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Gettin' on the Good Foot with the Manfrotto XPRO Monopod+ Four-Section Aluminum Monopod

By Jeff Wignall   Friday February 17, 2017

Get On the Good Foot

You know my face gettin' short and I got the blues
I got a funky job and I paid my dues on the good foot
Ho!, On the good foot
I got to get on the good foot
Hey, on the good foot
Get on the good foot, come over

Hit it there, you got to, get it, get it
Sharper now, uh
Come on, get it, ah, huh

On the good foot
On the good foot
Ho, on the good foot
Get on the good foot

            —James Brown


In Brief:  Street testing the Manfrotto XPRO Monopod+ Four-Section Aluminum Monopod.


Monopods are a great accessory to have along when you want to steady the camera but just don't have a good spot to plant a tripod or when using one might be dangerous to the folks around you. I shot this from a small dock that was covered in ice and there was no way I was bringing a tripod out there.

Snapshot:

Name: XPRO Monopod+ Four-Section Aluminum Monopod
Weight: 42.32 oz
Material:  Aluminum
Min Height: 26.77 in
Maximum Height: 75.59 in
Closed Length: 26.77 in
Fluid Base: Yes
Max Payload Weight:17.64 lbs
Leg Sections: 4
Top Attachment: 1/4″ screw, 3/8″ screw
Front Tilt:  -19° +19°
Leg Lock Type:Flip Lock
Maximum Working Temperature: 140 F
Minimum Working Temperature:   -4 F
Panoramic Rotation: 360
Full specs: Here

The Poet Laureate of Soul

Let’s face it, while James Brown was truly the Godfather of Soul, Robert Frost he wasn’t. I don’t remember Frost using words like “Ho!” and “Huh,” all that often, but I could be wrong. (But to be fair to James, Frost never expounded on the beauty of hot pants, either.) Poetry critiques aside, however, James makes a good point: a lot of things work better and get sharper when you put them on the good foot—or “feet” as it were. Take monopods, for example. Monopods are a great invention in a lot of situations where you need stability and mobility and space is at a premium.

Before the days of image stabilization and super-high ISO settings, monopods were a fantastic thing to own because they would often buy you a precious few extra stops of shutter speed without having to haul out a tripod. And I think monopods remain an almost indispensable accessory because there are just so many situations when a tripod is entirely impractical. I have been chased out of Grand Central Terminal and Rockefeller Center for using a tripod, but when I use a monopod no one says a word. An attentive solider on guard in Grand Central did stop me one day to make sure it wasn’t a rifle slung over my shoulder. Monopods are also great for shooting over a crowd, especially if you link your camera to your cellphone and can compose shots and trigger your camera remotely.


Public places, like this aquarium, are one of the places that tripods are almost never allowed without special permission. No one seems to have even noticed when I walked in with my monopod.

But regardless of the situation, when you’re standing there shooting with a monopod and trying to keep a horizon level, you can’t help but think: Wouldn’t it be nice if this thing had feet? And that is exactly what the Manfrotto XPRO Monopod+ Four-Section Aluminum Monopod brings to the evolution of monopods. Not only is it a beautifully crafted and lightweight camera support, but it has that little addition that all monopod users have daydreamed about adding: three very sturdy, very practical and very cute feet.

Funny thing, as I watched James getting down on Youtube (you can watch the Godfather getting down here), I noticed that the radius of the feet on the XPRO are about the same diameter of the base on James’ mic-stand. Here I was at rock concerts every weekend and it never occurred to me to convert a mic stand to a monopod! Dang. Get down James!

Monopods are also getting particularly popular with videographers because again, they provide a good combination of stability and panning/tilting flexibility. I shot both stills and video with the XPRO during my tests and I can’t imagine going out to shoot video without a monopod if I wasn’t using a tripod or some type of handheld stabilization device.


The Manfrotto XPRO Monopod+ Four-Section Aluminum Monopod. You'll notice that the monopod is light enough to sit up on a slightly crusted snowfall. I wish I could say the same for myself.

What Has One Leg and Three Feet?

