The Velbon MAX i 343E is the latest tripod to hit the dealers' shelves and could be what photographers have been trying to buy for years.
Nearly everyone who buys a tripod asks for the same ideal requirements. The perfect tripod would be lightweight and small to carry, it would extend to eye level and shouldn't cost the earth.
These specific needs were submitted to Velbon by a US photo journalist Herbert Keppler and they created the MAX i 343E.
Pick up the box and first thoughts would be why is this tripod costing 69 twice the price of a similar sized model. Check the spec on the side and you may start to realise why. Where other models, from the likes of Slik and Cobra, would look similar when collapsed this one extends to 158.4cm (over five feet), whereas most others would only reach about 120cm. This is a major advantage for comfort. You don't have to stoop down to look through the camera's viewfinder.
It manages this by having a new patent designed shaft system in the legs called Trunnion which allows each leg section to full retract to the top of each leg shaft. There are three leg sections and these retract when released using the locking clips.
To keep the weight down the head is a ball & socket and the feet have smaller rubber pads, but these can still be rotated back to reveal spikes - another feature that Herbert thought essential to the design.
The weight is just 0.86kilos, making it very manageable to carry and when in fully collapsed status it's just 44.4cm long.
There's no quick-release system to mount your camera but the design of the head is very easy to rotate to lock on and off the camera.
When full extended it doesn't feel that rigid when firing using a finger on the shutter release. But the proof is in the results.
I tried the tripod at various shutter speeds to see if it would support the camera and how well it would prevent camera shake. I used an old EOS100 (it's heavier than the latest autofocus cameras) with a 24-200mm zoom at the 200mm setting and tried taking shots at speeds from 1/60sec down to 2 seconds to see when vibration from the tripod would kick in.
The camera was triggered using the self-timer so I had no contact (this will give similar results to using a cable release or remote control) and the tripod was at full extension, which includes the centre column also at full extent.
A small but lovely extra touch is that the tripod comes with a free case - a pouch with a draw string top and a shoulder strap - making even more portable, although it would also sit comfortably in the tripod straps of you camera holdall.
My first impression was near on 70 seemed a lot for a tripod of this size and weight, but when you consider the extended size and amount of back problems you could potential avoid, it's probably worth its weight in gold.
Good on Velbon for taking an age-old issue and solving it. Shame it couldn't be 30 cheaper, but then again I am a Northerner and we're renowned for being tight!
Test by Peter Bargh