A good monopod is a handy accessory for photographers who shoot at telephoto distances and want to be more mobile than a tripod allows. Using a monopod helps you to better steady your camera, so you can get a sharp shot at a longer shutter speed. It’s also helpful when shooting with very heavy lenses, as you won’t have to support your camera and lens via your arm muscles alone. The Manfrotto 694CX Carbon Fiber 4-Section Monopod ($212 direct) is one of the better ones that I’ve used, but it’s also on the pricey side. Its carbon fiber construction keeps its weight down, but it’s still sturdy enough to support 11 pounds. Cold weather shooters often prefer carbon fiber as it isn’t as chilly to the touch as aluminum, and the material is less prone to transmitting vibration.
The 694CX weighs about 1.3 pounds and collapses to 21.3 inches. There are four sections, each of which requires you to open a clip in order to adjust; closing the clip locks that section into place. When fully extended it reaches 65 inches in height; at 5’9″, I was able to shoot comfortably at less than full extension when I added the 234RC head ($50) and a Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM, but if you’re significantly taller you’ll be more comfortable with a monopod with a bit more extension. You can screw the monopod directly into a tripod socket, but a head with a quick release plate is a handy add-on. If you’re on a tight budget, the closest aluminum Manfrotto equivalent, the 681B, is just $78. But it is a little bit heavier at 1.8 pounds, and isn’t as comfortable to use in cold weather.
There’s a hand strap attached to the top, and the bottom foot is rounded rubber. There’s no way to change that out to a spike or add a support base, which may be limiting when shooting on uneven terrain. It is rated to support up to 11 pounds, although the 234RC head is only rated for 5.5 pounds. I used the monopod and head combination with a 7.5-pound lens and a 1.7-pound camera. There were a couple instances where the head’s tilting method lurched forward under the weight, but it wasn’t a frequent occurrence.
The Manfrotto 694CX Carbon Fiber 4-Section Monopod is expensive, but it’s a solid accessory for sports shooters, nature photographers, and others who use telephoto lenses. I was able to get sharp shots with a heavy telezoom at 300mm at speeds as low as 1/60-second; even with optical stabilization. That’s a feat. And I managed to shoot all day without killing my arms, which would not be the case if I was hand-holding 9-plus pounds of camera and lens for hours on end. You can find a comparable aluminum monopod for a lot less money, but a half-pound weight difference is noticeable if you’re carrying heavy gear.
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