The XPRo basically consists of just three parts: the adjustable monopod pole, the feet and what Manfrotto calls the FLUIDTECH Base pivot that joins the feet and the pole and, says Manfrotto, makes it the first of its kind on the market to feature 3D fluidity. The pole is very tall (75.59 inches) and I was able to stand on a rock that was about three feet high and still place the base of the pod squarely on the ground below. (I tried looking for a crowd to shoot over, but apparently on snowy days in the middle of February, crowds are few and far between.) There’s also a nice strap that’s good for both carrying and shooting.


A series of three Quick Power Locks make adjusting the height of the XPRO very fast and easy--even on a snowy day with gloves on.


Putting feet on a monopod is an idea that most photographers have probably thought of a thousand times. I don't know why, but it kind of reminded me of E.T., which is what I named it.

The three feet are short, about six inches long, but they really do stabilize the monopod a great deal. While I really wouldn’t walk away from it with an expensive camera sitting on it, I did find myself trusting it quite a bit as long as I had a neck strap on to avoid catastrophe. I even mounted a 400mm lens on it, but mounted it via a lens collar to better balance the weight. The legs lock down and there is an easy clip switch on each one to release them.

Just above the Fluid Base there is a small ring that enables you to lock the pivot. If you want to pivot/lean the monopod pole just release that collar (see photo below) and you’re good to go. To lock it again, just slide it down. It’s really simple to just lift up the lightweight pod in one hand and either lock or unlock the Fluid Base with the other. I found myself doing it a lot and barely had to look at the lock—the release is big enough to feel even with gloves on.


The red cap shown in the lower shot is the covering of the FLUIDTECH base which is essentially a ball head at the base of the monopod that always you to tilt the angle while keeping the feet flat on the ground. Just above the base you'll see the color that locks/unlocks it. Just push that silver tab and slide the color up and the base is loose; slide it back down and you're locked again. In the top shot you an see I the pivot range of the monpod.

One of the interesting things about the way that the pole interacts with the base is that while you can lock the FLUIDTECH Base to keep it from pivoting, you can still rotate (side-to-side) the pole in that straight-up vertical position. So, if you were shooting a video pan, for example, and wanted to keep the camera at the same flat angle but needed to turn the camera and if you weren’t using a ball or pan head, you could still turn the camera. Since I didn’t always have a ball head on the monopod during my testing, that feature actually came in handy a few times.

Set-up time with the XPRO is nothing, a few seconds. You simply release (or lock) the base, adjust the height and you’re ready to rock. While I was shooting down at the beach a birder with a spotting scope and a tripod saw how fast it was to set up and asked if he could try it and he fell in love with it. My guess is that he probably went home to order one that night.


I consider myself a pretty devoted tripod user but walking around my yard trying to get snapshots of my house during a snowstorm is where I draw the line, but having a monopod actually gave me something to steady myself getting through the drifts.


I also spent an hour or so slip sliding across a ball field at a local park looking for shots (this is also the field where I shot the close-up photos of the monopod) and it was so icy there was no way I was going to try skating across this ice with a tripod on my shoulder. The Manrotton XPRO is light enough that I was able to strap it to my backpack.

BYOH (Bring Your Own Head)

The XPRO model that I tested (Model #MVMXPROA4US) does not come with any type of head so that you have to bring your own head which is nice because the head that you choose for a particular shoot is really up to you. I prefer working with ball heads because I’m largely shooting still images and I like that flexibility, but I think for a lot of video shooters mounting a pan/tilt head or a straight pan head is probably a lot more practical. There is a very clever mounting bolt-within-a-bolt at the top that offers 1/4″ screw and a 3/8″ screw nested within one another. If your camera accepts the smaller size, the larger thread collar just pushes out of the way.

One thing that I noticed in using a ball head in combination with the ball joint at the base is that it’s a very workable combination and it was particularly useful right in my living room when I was trying to photograph a flowering amaryllis. You do have to keep in mind though that you’re essentially working with two ball heads simultaneously and it can take a little coordination practice until you get used to it. The thing that you have to keep telling yourself (in my case I was doing it out loud) is that this isn’t a tripod it’s a monopod with a free-floating base (when you want it) so you have two pivots working at once until you lock one or both of them down. It’s a geometry challenge, but it’s also kind of fun to work with in some situations.

