VELBON ULTRA MAX REVIEW
By Luke Moffat
Ok great, so you’ve spent some serious coin on a quality spotter. So what’s next? If you don’t have one already, your next step will likely be buying a tripod. This might seem like a no brainer, because any tripod will work. I would caution against this sort of mentality since a spotting scope is only as good as the tripod its mounted on. For instance, if the tripod isn’t able to properly support or lock on to your target quickly, even the best spotter in the world will be useless if it drifts 100 yards up the mountain instead of locking on to the animal you are looking at.
Taking a quick look through tripod choices, you’ll find as many or more options as you did for spotters. To help sort through all these alternatives, I broke it down to find a tripod that best met a certain criteria. For me that meant the following:
Sub 40 oz or 2.5 pounds
Compact when stored
Able to use when standing up
Less than $200
Stabile enough to support my 65mm spotter
I chose the above criteria because when backpack hunting weight and space are always a premium. Also, often times the option to setup the spotting scope in taller brush to remain concealed while looking over an animal is a nice option, though many don’t feel the need to be able to stand and use a spotting scope it was an important option for me. Also a tripod that wiggles in the slightest breeze and can’t lock onto a target is of little use, so tripod stability is a must. A quick look reveals that some offerings from companies like Gitzo meet all but the last requirement. However, like many, I am not made of money and have to budget my hunting gear. I’d much rather spend an extra $300 on a backpack or binoculars than a tripod.
After some research I came across a manufacturer called Velbon. Looking through the many models they offer, I narrowed it down to their Ultra Maxi model line. This line seemed to accomplish what I was looking for in a tripod at a price point I was willing to shell out. Being as I am only 5’9 and use an angled spotter, I did not need a tripod that would extend to 5’. So I was drawn to the Velbon Ultra Maxi M model. It’s listed at .92 KG or right at 2 pounds, while extending to 138.5cm or just over 54”. Also when stowed its listed at being only 33.5cm (just over 13” long). A quick search showed the tripod could be purchased for less than $140. This meant the Velbon Ultra Maxi M met 4 of my 5 requirements with ease.
The final requirement, stability with a spotter, could only be determined during a bit of testing, so I took the plunge and picked up the Velbon Ultra Maxi M. Upon arrival I quickly mounted my Swarovski 65mm spotter on it to take the tripod for a “test drive.” While the PHD-31Q head that came with the tripod worked, I have grown to prefer ball heads for driving my spotting scopes in search of game. Also for ease of use, I prefer QD (quick detach) plates so I can attach and detach my spotting scope from the tripod rather than thread it on/off with each use when storing it in my pack, despite the small weight penalty when compared to non-QD heads. So I replaced the standard Velbon pan head that came with the tripod with a Manfrotto 494 Mini Ball Head with the QD plate. This seemed to be the perfect combo for the Velbon tripod for my uses.
The Manfrotto head does weigh a bit more than the standard Velbon pan head, but the additional stability, plus the ball head style I prefer made it worth it.
All up the tripod weighs in at less that 35 oz or 2.2 pounds with the heavier Manfrotto head:
The addition of the Manfrotto ball head greatly enhanced the tripod’s ability to lock on to a target without any “drift”. Also, the overall length of the tripod is still less than 15” which is more than acceptable given the fact that I can still use this spotter when setting it up in taller brush.
I believe the main secret that allows the Velbon to remain so compact while still allowing for standing and spotting stems from its twist lock rather than flick lock legs. The twist lock legs of the Velbon are made up of five sections, which each telescope into the section above and are locked into place by twisting the legs of the tripod. Being able to lock each leg with a simple twist as opposed to unflipping and flipping the flip lock style legs makes setting up the Velbon twist lock style tripod faster on uneven terrain given my experience after having used both styles.
Another potential advantage of the Ultra Maxi M is the ability to use it as an extremely sturdy center pole for the a smaller tipi or bivy shelter.
While everyone’s needs gear needs are different, of which a tripod is no exception, the Velbon Ultra Maxi M is worth a look for the budget minded backpack hunter that’s looking for a lightweight, compact, and stable option that won’t break the bank.