Almost Everything You Wanted to Know About Using a Monopod/Monoball with a Heavy Super-telephoto Lens « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Almost Everything You Wanted to Know About Using a Monopod/Monoball with a Heavy Super-telephoto Lens

What’s Up?

Did anyone read yesterday’s blog post?

Today is Tuesday 12 July 2022. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I hope that you too have a great day. This blog post took about 90 minutes to prepare and makes one hundred fourteen days in a row with a new one.

Please remember to use the B&H and Amazon links that are found on most blog pages and to use the BIRDSASART discount code at checkout when purchasing your new gear from Bedfords to get 3% back on your credit card and enjoy free second-day air FedEx. Please, also, consider joining a BAA IPT. You will be amazed at how much you will learn!


If you would like to join me for the July 15-19 Jacksonville IPT, or for some In-the-Field sessions there on those dates, please get in touch via e-mail. Details below.

The One Big Secret to Making Great Bird Photographs
With Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART — Free NANPA Webinar

Yes, boys and girls. There really is just one big secret. It will be revealed at the very end of the webinar. Join me on July 13 from 4:00 to 5:00 pm EDT to learn a ton. Click here to register. This program is free and open to all. Covered topics will include seeing the shot, finding the best perspective, getting close to free and wild birds, the importance of wind direction in bird photography, understanding the direction and qualities of natural light, flight photography tips, getting the right exposure, image composition and design, and lots more.

The First DeSoto IPT

If you are interested in the first DeSoto IPT, 3 1/2 Days, Tuesday 27 September through the morning session on Friday 30 September 2022, I just reserved a three-bedroom AirBnB in Gulfport. Share it for four nights with many multiple IPT veteran Monte Brown and me and save a ton on lodging: $83.69/night/person for a whole home. Photos available upon request.

It’s Not Too Late

It is not too late to buy a plane ticket to Jacksonville, Florida and join multiple IPT vet John Dupps and me for the JAX Royal Tern and Laughing Gull IPT. BAA-friend David Pugsley will be doing us for the first two days. Please e-mail for late-registration discount info. The photo action will be torrid! See the complete details below.

My MonoPod Concerns

So why have I been dead set against the use of monopods with big lenses for serious bird photography?

1- I’ve been sure that stability would be much more of an issue with a monopod than with a decent tripod and a decent head. That, in part, because when I am talking to someone, folks often ask with good reason, “Do you ever stand still?” My balance ain’t so good anymore and when I try to stand still, I am always moving from side to side. I’d lead the league for sure in body-swaying index. That said, a monopod can never match the stability of a good tripod topped by a Levered-clamp FlexShooter Pro.

2- Some folks who use monopods successfully state that when they do flight photography, they shorten the monopod and lift it up with their rig. That might work with intermediate telephoto lenses, but, it would not work for me with any lens. Why? When you see a bird flying into range, you need to be ready almost instantly. I addition, the last thing I want to do is add weight to the 400 f/2.8/2X TC/a1 rig. That weighs 8 pounds, 6.8-ounces without the lens hood.

I have firmly believed the above for almost 40 years. That said, I have been wrong many times in the past. For 39 years I firmly believed that the 400mm f/2.8 lenses were a bad choice for bird photography. Today, it is one of my very favorite lenses.

This image was also created on 9 July 2022 on the pier into the lake near my home. I used the Robus RCM-439 4-Section Carbon Fiber Monopod, 65/Wimberley MonoGimbal Head-supported Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS lens with the Sony FE 2.0x Teleconverter, and The One, the Sony Alpha 1 Mirrorless Digital Camera). The exposure was determined accurately using Zebra technology. ISO 1600. 1/160 sec. at f/5.6 (wide open) in Manual mode. When evaluated in RawDigger, the raw file brightness was determined to be dead-solid perfect. AWB at 6:48:17am on a then-sunny morning.

Tracking: Spot S/AF-C with Bird Face/Eye detection enabled performed perfectly. Be sure to click on the image to enjoy a high-res version.

