In late November I visited Mud Islands (in Victoria’s Port Phillip Bay), where I spent several hours photographing birds. Most of my work was done using the EOS 7D MkII with the Sigma 120-300mm/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports lens. This isn’t a lightweight outfit, and I was using a monopod with a gimbal mount.
I’m 194 cm tall, and it took me many years to find a monopod that was tall enough to work without me having to hunch over, yet light and small enough when collapsed to easily transport. That monopod is the Bob from Three Legged Thing. It’s rated to carry 18 kg, and at full extension it’s just taller than I need (better than too short). It’s been great. The gimbal mount I use is a “Mongoose” from 4th Generation Designs, which I use on a tripod and on the monopod. It’s lightweight but does an excellent job at supporting a large telephoto lens. The combination of a monopod and a gimbal mount does a great job of supporting the lens and camera while giving me lots of freedom to point the lens where I need it.
But on that trip to Mud Islands my monopod kept getting shorter! Standing near the water’s edge and shooting up into a tern colony, the foot of the monopod kept sinking further and further into the wet sand. When considering that the tiny monopod foot is supporting not only the weight of the camera and lens, but also the weight that I’m putting on it (pressing down on it to help stabilise the system) this isn’t really surprising. At one point I found a large shell nearby which I nestled the monopod foot into and this worked great for a while, but as soon as I moved this got left behind (note that in a protected National Park we shouldn’t try to take shells around with us).
So when I had another opportunity to go back to the islands several weeks later (access isn’t simple, with expensive boat hire and at high tide it can involve wading ashore for over 400 m) I realised I needed to come up with a better solution quickly.
The effect I was after is essentially the same as the snow shoes which are sold for some tripods and monopods (usually in cooler climates than here in Australia). First I looked at the Gitzo “Big Foot” snow feet which are sold as a single or a group of 3 for a tripod. The 3/8″ thread on these would screw into the Bob monopod in place of its rubber foot. I found a set in a local store and realised that the foot’s diameter is approximately 5 cm.
Next I looked at the Manfrotto 230 snow shoes which are sold as a group of 3. Manfrotto notes that they’re suitable for monopods also. The plastic dish is 14 cm across, and instead of screwing into the foot there’s a stretchy rubber segment which goes around the leg to hold on. They were cheap so I picked up a set.
The holder that the monopod foot rests in is angled (obviously to suit a tripod) so if you lift the monopod the foot rests at an angle, but due to the stretchy rubber when you set it down on the ground it levels out. I was concerned a bit that this would involve rubbing and wear on the carbon fibre leg (especially when sand was involved) and indeed this does happen slightly. A short piece of gaffers tape will protect the leg (not too much as you won’t be able to fully collapse that section of the monopod).
I also experimented with using a cap for a 75 mm stormwater drainpipe (cost me A$2.27!) between the monopod and its screw-in foot. I drilled a hole in the centre of the cap for the foot’s bolt to go through, and used a rubber washer (all the parts came from a visit to the plumbing section of the local hardware store) to stabilise the connection and help seal it (but water will eventually get in). I also drilled a second hole in the cap to let air/water/sand out and avoid getting the foot caught by suction in the sand (the Manfrotto foot has one of these too).
Back on the beach
In mid-December I was back on the islands along with two fellow photographers. All-up we spent about 10 hours there. For about a third of the time I used the drainpipe cap, and the rest I used the Manfrotto 230.
They both worked great, although I have since got a larger rubber washer (shown in the photos above) to help stabilise the drainpipe cap. With the cap at times there’s a lot of crooked pressure on the monopod foot, and I was getting uncomfortable with the unusual strain it was getting put under with the smaller O-ring I was using. The Manfrotto 230 gave no such worries.
It was a successful experiment! At no point did I find my monopod “shrinking”, and could concentrate on working with the amazing animals in front of me. Next time I will use either of these feet without hesitation.
During the day I used the monopod as a depth gauge when wading ashore (it was uncomfortably close to high tide) and when my shoes got stuck in the soft sand it got used as a third leg to avoid falling over. Of course when I got home I disassembled the monopod and flushed it with fresh water to get rid of all the salt and sand. Don’t forget to do this!