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The Manfrotto XPRO Monopod+

We travel. A lot! Our work as wildlife, conservation and travel photographers and writers has taken us to many parts of Africa in search of pictures and stories and, always, there is a issue between packing the camera gear that you need for the job and getting it on the plane as hand luggage. To compound the problem, more and more of our clients are wanting both stills and movies, preferably in 4k these days. So, over the years we’ve honed our equipment right down to the bare bones so that we take just the right gear with us. Everything has a reason to be in the bag and everything in it is used time and time again on the shoot.

Deck dining at Macatoo Camp. African Horseback Safaris. Okavango Delta. BotswanaDeck dining at Macatoo Camp. African Horseback Safaris. Okavango Delta. Botswana

Macatoo Camp. African Horseback Safaris. Okavango Delta. BotswanaMacatoo Camp. African Horseback Safaris. Okavango Delta. Botswana

The move to shooting movies/video brought its own problems. The cameras are not the issue. For stills we use the Canon 5DsR and for video, I shoot with the small but very capable Panasonic GH4 and Pat the Panasonic HC-X1000. All three are completely non-threatening and could easily pass for hobbyist cameras, while providing wonderful 4k footage and stills. The problem is the tripod. The diminutive Gitzo Traveller GT1542T Carbon Fibre Tripod and Manfrotto 498RC2 ball head that we use work wonderfully for the stills side of things but what do we use for video?

Okavango Delta. BotswanaOkavango Delta. Botswana

Okavango Delta. BotswanaOkavango Delta. Botswana

When Lorenza of Manfrotto dropped me a mail asking if I would like to try out their new video monopod, the XPRO monopod+, the penny dropped! This could be a wonderful solution. And the timing was perfect – we were due to head into the Okavango Delta in Botswana, to African Horseback Safaris, to photograph and film horse riders interacting with the plentiful wildlife.

The Okavango Delta is a massive inland delta located in north-western Botswana, created when flood waters flowing some 1 200 kilometres down the Okavango River from Angola reach a tectonic trough in the endorheic basin of the Kalahari. The water never reaches the sea and all of the 11 cubic kilometres that arrive in the delta, spreading out over about 37500 square kilometres, eventually evaporate leaving vast, rich grasslands that support thousands upon thousands of wild animals – elephants, lions, herds of giraffe, zebra, buffalo and a plethora of other wildlife species.

Okavango Delta. BotswanaOkavango Delta. Botswana

Okavango Delta. Botswana

Okavango Delta. Botswana

It’s in this wonderful eden that we find African Horseback Safaris. We’ve worked with them before, first to shoot images for our limited edition book called African Icons and then later to shoot the guest facilities for them – accommodation, boat rides, helicopter scenic flights and other activities. This time it was riders on horseback interacting with the wildlife. And boy, did they interact! There were elephants everywhere, huge herds of buffalo, pools of hippo and all sorts of general game. And into this lot we flung the XPRO Monopod MVMXPROA4577

Okavango Delta. BotswanaOkavango Delta. Botswana

I had anticipated some issues at airport security, not because we were overweight with our hand luggage (we usually are) but because the XPRO with its fold away feet/legs looks like a “rocket launcher” or something rather than the wonderful camera support that it is. And sure enough, at OR Tambo International in Johannesburg, we got a very polite but firm, “Could we have a look in that bag, please sir”. “It’s just a camera monopod”, I tried… “We’d like to have a look please”. It was not problem when they saw it and we were waved on with a “Thank you sir” and a smile. The whole lot – camera bags, tripod and monopod all fitted into the overhead compartments in the Avro RJ85 and we were soon en route to Maun in Botswana and then onwards to the Delta.

We used the XPRO Monopod+ in a number of different scenarios and with a variety of camera and lens combinations and found it so useful that it is now part of our standard kit. Probably the most unfair setup was shooting distant wildlife with the Panasonic GH4 and the Canon 100 – 400mm lens at full zoom. With the GH4’s 4/3 sensor, the 100 – 400 effectively becomes the equivalent of a 200 – 800mm lens and keeping that lot steady is a nightmare. With the camera on the XPRO, and the IS engaged I found that I could get perfectly acceptable sequences. Alternatively, with my Canon 8 – 15mm fisheye on the GH4, I was able to move the camera about very easily and smoothly, doing pans, tilts and following the action. The XPRO worked well when shooting from a vehicle, as we often do with our wildlife photography, allowing much more freedom of movement than a tripod or fixed mounts, albeit with some loss of stability and pretty much the same when off the vehicle. Look, it’s not as steady as a tripod but then it would be crazy to think that it would be. But then, it’s way more versatile and quick to use, allowing us to get sequences that would not have been possible otherwise.

Okavango Delta. BotswanaOkavango Delta. Botswana

All in all a very welcome addition which will see a great deal of use.

Roger de la HarpeOther articles by author

Roger and Pat de la Harpe are photographers and writers based in South Africa and specialize in wildlife and travel photography. Their work has appeared in many local and international magazines and they have published 26 books on wildlife, travel and culture. Currently, they are busy shooting a new book entitled African Icons, which is about the 21 must see places in Africa. Generally Roger shoots stills and Pat, video but they do swap cameras when needs be.