Mini-reviews and useful tips on equipment I use
(no commercials here, just honest first-hand information)


     Walkstool: This is a Swedish made product that I highly recommend. I have four of these altogether - two of the 18-inch high model, one 22-inch model and one 26-inch model. The left photo below shows one way I use the Walkstool. It's just the right height for using my tripod with the middle sections extended, and the legs spread wide and low for maximum stability. This folding stool is extremely sturdy, very well-made, holds 400+ pounds, and yet weighs only ounces. It's manufactured from commercial grade anodized aluminum and has a heavy-duty nylon mesh seat. Each leg has a pop-up/push-in button to lock/release it when extended.

      They're not cheap (mine were between $70 and $90 each), but I wish I'd found this before I wasted money buying a couple of other folding chairs that were nice, but much too large, cumbersome and heavy to carry around. Everyone I show this to is amazed at how light and compact it is, yet so sturdy. It folds into a compact cylinder shape and comes with a lightweight drawstring pouch with a cord long enough to sling it over your neck and shoulder.

      There are 2 models and several sizes (heights) to choose from. Mine is a "Comfort" model, with black and aluminum legs and black mesh seat. The Comfort models also have larger diameter rubber feet and a larger seat area than their Basic models. They also offer a cheaper "Basic" model which is green and aluminum with a green polyester seat (instead of black and aluminum with black mesh seat). That one didn't appeal to me so I went for the "nicer" model.

     You can find out all you want to know about the various models and sizes of this great item at Walkstool.com. I lucked into the one I bought while poking around a small local camera shop, but you can find a vendor on the web. I know B&H Photo carries them too.


Padded Zippered Camo Holster for the Walkstool:

     Prior to making the holster shown in the photos below, I had made a similar holster for my Walkstool with a pleated elastic top opening. While it worked well, the elastic was a bit of a hassle getting the Walkstool in and out because of the grippy rubber feet. They tended to grab the material and not slide in and out very easily. I decided a zippered holster might be easier to deal with.

 
     This was relatively easy to make. It's simply a cylinder open on one side with a padded bottom "cap". I installed a zipper on the open side to zip it up. It's lined with rip-stop nylon in an effort to make it more slippery inside so the Walkstool slides in and out more easily. The back side of the cylinder against my leg has a bit of foam padding inserted between the inner lining and the outer shell of 600 denier polyester waterproof material. A belt loop at the top lets me use a belt to strap on the holster, whether over light clothing or heavy winter clothing. An adjustable leg strap made of 1/2-inch nylon web strapping is attached at the bottom, like tying down a six-gun holster. It snaps closed with a plastic snap buckle. Carrying my Walkstool this way has proven extremely handy and simple. It takes 30 seconds to take it out and set it up, or to put it away and be on the move again.




      Manfrotto 685B NeoTec Monopod: This monopod is a neat trick. There are no leg section clamps of any kind. To extend it you just pull the leg out. You can do this by hand, or use the handy fold out foot pedal that you step on with one foot and pull up on the leg to extend it. Once extended, you must squeeze a safety catch under your "pinky" finger, then squeeze the main release grip with the rest of your hand. Only then can you push down on the leg and it collapses as far as you wish until you relax pressure on the the main release. So, up- just pull, and down- squeeze and push. It could hardly be any simpler. (Manfrotto also makes a tripod called the 458B NeoTec with legs that work the same way - no clamps)

      The NeoTec weighs 1.7 pounds (0.8kg) and is rated for 17.6 pounds load (8kg), which is quite sufficient for my Canon 500mm f/4 IS, extender and camera body. Add a head and quick release plate and you're still covered. I got it specifically to use with my 500mm, which is a handful without some sort of support (tripod, monopod or beanbag). It's tall enough for me when extended (66.9" or 169.9cm) and collapses to 29.3" (74.4cm). The tilt head and quick release I added to it adds another 3 inches or so for a 70-inch total reach.

      There are only two things one might consider a "con" with the 685B. The "wrist strap" it comes with is useless as a wrist strap. A true wrist strap would still tie it to your wrist if you let go of the monopod. This one is just a simple loop, and would slide right off your wrist if you let go of the leg. The other "con" is the collapsed length. At 29 inches, some photographers feel that it's a bit long for packing for travel or flying. Personally, I'd love to be able to stuff it into my pocket, but you can't have everything. I'm willing to trade a little space for the super ease and convenience of the one-handed operation.

     One other thing to keep in mind (and it's not really a "con") is that since it has a grip, you don't necessarily end up holding it like a skinny pole as with most monopods. You have to face the grip at the correct angle for your hand to grasp it, though the leg does spin around easily inside the grip and doesn't impede horizontal panning at all. When mounting a tilt head, you need to set it at about 45° from perpendicular to the grip so the head tilts in the proper direction while grasping the grip head. Neither of these is a problem in practice, just something you need to keep in mind when handling a monopod with a specific grip instead of just a round leg to grasp.

