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Hands-down, a tripod is one of the most valuable pieces of photography gear you can buy.
That is, unless you actually need a monopod instead of a tripod...
It's true - some photographers simply don't need the full setup to get great shots. Instead, they just need a trusty monopod to provide their camera with the support it needs.
The question is, how do you know if a monopod is right for you?
You Need to Work Fast
If you've ever been to a professional sporting event and looked at photographers covering the event, I guarantee that you see them shooting with monopods, not tripods.
That's because in that situation, photographers need to be able to move quickly. That's something you can't do with a full-size tripod attached to your camera.
Instead, a monopod trims the fat, so to speak, and gives your camera the support it needs, but enables you to quickly move positions from one end of the court or the field to the other without having to tear down the tripod, put it in your back, and carry everything to the next shooting position.
This isn't to say that every tripod out there is a big, unwieldy thing that will prevent you from working quickly. But a monopod, like the Sirui P-236 shown above, will certainly allow you to move faster than any tripod will.
Editor's Tip: Monopods aren't just easier to move around with, but they are also easier to setup and tear down. When time is of the essence, a monopod is an ideal solution.
You Need to Work Light
Clearly, without the additional two legs, monopods offer another distinct advantage over tripods - they're much lighter.
This is advantageous for you when you're headed out for a long day of shooting and don't need a full-blown tripod.
It's also advantageous because monopods don't take up as much room in your bag, so you might be able to squeeze in another lens or another accessory with the added room.
Take the Sirui P-306 monopod shown above as a prime example.
This rig weighs just 1.55 pounds and is 2"x2"x61".
Yet despite its slight weight and small form-factor, it's got six leg sections, a reversible mounting plate screw, silicon twist locks, a metal foot spike for improved stability, and a wrist strap for easy carrying.
That makes this monopod, and others like it, ideal for landscapes, portraiture, travel photography, and more.
You Don't Need Long Exposure Times
One area where a tripod can't be beaten is in long exposure photography.
Because the shutter is open for such a long time, a tripod is an absolute must to keep the camera still throughout the exposure.
Even the most sure-handed photographer can't keep a monopod perfectly still, but if you have no need to take long exposures, then a monopod will work just fine for you.
Much like when you hold a camera in your hand, there's a limit to how long an exposure can be when you're using a monopod.
When shooting handheld, the rule of thumb is that the shutter speed needs to match or exceed the focal length of the lens.
So, for example, if you're shooting with a 50mm lens, the shutter speed needs to be at least 1/50 seconds.
It's a good idea to follow this same rule of thumb when shooting with a monopod, that way you ensure that your photos are as sharp as possible.
Editor's Tip: If you're struggling to get your photos sharp and don't know how to fix the problem, consult this in-depth guide.
Wrapping It Up
A monopod isn't for everyone, nor is it for every shooting situation. But the same is true of a tripod.
If you don't want to buy a tripod and a monopod, get the best of both worlds by getting a tripod with a detachable leg, like the Sirui W-1004 shown above.
That way you have a tripod when you need it and a monopod when you don't.
The key is to understand that sometimes your camera needs more stability than your hands and arms can offer. Stop suffering with holding your camera for hours on end and getting photos that aren't as sharp as they could be.
If you invest in a monopod, a tripod, or both, you'll get better photos as a result!