I normally don't buy inexpensive optics, but after reading some very favorable reviews on other sites, I took a chance on the Celestron Ultima 80 rather than spending the big $$$ that many name brand spotting scopes cost.
When it first arrived, all I could think was, "this thing is huge!" Of course, this shouldn't have been any surprise, since the dimensions are on the web. The construction is reasonably solid, with an aluminum tube, and it weighs 3.5 pounds. It actually "feels" a bit more solid than some of the others that I have looked at such as Nikon's Sky & Earth series. The focus and magnification controls are also pretty smooth and precise
I also bought a "cheapo" tripod [Velbon DF-10ML] from the same source, and that was when the disappointment set in. The setup was super wobbly, and the eyepiece positioning was anything but ergonomic for the intended bench or prone use. I had gotten the angle body, even though I have never used that type before, and it was several inches too tall.
Rather than just throwing in the towel, and returning it all to the supplier, I decided to quest a better tripod. It needed to be really short, and equally solid. My wife suggested that I just build one if I couldn't find what I was looking for....more on that later.
Oh well, off to the camera store(s) to see what was available locally as I had about enough web experimenting at this point. The second place I went to had a huge selection of stuff in a variety of price ranges, and it was all modular.....pick a head, pick an adapter, pick a tripod/monopod/window mount/etc. The saleman walked up and I explained what I was trying to put together; he immediately recommended a video head rather than a photo head, and within minutes I had my hands on one that looked like it would work perfectly.
Then the brain started working on what I would need to weld up to bolt the head to, and the image of an old Hoppes shooting rest base flashed instead. I paid the shop the $105 for the head knowing that I now had what was needed.
Five minutes worth of making a spacer to center the 3/8"- 16 UNC bolt for the head in the larger hole of the base, and things were really looking good! It was solid as hell, had superb smoothness on the pan & tilt, and was short enough that the eyepiece was now at a perfect elevation for both bench and prone. In addition to the "standard" QD mounting plate, it even has a return to level feature, and a forward-and-back slide to adjust the balance for same. The independent leveling screws on each of the three base legs compliment the bullseye level on the head as it is intended.
The range I went to only has 100 yards, and at that distance .223 holes look like silver dollars [slight exaggeration] on 60x; the 7mm holes were even more distinguishable. Focus was clear and crisp, and through 40 rounds with the bolt gun and 120 with the carbine, the pan and tilt held true with it sitting on the bench next to the weapons while firing.
Thinking that this wasn't a particularly robust test, I printed up an "eye chart" using randon characters and different size fonts for some experimentation back at home. My friend could accurately read 10-point font at 100 yards.
We'll have to see how it holds up over time, and how it performs at longer ranges, but it sure looks encouraging thusfar. I will not be performing a VDT [Volder drop Test] on the item however. Overall this seems like pretty good value. The cheapo tripod will be kept for the digicam vs. returning for $20 credit [purchase price less shipping].
How much was the scope?
$179 + shipping from B&H photo, although it looks like they can be gotten for slightly less.