My Search for Bigfoot

Sometimes, when you combine things that you wouldn’t think would go well together, you come up with a winner. Think “sea salt” and “dark chocolate,” for instance, or maybe even “Woody Harrelson” and “Matthew McConnaughy.”

Left to Right: the foldout legs of the Oben, the Varizoom “Chickenfoot,” the Manfrotto original, and the Sirui.

Well, the same can be said of putting three little feet on the bottom of a monopod. At first blush, you look at this arrangement and think, “what’s the point?” If you want a tripod, use a tripod, and if you want a monopod, stick to the tried and true one-footed design…

Left to Right: The Varizoom “Chickenfoot, ” an Oben with fold out legs, an Induro monopod custom grafted onto a Manfrotto foot, and the Sirui

omim-logo-162x147But boy, would you be wrong. In practice, shooting video with a compact camera one top of one of these three-footed monos gives you excellent steadiness, swing and tilt as well as panning moves, and all in a tiny footprint that you can maneuver in tight, crowded quarters.

Manfrotto was the first, and for a good long time, the only manufacturer offering this design. Their fluid cartridge design in the tripod portion of the foot is a marvel of engineering… when you get the feel of working with it, you can swing it around as needed, or feel it snap into place for stationary shots, without bending over to lock or unlock a collar.

Unfortunately, like many things Manfrotto, they take something with elegant design (like the pivoting tripod foot) and stick crappy, heavy aluminum and white metal goods with plastic snap tighteners on top of it.

For some reason, I’m a lot fussier about how my tripods and monopods feel right from the gitgo than I am even about my cameras.

I’m willing invest the time to learn the pecadillos and work-arounds of almost any camera. But if a tripod or monopod doesn’t feel sleek, elegant, lightweight and well-made right from the start, I know I’ll never use it. It’s no wonder that, once carbon fiber hit the scene way back when in the tripod world, my usage of tripods increased dramatically.

I struggled for a while with the bigger model Manfrotto (too heavy and clunky) and the lighter one (too flimsy and jiggly) until I had the idea of grafting that Manfrotto foot to my really nice, strong, light Gitzo monopod. For that operation, I called that master of mods, Michael Bass.

Although he’s best known for his intricate modifications of electronic flash remotes and cords for sports photographers, Michael is a genius at mechanical work as well, and he did a great job of melding the two and I was a happy camper….for a while. One thing I always thought about the Manfrotto foot was that if those legs where just a little bit longer, it’d be more stable, and it really wouldn’t add that much size and weight.

Well, apparently several manufacturers were having that same blinding realization because all of a sudden, there were several different versions of the tri-footed monopod to be seen, most of which had those longer legs.  And thanks to my pal Gabe Biderman at B&HPhoto, I was able to try a few.

But before I go into my brief impressions of each of the four (you’ll never get a full “review” out of me, because I’m not that technical, but you’ll get some working impressions and you can get the tech specs through the hotlinks), I’d like to show you how useful these monopods can be. To do that, I’m going to call upon one of my heroes in the motion biz, the great Patrick Moreau of Stillmotion.

“P,” as he is known by his friends and colleagues, is one of the smartest and most talented videographer/directors out there. He’s also a great teacher and a very nice guy in person (I took a seminar with him in Philly…one of the best seminars I’ve ever attended—or even taught, for that matter:-).

And he’s the guy who turned me onto the three footers in the following video.  It’s an older video (Stillmotion doesn’t do too many weddings anymore, These days they’re too busy making Emmy-award winning documentaries for HBO and the like), but the techniques are still valid.

The Sirui P-224S is a well thought out and well crafted monopod and the one with the longest foldout feet. The ballhead at the bottom of the monopod has a locking knob and that means you have to tighten and untighten by hand.

