A Tripod or a Monopod are Often
Essential for Clear Photos
I use the popular and economical Slik U 9000 tripod (around $50) which weighs 3.5 lbs. and folds down to a length of 2', making it a lightweight and sturdy option for hiking and getting sharp landscape photos. It has a maximum load of 4.5 lbs. and holds my camera steady with a 300mm zoom attached as long as the winds aren't too strong. I like its 3-way pan/tilt head with a quick release lock, bubble leveler, and independently adjusting legs with retractable metal spikes for firm positioning of the legs into the ground.
Even though my tripod is rather light, I have my husband carry it on hikes over 3 miles because carrying my camera, two lenses and water on steep paths in higher elevations is all I can handle comfortably. Combined with a cable release, a tripod is your best bet for clarity. I found these antelope standing about 50 yards off the highway in Park County, CO. Even though they were walking, using my 300mm zoom and a tripod gave me a sharp photo.
For those who want even better quality, there are more expensive and flexible carbon fiber tripods that can handle more weight. For example, Manfrotto's 190Mf3 (12/08 average price = $322) carbon fiber tripod has very versatile positioning, folds down to 22", can bear 8.82 lbs. and weighs about the same as the Slik U 9000 at 3.53 lbs.
For an even lighter weight option, check out Gitzo's GT1540T Series 1. Traveler. This 2 lbs. carbon fiber tripod is 15.4" long (when folded) and has a 9.9 lb. load capacity. It is the ultimate in carrying convenience.
For a slimmer and slightly lighter choice I'll sometimes take my Manfrotto 679B monopod (note: the Manfrotto 682 version is more versatile since you can screw on small retractable legs at the base). When combined with the Manfrotto 486RC2 ball head it weighs only 2 lbs. and is just over 2 ft. long. I love the ball head because it swivels so smoothly to whatever angle you want, then easily locks into place. Of course, with a monopod you get a bit of shake since your hand has to help steady it, but you will get a sharper image than with a hand held camera. I like to use it in crowded spots, such as a zoo during the summer. With a monopod I'm free from concern about people tripping over it and I don't have to take time to set it up as I move along carefully with it vertical and extended part of the time.
I like using my cable release/remote commander to release the shutter without touching and shaking the camera when I am using the tripod and want as clear an image as possible. I tend to use this option for landscape photography and to capture birds in flight around my feeders. A tripod would be good for flowers and portraits also. A long cable release (6 ft. or more) could work for bird shots if you have the camera set up outside on a tripod and focused on a popular perch while you wait behind a bush or inside holding the remote.
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