Nov 25, 2010

Review: Manfrotto 685B monopod

The ski-pole of champions.
[Note: Yuri Arcurs has a much better summation of the pros and cons of this great monopod here. He loves it. Can't work without it, yet still refers to it as a "piece of junk". Wow. It was his video that made me want to rush right out and buy one on the spot. I deferred on this for about 10 months, then pulled the trigger last Friday.]

The motivation for me buying a monopod was simple:
  • Wedding.
  • In a church.
  • No flash allowed.
i.e.
  • Shoot that must not fail.
  • An authority I was not interested in crossing.
  • Bye bye SB-800s.
Sounded do-able though; and since I have my super-sensitive—practically night-vision—D700, I should have no problem doing handheld, right? Wrong.

A quick scouting expedition to the church (around the same time of day the ceremony was to take place) confirmed all my worst fears. Even at ISO 1600, with a 50mm f/1.4 lens shooting wide open, I was destined to be dragging shutter longer than 1/30th.

Um, no thanks.

Also... not a big fan of shooting wide open on any lens because of the haziness that usually results. A tripod was completely out of the question, since, as the only shooter, I needed to move around a lot. So I knew exactly what I needed wanted to buy. The only reason I picked the 685B was the quick height adjustment possible with the grip. In a studio, you have all the time in the world to adjust height with those silly locking levers, but a wedding ceremony is no time to fiddle around and lose shots. [Near as I can tell, there is no competition for this style of monopod.]

I still ended up pushing my luck on the shutter speed; I reverted to ISO 3200 and 6400 a couple of times; but in the end, I know I got the best shots possible, because of this monopod.

GOOD:
  • Easy (and silent) height adjustment. 
  • Comforting solidness and weight.
  • Foot pedal that holds down the base as you extend the length.

NOT SO GOOD:
  • "Childproof" locking trigger that has to be pressed with your pinky before the grip unlocks. Seriously, who needs this?
  • Rubber foot is begging to fall off. Get some gaff tape on this quick.
  • Price! Holy moly that's a lot to pay for an expandable walking stick.

Oh, by the way, wedding guests... When a man or woman of God specifically asks for no flash photography, and you don't know how to turn off the flash on your point and shoot, just put it down. Please.

Oh, and here's something I absolutely didn't count on: when the guests predictably ignored the whole "no flash" thing, they often ended up slapping a nice fat red spot on the bride with their focus-assist light.
Thanks for that.