As an ardent nature watcher, I spend a lot of time in hides, trying to get close views of birds and other animals. Even with the cover offered by a hide, close views at some of our larger nature reserves often requires the use of a telescope. I also enjoy photographing wildlife so often take my DSLR with telephoto lens with me.
Use of a telescope or a camera with a long lens in a hide is a problem, however. The camera or telescope must be kept completely still if good views or shots are to be obtained.
The best way to achieve this is with a hide mount. This is basically a camera/telescope mount with only one leg, and a clamp that attaches to the hide's shelf that's just below the window.
Opticron manufacture some good quality equipment, so when I saw their Universal II Hide Mount on warehouseexpress.com for £45, I thought it would be just the thing.
The construction is very simple consisting of a central rod, head with a standard ¼ inch thread for connection to camera or telescope, and a large clamp for clamping to the shelf. This has a rubber cover so that the metal clamp does not damage the wood of the shelf. The centre rod has a diameter of 18mm so is quite sturdy. The entire mount is finished in black.
The mount is described as 'lightweight and rigid'. Within minutes of using it, I found that this description was optimistic at best. The 'lightweight' part is correct; weighing just under 2 pounds, the mount is easy to carry even for long distances. I would not, however, describe it as 'rigid'.
The large clamp attaches securely to the hide shelf. Once properly attached, it cannot fall off and gives the centre rod a securely balanced platform.
Thus far, things looked promising, but the Universal II is completely let down by the (lack of) quality of the head. There are so many problems with it, that it ruins what could have been an excellent piece of kit.
Attaching the camera is difficult since the screw to tighten the camera to mount is inside the head and fiddly to get to. Placing a small telescope or a properly balanced camera/lens onto the head should give a stable platform for viewing or photographing, but it doesn't.
Looking through the eyepiece of the telescope shows that the head vibrates with any movement. Using the Universal II, camera shake will be evident in many photographs, unless no one else was in the hide and there was no wind. Definitely not 'rigid'.
Moving the head is effected by the use of a small lever. This is very stiff and moves very jerkily, making it difficult to even get on to a subject to view. The best heads have an easy, silky smooth movement that is a pleasure to use; this is so far away from being smooth, it is actually unpleasant to use.
One other fault with the head is that it is not securely attached to the central rod. It simply sits on an oiled joint which means that it can easily fall out. I've had several embarrassing moments in packed, but quiet, hides as 1 pound of metal hits the (wooden!) deck due to my mount's head parting company with the central rod!
Reattaching the head is difficult since the movement mechanism needs lining up before attachment. Performing this operation usually results in getting covered with the nasty black oil that Opticron have used (in vain) to try to give a smooth movement to the head.
One final problem is that the rubber clamp cover fell off after a couple of weeks. I now have to be careful to not over tighten the clamp otherwise I can damage the hide's shelf.
As is obvious from my review, I'm less than impressed with this Opticron product. I do still use it occasionally, but it is never a pleasant experience. I'm currently looking for a better quality mount; it will be more expensive, but you get what you pay for.
If you're looking for a sturdy, reliable, hide mount, look elsewhere.