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Help me find the right alt/az mount!

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#1 hammerhead

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Posted 22 May 2009 - 08:09 AM

I feel like Goldilocks in trying to find an alt/az mount that works to my liking. I'll list the ones I've tried and list the reasons I got rid of them and moved on to another. Perhaps I'm just being too picky? I have no problem accepting the limitations of various scopes and designs... but I just find it hard to believe that I can't find an alt/az mount that does what I want it to do.

1. William Optics EZ touch: I thought it was expensive for what I got. Movements were pretty smooth. I didn't like the lack of slo motion controls though. And I thought the tripod was exceptionally heavy/bulky for something that I wanted to have grab and go status. I also didn't like having to rebalance the tube when changing from something like a Tak LE to a Pentax XW.

2. Televue Gibraltar: Nice mount, but again on the heavy side for grab and go. I ended up selling the tripod and getting a Telepod tripod for the Gibraltar mount. This solved the weight issues nicely for me. However, the thing I always disliked most about this mount was how sensitive it was to balance. Every EP change required tube adjustments. If I removed an EP while observing I had to take care or the objective end of my scope would come crashing down into the mount. And losing my target was a given with every single EP change. That was a total deal breaker for me.

3. Astro-Tech Voyager: This is what I currently have. I found the motions to be unacceptably sticky thus far. Stiction to be precise. It seems the clutches hang on a little too tight when trying to move the scope.... particularly in azimuth and even with the slo-mo controls. I find it very difficult to center a target at med/high powers. In fact I can't even get a target in a RDF without using the slo-mo controls. Some have told me that the mount will break in with time. However, I don't think I can stand using this thing long enough to break it in. Other than that, I really like this mount. It seems stable enough and is reasonably light weight. Although not grab and go with a 102 attached. Not sure much will be though. The only other gripe I have with the AT voyager is how short the tripod is. With legs fully extended I was sitting on the surface of my deck last night while observing M3 in a 102mm refractor. Not so cool.

4. Vixen Portamount: I've gone back to this one in the past and may end up with a third one. It's the mount I've found the least wrong with. Generally though, I find the fit/finish sub par to other offerings and is somewhat shaky with a scope larger than 80 or 90 mm.

So what do you think? Do I need to just pick one and settle? Lay it on me.... I can take it! :foreheadslap: Or maybe one of you has had similar problems with these mounts and found one that's "just right"?

#2 Bowmoreman

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Posted 22 May 2009 - 09:29 AM

Brian... I added a "Manny Mod" to the Vixen Porta that I bought from you about a year and a half ago... and I like that a lot...

I agree that the fit and finish is sub-par on the Vixen, btw...

Clear enough skies

#3 Doug D.

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Posted 22 May 2009 - 09:44 AM

I feel your pain Brian, I went through a similar succession of mounts (e.g., owned #1 and 2 of #2 from your list!), plus a Helix Hercules before those and then several others. With each successive purchase I thought the mount was expensive only to later not be completely satisfied and so to sell off - at a loss of course - and buy yet another mount and repeat the cycle. In the end, I spent a lot more money dabbling than if I just went ahead and bought a top mount to begin with. And the same basic story line applies to tripods.

The finest Alt/Az mounts I have owned have been the Discmounts DM-6, the Lapides Mod Takahashi Teegul and the Half Hitch II. I would also add the DM-4 to the list but I haven't used it personally. My favorite tripods have been a Berlebach (UNI-24), Gitzo 5530S (for ultra light weight high capacity), the Discmount tripods, and the AP/Baader wood tripod.

My remaining (only) Alt/Az now is the Half-Hitch II used on the Gitzo 5530s. For my 3 and 4" scopes it offers an ideal mix of portability, smoothness, rigidity, quality, slo-mo controls, ability to reach zenith, and accurate DSCs. The only downsides IMO are price (although I think warranted) and being a little less forgiving of changes in balance (i.e., eyepieces of substantially different weight). But I consider the latter quite manageable; and any trade-off in this regard is minimal given the performance of the HH II vs. "friction based" mounts that may be more tolerant of big, sudden differences in EP weight. So for me Goldilocks, the HH II is thus far, "just right". Yeah, its expensive but not so bad when you are able to bankroll it by liquidating your collection of other Alt/Az mounts - and it was quite a collection, sadly. Hopefully, I'm satisfied for now (but tempted by the HH III..... just not that tempted, LOL).

