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VELBON MAXi 343E Tripod

by Bob Atkins, 2005


The VELBON MAXi 343E isn't the world's most stable tripod, but then again it makes no claims on that score. Its selling point is that it's a small, light, inexpensive and relatively stable travel tripod.

The basic specifications are:

  • Length - 17.5 inches folded
  • Weight - 1.9 pounds
  • Height - Extends to 62 inches (with center column)
  • Comes with removable ball head
  • Spiked and rubber feet
  • Mostly metal construction
  • Carrying case included

My usual "travel" tripod is a Bogen 3001 with a 3262 ball head, but on a recent trip this was too large and heavy at a weight of 4.65lbs. The Velbon (with head) is only 1.9lbs, a saving of 2.75lbs in weight. The 3001 (with head removed) is 21" long when folded, while the VELBON MAXi 343E is only 15.5" (the ballhead adds 2"), so it's significantly shorter. The Velbon tripod will fit inside my LowePro Trekker photo backpack, while the Bogen 3001 will not. Below you can see the two tripods compared.

VELBON MAXi 343E

The image below shows the two tripods extended:

VELBON MAXi 343E

The two tripods are very similar in extended height.

The next shot shows both tripods with their center columns fully extended.

VELBON MAXi 343E

As you can see, the Velbon MAXi 343E tripod is actually a few inches taller.

Finally here's a shot of an EOS 20D with a 75-300IS lens extended to 300mm. The ballhead is small, but will hold this camera/lens combination quite securely.

So how stable is it?

However, even fully extended it does provide useful and usable additional stability over hand holding a lens, even a pretty long lens. I used a 75-300IS zoom on an EOS 20D to test stability. To get sharp images with this lens without IS being turned on, a shutter speed of around 1/500s is required. The "1/focal length" rule of thumb for handholdability gets modified by the sensor cropping factor of 1.6x, giving an estimated 1/480s required shutter speed.

When used on the VELBON MAXi 343E at full extension and with the center column at full height, I found I could get sharp images at around 1/100s with IS off and the lens zoomed out to 300mm. This increase in stability is comparable to what you'd get by turning IS on. However, if you DO turn IS on, then you can get sharp images down to about 1/25s. Normally you shouldn't use IS on this lens when it's on a tripod, but that assumes a rock stable tripod. Since the VELBON MAXi 343E isn't rock stable when fully extended, IS is still effective.

Image Samples

VELBON MAXi 343E

Below is a 100% crop from the center of the image which was shot at 1/100s using the 75-300mm lens, set to 300mm with IS off. The camera was mounted on the VELBON MAXi 343E with the center column fully extended.

VELBON MAXi 343E

Next, here are two shots taken at 1/25s, the shot on the left is with IS turned on, the shot on the right is with IS turned off. It's clear that IS helps in this case!

VELBON MAXi 343E 

Finally, below is a shot taken at 300mm, with IS off and at a shutter speed of 1/6s using mirror lockup.

VELBON MAXi 343E

As you can see, at 1/6s with MLU (in the absence of wind), even with the VELBON MAXi 343E and center column fully extended, the image is sharp.

Conclusion

Where to buy

The VELBON MAXi 343E tripod is available from several vendors who support photo.net when purchases are made via these links:

Adorama

(©) Copyyright 2005   Robert M. Atkins (www.bobatkins.com)   All Rights Reserved

Readers' Comments


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Michael Dougherty , August 17, 2005; 12:24 A.M.

I recently purchased a 343E and immediately replaced the ballhead with a larger size Kaiser panning ballhead and quick release plate. The tripod is now very usable for framing scenics and motion photography where absolute stability is not critical.

Mark Harris , August 17, 2005; 09:38 A.M.

I purchased the Velbon MAXi 343E when it first came out having read the article about it's development in Popular Photography. From my point of view the most important things about this tripod are the size and weight. I used to rarely carry a tripod when doing casual photography. I would often see an image that I could not photograph due to lack of a proper camera support. I now carry one of these all the time and hardly notice it's there. I seldom use it fully extended. My equipment is a Nikon FM2n ususally with a Tokina 28-80 f/2.8 or a Nikon 105 f/4.0 macro so total weight the tripod supports is low.

Olivier Gallen , August 17, 2005; 01:49 P.M.

After reading several comparisons (see links) and feedback from users in various forum, I chosed the Slik Sprint Pro GM over the Velbon Maxi 343E and several others.
I removed the ballhead (quite good, though) for a more efficient one: Novoflex Neiger 19P.
=> I am quite happy with this set-up: it just needs some L plate+platform to be first-class (for travel, that is :).

Arnab Pratim Das , August 18, 2005; 02:13 P.M.

Bob, how did the leg-locks feel... will they last long enough (lifetime of this tripod)?

They look like flip-lever locks... don't they tend to fail after a period of time?

Bob Atkins , August 18, 2005; 07:12 P.M.

The leg locks are consistant with the rest of the tripod. Lightweight but adequate. I suppose in time they could fail. I haven't used the tripod for long enough to judge their ultimate durability.

Lakhinder Walia , August 18, 2005; 08:27 P.M.

Bob, reading the excellent test report, I am left to wonder that the two shots of 35 mph sign done at 1/25 sec have an interplaying role of mirror vibration -- considering the shot at 1/6 sec is so clear and nice and it is with the MLU. Have I gotten it right? Thanks.

Dale Baskin , August 19, 2005; 03:06 A.M.

