Best tripods for photographers
- Best monopods for cameras
- Best tripod for food photography
- Best tripods for macro photography
- Best tripods for time-lapse photography
- Best heavy-duty tripods
- Best mini tripods for tabletop photography
- Best travel tripods
Conclusion: Monopod vs Tripod – Which Is Best for You?
Monopods and tripods have a similar purpose but vastly different perks and features. Tripods are more stable, while monopods are more mobile.
But you might need both stability and mobility. In that case, pick up a tripod that converts into a monopod to get both perks without investing in both.