By the way, Manfrotto does sell several models with either a Fluid Video Head or a two-way head. You can see them here


Traipsing over snow- and ice-covered rocks and dunes to get shots of the last rays of the sunset is a kind of tricky place to carry a tripod, but a monopod actually works as a nice walking stick to steady you as you explore. For a photographer, living near a west-facing beach is a good thing!

Conclusion

I can say pretty confidently that of all the monopods that I have used over the years (and I own several, including a few earlier Manfrotto models), Manfrotto's XPRO Monopod+ Four-Section Aluminum Monopodis the best one that I’ve ever used so far. It is very stable and very lightweight (though if you need an ever lighter version, Manfrotto also makes the XPRO Monopod+ Five-Section Carbon Fiber Monopod (MVMXPROC5US) and you could carry it all day attached to a backpack and never notice that it's there. There are a few other companies that make these (Benro and Sirui come to mind), so do your due diligence in comparing them (as well as with the other Manfrotto models) and you might find features that you personally value more.

Again, this isn’t a tripod and it’s not meant to be a tripod: if you rock a bit too much, the monopod is going to rock with you, feet or not feet. But what it will do is give you a super strong and stable platform to help in situations where a tripod either isn’t allowed or just isn’t practical--sports, city streets, concert halls, etc. The locking leg clips on this monopod are fast, lock instantly and with total security. The feet are easy to flip out to use, or flip up when you don’t need them. The height is kind of ridiculous (in a good way), but it sure is nice to have a six-foot-plus pod there when you need it. I think that if you’re a wedding videographer and have to stand in a tight spot and keep a good steady shot going from the rear of the church, you’ll love the XPRO series.

New Product News

Canon EOS Rebel T7i. Canon has introduced a new member of the hugely popular EOS Rebel series, the EOS Rebel T7i. The new Rebel is the first camera in EOS Rebel series that has an optical viewfinder that is equipped with a 45-point all cross-type autofocus system. It is also, says Canon, the first in that series with Dual Pixel CMOS AF with Phase-detection and the first with a DIGIC 7 Image Processor. The cross-type focusing system helps to ensure that you can quickly get a subject in focus, regardless of its movement or where it is in the frame—great for sports, wildlife and wild kids. The camera features a 24.2 Megapixel CMOS (APS-C) sensor and has a maximum ISO of 25,600. Other features include built-in Wi-Fi2, NFC3 and Bluetooth4 connectivity lets you share and upload your pictures directly to the web (and if there is a 17-year-old out there that wants to explain the wifi specs to me, I’m all ears). Hopefully I’ll get my hands on this body soon.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR. Nikon recently introduced the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR, the latest version (the 3rd iteration by my count) of this popular lens. The lens features six ED glass elements, Fluorite (FL) and High Refractive (HRI) lens elements and Nano Crystal Coat (N) that, says Nikon, all but eliminate distortion and glare while maximizing contrast and sharpness, even in tricky backlit situations. Because the lens has a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture, you can zoom through the entire range at the widest aperture. The new lens also has an improved VR system and an electromagnetic diaphragm.

Sekonic L-478DR-U-PX Phottix Strato II System Lightmeter. It’s been a while since I’ve used a handheld meter, but I’d love to try the new Sekonic L-478DR-U-PX Phottix Strato II—the world’s first touchscreen light meter. The new full-featured meter enables you to measure, compare, and mix ambient and flash with readings displayed and controlled on a 2.7” color touch screen. You adjust settings by simply touching or sliding a finger over the screen. Love that! Also cool, a system called DTS (Data Transfer Software) Exposure Profiling matches the meter to the performance of your camera. The L-478DR-U-PX comes with radio triggering for Phottix radio receivers and flashes using Strata II Protocol technology.

Next week: Hands on with two SONY prime lenses! Stay tuned!

2 Comments

  1. Donna Caporaso commented on: February 17, 2017 at 10:05 p.m.
    Beautiful photos and very informative article. I am in the market for a new, easier to use tripod and will certainly be checking this one out!
  1. Jeff Wignall commented on: February 18, 2017 at 8:20 p.m.
    Thanks Donna. I'd let you try this one, but I have to return it soon.

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