Finally, I've also come to the conclusion that an Alt/Az should first and foremost be a grab and go mount for scopes no larger than a typical 4" apo. For larger scopes, I simply think the best "Alt/Az" is actually a GEM - if I have to drag out a heavy mount like a DM-6 and a heavy tripod for my heavy scope, I might as well go the extra mile and set up a GEM. YMMV of course.

#4 Herenomore

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Posted 22 May 2009 - 10:44 AM

Brian:

I have a DiscMounts DM-4. It is relatively light (~16 lbs with the DiscMounts wood tripod), extraordinarily smooth and stable, perfectly orthoganol, devoid of balance/re-balance issues (I've gone from a Nagler 5T6 to 31T5 and back again without re-balancing), and will easily give you headroom up to 20 lbs on the mount. Tom Trusock's review is here:

http://www.cloudynig...hp?item_id=1280

Here's a pic of my set-up:

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#5 Nick-Sydney

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Posted 22 May 2009 - 01:37 PM

I'm currently in a similar situation, although I haven't tried as many alt/az mounts as you and others. I'm using a Voyager - although not that often by all accounts... It seems to get mostly good reviews, and I sort of understand why (it is pretty reasonable for the price) but it does fall short of what I want. Backlash seems to be the biggest issue for me - as with the other alt/az mounts I've tried - and it could be smoother. The slo-mo can be a bit fiddly at times as well.

I'm currently leaning towards a Giro 3, although I haven't ruled out the WO EZTouch simply because it's quite a bit cheaper for me to buy here in Australia (Giro aren't sold here locally). I would give the Giro a look if I were you. It doesn't have slo-mo, but neither do most of the "premium" mounts like HH and DM.

#6 Phil Frederick

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Posted 22 May 2009 - 03:46 PM

Hey Brian,

I've used all the mounts you noted in your post but found issues (at least for me) with each one.

My choice for years has been the Tak Teegul-Lapides. Very smooth and great slo-mo controls. You might want to check it out.

BTW, anything look familiar in tha attached pic??? :lol: Love the TV85! :D

Phil

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#7 mypontiac

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Posted 22 May 2009 - 03:56 PM

Hey Phil,

I passed up on a nice deal for a Half Hitch to go with the Teegal.

Will be giving it a shot with my NP 101. ;)

Sean

#8 mtlott

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Posted 22 May 2009 - 05:12 PM

I really like my Voyager. I added a "Manny Miles" panhandle which gives me very smooth motion without using the sol-mo controls. I also added the 8" AT pier extension which makes the height MUCH better!

Marie

#9 hammerhead

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Posted 22 May 2009 - 08:20 PM

I appreciate the suggestions from everyone. I've got some research to do! So far I really like the looks of the Teegul and the DM-4 in particular.

Phil, the 85 looks great! Glad it has found a happy home. :grin:

#10 CESDewar

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Posted 22 May 2009 - 09:56 PM

I've got some research to do! So far I really like the looks of the Teegul and the DM-4 in particular.


I have a Teegul and the DM-6. The Teegul is a beautiful mount - I have no complaints about it and regularly use a fully loaded C-8 ( pushing 21 lbs ) on it with no stability issues.

Between the DM-4 and Teegul, the $64k question is do you like/need slow motion controls? For me, it's a big deal - I really like slow motion controls when tracking at high magnifications. Yes, you will often here comments about a mount being "so smooth it doesn't need slow motion controls" and the DiscMounts are probably the best examples, but I still prefer slow motion controls because at high magnification, even without backlash, with a relatively short refractor, it's not as easy to perfectly position a planet at the outer edge of the sweet spot on a high-power EP as it is with slow motion controls.

