“With a pneumatic lift system, the Steadicam Air is the first truly innovative monopod in years.”
- Fast height adjustments with pneumatic lift system
- Sturdy, carbon fiber build
- Wide foot for more stability
- 25-pound payload capacity
- Lowering height slower than raising it
Monopod is a fancy name for a stick you put a camera on — and as such, monopods seldom see any major technological advancements. If it’s not broken, why fix it? But the Steadicam Air 25 has found something to fix, and it may just be the most innovative monopod in the last decade. It uses a pneumatic lift system activated by a foot pedal that lets you raise it quickly and comfortably without wasting your own precious energy.
Monopods are excellent for keeping the weight of a camera off of your arms, shoulders, or neck, and for stabilizing your shot. Because monopods are easier to move quickly when compared to their three-legged sisters, the support style becomes the choice for many photographers and videographers that need to maintain a range of motion or quickly set up from new angles.
Despite the greater mobility, monopods still take some time to adjust the height, which can be a problem for shooters covering a fast-paced news assignment or other live event. The Steadicam Air can adjust in a matter of seconds, and it lets you leave your hands securely on the camera while doing so.
Sleek & sturdy design
We tested the Air 25, which weighs about 3.5 pounds but has an impressive 25-pound payload capacity. (Steadicam is also developing a lighter-duty, 15-pound version that should be available soon.) The top half of the Air looks like a traditional monopod, but is well-built with a carbon fiber construction in a three-section leg.
The bottom section is where the innovation happens. A foot pedal controls the height of the entire bottom section with one press. (Steadicam calls it a pedal, but “peg” might be a more accurate descriptor because of its narrow width. Still, it is comfortable enough to use, and a wider pedal could have gotten in the way). When not in use, a red knob allows you to adjust the pedal and minimize its profile.
The foot itself is a decently large, rubber hemisphere. It is ridged on the bottom for grip, while the a ball joint connects it to the monopod, allowing you to angle it in any direction while leaving the foot pedal flat and secure on the ground. The foot will also fold flat against the monopod for storage. The wider base is steadier than that of a traditional photo monopod, although video-specific monopods often come with a three-legged base and similar ball joint.
A foot peg controls the height of the entire bottom section with one press.
While the bottom section is controlled by the air lift, the second leg section is adjusted through a more traditional twist lock, allowing the monopod to reach a maximum 62.5 inches. Twist locks aren’t loved by all, but we found this one to work well. It tightens over a wide thread which makes it easy to see when its fully locked, avoiding random mid-shoot camera descents and remaining fairly quick to adjust.
A foam grip around the top section makes holding the monopod more comfortable — particularly in cold weather. Like most monopods, there’s no quick release plate built in, but you can attach a separate tripod head if you need that feature. The screw mount offers two sizes to accommodate this, with 1/4” 20 on one side for direct-to-camera attachment and 3/8” 16 for mounting a head.
Packed away, the Air 25 is about 28 inches long and tucks right into the included bag. The bag has two different straps for carrying by hand or slinging over a shoulder, and is one of the nicer tripod/monopod bags we’ve seen.
The gas lift at the bottom section allows you to easily move from a kneeling to a standing position — a press of the foot pedal will raise the monopod much in the same way as a traditional barbershop chair. The pneumatic lift isn’t instant, but is much faster than adjusting twist locks. There’s a slight stutter when the lift reaches the maximum height, so you’re not going to want to be shooting a video while simultaneously making adjustments.
The lift only controls one section of the monopod, which means that pedal will give (or take) about 18 inches from the height. The rest of the 62.5 inch height is controlled with the second section’s twist lock. Fortunately, after the initial setup, it’s quite easy to rely solely the lower section.
With videographers in mind, the ball-joint foot attachment allows for tilting and panning shots.
However, lowering the height isn’t quite as smooth as raising it. To do this, you have to physically press the monopod down. Overcoming the force of the pneumatic lift (particularly for small-framed individuals) requires two hands and significant force to push the monopod back down to a lower height. While not as seamless (or fast) as going up, it is probably still faster than traditional height adjustment methods — not to mention safer, as your gear won’t crash toward the ground the moment you tap the pedal. Also, adjustment speed will likely change with heavier payloads — we tested a crop-sensor DSLR and small lens with a combined weight well below the 25-pound limit.
With the exception of the extra oomph needed to lower the it, the Steadicam Air 25 was a pleasure to shoot with during our short review window. The monopod is easy to use and takes the weight of the camera off your body. The lift system makes raising the camera a breeze. With videographers in mind, the wide foot makes for a steadier platform and the ball joint allows for tilting and panning shots. Despite all the features, the Air 25 is still lightweight and easy enough to bring on location.
For sports photographers, event videographers, and news shooters, the Steadicam Air 25 is a welcome innovation and a refreshing take on the stale monopod. It mixes the support and comfort of supported shooting without completely nixing the ability to adjust the composition quickly.
The Air 25 also has a build quality equal to any higher-end monopod, with improved comfort thanks to the air lift system. Outside of the need for using two hands two lower it, the monopod performed exactly as expected.
Is there a better alternative?
The Air 25 uses a patent-pending pneumatic lift that, to our knowledge, isn’t available anywhere else. Monopods see fewer technical advances than cameras and lenses, but the lift is a significant new feature that’s not yet available on other products. Libec’s HFMP (Hands-Free Monopod) is equally unique, able to support itself thanks to a wide, locking base, but otherwise acts as a traditional monopod.
However, spending $499 on a monopod is no small decision. Monopods with a 20-25 pound range capacity and a carbon fiber build start at around $100 and move up from there, including more budget-friendly options from brands like Benro, Oben and Sirui.
How long will it last?
Carbon fiber monopods can generally take a pretty good beating and remain in your photography kit for years, if properly cared for. The Steadicam Air 25 is just as well-built and includes a limited one-year warranty. With the pneumatic lift being a new feature, however, it’s difficult to estimate if the lift parts will have the same long lifespan. As far as we could tell from a short review period, the monopod is well built and seems like it will offer several years of regular use.
Should you buy it?
It’s pricier than the competition, but this monopod is simply the best out there for speed and ease of use. It’s an excellent buy for the action photographer or videographer who regularly uses a monopod, needs quick height adjustment, and uses up to 25 pounds of gear at once (think long lenses or professional cinema gear). For the pros and serious enthusiasts, the Air 25 is a good buy.
For photographers that dig the monopod out of the closet only a few times a year, or those shooting still subjects that will wait patiently while twist and flip locks are adjusted, the $499 price is probably too much to justify.
That may change, however. With a 15-pound version of the Air on the way, there should be a less expensive option on the market soon, although we don’t yet know what that price will be. Photographers and videographers without heavy gear may want to wait and see if the Steadicam Air 15 is a better fit for their needs and budget.
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