Juvenile Green Heron lit from the rear

My Two Sessions With the MonoPod

I first set up the Robus RCM-439 4-Section Carbon Fiber Monopod, 65 with the Wimberley MonoGimbal Head early on 9 July. At first, I was pretty much lost. I could not even figure out how to carry the rig comfortably.

I put the head on the right side of the lens, figuring it would be easier to get my left hand on the lens. The monopod with the mono gimbal head weighs only 29.7 ounces — 1 pound, 13.7 ounces. If you compare that with the weight of the Robus RCC-5560 Vantage Series C 4-Section Carbon Fiber Compact Tripod that I am using now with a Levered-clamp FlexShooter Pro — 5 pounds 15.7 ounces — you will quickly learn one of the huge advantages of using a monopod.

I have been trying (and failing) to create a good Osprey-with-a-fish blur every morning for the past few weeks. I decided to see how I could do shooting flight off the monopod. That first morning, I did not have many chances. I struggled. Then, I was hanging out on the pier seeing what might fly by and just minutes after sunrise, the young Green Heron landed about sixty feet from me, 60.03937 feet to be exact. I made a few images and began to move forward. I found it much easier to approach the bird stealthily with the lightweight stick of a monopod than with one of the three-legged monsters. Holding the monopod vertically right in front of me I was able to approach to 42.847769 feet.

The light was from almost directly behind the bird, but it was so soft that I kept shooting even when it struck the upper part of the young bird’s back. I was more than 90° off sun angle, a rarity for me. Working at ISO 1600 as 800mm/f/5.6, I began shooting at 1/125 sec. and ended at 1/160 second. I knew that I was pushing things. My fears were realized. I created more than 180 images and probably 80-90% of them were not sharp. But the best ones were very sharp, and those included the neatest poses (as above). Do understand that if I had been on the tripod I could not have gotten nearly as close without flushing the bird. And it was my first morning with the monopod, and I could have raised the ISO and the shutter speed significantly.

On my second morning with the monopod, also working at 800mm, there was lot of low shutter speed Osprey opportunities, but little else to shoot. I did, however, made some huge and important discoveries. Here is what worked for me:

1- I mounted the monoball head so it was on the left side of the monopod. That simple change made things much easier. Why?

2- Be sure to balance your lens (with or without a TC) in the clamp.

2- This may sound heretical to many, but once I did that, I began working with the monopod tilted about three degrees to the left. I kept the lens collar loose and allowed my kinesthetic sense to level the lens just as we have done for decades using first the Wimberley Head and then the Mongoose. I believe that that is the roll. It took me a while to figure out why tilting the monopod was the way to go. If you can figure it out, leave a comment. Understanding this concept is the key to working successfully with a monopod.

3- Increasing the length of the monopod so that the camera body was just above chin level, I found shooting flight to be a dream. It was easy to frame the bird, and easy to pan with it in flight. It is like handholding a big lens with an air hook.

4- The last thing that you want to do is to put a monopod (or tripod) with a heavy telephoto lens mounted on it on your shoulder. I did that for more than 25 years and have lived to regret it. Ask my right shoulder about it some time. My solution for carrying a big lens mounted on this rig was to leave the tripod collar loosened, point the lens at the sky, tighten the big knob on the monoball, grab the monopod just below the lens, and rotate the lens so that the camera body is square to the ground. The rig is easily carried on either side. I’ll try to get a photo of that soon.

5- If you are set up at flight-height and need to shoot a bird on the ground, there are two options. You can lean the monopod forward or back to get lower almost instantly. If you have a moment, I believe it is better to lean the camera against your right shoulder, loosen upper twist lock, and shorten the top leg section as needed, typical from four to six inches.

6- A word on the Robus monopods and tripods. They have the best twist locks I have ever encountered. They make it fast and easy to shorten or lengthen the monopod as needed. All the Robus gear is rugged and well made. I will be doing a big blog post on the Robus tripods soon.