It also means that you get extremely steady static shots. This is the monopod with the most well-designed little touches (it has a panning collar built in near the top section, so you can pan with the monopod while the feet are firmly planted, rather than at the balljoint of the tripod foot, which is a little less stable an operation), but there was something about that locking collar on the ball joint of the tripod foot that I thought my slow me down. It’d be  a good choice for a larger camera, and indeed, if I ever do buy a serious big camera, I think this monopod might be my next purchase.

The Oben ACM-2400L takes a different tack with the legs. These are not fold down legs, they’re little skinny foldaway legs. You have to unscrew the bottom section to get at them, and there’s no pivoting ballhead at the juncture, so once you spread those legs, you are committed to static shots only.

The good news is that these are among the longest legs of any monopod and it makes for very sturdy static shots. The bad news is that you can only do static shots with this arrangement and it’s time-consuming and a bit awkward to set up. I didn’t find this arrangement as versatile as the others.

The next candidate is my Frankenpod…an Induro monopod with a grafted Manfrotto foot courtesy of Michael Bass. The Manfrotto foot is a marvel of engineering, but those legs are just a little short for really steady locked down shots. There’s a fair amount of wavering that goes on with the best of these three-footed monopods when you’re trying to do a static shot…you need to wait for the thing to settle down and sometimes that can take 30 seconds or more.

But that is more exaggerated with this Manfrotto foot. This foot also has a tendency to catch and get a little jammed up with sand and dirt, and that makes smooth pan, tilt, and crane moves a little jumpy. Nevertheless, it’s a great designed foot and if you want to try it on your favorite monopod, you no longer have to sacrifice two monopods to do it.

An outfit on Ebay has started offering these little three footed marvels as a standalone item for less than $22! Then you can graft it to the monopod of your choice. I haven’t tried this foot, but Emm at Cheesycam has and he liked it. Check these feet out on Ebay here.

Finally, we come to my favorite monopod of these four with my least favorite name: what the marketing guys at Varizoom were thinking when they named this monopod the Chickenfoot is beyond me…it’s a dumb name that doesn’t inspire confidence. But is super nicely designed monopod and foot combo.

The feet are nice and long and they are the only tubular shaped ones in the test group, and the head is such that you can press down, twist and tighten for static shots, or loosen to taste for crane/tilt/pan shots. The workmanship on this carbon fiber model (they make aluminum versions too, but that’s just not for me) is super and so far, very durable. It’s not quite as heavily engineered as the Sirui, and it folds down nice and compactly, supports a good amount of weight (up to 25 lbs according to them), but still feels nice and light.

There are other tripod-footed monopods coming out every month, and that’s because, basically, they are so darned useful when shooting video. But don’t slavishly fall into the Manfrotto models just because they were first. Any of these others meet the basic criteria of the Old Man in Motion much better—lighter, smaller, faster, and in most cases, cheaper!


5 thoughts on “My Search for Bigfoot

  1. I am guessing that maybe one of these monopods with the expandable legs might actually function better as a make-shift gimbal than the old one I have that has no legs, but is simply your standard monopod that you would see at a football game. I remember when Manfrotto came out with the idea of legs on a monopod, to remedy the problem of wanting to use a tripod with a big lens, but not being able to because tripods had been banned on the sidelines at many events.

  2. Thank you for your insight. This is exactly what I needed to hear and see to move on to the next challenge!

  3. Hi Bob, great article and links. Was wondering if you are attaching a head to the Chickenfoot?
    Amazing work on you site. Loved reading about the mirroless adventures. I too have been switching over from Canon to Olympus OMD EM5’s and EM1’s and will also be adding a Sony a7s to my rig line up for a low light beast. Cheers, M-

  4. Great article, wish I found it sooner. I tried a cheaper smaller footed version that I found on amazon but it was not up to task for anything more than a small point and shoot. The small feet could not support my super zoom and barely kept my C-SLR up straight. This was indoors with no wind blowing. I quickly filled out a return request and I have the Oben 2400 on the way. It will be here just in time for my trip to Hawaii.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *