Official Monopod User's Manual

After hauling a heavy tripod rig around for a while you may consider graduating to a monopod. Monopods have the important features of being lightweight, set up extremely fast, and do not draw much attention. In fact, we found that a monopod is the best way to shoot a panorama in a crowded area because they are so non intrusive.

The Pros and Cons of a Monopod
Monopods - The Advantages
Monopods - The Disadvantages
Monopod Usage Models
The History of the Monopod and QTVR
Monopod first pass: A step backward
Monopod second pass: Two steps forward
Monopod Compass/Level Panhead - Parts Is Parts
What it is and How it Works
We started with the following parts
Build this device yourself
Have OutsideTheLines build this device for you

The Pros and Cons of a Monopod

Monopods - The Advantages

  1. Monopods are quick to setup and tear down.
  2. Monopods are unobtrusive and do not draw the attention a tripod tends to command.
  3. Monopods are allowed in places tripods are generally restricted from, such as amusement parks.
  4. You can tell the security guards at any Mayan archeological site that your monopod is really a walking stick and not a tripod, and that you know tripods are not allowed because they can cause irreparable damage to the ruins.
  5. Monopods are lightweight and easy to carry while traveling. This is a very important advantage when you are hauling your many pound tripod in and around a hot and humid rain forest, or up a many thousand foot upward traversal of a mountain and are thinking to yourself that you could just leave the tripod right here where you are resting and pick it up on the way back because (a) you really did not want to take any more panoramas, simple stills will suffice or (b) you think you could use the bipod approach of hand holding the camera for the panoramas and that, again, it would be good enough. Not that we know this from experience, this is for illustration purposes only.
  6. If you use a compass based monopod panhead, it is a simple matter of getting all of your shots to start with a direction heading of "north".


Monopods - The Disadvantages

  1. Use a tripod if you are using a camera/film/lens setting that requires long exposures, since you may not be able to hold the monopod steady enough to capture sharp crisp images.
  2. Use a tripod if you use a video camera for your image capture since may need to shoot a few seconds of tape for a "still" image. If this is the case, you have taken an exposure of a few seconds for all intents and purposes.
  3. As a sub example of the above, the camera may be to heavy to accurately hold in a vertical fashion for any length of time. As an extreme example, try to hold a digital backed 35mm camera (one of the heavy ones) in portrait mode, on its L-bracket, with a large side mounted strobe, on a monopod, and take a full round of shots. Now do a series of panoramas. You get tired, which produces less than optimal results.
  4. Use a tripod if you know you can not put all of your concentration into shooting a full panorama. With a monopod, you need to shoot a complete panorama before going off to do other things - it is the nature of the beast. Since you are required to hold the monopod upright, and keep track of the images (via guessing the overlap, using a compass based panhead, or a standard clickstop panhead) you are not free to relax, adjust the environment, or scope out a scene. With a tripod, you can simply move about more freely than a monopod allows.
  5. Use a tripod if you will be shooting panoramas under water.
  6. It is hard to take panoramas at the poles of the Earth or in areas surrounded by ferrous materials if you use a compass based panhead with your monopod.

Monopod Usage Models

There are several methods of capturing a panorama that differ from the standard tripod/panhead setup. The first and simplest is the bipod approach. This is where you stand up strait and level and shoot the photos by hand, faking the overlap, nodal point, and levelness. While this method does not produce the most favorable results, it is effective in getting "the shot" when no other method is at hand.

The next in the list is a minor enhancement to the above method which may be used by both a bipod (your body) or a monopod. Go to the Embassy building on Market street in San Francisco, find the large compass maker embedded in the sidewalk and take your pictures with the compass marker on the ground as an image indexing device. Be sure to calculate the number of degrees between images that correspond to the type of lens you will be using. For your next panorama, go find another compass embedded in the street and repeat.

A novel twist to the above technique is to create your own portable image indexing device. First, find a nice spot to take your panorama and paint a 3 foot diameter circle about your monopod. Next, take your watch (for you youngsters out there, an analog watch is that old fashioned kind with 2 or 3 little hands that go around at different speeds) and place it in the middle of the circle. Next, spray paint marks on the circle corresponding to the time at which you need to take your pictures based on the type of lens you are using. For example, place marks on the circle at the 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, ...,12:00 settings, place the watch at the center of the circle and take a picture once and hour to get a panorama with 12 images. In this manner, you would be taking photos not bases on the "degrees" around a circle, but the "time" around a circle for a full panorama. To get 12 shots, take your images every 5 minutes ( or every hour if you are slow). If you needed 20 images for a full panorama, you would take your images every 3 minutes.

For a monopod, several other options have been thought about. You could use a large round sheet of paper with degree marks on its edges. Place the sheet on the ground and point the camera in that direction, take the photo, rotate the monopod to the next mark, and so on. Several flaws emerge from this, the first being that not all desirable panorama surfaces are on flat dry ground. The next is it is hard to precisely point the camera in the correct direction. The biggest problem here is the need to have a marker on the ground - this is very clumsy, inaccurate, and simply not possible in many locations.

