Tripod vs monopod
When hiking with a 35mm I have always carried a tripod. But lately I have become interested in walking with a “stick” that stick could be a monopod. Thus allowing me to dump the weight of the tripod that’s on my back.
Problem is I have never used a monopod. How well do they work, what are the limitations to shutter speed, any other drawbacks. I assume the several second exposure is out, but what else am I missing.
In my (limited!) experience they're good for a couple of stops improvement over hand-holding, maybe three at a pinch, more if you can dig the 'foot' into the ground and crossbrace them with a convenient tree/rock/fencepost.
Another thing you might want to additionally consider is a beanbag - they do them now with a tripod screw fitting on them for a bit more in the way of security. Again, you need to have a convenient tree/rock/fencepost...!
I have a neopream Hand Strap I picked up from B&H a while back. A regular walking stick and the hand strap seem a good combination. Together they allow me to steady the camera without needing to actualy atach the camera to the stick. It may not be for every one but it works for me.
I've used a Gitzo monopod for years. Sometimes I've just used it with the tip slipped under my belt for much improved steadiness. The Gitzo has a metal ring at the top plate with a wrist strap attached. I have a plastic coated metal 10 ft dog leash (more of a tie-out really) for small dogs that I attach in a long loop to the hand strap ring with a small carabiner. I can then step into the loop formed by the dog leash and spread my feet for a triangular brace for the monopod. The leash is solid, but small and light enough to coil into a camera bag pocket.
Berlebach makes a wooden shooting/hunting bipod that looks interesting, but only goes to 1.45 meters. I've wondered for a long time why someone doesn't make a photo bipod. The sports guys need the horizontal twisting motion that a monopod allows, but someone working more slowly could certainly gain from the extra leg.
You can also lean a monopod against a natural feature for extra bracing if the perspective works for you. Bogen/Manfrotto also makes a short brace (3422 Monopod Support) and head combo for their monopods, to be used against the chest, or resting on the ground for a short tripod.
I'd agree with FrankB about the gain in stops for a free standing monopod.
Don't expect miracles, Peter. I don't have a lot of experience with monopods either. They've always seemed to work best for me with heavier camera/lens outfits as a means to help support the weight. In that capacity, they do a great job. Picking up a stop or two in shutter speeds has been less successful for me.
Tripod vs Monopod
Peter, I think its a case of horses for courses. If I am in a place where there is room to set up my tripod without impeding others then that is what I use. In situations where there might not be much space etc I'll use my monopod. I also carry the monopod when out cycling as it is lighter and easier to stow on a bike. See the Wales and Castles thread for examples of photographs taken using a monopod.
I've used a monopod while hiking. A commercial monopod makes a poor walking stick, but a mini-ballhead mounted on a wooden walking stick could work well.
I've found the trick to a long exposure with a monopod is to consider it one leg of a tripod. You are the second and anything available can be the third. If nothing is available lean the monopod back into you in a wide stance and lean against it.