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When is a tripod not a tripod?

When is a tripod not a tripod?
03 Mar 2020 / by John Hull in Video

What do we humble vidiots look for in a tripod?

Stability? Sure! I like my £8,000 camera not tumbling onto concrete as the head banging guitarist from “Limozeen” stumbles into me while I’m shooting their latest promo.

But what about when you are running from shot to shot with barely a moment to think? That’s unlikely to happen when you’re on a large scale film set where cameras are heavy and so are the insurance costs. I however belong to a particular subset of filmmaker whose work combines elements of blogging, documentary film making and cinematography. Interviews are very quickly set up and stripped down, B-roll is grabbed wherever possible and no one really knows how long something will take as you inevitably work around everyone else’s schedule. All while making everything look amazing.

Sometimes you have the luxury of using a proper tripod, but the vidiots hierarchy of needs comes into effect once you understand what your limitations are. Am I flying to a shoot with lots of gear and weight restrictions? Is it a trade show? Is it a crowded venue with plenty of punters and potential for vomit (hopefully not mine)? All of these are potential challenges to be overcome… and that’s before you consider what you want the footage to look like.

A nice route around these pitfalls is to use a monopod. Sure, it’s not great for certain activities such as a nicely set up interview with two lights and two cameras. And if you want that handheld look, a steadycam or gimbal is hard to beat.

But there are several benefits to using the monopod over a standard tripod.

Manoeuvrability. Not only is it portable and able to avoid errant legs, but with a monopod in hand you can slide yourself through crowds of drunken party-goers without fear of catching your prized Blackmagic on Sharon’s weave.

Versatility. If you’re using a monopod such as the Manfrotto XPro 4, they come with little ‘stability legs’. These are great for mimicking ‘dolly shots’. A nice fluid back and forth movement can make for some stunning shots.
Another trick if you’re feeling brave enough is to use your monopod as a makeshift crane. Just don’t accidentally brain the people in front of you. It’s tough buffing the dents out of a 24-70mm lens.

Portability. Take the head and tiny legs off and you have a standard monopod to chuck in your overhead locker. Most airlines have strangely been fine with the addition of a rudimentary club to my camera bag.

Laziness. Let’s face it, cameras are heavy. A day of filming with a DSLR with a good quality lens on it is enough to put Hulk Hogan’s back out, let alone after you strap on an additional light, second camera and custom “snack basket”. Save yourself hours of rehabilitative DDP yoga and admit the monopod is the only reason you’re currently standing upright.

Gandalf’s staff – I rest my case.

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