7- The Wimberley MonoGimbal Head is both light in weight and elegantly designed. It performs like a side-mounting gimbal head and renders big lenses practically weightless. And when properly set up, you can point the lens anywhere-anytime with ease. With the gimbal effect, you control the pitch simply by pointing the lens up or down. And you control the yaw, the side-to-side movement of the front of the lens, by panning. Like I said, anywhere, anytime.

Summing Up

Monopods offer much less stability than tripods. On average, they weigh about 66% less than a tripod/Levered-clamp FlexShooter rig. And because they are much less cumbersome, it is easier to get close to birds with a big lens mounted on a monopod than it is with a tripod. For me, those three statements are irrefutable fact.

But from where I sit, the huge advantage of using a monopod with a Wimberley MonoGimbal Head will be for flight photography. I can’t wait to get to Jacksonville and see how I do. On my last trip, handholding the 400mm f/2.8 for three straight shooting sessions was quite stressful.

Thanks to BPN-friend Joe Przybyla for urging me to try a monopod for the past two years. His efforts helped me to continue to learn and grow as a photographer and an educator.

Click on the composite image to enjoy the incredible quality of the hi-res JPEG.

Clockwise from upper left clockwise and back around to the center: Royal Tern in flight with squid for chick; Royal Tern chick on beach; Royal Tern in flight with shrimp for young; Royal Tern chick — double overhead wing stretch; Royal Tern landing with greenback for chick; Royal Tern in flight with juvenile mahi mahi for chick; Brown Pelican — large chick preening; Laughing Gull in fresh juvenal plumage; Royal Tern chick begging; Many Royal Terns with many chicks on face of dune.

Jacksonville IPT: 4 FULL DAYS — the afternoon of FRI 15 JULY thru the morning of TUES 19 July 2022: $2099.00 (Limit 6 photographers/Openings: 5)

I first visited the breeding bird colony at Jacksonville in late June 2021. I was astounded. There were many thousands of pairs of Royal Terns nesting along with about 10,000 pairs of Laughing Gulls. In addition to the royals, there were some Sandwich Terns nesting. And there are several dozen pairs of Brown Pelicans nesting on the ground. Flight photography was non-stop astounding. And photographing the tern chicks was relatively easy. Folks could do the whole trip with the Sony 200-600, the Canon 100-500 RF, or the Nikon 500 PF or 200-500 VR. With a TC in your pocket for use on sunny days. Most of the action is within 100 yards of where we park (on the beach). As with all bird photography, there are times when a super-telephoto lens with either TC is the best tool for the job.

Morning sessions will average about 3 1/2 hours, afternoon sessions about 1 1/2 hours. On cloudy mornings with favorable winds, we may opt to stay out for one long session and skip the afternoon, especially when the afternoon forecast is poor. Lunch is included on the first three days of the IPT and will be served at my AirBnB. We will do image review and Photoshop after lunch.

We will be based somewhere west and a bit north of Jacksonville where there are many AirBnB possibilities. The deposit is $599.00. Call Jim at the office any weekday at 863-692-0906 to pay by credit card. Balances must be paid by check.

Click on the composite image to enjoy the incredible quality of the hi-res JPEG.

Clockwise from upper left clockwise and back around to the center: Royal Tern feeding chick; Royal Tern/4-week-old chick; ink-stained Royal Tern in flight with squid for chick; Royal Tern/3-week-old chick begging; Brown Pelican in flight on white sky day; fresh juvenile Laughing Gull on clean beach; Laughing Gulls stealing fish from Royal Tern; tight shot of Royal Tern in flight with fish for young.

