Macro Monopod

by Johan J Ingles-Le Nobel
Last updated May 13, 2017

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When you're out and about during the day chasing butterflies, you don't usually have the time to set up a tripod to get the shot. By the time you've spent those 15 seconds getting out the tripod, extending each leg one by one, mounting the camera and focusing, almost every self respecting butterfly or dragonfly has long gone.

What drew me to this particular monopod was the fact that professional sports and news photographers rave about it

This is where a monopod comes into its own, and especially a monopod that is fast to use, like the Manfrotto Neotec "Manfrotto 685B Neotec Monopod With Safety Lock", claimed by the company to be "the fastest monopod in the world". Any company making such a claim runs the risk of inviting ridicule, but in this case the claim is a valid one, and worth of notice by wildlife and macro photographers that want to be able to take the shot as quickly as possible.

What drew me to this particular monopod was the fact that professional sports and news photographers rave about it. These are guys who make their crust through being in position to get their shot as fast as possible, and if it works for them I figured it'd work for me. It is not a cheap monopod, costing £125 or thereabouts (q3 2015), but in this case you do get what you pay for, and I'm pretty impressed with it, not a purchase that I regret in the least.

One-Handed Macro with the Manfrotto Neotec

Using a monopod in the field is usually a two-handed operation, using both hands to unscrew or unclip your closed-up monopod, adjusting it to the right height and then tightening the whole thing up with both hands. Eventually you have the opportunity to shoot.

Manfrotto Neotec macro monopod

Manfrotto 685B Neotec Monopod With Safety Lock - a handy one-handed operation monopod ideal for butterfly macro

But the Manfrotto Neotec does it differently, and this is its great party piece. Instead of conventional tightening screws, knobs or levers, the Manfrotto Neotec has a gun handle grip handle with a release trigger and safety catch - all just a one handed operation. At the top, you squeeze the release trigger and safety catch to adjust the monopod's height, and just unsqueeze them to fix your monopod's height - a one-handed operation. At the bottom of the Neotec it has a foot, so the full process of extending your monopod uses foot and hand:

  • Put Neotec's foot on the ground and put one foot over the rubber foot to keep it down and anchored. Support side of monopod against lower leg for extra stability.
  • Grip pistol grip at top of Neotec and squeeze whilst adjusting monopod height. Pull up or down with same hand.
  • Stop squeezing the pistol grip and the Neotec stays in that position.
  • Having other hand already on shutter, take shot as soon as monopod is raised to the right height.

I'm right-handed, and use my left hand to adjust the height of my Neotec, my right hand on the camera trigger and right foot over the monopod foot. Works for me.

Using a Neotec Monopod

The Neotec comes without a head and it's up to you to choose the head that suits you. I've personally found using the Really Right Stuff RRS BH-55 ballhead very convenient myself, as this has a good pressure mechanism that is stiff enough to keep your head's position steady for a shot, yet can also at the same time be movable/rotatable without needing to unscrew any knobs every time you want to adjust the head's position/rotation or angle. The ballhead also has enough leeway to move up and down so you can shhoot at 45 degrees, and it has a groove that the ballhead column can slip into so it can shoot straight down as well. Beware though, I consider this a luxury accessory because at £400 for this ballhead it's not for those on a very limited budget. This is a heavy, and big ballhead, and the combination of ballhead, camera and lens probably outweighs the Neotec's rated 8kg maximum weight but it doesn't seem to have any problems with this combo.

Instead of conventional tightening screws, knobs or levers, the Manfrotto Neotec has a gun handle grip handle with release trigger and safety catch - all just a one handed operation

Being used to a very low specialist macro tripod for field stacking, the Neotec's minimum height of 75cm isn't the lowest in the world, but if you need to get lower down than 75cm, it's easy enough to angle the monopod forward. This happens all the time anyway because for focusing I tend to rock forward and backward rather than relying on the camera's autofocus. Obviously this isn't a tool for field stacking but one just for chasing butterflies, damselflies or dragonflies when they're active.

I use this monopod with large heavy lenses: Sigma 150-500 and Tamron 70-200, both with a collar. With the collar these things are balanced beautifully. Using a monopod gets you several extra stops and a lower ISO than using those handheld, and exposure times as long as 1/15s aren't unusual with this tool. Others manage 1s but that's beyond me. Fully extended, a camera's eye level is above what I need - and I measure over 6 foot.

Monopods are a lot more pleasant to carry than tripods when you're on a walk chasing butterflies, and I typically just support it on one shoulder whilst walking about looking for shots. Apparently you can also buy a monopod shoulder belt so I'll probably buy one next year. Of course the downside is that you can't fix a monopod in position unattended, but that's how monopods work. For macro, monopods also have the advantage of taking the weight of a big old 70-200 macro telephoto lens off your shoulder, which is a nice bonus to prevent muscle fatigue or shakes.

Neotec Footnote

The Neotec's foot is a plastic part that fits over a ball, and Neotec users do tend to mention that this can come off and get lost. Undo the foot and use a piece of string to attach the foot to the monopod, slip the foot back over the ball in position and even if it accidentally comes off you won't lose it. Also there are several screws on the handle of the Neotec, I found it quite beneficial to tighten these a little when I unwrapped the thing, it made the grip sit completely firm on the pole.

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