#11 Starlighter

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Posted 22 May 2009 - 10:17 PM

I feel like Goldilocks in trying to find an alt/az mount that works to my liking. I'll list the ones I've tried and list the reasons I got rid of them and moved on to another. Perhaps I'm just being too picky? I have no problem accepting the limitations of various scopes and designs... but I just find it hard to believe that I can't find an alt/az mount that does what I want it to do.

1. William Optics EZ touch: I thought it was expensive for what I got. Movements were pretty smooth. I didn't like the lack of slo motion controls though. And I thought the tripod was exceptionally heavy/bulky for something that I wanted to have grab and go status. I also didn't like having to rebalance the tube when changing from something like a Tak LE to a Pentax XW.

2. Televue Gibraltar: Nice mount, but again on the heavy side for grab and go. I ended up selling the tripod and getting a Telepod tripod for the Gibraltar mount. This solved the weight issues nicely for me. However, the thing I always disliked most about this mount was how sensitive it was to balance. Every EP change required tube adjustments. If I removed an EP while observing I had to take care or the objective end of my scope would come crashing down into the mount. And losing my target was a given with every single EP change. That was a total deal breaker for me.

3. Astro-Tech Voyager: This is what I currently have. I found the motions to be unacceptably sticky thus far. Stiction to be precise. It seems the clutches hang on a little too tight when trying to move the scope.... particularly in azimuth and even with the slo-mo controls. I find it very difficult to center a target at med/high powers. In fact I can't even get a target in a RDF without using the slo-mo controls. Some have told me that the mount will break in with time. However, I don't think I can stand using this thing long enough to break it in. Other than that, I really like this mount. It seems stable enough and is reasonably light weight. Although not grab and go with a 102 attached. Not sure much will be though. The only other gripe I have with the AT voyager is how short the tripod is. With legs fully extended I was sitting on the surface of my deck last night while observing M3 in a 102mm refractor. Not so cool.

4. Vixen Portamount: I've gone back to this one in the past and may end up with a third one. It's the mount I've found the least wrong with. Generally though, I find the fit/finish sub par to other offerings and is somewhat shaky with a scope larger than 80 or 90 mm.

So what do you think? Do I need to just pick one and settle? Lay it on me.... I can take it! :foreheadslap: Or maybe one of you has had similar problems with these mounts and found one that's "just right"?


I like the Portamount. If you replace the flimsy aluminum legs with wooden ones, it will really firm up the mount

I also have the Orion Skyview AZ mount. My second one. The first one had a lack of proper tension problem. This one has no issues. It's a solid mount, extremely well constructed. And it's not that heavy or bulky yet it's incredibly stable even with my largest refractor mounted on it. But it lacks slow motion controls and does require rebalancing each time I go from say a very heavy eyepiece to a light one.

Truth is, just like Goldilocks, you'll have a problem finding the one with just the right operating temperature.

#12 Herenomore

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Posted 22 May 2009 - 11:01 PM

[I]t's not as easy to perfectly position a planet at the outer edge of the sweet spot on a high-power EP as it is with slow motion controls.


Yes, it is. It just takes a little practice with the mount and is IMO a better solution than always having to deal with 3 controls (2 slo-mo knobs and a focuser knob) with only two hands at your disposal. With the DM-4, I can track and observe an object while focusing/re-focusing on it, all at the same time. No momentary glances away from the ep to locate an alt slo-mo knob or an az slo-mo knob or to move a hand from either one of them to the focuser knob and back again. I have my eye on the ep, left hand on the heel of the diagonal to move the scope, and right hand on the focuser. Everything (eye, right hand, left hand) is within a couple of inches of each other. It is really very natural and a DiscMounts, unlike other mounts, is designed to allow the user to do this.

Tom

#13 Phil Frederick

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 12:46 AM

Hi Tom,

From everything I've heard about the D4 it's a great mount. Never had the pleasure of using one.

What I can say about the Teegul is that its nudging capabilities are also very nice and that it does not require using the slo-mo controls to track. A bump one way or the other on the scope's diagonal will keep you on target, while maintaining focus with the same hand is very easy. To maintain a more precise target only requires keeping your other hand on the two control knobs and very gently manipulating the two between your thumb and forefinger. Virtually no vibration is generated and you stay right on target.