What You Will Learn on a Jacksonville IPT

  • 1- First and foremast you will learn to become a better flight photographer. Much better.
  • 2-You will learn the basics and fine points of digital exposure. Nikon and Canon folks will learn to get the right exposure every time after making a single test exposure, and SONY folks will learn to use Zebras so that they can be sure of making excellent exposures before pressing the shutter button.
  • 3- You will learn to work in Manual exposure mode even if you fear it.
  • 4- You will learn to evaluate wind and sky conditions and understand how they affect bird photography, especially the photography of birds in flight.
  • 5- You will learn several pro secrets (for each system) that will help you to become a better flight photographer.
  • 6- You will learn to zoom out in advance (because the birds are so close!) 🙂
  • 7- You will learn how to approach free and wild birds without disturbing them.
  • 8- You will learn to spot the good and the great situations.
  • 9- You will learn to understand and predict bird behavior.
  • 10- You will learn to design pleasing images by mastering your camera’s AF system.
  • 11- You will learn to choose the best perspective.
  • 12- You will learn to see and control your backgrounds.
  • 13- You will learn to see and understand the light.
  • 14- You will learn to see and create pleasing blurs in pre-dawn situations.
  • 15- You will learn to be ready for the most likely event.

The best news is that you will be able to take everything you learn home with you so that you will be a better photographer wherever you are and whenever you photograph.


With all blog posts, feel free to e-mail or to leave a comment regarding any typos or errors.

13 comments to Almost Everything You Wanted to Know About Using a Monopod/Monoball with a Heavy Super-telephoto Lens

  • Roger Smith

    Hi Artie, replying to above thread / question. Totally agree on weight on the Wimberley, great product, but heavy even with the side mount conversion. And by the way, I like “walk and stalk” better than “run and gun” 🙂 I’m all the way over here in San Diego CA, land of pelicans, road runners, and lots and lots of migrating species

  • Joel Eade

    Glad to see your perspective on the use of monopods is evolving 🙂

    I am still using the one my son gave me for my birthday 7 years ago. You might recall me using it at DeSoto.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Not so fast :). I will never be using a monopod exclusively. See the blog post on Wednesday.

      with love, artie

  • Adam

    Interesting experience and thanks for sharing. I’ve gone back and forth with monopods over the years and still never feel satisfied using them. Yes, they take the weight off of big whites, are useful for sports, shooting land animals, and roosting birds though they I’ve never had consistent success with them for BIF especially for fast moving, erratically moving birds or those flying overhead.

    Ironically, my experience yesterday epitomized my disappointment. I went back to an area where a couple of RT’s have recently fledged. The day before, I had been at the same location with my 100-500 + tc and was disappointed with the images’ acutance (atmospherics were active). So I returned the next day with a big white and a monopod (didn’t want to drag the tripod through the field without trails). I regretted every moment of it as one of the fledglings kept taking high speed passes at me and tracking the bird was problematic when it was affixed to the monopod. Once I pulled the rig off, there was no problem keeping the bird in the EVF.

  • Roger Smith

    Hi Artie, appreciate the monopod perspective for sure. Would add their usefulness for “run and gun” shooting in the woods for songbirds, etc. I’m very close to selling my big Induro tripod / Wimberley gimbal head for lack of use. I shoot the 200-600 almost exclusively, and tend to lay down or sit down when not shooting handheld and stabilize with knees or bean bag.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hey Roger,

      With all due respect to my friends at Wimberley, I quit using the Wimberley Head Version II more than a decade ago because of it great weight and size. First I went to the Mongoose Action Head, the still-superb, lightweight side-mounting gimbal. More recently, to the lightweight, do-everything Levered-clamp FlexShooter Pro. And yes, with the monoball, a monopod is a good option for songbirds with the 200-600 when you are standing up. with love, artie

      ps: where do you live?

  • Bob Peterson

    As to tilting the monopod that keeps the center of gravity of the camera over the foot. If you drop a plumb line from the camera to the ground that is where the foot of the monopod should be.

  • Hi Artie, thanks for the mention in you blog. As you know I have used a monopod for many years, the big difference was Wimberly’s MonoGimbal head. That head made moving with the monopod, camera and lens easy because the camera and lens balances the same as with a gimbal on a tripod. Keep at it, soon using it will be second nature.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      My pleasure, Joe. There will be lots of time when I wind up carrying and using a tripod. But I am having fun learning new stuff and making some nice images during the journey.

      with love, artie

  • Sue Townshend

    Get a Monopod shoulder pad support.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      They add additional weight and while the might ease the pain in the moment, will not lessen the long-term deleterious effects on your shoulder or shoulders.

      with love, artie

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