Many photographers, especially those just starting out, tend to overlook the utility of the humble monopod. It's a shame really, because monopods can solve many common photography issues tripods simply can't. For instance, at many tourist attractions including high-trafficked museums or historical buildings, tripods are prohibited. It's just not safe to splay out the legs of a tripod in the area where a lot of people are walking, especially with their attention often away from in front of where they’re walking. However, monopods are often allowed because they don't interfere with the flow of pedestrian traffic.
Often, with cameras pushing ultra-high usable ISOs, you only need something steady to rest the camera to get a sharp shot of a dimly lit interior versus locking it down on a tripod. If you’re shooting a long telephoto lens at a sporting event and the weight of the lens precludes hand-holding, a tripod would be overkill; however, such a situation is perfect for a monopod. Many outdoor photographers who hike to interesting shooting locations well off the beaten path enjoy specially made monopods which double as walking sticks. Talk about two birds with one stone!
Many people choose to put heads on top of their monopods, but this is strictly optional. Specially designed monopod heads can increase the usefulness of a monopod or make the monopod easier to use. However, they can also add significant weight to the unit so decide for yourself if the trade-off is worth it.
The monopods on this list were chosen because they’re sturdy, the absolute most important metric for any monopod; when you lock these units, their mechanisms stay locked! These monopods are also made with lightweight materials for easy transport because what's the point of carrying around the weight of three legs if you can only use one? Finally, these monopods are all exceptionally well made because nothing so negatively affects the user experience like getting to a location you may never visit again only to have a pivotal component suddenly break. Rest assured, the monopods on this list will provide years of reliable service.
Gitzo GM2541 Series 2 6X Carbon Fiber Monopod 4 Section with G-Lock
Really Right Stuff MC-14 Carbon Fiber Monopod
Gitzo GM5561T Traveler 6x Carbon Fiber Monopod
Sirui P-324s Carbon Fiber Photo/Video Monopod
Manfrotto MM294C4 Series 294, 4 Section Carbon Monopod
The Italian-made Gitzo Series 2 GM2541 Carbon Fiber Moonopod is one of the industry's most popular supports. You'll find this exact model on NFL sidelines stabilizing kits with massive lenses like those professional sports staple 600mm telephoto monsters. It’s also favored by travelers with an uncompromising desire for quality and performance in situations where traditional tripods are not allowed.
Weighing barely over a pound, the Series 2 GM2541 is rated at 26.4 pounds. This means you would be able to mount the heaviest lens and camera you own on top of this pick and still trust that the leg won't slip! This is made possible thanks to years of pioneering design and implementation of carbon fiber by Gitzo. In fact, this manufacturer was one of the first companies to use carbon fiber as a support material.
Gitzo is also responsible for the G-Lock technology that allows the user to twist a leg lock just a quarter turn to lock/unlock the leg sections. Before G-Lock, and subsequent similarly designed leg locks, one had to twist for several rotations to get a secure lock, and a complete release would often require a few rotations itself. The benefit here is with a quick flick of the wrist you can unlock and lock the legs and be ready to shoot with minimal setup. This monopod also utilizes a “gravity lock” weight-mounting system to aid the leg locks in locking all the more tightly.
The Gitzo Series 2 GM2541 rates highly because it's a jack-of-all-trades and a near master of them all. It's small enough to travel lightly, yet stable enough for the most demanding applications. You'd be hard-pressed to find a situation where the GM2541 would not excel. While the Gitzo Series 2 GM2541 is not the most expensive monopod on this list, it’s by no means cheap; this is very much a tool used by professionals so expect the price tag to match. Rest assured, this monopod will likely last for your entire picture making career.
Really Right Stuff MC-14 Carbon Fiber Monopod
Really Right Stuff, out of San Luis Obispo, California, have been making very high quality boutique products for a few decades and have established the brand as one of the marquee names in the business. RRS attention to detail, craftsmanship, and functionality, has made their line of camera supports a staple in the professional market with their MC-14 Carbon Fiber Monopod being no exception.
Really Right Stuff's support gear are largely modeled after Gitzo design elements and that includes removable feet, which allows you to take the over-sized rubber feet off and replace them with surface-specific feet like rock claws or spikes. The MC-14 monopod also uses extra-large locking calipers housed in a twist-lock assembly that's also super easy to clean, a boon for those taking pictures off the beaten path or areas near salt water. Since the calipers are extra-large, they just require a few quick twists for a stable lock down.
The MC-14 tripod is Really Right Stuff's "entry-level" monopod, being the smallest of their line, but that's like saying entry-level Ferrari. The MC-14 is a travel class monopod, built to break down to just 16.5 inches for convenient stowage. Additionally, there’s no camera and lens combination that this monopod can't handle with ease. It's conservatively rated at 25 pounds, but it has the potential to handle more than that. Of course, most would be hard-pressed to even come up with 25lbs worth of camera, lens, and mount to test that!
