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Microstar vs Unistar Light vs Telepod: A Comparison
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(I have no undisclosed interest in Universal Astronomics or Televue or their products. All included pictures are my property.)
It seems that the popularity of alt-azimuth mounts has increased over the past few years. Many telescope owners have opted for ease of use and quick setup for their “grab and go” scopes giving them the ability to have quick peeks at the night sky when the opportunity arises. The aim of this review is to compare three popular alt-azimuth mounts. Each was mounted on a Bogen 3036 tripod for testing purposes. For most of the testing a Coronado PST and Stellarvue AT1010 were used. Each of the mounts was tested during the day as well as at night.
The Telepod has a cradle where a telescope is mounted. The width of the cradle is a bit over five inches. The altitude motion of the cradle can be adjusted by using two clutches with metal knobs on either side of the cradle. There is a pair of º-20 mounting holes in the cradle. The Telepod comes with a pair of threaded studs and plastic knobs for mounting purposes. The PST shown is bolted to the cradle using one of the threaded studs and plastic knobs. A ten inch foam covered handle is provided as well. It attaches to the bottom of the cradle. It can be mounted on either side of the cradle for right or left hand use. The Telepod has a built in brass azimuth bearing with a plastic tension knob. It has two threaded holes for mounting on tripods one is for 1/4-20 and the other is 3/8-16. This allows the head to be mounted on larger or smaller tripods. Eyepiece caddies can be mounted on either side of the cradle. One caddy can hold three 1.25 inch eyepieces. The other can hold two 1.25 inch eyepieces. If the 1.25 inch inserts are taken out it can hold a pair of two inch eyepieces. It weighs close to five pounds with the eyepiece caddies attached. The Telepod head retails for $260 with a handle. The eyepiece caddies go for $55.
Universal Astronomics Unistar Light
There are two variations of the Unistar Light. The Unistar Light Deluxe has a quick release dovetail plate (shown above) that a telescope or mounting bracket can attach to using the supplied allen head screws. The dovetail plate can be moved in the bracket to adjust balance. The plate also has a safety stop to prevent the plate from slipping out of the dovetail. The Unistar Light Basic has a slotted flat plate that a telescope or mounting bracket can attach to using supplied thumb screws. The slotted plate allows for balance adjustment. The Basic and Deluxe heads can be interchanged easily. Teflon altitude and azimuth bearings are used. Altitude and azimuth tension can be adjusted by large plastic knobs. A 3/8-16 mounting post is screwed onto the tripod stud and the Unistar slips on to it. A thumbscrew is used to lock the head in place on the post. This allows for quick release of the Unistar from the tripod when needed. An accessory handle is available. The length and tilt of the handle can be adjusted. The Basic model has two sets of mounting holes for the handle on either side of the slotted plate that can be used to position the handle for right or left handed use. An eyepiece tray is also available. It can hold up to three 1.25 inch eyepieces and if the plastic inserts are taken out if can hold up to three two in eyepieces. The Unistar weighs about two pounds and can hold up to ten pounds. It is about ten inches tall. The Basic model retails for $199. The Deluxe model goes for $279. Handles are not included. The handle is priced at $39 and the eyepiece tray is $25. The dovetail plate is $35.
Universal Astronomics Microstar
The Universal Astronomics Microstar is similar to the Unistar Light many respects. It can be purchased as a Basic model or a Deluxe model. The Deluxe and Basic heads can be interchanged. A handle and an eyepiece tray are also available for the Microstar. Teflon bearings are used in the Microstar as well. The azimuth bearing it has is smaller than the one in the Unistar. The altitude tension can be adjusted using a large plastic knob. The azimuth tension must be adjusted using a 7/16 inch open end wrench on the center bolt of the Microstar. A set of instructions is provided with the Uinstar and Microstar that addresses balance and tension adjustment. The Microstar weighs less than the Unistar and is shorter at seven inches. It can hold up to twelve pounds. It also uses the same mounting post as the Unistar. The price of the Microstar Basic is $149. The Deluxe model is priced at $199. The eyepiece tray for the Microstar are priced the same as the tray for the Unistar. The handle for each mount is the same and well as the dovetail plate for the Deluxe model. Clamshell mounting plates are available for the Basic model. The PST mounting plate shown goes for $30.
