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Image stabilization has enabled many a photographer to get tack sharp images. But before gyros were built into lenses or incorporated into camera bodies, tripods, window mounts, bean bags and monopods were the “catch of the day.” Their benefits are numerous and each has its particular niche. Will I ever give up vibration reduction? Absolutely not. But on the other hand, you’ll never see any of my traditional means to support my camera appear in an ad on Ebay!
TRIPODS: In general, the heavier the tripod, the more stability it provides. Yet one that's too heavy is counterproductive in that it becomes a burden. A good rule of thumb is to purchase a tripod that's sturdy enough to stabilize your longest lens. If the weight of the tripod is a major consideration, carbon fiber models are very popular. They're light and provide excellent stability but at a higher cost. Besides providing stability, another benefit of a tripod is it forces you to work slower and deeply scrutinize each composition. The benefit here is you'll more easily notice distractions and undesirable compositional elements. Another important reason to use a tripod is your family shots can now contain every family member rather than leave out the one who takes the picture. Place your camera on the tripod, set the self-timer, jump into the composition, and the family album will be complete.
WINDOW MOUNTS: Window mounts are used to photograph from your vehicle. Animals have become accustomed to cars, so it can be used as a blind. As it's awkward to set up a tripod around seats, center consoles, and steering wheels, as a result, window mounts evolved. With a window slightly rolled up, they fit over the lip and are steadied by a section that butts up to the inside panel of the door. This creates a solid platform for a tripod head and long lens. Engine vibration is easily transferred so make sure it's turned off. Additionally, if there are other people or photographers in the car, you need to have an understanding that movement is restricted to times when a warning is given. When I know I will be in a specific spot for an extended length of time, I set up in the back seat as it provides more room. I don't have to fight the steering wheel and pedals if I want to stretch my legs. Additionally, I can use the entire back seat to spread out all my equipment and be able to access it more quickly and efficiently.
BEAN BAG: For all the benefits a tripod or window mount have, they are heavy and sometimes not practical. In many instances, you can get away with just a bean bag. In comparison, they do have many restrictions, but there are times when they do shine. When rested on a car hood or window, a fence or railing, a rock, or even the ground, they add a lot of stability over hand holding the camera. There are many types and models. Each can be filled with an odd assortment of things. Some come pre-filled while most are designed to be carried empty and filled with sand, beans, rice, pebbles, or other small materials on location. Empty they weigh a few ounces. Think of the benefit if you're backpacking. When you get to your destination, fill it with dirt and you're good to go. They even have a great benefit when you're back home and working in the wind. Attach a filled bean bag to your tripod for additional stability.
MONOPOD: A monopod is a great tool. I don't often use one, but when I do, I'm grateful I have it along. When I want that little extra bit of stability and I don't feel like hauling around a tripod, I monopod it. I most often use one when I go to the zoo or shoot a local sports event. It allows me to safely shoot at a shutter speed that, if I was hand holding the camera, would net a soft image. I find I gain between two to three shutter speeds which often means the difference between a keeper and a file destined for the trash. I feel comfortable shooting a 300mm lens at 1/30th of a second. A monopod trick I use is to push it up against a solid surface such as a low stone wall or fence. It allows me to gain another shutter speed at which I can safely shoot. Please keep in mind that when you use slow shutter speeds and you photograph a moving animal, it will be soft. The rest of the picture area will be fine, but the key element will not. The faster the animal or subject moves, the faster the necessary shutter speed.