Below is our Vanguard Tripod Review. After I bought a spotting scope, I needed a tripod, so I went to the local sporting goods store where they have many options for tripods. They had a display with four models of the Vanguard MAK series tripods. This article is a comparison of these four tripods and a short review of each model; the Vanguard MAK S, MAK 203, MAK 263 and the MAK 234.
The tripod I have used the most the last 10 years was a full-sized, heavy duty tripod, complete with a pistol-grip head. It was rock steady with very smooth adjustments, but very heavy and bulky. We used it with a full-sized spotting scope but never took it very far from the truck or ATV. What I needed was a light-weight, compact tripod to go with the light-weight spotting scope I bought for packing into the back country.
Features I Needed From a Compact Field Tripod:
- Light weight; 3 lbs or less
- Compact size when folded; 24 inches or less – to fit into side pocket of my day pack
- Extends high enough for me to use while standing
- Sturdy enough for a steady view
- Quickshoe for fast attachment and release of scope or camera
Tripods are priced as low as $20 and all the way up to $700 or more. I wasn’t planning to spend more than about $50 for a compact tripod and no way would I ever need a tripod that cost more than my spotting scope.
To test the tripods, I took them down from the display and placed a borrowed Nikon Prostaff 16-48X65 on each one. After testing several models on display in the store, I selected the Vanguard MAK 203, also called the Compact Field Tripod. I didn’t spend a lot of time and compared only four models priced between $30 to $90. The store had more models to select from, but I didn’t want to start opening boxes to test tripods that weren’t displayed.
Vanguard MAK Tripod Series Comparison Chart
|Vanguard Model #||MAK S||MAK 203||MAK 263||MAK 234|
|Store Model||Compact||Comp. Field||Field||Deluxe Field|
|Extended Height (in)||51.2||61||65||61|
|Folded Height (in)||20.1||23.6||24.8||20.9|
|Load Capacity (lbs)||4.4||4.4||NA||6.6|
|2/3 Way Pan Head||2||3||3||3|
|Quick Shoe (QS-28)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Elev. Adj Lock||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Quick Flip Leg Locks||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Leg Brace & Lock||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Anti-slip Rubber Feet||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Relative Price||Lowest||Step up||Step again||Most|
Vanguard MAK Tripods
The MAK series of tripods are all made of light-weight aluminum alloy and all models have common features such as Leg Braces and Locks, Elevation Adjustment Locks, Quick Flip Leg Locks and Anti-slip Rubber Feet to create strong and balanced tripods. In addition, each MAK series tripod has a Central Column Hook designed to hang a back pack or camera bag for additional weight to increase stability. Each Vanguard MAK tripod also comes with a Quick Shoe (QS-28) for quick attachment and release of your spotting scope or camera and all models except the MAK S, have a smooth gear and center crank for precise height adjustment.
The Vanguard MAK S (Compact) Tripod is a basic, simple tripod. I liked the short folding length (20.1 inches) of the Compact tripod (Vanguard MAK-S) and the light weight (1.63 lbs). The MAK S is only 51 inches when fully extended or 53 inches to my scope’s eye piece when mounted. This height may be enough if you have a spotting scope with an angled eye piece, but it was about 10 inches too short for me (with straight eye piece) to use while standing up. Unless you wanted to use the tripod to take pictures with the camera turned 90 degrees, the 2 way pan head is all you need for a spotting scope. The MAK S does not have an elevation gear for height adjustments, so the column must be extended by hand. I also like the price tag, but passed on this tripod because it simply isn’t tall enough for me.
The Vanguard MAK 203 (Compact Field) Tripod was the tripod I chose. It extends to 61 inches and that puts the eye piece of my scope at 63 inches, which is a tad short, but not uncomfortable for me to stand and view on the level, but perfect for viewing slightly downhill. I found that by rotating the 3-way pan head into the 90 degree position, I actually gained an additional inch in height. I don’t plan on spending a lot of time standing and scoping and usually find an opening and sit down. It’s just nice to have a tripod with the ability to use standing up if you need it.
The folded length of the MAK 203 is just under 24 inches and fits neatly into a side pocket and straps to my day pack (see picture below). It extends above the day pack by only 5 or 6 inches and weighs only 2.4 lbs.
I like the quick shoe attachments because that makes for a very fast on and off system. I bought an extra quick shoe for the camera or the video so I can quickly (about 5 seconds) remove the spotting scope and attach one of the cameras.
The motion of the 3-way pan head (elevation, side to side and angle) is smooth and easy to control. It will never have the precise control of an expensive, heavy trigger head, but does everything I need from a light-weight tripod in the field.
Is the Vanguard MAK 203 a perfect tripod for packing? No, but it is close. The only thing I would change would be to make it more compact, but to do that, would increase the number of leg sections and increase the weight and cost (see Vanguard MAK 234). I packed the tripod and spotting scope every day during the mule deer and elk hunting seasons this year and it definitely did the job I needed a tripod to do.
I even practiced using the tripod as a shooting platform, from both the standing position (top of pan head) and from the sitting positions while resting on the leg brace and also resting on my wrist while gripping one tripod leg. This is an example where adding weight by hanging your back pack on the hook really increased the tripod stability.
I also liked the Vanguard MAK 263 (Field) Tripod, especially the ability to extend to a full 65 inches. This height was more than enough for me to is stand comfortably with boots on even look up slope through the spotting scope. It was only about an inch longer when folded than the Compact Field Tripod (MAK 203), but the weight was a full pound more and it was obvious that this was a much sturdier tripod than both the Vangard MAK S or MAK 203 tripods. In the end, I decided that I didn’t want to pack the extra pound around in the field, but if the extra pound doesn’t bother you, this would be an excellent choice for a field tripod.
The Vanguard MAK 234 (Deluxe Field) Tripod extends to the same height at the MAK 203 tripod and was only about 5 ounces heavier. The Deluxe Field Tripod also more compact than the MAK 203 and folds to just under 21 inches, because there are four leg sections with this model instead of three leg sections on all the other MAK tripods. Even though the Quick-Flip Leg Locks are easy to work and the legs slide easily, I decided that four leg sections might be too many to fiddle with to have a 2.5 inch shorter tripod, but mostly, I was more concerned with saving the extra $20 the Vanguard MAK 234 costs more than the MAK 203. If I hadn’t just spent about $600 on a new spotting scope and binoculars, this would have been my choice.
Here are a few of the popular Vanguard Tripods priced low to high including some from the MAK Series and Alta Plus and Alta Pro models for comparison:
I hope this article helps you find a good compact field tripod within your budget, so you can get back out in the field.