A lot depends on what you're mounting on them. I've found that mounting a long tube refractor (100ED or 120ED) tends to increase the damping time, but not unacceptably. An Intes 500 or 603 or an Orion 110ED is very acceptable and solid on this mount. The current 102EDs along with the 70 and 80mm scopes are like a rock on this mount.

Of course MUCH depends upon the tripod as with any mount.

This of course is just my experience although I've used and loved Teeguls for years.

#14 Starlighter

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 02:18 AM

I wish I could see one in person and operate it. No Tak dealer ever has one on display, at least in my neck of the woods. Knowing Takahashi quality, it must be a terrific mount.

Phil, those great looking long handles for slow motion must be from Focusknobs.com.

#15 drshr

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 02:41 AM

I used to think that slow Motion controls were necessary and pooh pooed all those who said they could track at high powers simply by nudging. Well I was wrong, and now much prefer the free flowing type of AltAz mount. Having said that, the slowmo types do have the advantage when swapping EP's.

#16 Herenomore

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 03:44 AM

Hi Tom,

From everything I've heard about the D4 it's a great mount. Never had the pleasure of using one.

What I can say about the Teegul is that its nudging capabilities are also very nice and that it does not require using the slo-mo controls to track. A bump one way or the other on the scope's diagonal will keep you on target, while maintaining focus with the same hand is very easy. To maintain a more precise target only requires keeping your other hand on the two control knobs and very gently manipulating the two between your thumb and forefinger. Virtually no vibration is generated and you stay right on target.

A lot depends on what you're mounting on them. I've found that mounting a long tube refractor (100ED or 120ED) tends to increase the damping time, but not unacceptably. An Intes 500 or 603 or an Orion 110ED is very acceptable and solid on this mount. The current 102EDs along with the 70 and 80mm scopes are like a rock on this mount.

Of course MUCH depends upon the tripod as with any mount.

This of course is just my experience although I've used and loved Teeguls for years.

Hi Phil,

I have spoken at length with Tom Peters about the DiscMounts design. Interestingly, he conceived the DM originally as a mount for just himself. Tom's been an amateur astronomer for 40+ years and he wanted a good, stable alt az but didn't like, for various reasons, what was available at the time (Teegul, Gibralter, the cheaper giro-type mounts, etc.). After some tinkering, he came up with the friction plate design. I've seen the first DM prototype head in his shop. It weighs a ton and, I swear to God, you could mount a telephone pole on it.

The design eventually got smaller, incorporated a DSC computer/encoders, and became pretty much what we see today. But it was still his mount...until he started to take it to star parties, get-togethers, etc., and others got a chance to use it. They all wanted one and eventually convinced him to start making and selling them as a business. He eventually obtained a patent for the design and the rest, as they say, is history.

As for slo-mo controls, he early on thought about incorporating them into the design because, like in other mounts at the time, slo-mo controls were standard fare for overcoming backlash, object "giggle", etc. But he ultimately left them out because he and those who were using the mount realized that its movements were so smooth, direct, and backlash-free, and the mount was so stable and giggle-free at high powers, these controls were unnecessary.

When he and I talk, the subject of slo-mo controls sometimes comes up and his comment is, in sum and substance, that while other mounts may need them, his doesn't. After 4 years with my DM-4, I agree.

Tom

#17 Doug D.

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 08:16 AM

I look at it this way - if you want the best Alt/Az out there without slo mo controls then get a Discmount. If you want simply the best Alt/Az mount, then you really should be looking at several mounts.

I don't think any of us can fairly make a determination for anyone else that they "need or don't need" slo-mo controls. At the end of the day, I had to see for myself by using each mount with the scope(s) I own. For me, both the Teegul and the Half-Hitch were preferable to the DM but it was by no means a night or day difference. They possess a lot of the nudge-nudge smoothness of the fine Discmount but they also have slo-mo. Solar system observing at high mag, for me, is a more enjoyable experience with slo-mo.