      Other users have reported loosing the rubber base foot from their 685B monopod. I had heard similar stories of loosing the rubber grip from the 393 gimbal head, but while knowing of this I took no safety measures other than to keep an eye on mine. It didn't help. The grip disappeared one day despite my vigilance. Lesson learned, the hard way. I resolved not to let it happen with the monopod. To save space on this "review" page, I've put full instructions for this relatively easy fix on this Monopod Foot Safety Cable page. Follow these links for my longer review of the NeoTec monopod, and tips on how to best hold and stabilize a monopod in Monopod Technique.

      Manfrotto 234 Tilt Heads: I needed to find a tilt head for my monopod and came up with these options: (1) the basic Manfrotto 234 Tilt Monopod Head, (2) their 234RC Swivel/Tilt Head with Quick Release, or (3) the Really RIght Stuff MH-01 High Capacity Monopod Head.

     The MH-01 would be the "proper" option, as it is rated for 75+ pounds load, but it only accepts RRS quick release clamps, and costs more than the monopod itself. Since I was already using the Manfrotto 393 Gimbal head, it had it's own QR clamp and plate. The RRS head only works with their brand of quick release, and I would have incurred additional unnecessary hassle and expense by having to change over to their plates and quick release on the gimbal head, assuming it could be attached to the 393 gimbal at all.

      The 234 tilt heads are only rated for 5.5 pounds but cost ten times less than the RRS product. I opted to give the less expensive solution a try first before going off the deep end for a tilt head that was sheer overkill at a 75+ pound load rating. My logic was that I'd only be out $20 if I didn't feel comfortable with the 234 with such a large lens, and even that wouldn't be a total waste. I could always find a use for it otherwise with smaller glass. I also considered that the only possible reason a sturdy metal tilt head like the 234 might not be rated for a heavier load would be the locking factor to avoid catastrophic tilt/lens droop. The fact is, on a monopod, the real catastrophic tilt would most likely come from having a momentary brain malfunction and forgetting to hang onto the monopod in the first place.


     As for the 234RC head model, I'm familiar with the style of quick release plate it has, and I decided against that option. Not that it isn't sturdy enough, mind you, but the "fumble factor" with that sort of plate when dealing with a handful of monster lens and a monopod did not excite me in a good way. I was already very comfortable with the fail-safe plate and clamp that comes on the 393 gimbal head, and wanted that for the tilt head too. I did not realize the clamp and plate it uses was even available separately until I learned of it on a photography forum and went looking.

     Manfrotto 357 Pro Quick Release Adapter with 357PL plate:. Like most of Manfrotto's products, this heavy duty quick release and plate are not as "sexy" as the Wimberly, Arca-Swiss, Really Right Stuff, Jobu Design and other expensive brands of equipment, but they're sturdy and well made, and get the job done for far less money. Besides, the 357 was an exact match for what I already had, so interchangeability between supports was instantly simplified.
  Washer replaces thumbwheel

     Assembly: With the 234 head and 357 QR finally in hand, I mounted the tilt head on the monopod. This required unscrewing the 1/4-20 insert from the head's base, then screwing the head on with the monopod's 3/8-16 stud. As noted earlier, I made sure to tighten down the head to the monopod with it turned slighty to the right of center. That way the monopod grip was angled to the right a bit so my left hand could grip it easily while the head tilt stayed angled straight ahead. Then I took the tilt head apart by removing the hinge bolt so I could invert the 1/4-20 stud in the thumbwheel to the 3/8-16 stud end. Then I reassembled the head and screwed on the 357 QR clamp using the 3/8 stud. (Later I learned the thumbscrew ring could not be tightened enough to keep the heavy lens and plate from turning on the head. To solve this I removed the thumbwheel ring from the stud and replaced it with a 5/16 washer. With the thumbwheel removed, I could then tighten the stud against the washer with a 12mm wrench. This holds the head very well now, and I no longer find the QR clamp and lens wanting to loosen and spin around.)

     Next I installed the plate on the 500mm lens and slipped it into the clamp to test it out. I quickly found the balance point by sliding the plate back and forth, then tensioned the head knob so it would hold the lens from drooping, yet would tilt smoothly with a little nudge from me. That was the part I was most worried about and it seems that it will work fine. I will note here that the 234 tilt head's tensioning may eventually prove to need frequent monitoring in the field, unlike a true tension setting, which was what I really wanted. I don't know whether the Really RIght Stuff MH-01 head would be any different in this regard. Both may well be designed for a locked or unlocked setting, and not provide any true presetable tension adjustment anyway.

     In any case, my plan is to always hang onto the lens and camera while on the monopod. It doesn't matter what head I use, how expensive it is, or how much load it is rated to carry. A monopod is still a stick that will never stand up by itself. I will hug that lens for dear life while using any monopod, which is as close to confidence as I'm going to get. I think the 234 head will do just fine.