I am still tying on the Thompson Model A I bought 30 years ago. I think I paid about 20 bucks for it. It's a pretty basic vise, but it still works as well as it did when I bought it. Then again, I don't tie dozens of flies a week.
I've tied flies since 1970, but I, too, don't tie very many flies, perhaps 10 or 12 dozen a year. My old Thompson A worked well enough for a lot of years. So when it finally gave up the ghost a while back and my 35 year old Thompson C wouldn't handle the smaller flies very well, I looked around for a good quality, reasonably priced replacement. After a month of research I settled on the Peak Rotary Vise for a little less than 140 bucks. This U.S. made vise is solid, uncomplicated, and holds hooks firmly. It does everything I want it to do, and, to my surprise, the rotary feature has improved the appearance of my flies. I highly recommend it.
I'd go with the traveler cam vise. It seems pretty good, though I still use my Thompsom model A a lot. The Dyna vise fell apart after a year or so and I had to trash it. I spent a lot of time trying to get used to the Nor vise, and although it is great for some folks I could never see the benefit in it.
My most recently purchased vise is the Griffin Montana Mongoose with both pedastel, C-clamp and cam lockup. This is a tough sonofagun that holds hooks from 22 to 6/0. I've used Griffin vises for years. Carol and I both have Griffin Odssey models as well. She still uses hers full time. I have assigned mine to our travel tying kit.
Generally most vises that we have today are pretty darned good; certainly a quantum leap from the old Thompson or Herter's models from the 50s and 60s. Check to see which one really locks a hook in tightly; suits your tying style, and is easiest for you to work around when applying materials to a hook. That will be the one that you want.
Having a regular product review column in F&TJ has allowed me to try out quite a few vises over the years. From a $500.00 Abel to a (then) $99.00 Dyna-King Kingfisher, they have all been well-made and usually function just fine. I started out on a Herter's knock-off of a Thompson 'A' vise (given to me by a friend who was upgrading to the Thompson model) and, over the years, have tied happily on a wide variety of different vises. I have fond memories of some of them; my Regal and, of course, my Norvise, were particular favorites.
At the present time, I do much of my tying on a Griffin Montana Mongoose, but I am sometimes surprised at how often I find myself going back to my little Dyna-King Kingfisher. I originally decided to keep this tool for a take-along vise on those multi-day trips when you just might need to restock a particular pattern, or to come up with something that more closely resembles whatever happens to be on the trout's menu. But I find that I often use it, even at home, just because it's handy and does what a fly-tying vise should do; hold the hook securely!
Decide what you really need and base your selection on that; remember that even the most expensive vise won't make you a better tier. Do you need (for instance) a full-rotary vise? There was a time when I thought I did. But when I bought one I found that the only time I used that feature was when I wanted to turn the fly over to check the uniformity of the spacing of the rib or the alignment of the wing, something easily done with most non-rotary vises. Maybe I'm just a bit of a Luddite, but simplicity has a great appeal for me.
The only vise that I can think of that really offers the ability to do things that other vises cannot do is, of course, the Norvise. Norm Norlander can do things with that vise that are truly amazing and when I was using it preparatory to writing a review, I was able to develop some of the necessary skills. But, if I were to go back to it now, I'd have to start from scratch.
The advice I liked the best came from Preston--that a vise with good hook-holding power is the way to go. That makes a lot of sense. Perhaps a vise that utilizes a cam or lever lock device for the jaws would be the way to go. You can get good leverage with that feature. The ones that have a finger screw that tightens the jaws aren't that great, because sometimes they are difficult to loosen. Additionally, if you don't have good finger strength, don't figure on being able to get the vise jaw real tight in the first place.
However, I can't fully agree with his take on the full-rotary feature. Now, I'm no Harry Lemire, so I find myself really liking the fact that my vise (EZ-Vise or some dumb name like that...) does have the elbow arm and is full rotary. Those two features really do help with my tying. A vise that brings the shank of the hook as close as possible to the axis of rotation does the tyer a big favor. Having consistant pressure while palmering on fragile materials helps reduce breakage. This is a big deal when tying on something like peacock herl.
If you can find a vise with lever-lock jaws and elbow-arm and is full-rotary for under $100, you are looking at a very good value. And let me know, too! I might end up upgrading in the near future.
Because anyone that shells out a bunch of cash for a good vise that holds the hook well will be happy and defend that vise! There are a lot of good vise's out there. Maybe the best idea is to check your budget, look at what people aren't complaining about and roll the dice.
Maybe you don't think you need a full rotary vise, but if there's a good one in your range buy it. Start out using it like a non-rotary knowing someday you may need that feature.
If you haven't bought one yet, save a little extra and buy one a level or two above what you had planned it will be with you a long time.