I love it when some gear comes together to help me do something that I has having trouble doing. For me, the best way to deal with gear has always been to look at what I want to do and what is keeping me from doing that. I want gear that fits my needs.
A need I had was dealing with close-up work when shooting in dense vegetation, with any sort of telephoto focal length, and especially when following insects and other small critters around.
- The three legs can be very difficult to set up properly when in dense vegetation.
- Even if you do move the tripod, you have increased possibilities of hitting and disturbing the plant that can change the position of the subject, such as a grouping of flowers.
- If you bump a plant the insect is on, the insect often leaves or drops off the plant.
- With moving flowers (blowing in the wind), you often have to quickly reposition the camera to get the focus and the shot (not easy with a tripod).
- It is not easy to move to follow an insect.
You might wonder, why not then shoot handheld? Sometimes I do, but there are problems with that, especially with telephotos:
- Telephotos are increasingly sensitive to camera movement during exposure when shot up close, even at fast shutter speeds.
- It is tiring to constantly hold a camera and lens at the ready. This is especially a problem the bigger your camera and lens get (which is another reason why I love my Micro Four Thirds gear). This also hurts my back.
- When you get tired holding a camera at the ready, you have trouble holding it steady.
- With moving insects, you often have to shoot multiple shots and wait and watch as the insect does its thing on a flower, for example, another "holding" challenge.
I have a monopod that works pretty well for this. A monopod means you gain support for the camera and lens, but with only one leg to deal with, you have less of a problem moving it, getting into tight locations and so forth. A monopod allows you to move quickly and easily simply by leaning over and keeping the monopod on the ground.
However, I ran into a problem at times. Because I would sometimes have to lean the monopod over quite a bit for lower angle shots, the tip of the monopod leg would often slip. This is especially a problem on harder surfaces.
Then I discovered that you could get a "tripod foot" that could be attached to the bottom of your monopod (I first saw this on CheesyCam.com). I got one from eBay.com. I needed to then epoxy this to the base of a monopod. I did not want to damage my very light, carbon-fiber Gitzo monopod, so I decided to get a new one. I got a MeFoto tripod from Paul's Photo – these are nicely made aluminum tripods at a good price. I wanted a better head that included a clamp for a camera plate, so I then ordered a BH-25 ultralight ballhead from Really Right Stuff. You need a good head because of the odd positions the monopod can end up in as you move around.
I have now been using this set-up since mid-summer. "I love it when a plan comes together." And it did! Yes, I know you can buy monopods with these little tripod feet, but I wanted something that I made for my purposes and the cost was reasonable (yes, I know the BH-25 was expensive, but it has been worth it, and it was a reason to keep other costs low).
I admit that at times it can be challenging to use in thick brush because the tripod foot (even when folded) can catch on bushes, but overall, it has been a very successful addition to my gear that helps with all of the issues outlined above. The bumblebee on the wild bergamot, the tiny tree frog, and the coneflowers were all shot using a long telephoto lens with this monopod while moving through a dense bit of prairie in Minnesota this past summer.