One of my most-used and most-relied-on photography accessories is a monopod.
What is a monopod used for? Or, why use a monopod?
While many answers could be provided, there are primarily two reasons to use a monopod.
The first is to stabilize a camera and lens, enabling better image quality from both image sharpness and ideal composition perspectives.
The other reason is to support the weight of the camera. Even cameras that are handholdable can get heavy after a period of time. "Just because you can doesn't mean that you should" is a saying I use often and especially strong young photographers should heed the wisdom that says taking care of yourself when you are young will pay dividends when you are older. Holding a heavy camera and lens for long periods of time (and the definition of "long" as used here becomes quite short with some of the biggest lenses in use) will take its toll on your body and a monopod can greatly improve the health of your shoulders, back, etc. now and for many years to come. Yes, a monopod may slow you down (vs. shooting handheld), but sometimes those who last the longest get the best shots.
Tripods provide better stability, allow for hands-free use and are less tiring in use (keeping one's own body rigid is not so important when using a tripod), but with 1/3 as many legs to height-adjust and no legs to separate or close, a monopod is much faster to move, setup and adjust. When photographing action, including wildlife and sports, those latter attributes very frequently mean the difference between getting the photo or not.
Another primary reason to use a monopod over a tripod is for its smaller size and lighter weight (math would say it is roughly 1/3 as heavy). A bonus is that a monopod also makes a nice handle for carrying a camera.
I loved my former Gitzo GM5540 6x Carbon Fiber Monopod, but I wanted a model that retracted to a shorter length and decided to try the Gitzo GM4562 Series 4 Carbon Fiber Monopod. While the shorter length is ideal for packing and traveling, it is especially helpful for getting a very low shooting position and that latter need was one I seem to encounter frequently when photographing wildlife. The low position may be needed to better align a background, to get down to a short animal's eye-level or even when shooting downhill with a tall subject.
In the example below, a large branch was blocking the antlers of this nice double-split-brow-tine 12pt whitetail buck. In addition, I was at a higher elevation and looking downward while standing. The branch (still visible in the top left of the image below) over the antlers would have been enough to cause me to delete the entire set of images, but with a very short monopod, I was able to quickly fully retract the leg and photograph at just above ground level before the deer moved out of the opening in the woods.
Before I go through the Gitzo monopod naming convention, let's take a look at a table of the current Gitzo carbon fiber monopod models.
Compared to the current Gitzo carbon fiber tripod list, this list is rather trim. But, most needs are covered by these models.
Gitzo's GM4562 model name is worth exploring. The first letter, "G", refers to "Gitzo". The second character describes the product type and "M" is for Monopod. Other letters used in this position include A for Apparel, "B" for Boom, "C" for Carry Solution, "H" for Head, "K" for Kit and "T" for Tripod.
The first numeric character in the name represents the series number. The higher the series number, the stronger/more-rigid the model is. Higher numbers generally come with a higher price tag and a heavier weight. Current Gitzo monopods are represented in series "2" and "4".
The second number in the model name refers to the material used to construct the legs with "5" indicating carbon fiber. Other representations include "3" for Aluminum, "7" for Magnesium and "8" for Basalt.
The third number in the model name indicates the number of leg sections the model has with this one having 6.
The fourth number is the release number, incrementing with each model line refresh. The monopod models started with "0" (my GM5540 was a "0", we are at "2" at review time and all of them have been great.
At the top of the monopod is the upper disc. The Gitzo GM4562's aluminum upper disc measures 2.36" (60.0mm) in diameter and as you likely guessed from the word "disc", it is round, which is a comfortable-to-the-hand shape. Set screws are provided to lock a head into place on top of the disc and a reverse direction set screw allows the upper disc to be locked into the monopod.
Why does the upper disc need to be locked into monopod? Because it is removeable and acts like a wrench for the reversible 1/4"-20 & 3/8"-16 screw that can directly attach to most cameras, lens tripod rings and a wide variety of other heads.
I have a Really Right Stuff Lever-Release Clamp on my monopod. This clamp allows me to quickly attach any plate-equipped camera or lens and mostly, unless I expect to be photographing at a strong upward or downward angle, I direct mount the camera or lens to the monopod.
If strong shooting angles are expected or more versatility is desired, most tripod heads, most notably monopod-specific heads, can be attached directly to the monopod. With the quick release clamp mounted on my tripod, I can quick-attach my dovetail base monopod head to this clamp for convenient optional use. Attach a dovetail plate to any tripod head and it too can be quick-attached.
Under the top disc is a short strap that also has a belt clip on it. While some may find this strap useful, I found it to frequently get in the way and eventually opted to remove it. The strap simply slips off when the upper disc is removed. Made more apparent with the strap removed is that the connection between the upper disc and the leg cup is relatively narrow compared to the leg diameter, though this does not seem to be a source of concern from strength and rigidity perspectives. Although not as wide as the top leg section, the connection seems quite solid.
As specified in the model name, the Gitzo GM4562 features carbon fiber weave tubing that Gitzo refers to as 6X Carbon eXact Tubing. Carbon fiber monopods are typically modestly lighter than equally-weight-rated aluminum models and this one weighs in at 1.5 lb (0.6 kg). At least as important is that carbon fiber better dampens vibrations than aluminum. Aluminum dents and bends, but carbon fiber breaks. Neither is good and the latter is less likely, but dented and/or bent may remain usable. Also for consideration is that aluminum is susceptible to corrosion – especially if used in/around salt water.