And the Teegul to HH comparison - well, if you can forget about cost (but I'm not advocating anyone should), I come down on the side of the HH. When balanced properly I think it "nudges" right up there with the DM and has the best slo-mo controls. In reality, I think the nudging works so well on the HH that you could also say a HH doesn't need them. But the slo-mo controls on this mount are so smooth and backlash "free" (free as in - none, nada, zippo) as to be an absolute joy (dash of hyperbole here) to use at any practical mag. While these are my honest impressions based on using/owning all 3 mounts, as always - YMMV. What I can say is that you simply aren't going to go "wrong" with any of them from a performance standard although each has its "quirks". They are arguably in another league from those mentioned in the OP, IMHO.

I sometimes think my pursuit of the "best" Alt/Az mount is going to consume a lifetime - and/or break my bank account, LOL.

#18 Scott99

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 11:59 AM

>>>As for slo-mo controls, he early on thought about incorporating them into the design because, like in other mounts at the time, slo-mo controls were standard fare for overcoming backlash, object "giggle", etc. But he ultimately left them out because he and those who were using the mount realized that its movements were so smooth, direct, and backlash-free, and the mount was so stable and giggle-free at high powers, these controls were unnecessary.

When he and I talk, the subject of slo-mo controls sometimes comes up and his comment is, in sum and substance, that while other mounts may need them, his doesn't. After 4 years with my DM-4, I agree.

Tom


Tom, interesting post. I'm a long time user of the Teegul but I've always been intrigued by the Discmounts. I think I'd be fine w/o the slo-mo controls for everything but planetary. With the Teegul I often just push the tube by hand to center objects.

But with planets I'm usually sitting there staring for a while and I like using the slo-motions for this. Also if you're using a short stubby tube it's harder to move the tube around by hand.

I would like to see a DM4 and will eventually try one though. I like his extensions that raise the scope up off the tripod, I use long tubes and this would be perfect.

-Scott

#19 Denimsky

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 12:48 PM

I love my Half Hitch mount.

The mount is very light weight but sturdy for my TMB-105 and TSA-102. The mount is so smooth that I often use it for the planetary at 240X. The installed encoder is very accurate (objects always in the FOV using 240X).

I encourage you to visit the Half Hitch homepage to read all the features of the mount. There are so many little things that Charles implemented to make us enjoy the mount more.

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#20 hammerhead

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 02:12 PM

So I've been doing a little research last night and today since starting this thread. Right now, despite the lack of slo-mo controls, the DM-4 is really jumping out at me. I just can't get past it's clean simple lines even with DSC installed.

I do wish I could try two or three of these mounts out first. Don't we all, I guess. All three top choices (the TG, the DM, and the HH) have some great features and rave reviews to go along with them.

I think what I will probably end up doing is continuing along the way I currently am. I'll try to pick up a Teegul on the used market first seeing as it's the more moderately priced of the three. If it doesn't do the trick for me then I'll continue to watch for a DM-4 and hopefully not lose much more than shipping costs on the TG. And if I miss the slo-mo in using a DM-4 then perhaps I'll give the Half-Hitch a ride.

As someone else said.... I'm starting to think that the quest for the perfect alt/az mount may become a life long endeavor! Oh well... could be worse problems to have. :)

#21 Ron B

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 08:32 PM

...My favorite tripods have been a Berlebach (UNI-24), Gitzo 5530S (for ultra light weight high capacity), the Discmount tripods, and the AP/Baader wood tripod.

My remaining (only) Alt/Az now is the Half-Hitch II used on the Gitzo 5530s. For my 3 and 4" scopes it offers an ideal mix of portability, smoothness, rigidity, quality, slo-mo controls, ability to reach zenith, and accurate DSCs.


Doug,
How does the Gitzo 5530s compare to the UNI 24 for high power planetary viewing with regard to stability and dampening times with the Half Hitch?

Ron

#22 Doug D.

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 09:52 PM

Ron,

As good as the Gitzo 5-series is, I think the mass of a high quality wooden tripod with its additional bracing is always going to be hard to beat. The Gitzo also has 3 (or 4) leg sections and each of those joints is a place where more flexure (slight though it is on the Gitzo) works its way into the equation. Real world answer is that the Berlebach has better damping times than the Gitzo, but not by much. The test I used for comparison is to rap firmly on a leg while viewing at high mag (using same mount and scope of course) and count the seconds - but this is not terribly precise as you can imagine. But the bigger, heavier tripod is better.