A much better option, devised by our friends in the down under, is to use a monopod with an foot anchor to prevent the monopod from rotating while shooting your panorama. Using an antiskid rubber plate, available for use with walking canes to prevent them from sliding, you place your monopod into the rubber boot and stand on the lip of the plate to keep the entire thing from rotating. With this proposal, you simply anchor the monopod onto the ground and use a standard clickstop panhead as you would use with a tripod, rotating the camera one clickstop at a time rather than the monopod itself. While this technique seems to work well, it does mean that you are limited to places where you can anchor the unit, as well as requiring you to keep one foot on the nonskid pad to prevent the monopod from rotating.

While these are fine ways to use a monopod, especially the above "foot anchor" method, we have a much better solution: A compass/level based solution which gives accurate image indexing, keeps the camera level, is compact, works on all the ground surfaces you can use a monopod on, and is just incredibly simple.

The History of the Monopod and QTVR

(as told by OutsideTheLines)


Monopod first pass: A step backward

Since we are not using a panhead, you need to rotate the monopod itself and use the viewfinder to guess at 50% overlap. This is pretty easy since 50% is a simple overlap to be consistent with as long as you pay attention to the images you are taking photos of. Herein lies the next problem. While you are busy looking through the viewfinder to compose the next image, it is very hard to look at a bubble level to help prevent wobble between shots, hence the guess work. This technique is possible, however, and you end up with a slightly better version of the technique of holding the camera to your eye with your arms tucked in against your body as in the bipod approach. We clearly would like a panhead of some kind to help with leveling and image demarcation (indexing) for consistent image overlap. With the amount of guess work involved in overlapping the images with this technique, you will probably need to do an interactive stitch to help the stitcher do its job.

For a first pass example, we will show what you get if you shoot a panorama with a bare bones monopod. This monopod example was taken at Disneyland without the benefit of any panhead, bubble level, or index marker. This was strictly a monopod with a camera attached. A substantial benefit this method has over the hand held method is that the camera stays at one height and pivots around a consistent center. The overlap was a guess at 50% and the level of the camera was total guess for each shot. At the time this was shot, we did not have our custom compass/level panhead unit. We did, however, come up with plenty of panhead and leveling ideas while we were shooting this series of panoramas, and our compass/level panhead was one of them.
322KB panorama of Tomorrow Land at the Happiest Place On Earth

Monopod second pass: Two steps forward

While at Disneyland, we came up with plenty of possible solutions to the problem of camera leveling and image indexing. The one we finally adopted was to make use of the Earthly environment we live in - use a combination of a bubble level for camera leveling and a compass for image indexing. Rather than using the degree markers on the standard compass, we placed image demarcations for the number of images needed given the lens we would use. Simply, you place a bullseye circular level below the compass and attach this unit to the side of the monopod. For each image, make sure the bubble is centered in the level and the compass needle points to an image index line and snap your shot. You then rotate the monopod so that the compass needle points to the next mark, level the bubble and snap the next image. This gets you in and out quickly without hauling around a bunch of equipment.

This example will show what you can get if you use a monopod with a compass/level panhead. This example was taken at Chichen-Itza in the Mexican Yucatan, and was the only way to shoot these images. First off, at many of these Mayan archeological parks the caretakers do not allow tripods (or severely frown upon them) due to the very real possibility of banging into/against/on the thousands year old ruins and causing permanent damage. The second reason for not using a tripod in areas such as these is the ease of transport. Carrying a large tripod such as a standard Bogen 3005 is weighty, obtrusive, and simply a pain to carry - especially if you have experience using a monopod.
156 KB panorama of the Ball Court and El Castillo at Chichen-Itza

Monopod Compass/Level Panhead - Parts Is Parts

A Monopod Based QTVR Solution...

...With The Help Of Earthly Mechanics


What it is and How it Works:

The monopod we use is a Bogen #3006 with a cost of about $40 USD new. We purchased a Bogen hex plate quickrelease head for around $30 USD and we were in business. With this setup, we can use all of our existing L-brackets due to our prolific use of hex quick release plates.

Next, we made a simple pan/level indicator out of a compass, a bullseye level, and a clamp which attaches to the monopod giving us accurate imaging of the panorama. The basic problem with a monopod for QTVR work is the inability to keep it precisely level and get consistent image overlap as you can with a tripod and appropriate panhead. To solve this problem, we make use of gravity and the magnetic field of the Earth. We have designed a panhead unit that attaches to the side of the monopod's leg and gives you all the important image rotation indexing and camera leveling information at a glance. The compass gives you exacting control over image overlap, similar to other QTVR panheads without click stops, and with the level sitting below the compass, you always know how level your shot is because you can see both the image marker and the level of the camera with one glance. The important factor to note is that no ferrous metal (iron based) parts can be used in this assembly as they can adversely affect the compass readings.

