03 October 2021

Chameleon Antennas

I'm a Chameleon Antenna fanboy. There, I've said it. But if you follow this blog (and I know I'm up to at least eight loyal followers 😆) and study the pictures I post you could have deduced for yourself that  I've got a Chameleon Antenna products addiction.

Here's the latest, from some testing I was doing last week:

Chameleon Hybrid-Micro base, Mil-Whip antenna and extension,
and their new Universal Clamp Mount

I got hooked on Chameleon Antennas about 5 years ago as I was getting back into Amateur Radio. I needed an easy to set up long wire antenna I could temporarily hang from a painters pole off my back deck. I wanted something that was weatherproof and provided good multi-band coverage. After looking at all the available options from vendors like MFJ, Alpha Antennas and others, I decided to give the Chameleon EMCOMM II a try. I was not disappointed. That 'temporary' installation lasted about 18 months and got me contacts all over the US and into places like Spain and the Ukraine. 

Chameleon EMCOMM II

Eventually I decided to replace the EMCOMM II with what I felt was a more appropriate fixed station antenna - a MyAntennas end-fed long wire. That's also a good antenna and deserves its own discussion. 

When I took the EMCOMM II down it looked a little weather-beaten, but otherwise it was in perfectly good operating condition. I still use that antenna today, mainly as a quick deployment wire antenna for things like camping trips and Field Day. I think the EMCOMM II became something of a 'bread & butter' antenna for Chameleon. Although they've come out with an improved version (the EMCOMM III), it's still in their catalog and seems to sell well, based on the discussions I see on the internet. How good is the EMCOMM II? I'll just say this - if I had to go to a 'gnarly place' like an area devastated by a hurricane, to provide emergency communications, the EMCOMM II would be the first antenna that would get tossed into the equipment bag. If it was the only antenna I could take along, I wouldn't feel under-equipped.

Not long after I got the EMCOMM II up in the air, I got an itching for an HF vertical antenna. I was looking for something I could easily set up and take down, and could cover all bands between 10 - 80 meters. Once again, I looked to Chameleon, and one of their original Cha-Mil-whip and Mil-Extensions soon found their way into my equipment stack. Over time, this vertical antenna became my most used portable HF antenna. It's my go-to antenna for camping and day operations like POTA activations. At one time it spent over 6 months in a semi-permanent setup in my back yard, supported by a tripod and guy lines. When I took the antenna down it was just a little weather beaten, but the only maintenance it needed was a wipe down of the antenna joints with some NOALOX paste.

This Chameleon antenna stayed set up in my back yard for over 6 months.
When I took it down the components were a little weather-beaten, but
perfectly serviceable, and I still use them today

The Cha-Mil whip antenna and extension set up in my back yard.
Note the use of the 'Cap-Hat' (capacity hat), also by Chameleon, that
makes the antenna a little more broad-banded

A close-up of the guy system. A simple $1.00 round electrical box cover
plate from Lowe's drilled to slip over the Cha-Mil Extension.
I use a 1" stainless steel hose clamp clamped around the antenna element
to stop it from sliding down

I've used this vertical antenna in a number of setup scenarios - vehicle mounted, tripod mounted, ground mounted using a spike. I'll be the first to admit that its not as efficient as a good long wire antenna (like the EMCOMM II), it is fast, easy and convenient to set up, and in the right conditions very effective.

Excellent for field deployments - light, compact and effective

The Chameleon Hybrid-Micro antenna matching unit

In fact, the only real challenge with the Chameleon vertical antenna, or any portable vertical ham radio antenna, is mounting it somewhere. Chameleon and others make various clamp-on devices that allow you to mount the vertical at the top of a pole, but the antenna is offset from the pole by several inches. This results in an awkward, offset arrangement that's difficult to balance and support. Since ham radio has semi-officially adopted the common painters pole as a cheap and expedient vertical support, an ideal solution would be an adaptor that mates with the industry standard painters pole thread and provides a 3/8" x 24 'stud' socket that is in common use in ham radio. As seen in the photo above, Chameleon does make a ground spike that works quite well, but when you want to get that matching unit above ground level and there are no picnic tables or deck rails to clamp to, setup can be a bit challenging.

Chameleon jaw mount. It works well, but when clamped to a pole the
antenna is offset enough that it causes balance issues

Antenna offset using the jaw mount. It works, but it's awkward

After trying a number of vertical antenna support combinations, I've settled on a setup that uses a lightweight surveyor's tripod and 5/8 x 11 to 1/4 x 20 adapter, both available from Lowe's or Home Depot. This makes a cheap but very effective combo.

Inexpensive surveyor's tripod and a 5/8 x 11 to 1/4 x 20 adapter

The tripod setup is extremely versatile

What makes Chameleon's antennas so versatile is that different elements can be configured in multiple ways depending on the need. For example, the base matching unit you see in these photos - the black 'tube' at the base of the vertical antenna - is a 7:1 matching transformer that can also be used as a base for an end-fed long wire antenna. So, in my kit bag there's a 60' spool of wire in case I want to use it as a long wire antenna.

Chameleon Hybrid-Micro base used in the long wire antenna configuration.
This 7:1 matching unit can be used for both vertical and long wire antennas

Chameleon makes an almost bewildering array of field antennas - end feds, delta loops, dipoles, magnetic loops, and more. They also offer replacement parts and components so if something gets lost (likely) or breaks (less likely), you can be back up and running in no time. Their documentation is second to none. Everything they make - everything - has well written instructions and setup documentation that's downloadable from their website. In fact, Chameleon encourages interested buyers to read the product documentation first to determine if the antenna they are interested in is right for the application. 

But where Chameleon really shines is their customer service. I've emailed them almost a dozen times over they years with questions about antenna capabilities, setups and components, and they've always replied within two days, and always with thoughtful, well reasoned responses. They actually care about their customers.

Chameleon is also honest with their user community. They will tell you right up front that most of their antenna setups will require a tuner. Their antennas, as designed, are 'almost resonant' on a lot of bands, but you'll still need a tuner to tweak things and to protect your radio. No outlandish claims that their antennas are 'resonant everywhere'.  

Is Chameleon's gear any more effective or efficient than, say, the antenna equipment sold by Alpha Antennas, or even MFJ? To be perfectly honest, probably not. At the end of the day the electrons don't care who made the conductor they are traveling down. Where Chameleon excels is in component interoperability, quality of materials, quality of construction and customer service. Their stuff isn't cheap, but it works, works well, and it lasts. It's a true long term investment. For field or emergency use, there's nothing better.

Highly recommended.

W8BYH out

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