But on the other hand.......... does a 20-30% faster damping time matter that much? I think not when the goal is to get set-up fast, travel and/or grab-and-go and get out the door.

One thing that also helps improve things even more with the Gitzo is to hang a weight (e.g., backpack) from the center hook. I don't want to leave you with the impression that the Gitzo isn't really great because in point of fact, pound for pound it can't be beat. But it can't defy laws of physics either; mass matters.....

But your arms will thank you for it if you go with the Gitzo. Also, I know there are times I would not have gone outside to view if I had to deal with the Uni-24. I never hestitate with the Gitzo. If you are also into serious photography the Gitzo can do double duty, of course.

Doug

#23 CESDewar

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 10:09 PM

It's not as easy to perfectly position a planet at the outer edge of the sweet spot on a high-power EP as it is with slow motion controls.


Yes, it is. It just takes a little practice with the mount


Well I should have stated: "It's not as easy for me to perfectly position.... - this is not a practice issue as I've had my DM-6 for a couple of years and I don't think I need any more practice on it ;) - it's a matter of personal preference. You can't have your cake and eat it with a mount like the DM-6 - you can adjust the friction so it's buttery smooth, but then you run into issues when swapping EP's (which I do rather frequently), so I need to crank up the friction enough so I'm not constantly taking out the wrench to adjust it (I would find the DM6- a lot more useful if there was just a knob on the outside to adjust the tension). The advantage of a mount with slow-motion controls for me is that I can have the friction high enough so I can swap even a 31Nagler with a small Ortho without having any re-balance issues, while still having micro-smooth adjustments via the slow motion controls.

With the DM-6 tensioned to allow the same EP swap, I find when viewing at 250x+ that it is not easy at all to get an item perfectly positioned and I've had several other observers try as well with no more success - YMMV - but this is definitely something that each person should determine for themselves as you will find much disagreement on this issue. And only those people who have spent considerable time using both type of mounts are in a position to really judge the relative convenience of each style of mount.

#24 Ron B

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Posted 24 May 2009 - 11:17 AM

Great thread guys!

Doug,
Thanks for your impressions with the Gitzo and UNI 24; I ordered the Half Hitch Mark III and I am really struggling with what tripod(s) to mate it with for my SV90T and AT 111.

It will be for visual use only; mostly high power lunar and planetary use in my light polluted skies. I spoke with Charles regarding the tripod and his opinion was that I would probably want to go with two different tripods; one for grab and go and one for high power use with the AT 111.

I was plannning on using a Oberwerk for grab and go quick views out the door and a Berebach UNI when seeing was good and for travel to dark sky sites. I waited too long on your UNI 24 package; I was leaning toward a UNI 14 due to it's shorter travel length was a better fit in my trunk. by the time I decided that it was too good of a deal to pass up it sold.
:foreheadslap:
With your impressions of the Gitzo I am thinking the Gitzo might be the best option.

A couple more questions for you; how was the UNI 24 at zenith; the large mounting plate has me concerned with this. Also, with the AT111 and the Half Hitch mounted the load would approach 25 pounds; would this be pushing the Gitzo as I am already a little concerned that I am pushing the Half Hitch to it's limit.

Ron

#25 Quintessence

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Posted 24 May 2009 - 12:26 PM

Ron,

Your AT111 is not going to pose any problem for your Mark III Half Hitch. I recently tried an older 6-inch f/6 Intes Mak-Newt on my Mark II Half Hitch. This scope is long and heavy (total load over 22 pounds) with lots of weight out towards the ends of the tube. The Half Hitch handled this load very gracefully.

The tripod, however, can be challenged by these high moment-of-inertia loads. So you are wise to carefully consider the choice of tripod. This is why I suggested that you might actually end up with two tripods -- one to handle the high moment of a big scope at high powers, and another for your fine, compact SV90T for a great grab 'n go setup. The Half Hitch has matured into a mount that handles both grab 'n go applications and portable rigs somewhat beyond the grab 'n go category. However, it's hard to find a single tripod that covers both situations well.

Charles






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