The optimal technique with this equipment is to set the camera exposure such that you do nothing more to the camera itself than click the shutter for every shot in the panorama. Once the camera is set, you look down onto the compass pan head, line up the first shot due north (since it is marked on the compass itself), level the rig by looking through the compass onto the bubble level, and take the first shot. While continuing to look onto the panhead, you rotate the monopod in place such that the compass needle points to the next mark, you level the unit again and take the next shot. You then continue this procedure until you have completed your panorama, producing results as good or better than those you can get with a tripod.

There has been some confusion over the location of the nodal point with a setup such as the one described here. The nodal point of the system is at the center of rotation, which is the center of the monopod itself - the foot of the monopod rotates about the nodal point. The nodal point is not at the center of the compass as some have thought. While there is some error induced in having the compass rotate "off center" of the monopod, this would really only be a problem if the compass rotated off center by several hundred miles, not a few inches.


We started with the following parts:

  1. A Lightform EC-1 photographic light stand accessory clamp reduced to the clamp assembly only. This clamp should be made of plastic or aluminum since any ferrous metal will affect the compass readings, though plastic is preferred as it can be easily drilled. This clamp is the carrier for the rest of the panhead gear.
  2. A strip of 1/8" x 1 1/2" anodized aluminum flat bar approximately 6" long.
  3. An acrylic bullseye circular level used to level the monopod and camera.
  4. A wide rimed travel compass. The compass must be large in diameter to help prevent needle bounce and should be of good quality so that the needle will move freely. It is best for the body of the compass to be made of clear plastic with a wide outer rim on which the custom image index degree marker will sit. With a compass made of clear plastic, it is possible to glue the bubble level underneath so that both indicators are visible at the same time, allowing you to accurately position both the compass needle and bubble level with ease. The wide, easy to read, degree marker on the outer rim of the compass will be replaced with a custom demarcation plate for the number of images needed for appropriate image overlap.

First cut the aluminum bar to fit on the accessory clamp as a holding plate, making sure the unit can still be attached to the monopod. Aluminum is a very soft metal and very easy to work with, so do not worry about any having too much trouble doing this. The tools required for this procedure are a vise of some kind to hold the plate when you cut and drill it, a hacksaw to cut the plate, and a drill to make the mounting holes. The end of the aluminum plate should stick out about 4" from the side of the monopod so that you can read the indicators which will sit at this end. Once the plate is cut to shape, holes must be drilled in both the plate and clamp and the two attached together with small bolts.

Now that you have a plate on which to place the compass and level, it is time to adjust the levelness of the plate relative to the monopod itself. For this you will need two bubble levels to make sure that the plate and the head of the monopod are level with respect to each other. The first level will sit atop the monopod on the quickrelease head and is used as the reference level to calibrate the aluminum plate. The second level will sit on the end of the aluminum plate where the compass/level assembly will sit. With the clamp attached to the monopod, slightly tweak the aluminum plate until it is level with regard to the top of the monopod head. Aluminum is soft enough that making these adjustments should pose no problem.

Next, glue the compass on top of the bullseye level and glue that assembly to the end of the aluminum plate and you have a completed compass/level panhead for your monopod. You should clamp the panhead unit to the monopod so that you look down on the indicators while taking your panorama to prevent parallax errors in your readings. Lastly, cut out a ring of paper with image index marks on it for your custom degree marker, and you are ready to shoot your panoramas. You can always start your panoramas facing north since you have a compass to tell you where it is.


Build the complete package yourself:

  1. A Bogen monopod (#3006) - $40 USD (new)
  2. A Bogen hex-quickmount head - $30 USD (new)
  3. L-bracket from normal tripod setup with quick release mount
  4. Lightform EC-1 accessory clamp for approximately - $30 USD (new) (a more accurate price is forthcoming)
  5. Wide rimed travel compass - $9 USD (new)
  6. Acrylic bullseye circular level - $3 USD (new)
  7. A short length of aluminum flat bar (1/8 inch thick, 1.5 inches wide, 6 inches long)
  8. A few bolts and glue to hold it all together
  9. An image degree marker to replace the compass degree marker.


Have OutsideTheLines build the compass/level panhead for you:

Purchase requests (or if you simply have questions) may be sent to:

The cost of the compass panhead unit is roughly $150 USD plus shipping charges. This breaks down to about $50 USD in parts and $100 USD for 3 or 4 hours of labor to gather, make, and assemble these pieces into a usable panhead. These prices may vary if the time to make a unit is shorter/longer than expected, or the price of the parts differs from those stated above. The addition of a Bogen monopod and hex-quickrelease head will add roughly $70 USD to the total cost of the unit. The L-bracket will need to be provided by the user.


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