Bob, thanks for the great review. I went through two of these tripods before giving up on them, and had the same problem with both. I really wanted to like this tripod because the size/weight/price combination was nice and it worked for the camera I was using. Unfortunately, the legs just didn't hold up well.

The first one I had worked fine for a few weeks, and then suddenly one of the legs would not close all the way. Despite a lot of time trying to fix it, it turned out to be almost impossible due to the way the legs were constructed. And if you disassembled the leg it was near impossible to get it back together. Since it was almost new, the local dealer replaced it for me, but the exact thing happened to the second one within a few weeks. In addition, the second one had a leg lock which seemed to get loose very quickly.

I ended up returning it and getting a Slik 614 carbon fiber model with a small Giottos ball head. It cost a bit more (though nothing like the Gitzos), but it seems indestructible compared with the Velbon and may weigh a bit less. Maybe I was unlucky and just got two tripods from a bad lot, but unfortunatley they didn't hold up well despite relatively light use.

Bob Atkins , August 19, 2005; 05:14 P.M.

As I said, I haven't owned this tripod long enough to comment on its reliability and longevity. While not delicate, I think it would be wise to treat the 343e with somewhat more care than you would a tripod like the Bogen 3001. Shedding weight does reduce strength.

I'd note that the Velbon 343e does come with a lifetime warranty - though again, I haven't had need to use it yet!

john wintheiser , August 19, 2005; 10:35 P.M.

I've had mine for about 2 years with no problems. I like it very much. As others have said, it allows you to take a tripod places where you probably would not take a heavier tripod. I,however, never use the center column. I am short so this is not a problem. I use it solely with 35mm gear. I would never use my Mamiya 645 with a tripod like this. With 35mm it will still "droop" a bit with macro or long telephoto lenses. All in all, I am very happy with it.

Jose Gil , August 20, 2005; 01:53 A.M.

I've been using this tripod for about a year and am pretty happy with it.

With a tripod collar ring, it can support my 300D with the 70-200 4L pretty well. Without the collar ring, it droops quite a bit.

Wilson Tsoi , September 03, 2005; 03:23 P.M.

Similar to above, I tracked 343E's development on Pop Photo and eventually got one from first batch in Asia (green color, made in Japan) back in 2003 for $60 (US price was around $90 then) to replace my broken Slik Snapman Deluxe (broken leg trekking in East Malaysia.) I've taken it everywhere from Bangkok to Frankfurt, Chicago to Hilo. Highly recommended as a light travelling tripod as it fits nicely in hand-carry and sturdy enough to achieve sharp images (with proper technique) and I had even pushed it into a lightstand role in several occasions.

Jean-Philippe Allard , September 09, 2005; 12:17 A.M.

I don't know about the US, but in Canada, every Velbon/Optex (same company really) come with a 5-year warranty.

Andres Soler , September 10, 2005; 02:38 A.M.

I bought this tripod in Bangkok in December 2003. At the time I carried an Olympus OM-1N, a 50 f1.8 and a 24 f2.8. It worked great, the whole set-up being quite light. In 2004 I got a Canon Elan 7 and a 50 f1.4 and took them with the 343E to Egypt, again, worked great.

I don't use the center column fully extended, and with the 50 mm I could get good photos of a swirling dervish in a dimmly lit hall.

My only complain with the design is that you need to slightly extend the center column when fliping the camera to take vertical shots, otherwise it hits the tripod. This is a nuissance but it can be overcome.

I haven't experienced any wear in the levers or other mal-functions, other than slight chipping of the green paint.

Jim Lemire , September 22, 2005; 04:11 P.M.

How low can this tripod go?

Bob Atkins , October 26, 2005; 11:47 P.M.

The legs don't go flat, so minimum height is maybe 16" or so?

Wilson Tsoi , October 29, 2005; 12:08 P.M.

With a compact camera, you can do psuedo-ground pod by collapsing the 343E, lay it sideway on the ground, and manuever the head/camera to desired position. Trip shutter with self-timer and hold the tripod still.

Rob Murray , January 09, 2006; 08:32 A.M.

I have seen two of these in the photo stores that were broken one leg lock did not work and one leg had pulled out of the upper portion..I also found several reports of these failing in the field. I was going to buy one after seeing them broken (quite unfixable in the field)I kept my larger Bogen 719B tripod for my digital camera.

Wilson Tsoi , October 03, 2006; 03:25 A.M.

Still using mine as of today which had practically made few round the world trips. Another one is used solely in the office. Both are working fine, rain or shine. No problem with lock levers, no problem with sliding legs, no problem with heads, no problem, period. The two I use were the original green version, bought in Bangkok, made in Japan.

John Svoboda , February 14, 2007; 10:45 P.M.

Also had a leg failure after only a few uses. Velbon said that you cannot allow gravity to open the legs- the momentum of the leg weight alone will break the plastic internals. Small and light is about convenience, but if you can't do all the flip levers at once and then invert, that is just not fast & convenient. Too fragile- would not buy again.

Wilson Tsoi , April 23, 2007; 07:24 P.M.

Still using both of them on regular basis. One is used almost everyday in the office shooting products. Another doubles as lightstand quite often. We open and close them all the time by flipping the levers together and letting gravity do the its job. I have a feeling that the later production batch might not be as robust as the earlier ones.

Ghatothkach Yadav , January 20, 2010; 08:30 P.M.

hi

So its 2010, what is the best replacement for this tripod ?

Ghat


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