As I've said before, one of my most-used and most-relied-on photography accessories is a monopod. When I want to support a camera, either because it is heavy or because I want to keep it steadier than when handheld while retaining maximum mobility and setup speed, I frequently opt for a monopod, especially when wildlife and sports photography are on the agenda. Earlier this year, I was sent a Robus RCM-439 Carbon Fiber Monopod for evaluation.
I've used Robus tripods before receiving this monopod. Based on that experience, I had very high expectations for this product and was not disappointed. The Robus RCM-439 is a very impressive monopod without considering the price. At this price point, it is even more impressive.
As already hinted, there are two primary reasons for using 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 some time, and "Just because you can doesn't mean that you should" is a statement I use frequently. Especially strong young photographers should heed the wisdom that says taking care of yourself now will pay dividends when you are older. Holding a heavy camera and lens for long periods (and the definition of "long" as used here becomes quite short when using some of the biggest lenses) will take its toll on your body, and a monopod can significantly 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 images.
Tripods provide better stability, allow for hands-free use, and are less tiring in use (keeping one's own body still is not so important when using a tripod), but with 2/3 fewer legs to height-adjust and no legs required to be separated or closed, a monopod is much faster to move, set up, and adjust. When photographing action, including wildlife and sports, those latter attributes very frequently mean the difference between getting the image or not.
Two more primary reasons to use a monopod over a tripod are the smaller size and the lighter weight (math would say a monopod is roughly 1/3 the size and weight). A bonus is that a monopod also makes a nice handle for carrying a camera, and it simplifies over-the-shoulder carry.
On the top is the upper disc. The Robus RCM-439 Monopod's aluminum upper disc measures 2.35" (59.7 mm) in diameter, and as indicated by the word "disc", it is round, which is a comfortable shape to have meet the hand. Round is also indifferent to the rotational position of anything mounted on it. The top surface area of this disc measures very slightly narrower, 2.11" (53.5mm). The disc is removable (which allows the hand strap to be removed) with a retaining/set screw provided to ensure that it stays tightly attached. A retaining/set screw is also provided to lock a clamp or head into place on top of the disk.
This monopod has a reversible mounting screw, featuring the popular 3/8"-16 screw size on one side and the also-common 1/4"-20 screw on the other. The top disc acts as a wrench, tightening the threads into place.
If I expect to be photographing at upward or downward angles, I mount a Wimberley WH-200-S Sidemount Head on my monopod. Otherwise, I mount a Really Right Stuff Lever-Release Clamp for direct attachment of the camera or lens. Both options permit quick attachment of any plate-equipped camera.
Under the top disc is a wrist strap with an integrated belt clip. While some may find monopod straps useful, I find them to frequently get in the way and always end up removing them. The strap simply slips off when the upper disc is removed.
The apex is crucial because it holds everything together. The Robus apex is anodized aluminum. It is smooth/comfortable, solid, and looks great.
The Robus monopods utilize 10x carbon fiber. These tubes are strong, light, visually attractive, and feel great in hand.
Carbon fiber monopods are typically modestly lighter than equally-weight-rated aluminum models, and this one weighs in at a mere 1.09 lb (495.0g) without the strap (which weighs very little). 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 a dented or bent monopod may remain usable.
Carbon fiber does not transfer heat as readily as aluminum, making carbon fiber more skin-friendly while photographing in temperature extremes. However, monopods typically have a rubber grip surface that minimizes this differentiator. The Robus monopods have a high-quality, dense rubber grip surface on the upper tube that provides positive control over the monopod and attached camera. This grip surface works great for a carry handle for even large camera and lens combinations.
Increase the number of leg sections and more height or a more compact retracted size (or both) is generally the outcome.
The Robus RCM-439 is a 4-section model with a 21.1" (53.6cm) retracted/minimum height. 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, and the 4-section Robus monopod works great for this use. Note that when shooting from a low position for extended periods, especially when photographing sports, I usually sit on a retracted Walkstool that becomes something like a human monopod, allowing me to pivot my seat around the monopod in comfort. Getting low is often needed to get down to eye level for wildlife photography.
The Robus RCM-439 extends to a 65.0" (165.1cm) maximum height. With the camera's viewfinder rising well above this height, this monopod's max height is adequate for photographing upwards from a comfortable standing position (I'm 6' / 1.8m). A monopod that extends the viewfinder above eye level on level ground is also important when shooting on a downward-sloping hillside, from stairs, etc.
Also available is the Robus RCM-633 6-Section Carbon Fiber Monopod, a 6-section model featuring the same 65" height and a shorter 17.2" retracted length. Surprisingly, the 6-section model costs slightly less.
The RCM-439 monopod is very rigid, including laterally, when fully extended.
Relevant to the leg section discussion are the locks that hold the leg sections together. Once acclimated to the best leg locks available, it is hard to be satisfied with anything less. The twist-lock-type leg locks as featured on this monopod are my strong preference over flip locks, the other standard monopod option. I like the quietness and speed of twist locks, and slowly tightening the last leg section while lowering the camera to the desired shooting height works great.
That Robus can offer the quality of leg locks found on this monopod at this price point is remarkable. These locks are high-grade and well-built, featuring metal construction and an extremely-short-rotation (1/8 turn) between the locked and unlocked positions. You will especially love the latter feature that speeds setup (important for getting an image fast). Also significant is that the tightness release can easily be felt in the resistance. While this may sound like a standard feature, not all leg locks have this attribute, and lacking this feature results in overturning to make sure the lock is loosened, negating any short-throw element the lock may have.
The more leg locks a monopod has the more leg locks there are to tighten and loosen. Four-section monopods with three leg locks have the advantage of all leg locks fitting into the hand, allowing a single twist to open or lock all at once when retracted, another speed gain.
Notable is that all leg Locks can be loosened and re-tightened in any order because of this monopod's anti-leg-rotation feature, another feature that I would struggle to give up. This monopod's leg locks do not feature O-ring seals to assist in keeping the environment from entering the locks.
Leg locks are often a limiting factor in a support's load capacity. This monopod is load capacity rated at 39 lb (17.7 kg), a load few of us have interest in mounting to a monopod, and it easily holds the rated load. With the locks firmly tightened, this monopod holds my entire body weight — 170 lb (77.1 kg). That is an excessive amount of weight in terms of camera gear. However, I often use a monopod for support when crossing streams, climbing banks, etc. Having a high load rating means the monopod provides solid support under the larger loads I have interest in monopod mounting, including 600mm f/4 lenses.
The foundation of the Robus monopod is a good quality, all-purpose rubber ball foot that has worked fine in a wide variety of environments. Also included in the box is a metal spike for more extreme outdoor needs.
This monopod even comes with a case. The padded, zippered case is just large enough to hold the monopod without a clamp mounted. A shoulder strap makes transport easy.
Robus is a relatively new brand that is quickly becoming synonymous with very high quality at a value price, and this product fits that description. The Robus RCM-439 Monopod is a great deal.
The Robus RCM-439 Carbon Fiber Monopod used for this review was provided at no charge with expectations of an honest review.
Do you need a monopod? If you:
You likely need a monopod.
"Which one?" is the next question that likely needs your answer. It is essential to buy a high-quality monopod, but with the Robus RCM-439 Carbon Fiber Monopod available, no longer does a high-quality monopod require paying a very high price. With the Robus RCM-439 Carbon Fiber Monopod in my kit, I'm finding it hard to justify keeping any of the other models I currently have.
It's a no-brainer. Just get one.
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