You’d be hard-pressed to find a photographer who doesn’t recommend either a monopod or a tripod to stabilize your shots so you can walk away with crystal-clear images.
Both monopods like the Vanguard VEO 2S AM-264TR and tripods like the Manfrotto 055 have unique features that set them apart in the photography world. These features make each one useful in a variety of scenarios. When it comes to astrophotography, though, is there one that sets itself above the other?
In this article, we’ll compare all the pros and cons of monopods and tripods to help you determine which one will serve you best as you strive for that perfect star-filled photograph.
Monopod: A Quick Overview
A monopod is a one-legged support that astrophotographers can use to add some stability to their photos. It’s possible to attach a camera directly or attach a head for added mobility. Monopods provide a foundation that your camera can rest on, taking the strain off your own body as you line up your shot.
These devices are usually fairly light and condense to a reasonable size for storage and transportation. Monopods typically come in either an aluminum or carbon fiber material.
Tripod: A Quick Overview
As the name implies, a tripod stands on three legs. Tripods have no issue supporting cameras and lenses but are also often used for telescopes and other pieces of equipment as well. Having extra legs provides a lot of stability when photographing at nighttime.
Each tripod leg has a certain number of leg sections that affect adjustability and overall strength. Most commonly, tripods are constructed from either aluminum or carbon fiber materials.
Differences Between Monopods and Tripods
Let’s dive into what makes each device unique and where they are similar.
With epic starscape photos on the line, there’s really nothing more important than a stable camera. Try as you might, it’s borderline impossible to hold a camera steady enough on your own to eliminate blur during a long exposure.
For this reason, monopods and tripods are essential for photos after dark. Using either a monopod or a tripod as a stable foundation gives you a fighting chance at capturing a clear, star-studded Milky Way.
While monopods do give a helping hand to stability, standard ones aren’t able to stand on their own. With just one leg, they need some other object to keep them from falling over. Oftentimes, it is up to you as the astrophotographer to make sure the shot stays lined up.
Some monopods come with a foot that allows them to stand on their own. Even in this scenario, a monopod is quite susceptible to vibrations and windy conditions that will lead to distorted photos.
Having two additional legs, tripods are much more stable than their one-legged counterparts. They are much more resistant to wind and vibrations. Three adjustable legs also enables you to set up a tripod firmly even on unstable ground.
Stability does little good if you can’t get your monopod or tripod to your shooting location.
Fortunately, there have been some incredible advancements in folding technology over the years. Some of the top tripods have legs that actually fold up and in over the head to minimize their storage footprint.
Even if tripods can crunch down to a little over a foot in length, there’s the unavoidable width that comes with having three different legs. When storing a tripod away or trekking to a deep sky area for those incredible snaps, you’ll have to keep this extra bulk in mind.
On the flip side, monopods are able to condense down to a length that rivals a tripod. The additional bonus of a monopod is that they have a very thin width and take up a lot less space in a backpack. This makes them quite a bit easier to take from point A to point B.
It makes perfect sense that a monopod with one leg weighs less than a tripod with three legs, and you’d be right. If you compare monopods and tripods made from the same material and similar specs, a monopod will always weigh less.
Weight is an important factor to consider when you’re heading off into the wilderness to search for starry landscapes. However, the difference between a monopod and a tripod is rarely more than just a few pounds.
Another big difference between monopods and tripods is the amount of floor space they take up.
Monopods resemble a pole and take up little space. This makes monopods very adaptable for busy venues such as football games where you don’t want someone tripping over a leg.
Tripods can have quite the large footprint, especially if you’re using it at a low angle with the legs spread out wide. This can be an issue in a crowded area, but chances are it won’t be a problem when you’re out snapping star trails late at night.
Setup and Teardown Time
Once again, monopods come out on top when it comes to setup and teardown time. Starting at the top of the monopod, many units come with a quick attach/release mechanism for adding or removing a camera in a hurry.
Monopods obviously only have one leg to extend and set in place, and this can often be done with the flick of a wrist. Snaps or twists lock or unlock that leg so you can get it to the height you need and start shooting.
Tripods, on the other hand, can take a considerable amount of time to set up. Manufacturers are always looking for ways to improve this by implementing quick release plates for cameras and ways to unlock all three legs with one gesture.
Unfortunately, you still have to manually lock each leg at the desired height and angle before you can even think about pointing your camera at the celestial object you’re hoping to shoot.
When you need to move locations in a hurry, you can oftentimes simply lift up your monopod and reposition it in a new spot without having to tear anything down. This isn’t nearly as easy to do for tripods, which may require some teardown before you can relocate.
At the end of an evening of amazing shots, it will take longer to tear down a tripod than it would a monopod for the same reasons listed above.
It should come as no surprise that, when comparing tripods and monopods apples-to-apples, monopods are going to cost less. Keep in mind that a lower cost does not mean a cheaper design. Monopods are simply smaller and have fewer components and material that goes into their design.
While tripods are more expensive, that extra cost goes into thick legs, a sturdy frame, and tools like bubble levels and adjustable center columns to make up for it.
Monopods Vs. Tripods for Night Sky Viewing
- Monopods are very lightweight, making them easy to store in a backpack and travel with from place to place.
- They are quick and easy to setup, and they also have a lot of versatility when needing to move locations quickly to follow your shot.
- These one-legged devices create only a small footprint on the ground, which is ideal for crowded areas where you want to avoid a trip hazard.
- Monopods are quite unstable and often need support in order to stand, which is a huge problem for trying to take photos at night with long exposure times.
- Tripods make use of three legs to provide the stability an astrophotographer needs to snap a blur-free starscape.
- Standing freely, tripods do not require any extra support to stand up straight, allowing you to focus on your shot and not having to worry that the tripod will topple or no longer be level.
- When it comes to durability, tripods reign supreme with three thick legs and sturdy frames that can take a beating and go right back out the next day.
- Tripods come in heavier and bulkier than a monopod of a similar design, making them a bit more difficult to travel with from place to place.
Monopods For Astrophotography
Vanguard VEO 2S AM-264TR
Benro Adventure 3 Series Carbon Fiber Monopod
SIRUI P-326 6 Section Carbon Fiber Monopod
Tripods For Astrophotography
Manfrotto 055 Carbon Fiber 4-Section Tripod
Benro Rhino Series 3
Vanguard Alta PRO 263AB
There are a lot of benefits to using monopods in photography, but when it comes to astrophotography, tripods are the clear winner.
While monopods like the Vanguard VEO 2S AM-264TR are lighter and more portable, they require extra support just to stand upright. Even with a monopod foot attached, monopods are swayed too much by the wind to be effective at night. When a nighttime starscape can require anywhere from 30 seconds to hours of exposure, monopods simply can’t handle that.
Tripods, although a bit more unruly to travel with, are the only way you’re going to get the stability you need to handle those long exposures. Something like the Manfrotto 055 that is mentioned above.
Tripods are resistant to wind, vibrations, and often have the capability to support extra load that lowers the center of gravity and keeps the tripod soundly in place.