As with all of Really Right Stuff's products, the MC-14 is made in America "right down to the last screw," and offers some of the best customer support around. In fact, when I've had to call the company's support line, the owner himself picked up the phone. Were it not for the price, the MC-34 might have taken the top spot, but, alas, quality does not come cheap! However, if you're in the market for a monopod that's going to last you for the rest of your life, check out the Really Right Stuff MC-14.
The Gitzo Series 5 Traveler GM5561T is Gitzo's top-of-the-line monopod, and that's saying something! Gitzo's products are considered by many (myself included) to set the standard by which all other similar manufacturers are measured. Considering that, you won’t easily find another monopod that can match it spec for spec.
Rated at a massive 55.1 pounds of camera stabilizing machismo, the GM5561T still only weighs a meager 1.65 pounds itself; seriously, it’s as if this pick is made of feathers. This monopod is truly a feat of modern engineering and you have to hold it to appreciate how something rated so highly can be so lightweight
Not only can the GM5561T expand to over 61 inches, it breaks down to a minuscule 16.3 inches. The Gitzo achieves this by using six leg sections instead of the more traditional four or five. Since each extra section allows the monopod to collapse down that much more, the GM5561T is able to get much shorter than its full expanded length belies. Not only do you get a monopod capable of stabilizing a stunning amount of weight, it also breaks down into something you can store in your carry-on bag.
All the other features you'd expect in a top shelf Gitzo support are here, like twisting G-Locks with over-sized calipers, removable feet, and Gitzo's patented 6-ply carbon fiber leg sections. You'll not find a monopod with a more compelling list of boxes checked, but, as you'd expect, it comes with significant cost. The Gitzo Series 5 traveler GM5561T is a monster of a monopod with a monster price tag to match, but if you can swing it, this selection will not disappoint.
Sirui is Chinese manufacturer whose popularity has risen recently thanks to some compelling high quality heads, tripods, and monopods. Sirui's products tend to have many upscale features without the upscale price. Given how expensive quality photography hardware can be, companies like Sirui, which produce dependable tools for a lower price, allow many photographers the chance to own and use tools which perform similarly to those costing more.
The highly optioned P-xxxS monopod series is Sirui's marquee monopod line that has all the bells and whistles. The P-326S sits roughly in the middle of this line, but it doesn't skimp on features, including a removable floor spreader that can be used as a small tripod. It's this floor spreader, which has three legs that splay at the base to add stability to the monopod, the line's defining feature.
Leg spreaders are common in monopods meant for video use, but they also enhance the monopod's ability to stabilize for photography. Monopods with leg spreaders are also typically still classified as monopods, so they can often be used where tripods are prohibited. If someone (say a museum guard) asks you to cease using the leg spreader, simply fold the small legs back up and it’s back into traditional monopod mode.
The Sirui P-324S is a well-made bit of kit that can stabilize a whopping 22 pounds and even with the attached leg spreader weighs in at under 3 lb. The P-324S comes with optional rubber and spiked feet for more stable use on varied terrain. The Sirui P-324S is also perfect for those photographers who also like to shoot film. Even if you never intend to mount a video camera on the P-324S, it performs wonderfully as photography monopod and will give you years of service as such.
Manfrotto is owned by the same company that owns Gitzo and makes a wide variety of camera and video support equipment, more so than their upscale sister company. You can find a wide variety of Manfrotto products on Hollywood sets as well as professional photography studios. They make entry-level aluminum supports all the way up to more professional goods with the 294 Carbon Fiber Monopod falls closer to the latter.
Manfrotto's 294 4-Section Carbon Fiber Monopod uses multi-layer carbon fiber leg segments to reduce weight and vibration, but keeps the cost more manageable by using flip locks instead of the twist locks like the others on our list. Flip locks tend to weigh more and be more bulky than twist locks and require a little more maintenance to keep them locking at sufficiently. However, they are easy to use and cheaper to make, meaning the savings get passed on to you.
The 294 is rated at a respectable 11.02 pounds and weighs just over 1 pound itself. Granted, it's not the sturdiest or lightest pick on this list, but it's also the cheapest. Despite the price, you’re still getting a well-made, dependable monopod capable of performing in most situations exceptionally well. If you'relooking to get yourself a monopod, and wish to test the waters in this product category without investing a large chunk of change, check out the Manfrotto 294.
No longer simply the "family photographer," I am now a published, award-winning professional portrait and wedding photographer with over 10 years in the business. I also have advanced interests in automobile, landscape, sports, astro, and lifestyle photography. I enjoy researching the latest tech, the newest gear, and learning new picture-making techniques in the never-ending pursuit of creating better images.