Carbon fiber does not transfer heat as easily as aluminum, making carbon fiber much more skin-friendly while photographing in temperature extremes. However, monopods typically have a rubber grip surface that minimizes this differentiator. The GM4562 has a very nice firm rubber grip surface on the upper tube that provides sure control over the monopod and attached camera. I frequently use monopods as a carry handle, even for large camera and lens combinations, and this one works great for this purpose.
Increase the number of leg sections and more height and/or a more compact retracted size is generally the outcome. As mentioned earlier, the more compact retracted size was the driving factor for my selection of a 6-leg monopod. Especially when shooting sports, I usually opt for a low-to-the-ground position, making the players appear large-in-life and pushing the background farther away for a stronger blur. Retracting to an only 17.3" (44 cm) folded length means I can get down very low to the ground and it comfortably fits inside some of my packs. The GM4562 extends to a 60.6" (154 cm) maximum height. With the camera's viewfinder rising well above this height, I find this GM4562's max height adequate for use in a comfortable standing position (I am 6' / 1.8m).
Adding leg sections means the lower section tubes have a smaller diameter which can result in decreased stability. On the GM4562, the top leg section has a 1.46" (37.0mm) diameter while the bottom leg section's diameter is half as wide, 0.72" (18.2mm).
I often don't notice stability being negatively impacted with additional legs in Gitzo carbon fiber supports. However, when fully extended, the GM4562 has more flex than I prefer and the reduced stability disadvantage potential is realized somewhat in this model. While I don't like that attribute, I have not decided that I am willing to give up the short retracted length for increased rigidity when extended and have been using this model exclusively for over 4 months.
Note that when shooting from a low position for extended periods of time, especially when photographing sports, I usually sit on a retracted Walkstool that becomes something like a human monopod, allowing me to pivot around the monopod in comfort.
Relevant to the leg section discussion are the locks that hold the leg sections together. The twist-lock-type leg locks featured on Gitzo monopods are my strong preference over flip locks, the other common option. I like the quietness and speed of twist locks and slowly tightening the last leg section as the camera is being lowered to the desired shooting height works great.
Gitzo refers to these as "G-Lock Ultra Twist Locks". They are high-grade and well-built, featuring metal construction. The short-rotation feature makes them especially quick and easy to use and I struggle to be happy with anything less now that I have used these for many years.
I mentioned opting for a monopod model with a high leg section count and additional leg locks increase cost somewhat and can increase extend/retract times. I have not found having to adjust the extra G-Locks on a 6-section model to be a huge disadvantage, though all locks on this model cannot be tightened or loosened with a single group-twist. It would take a Goliath-sized 6" (150mm) palm to do that.
Important is that all G-Locks can be loosen and re-tightened in any order because of the Anti-Rotation Leg (ALR) system. This is another feature that I would struggle to give up.
A recent addition to Gitzo's G-Locks is an O-ring seal, helping to keep the environment from entering the locks. While the purpose is a positive one, a bit of additional friction induced by the O-rings is not as welcomed and a bit more effort is required to tighten and loosen these locks than the pre-O-ring versions.
Leg locks are often the limiting factor in a support's load capacity. This monopod is load capacity rated at 66 lb (30 kg) and it easily holds the rated load. I'm used to Gitzo tripod models holding considerably more than their rating and this one does exceed its spec, but with a load of roughly 80 lbs (36.3kg), at least one of the very-firmly-tightened leg locks begins to slip. While this monopod cannot be trusted to hold an adult's weight (such as when navigating difficult terrain), it can be counted on to hold the heaviest camera gear. I have regularly been using the Canon EF 600mm f/4 L IS USM Lens on this monopod with no capacity issues experienced.
All monopods have a foot and this part seems like a rather unimportant part that just needs to be present. Per Gitzo, "At the monopod's base is a redesigned rubber foot that features a pivoting ball-joint for smooth tilts and twists. Users may also remove the foot if necessary and replace it with optional rubber feet or an optional metal spike."
If you are shooting on a hard surface, such as a floor and especially on a surface that you do not want to mar, the new ball foot is a great feature. I use my monopod nearly-exclusively outdoors, usually on non-man-made surfaces and I don't like the pivoting foot. When I put the monopod down, I want to foot to be immediately planted and potentially dig in slightly – not pivot into place with a reasonably-sized flat surface on the foot.
I took the replacement foot route and am much happier with it. I don't mind that the pivoting foot was provided and some will prefer it, but the solid rubber foot should have been included in the box.
It's a Gitzo. Gitzo builds top-quality products and you are going to be very happy with the construction quality of this one. You probably have invested a lot in the camera and lens you will be mounting on top of the monopod and a monopod failure could be very costly, so quality construction should be high on your monopod requirements list. Gitzo always checks that box.
Gitzo gear generally price-compares toward the top of the market. Quality has a cost and my strong opinion is that quality is worth the cost for camera support gear, including monopods. Monopods have 1/3 as many legs as tripods and they typically cost just over 1/3 as much. This means the price disparity between cheap monopods and the expensive ones is not as great as with tripods and that helps justify buying a high grade model.
The GM4562 comes in a dust bag as seen above. I personally purchased the Gitzo GM4562 Monopod used for this review online/retail.
Do you get tired holding your camera and lens?
Do you need assistance in holding your camera and lens steady?
Do you need to hold a camera steady at a no-tripod venue?
Do you photograph sports?
Do you photograph wildlife?
Do you need a compact camera support that is fast to deploy?
If you answered yes to any of these questions (and even if you did not), you may need a monopod.
The Gitzo models are among the best monopod options available. With photography being a major part of my job and camera and lens performance evaluation being primary, I opt for the best-available supports and right now, the Gitzo GM4562 Series 4 Carbon Fiber Monopod is my choice.
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