A steady support or image stabilization will help you capture sharper images
By Zachary Singer
Some photographers attach their cameras directly to the monopod, but a small ballhead or a swivel-tilt head can lend greater flexibility by letting you rapidly tilt your camera for vertical shots. Some monopods come already equipped with ballheads, and you can add the heads to most others.
Like tripods, monopods use a variety of leg-locking mechanisms to adjust their height, and it's a personal choice as to which is best for you. Most monopods are fitted with a strap to put around your wrist for extra security against losing your grasp. Many offer a cushioned foam grip for extra comfort. The soft covering also can help insulate your hands from cold monopod surfaces in winter and hot ones in summer.
Some models feature a fold-out or snap-on foot, increasing the monopod's contact with the ground for extra stability. Other models offer a pedal for you to step on to make sure the monopod stays put.
Although hiking staffs are designed primarily for helping you traverse challenging terrain, many of them can be used for camera support like a monopod, saving you the weight of a separate photographic platform. Remove or interchange the knob on top of the staff to get a screw mount for attaching your camera. Hiking staffs won't support heavy telephoto lenses, but they can be a useful tool for more moderate focal lengths or advanced digital compacts.
While you're on the trail, staffs provide extra support and can be a real help for moving over larger rocks or crossing creeks. Hiking staffs also provide an extra measure of safety on slippery surfaces and steep inclines. A staff helps put some of your pack's weight onto your arms, easing the stress on your back. When you're headed downhill, a staff lessens the load on your leg muscles.
These ultralight tabletop tripods have a number of uses. One is for shooting near the ground—these small units can get you much lower, and much more quickly and easily, than most large tripods.
Because mini-tripods weigh so little, they might make it into your backpack when a heavier tripod wouldn't. When you're in the backcountry, you can place them on a convenient rock or tree stump to shoot from a more usual tripod height.
Some mini-tripods also can be used as a mini-monopod or shoulder stock. In these configurations, you rest them on your chest or shoulder for added stability while shooting handheld.
Lay a versatile beanbag on top of any convenient object and rest your camera on it for a surprisingly stable shooting platform. You also can brace a beanbag against the side of a vertical surface. Although most photographers imagine a rock or the top edge of a lowered car window as a likely place for a beanbag, the supports also can be used on top of a tripod. Beanbags provide support quickly, and let you remove your camera equally as fast when you're done.
Some beanbags feature zippers so you can travel with a featherweight empty beanbag and fill it when you arrive at your destination. Uncooked rice or beans make a great filler.
Screw the end of a stabilizing strap into your camera's tripod socket, step on the other end and pull up—the tension on the strap will keep your camera steadier. This simple device can make a difference for the sharpness of your images, and it's quick and very light.
Another way to get sharper images when shooting handheld at slow shutter speeds is to use a lens with image stabilization built in. These special lenses detect your camera's movement and "counter-jiggle" a group of their lens elements to compensate, keeping the image on your film or image sensor much steadier. The stabilizers work well enough to let you shoot handheld at shutter speeds two or three stops slower than you could without them. Used together with a monopod or beanbag, the combined system becomes even more effective.
Currently, three manufacturers offer lenses featuring this technology under different names: Image Stabilizer (IS) from Canon; Vibration Reduction (VR) from Nikon; and Optical Stabilizer (OS) from Sigma. While telephoto lenses and long zooms were among the first designs to offer these technologies, some wide-angle lenses now feature them as well.
Konica Minolta's Anti-Shake system performs the same feat by shifting the image sensor in several of its digital camera models, including its new digital SLR. The Maxxum 7D can provide Anti-Shake capability with nearly every lens in the line.