All three mounts do a good job of holding my AT1010 and PST. The dovetail plate of the Unistar or Microstar Deluxe made mounting effortless. The Telepod was the second easiest to mount my scopes on. Screwing the threaded studs provided into the scopes and then attaching them into the Telepod cradle was quite easy. Doing this in the dark was not as easy as using the Unistar/Microstar Deluxe though. Mounting scopes on the Unistar/Microstar Basic was a bit more difficult although not really a big deal. Using the thumb screws to mount the scopes to plate of the Basic model was a bit more time consuming and inconvenient especially at night. Since my AT1010 has a tube ring I needed a special mounting plate to attach it to the Basic mount. This Clamshell Adapter Plate costs $25.
The size of the Telepod cradle will limit the width of the telescope that can be mounted in it. A view of the cradle is shown below. This is not so with the Unistar/Microstar. I easily mounted my C8 on the Microstar. The slotted plate of the Basic and dovetail of the Deluxe made balancing scopes much easier with these mounts. Balancing a scope in the Telepod may require adjusting a scopes position in tube rings or clamshell. Televue sells a Pronto Balance Plate that is priced at $25. It can help shift the weight of a scope in the cradle.
Mounting my PST on the Telepod required no extra hardware. To mount a PST on the Unistar/Microstar a special PST mounting bracket is needed. The bracket costs $25. I noticed that with the Basic model the bracket does not fit quite right when the handle is placed on the bottom of the plate. The bracket overlaps the handle. If you want the handle on the bottom of the plate then if must be attached and positioned first and then the bracket should be attached. A work around is to flip the plate so that the handle mounts on the top as shown in a previous picture.
As stated previously the handle of the Unistar/Microstar can be positioned the way the user wishes. It also has a bend in it that gives what some may consider a more natural hand position. The Telepod handle is straight but has a thicker foam covering and is has a very comfortable feel. The original handle bracket on the dovetail jaw of the Unistar/Microstar Deluxe would not tighten down enough to hold the handle in place. Another one was sent to me for testing purposes. It is held in place by a pair of allen screws.
From time to time the position of the Unistar/Microstar would slip on the mounting post if I didn’t make sure it was attached securely to begin with. Even if I tightened the thumbscrew down, it would slip if I twisted the mount on the post. I had to take it off and reposition it to get a more secure placement on the post. Unfortunately I tightened the thumbscrew too much and chewed up to post a bit. After that I made sure I had a secure position on the post before I put the scope on the mount. I have a larger Unistar Basic that has a clamp that holds the mount to its post instead of a thumbscrew. The post gives the Unistar/Microstar quick release capability from any tripod as shown below. The Telepod does not have this capability unless the right tripod is used. Televue sells a tripod that gives the Telepod quick release capability.
The Telepod has more capacity for carrying eyepieces since it has two eyepiece caddies. However I did notice that the 1.25 inch plastic inserts for the Telepod would have a tendency to pop out in cold weather. If I used the insert to hold a 1.25 inch eyepiece and wanted to use it the insert would come out with the eyepiece. This did not happen with the Unistar/Microstar inserts. They fit better due to their eyepiece tray being a bit thinner and the groove in the inserts can attach to the tray better. The Telepod eyepiece caddies are thicker and the inserts do not fit as well. These inserts just don’t fit with the high build quality of the Telepod.
After observing with these mounts for a while I found that all had smooth altitude and azimuth motions. The azimuth motion for all three seemed to be very similar. The azimuth tension was easier to adjust on the Unistar and Telepod. It seemed to me that the azimuth tension knob on the Unistar allowed for a better feel for adjustment than the Telepod. Using a wrench to adjust the azimuth tension on the Microstar can be inconvenient but I found that once I adjusted it for a particular telescope I didn’t have to adjust it again.
I would have to give the Unistar/Microstar a slight edge in altitude motion though. They seemed to be a bit smoother than the Telepod. The altitude tension adjustment was seemed easier with the Unistar/Microstar mounts. Adjusting the large altitude knob on these seemed to give me a better feel for the right tension. The Telepod seem to have a bit more jerky motion and adjustments with the dual clutch knobs were a bit more tedious. I found myself having to readjust both clutches more often when changing eyepieces. All three can a bit jerky in their movement when trying to view at high magnification. These mounts are not really made for that type of viewing. A mount with slow motion controls would be more suited for that.
There are no locks for altitude and azimuth for these mounts. The instructions that come with the Unistar/Microstar warn of this. However, I found that the altitude and azimuth tension on the Unistar and Telepod could be tightened enough so that there was almost no movement. This came in handy when I was moving my scope around my yard dodging trees to get a better view of the sky at night. The scope would be less likely to swing around when I moved it. The Microstar azimuth adjustment wouldn’t allow for this so I had to be careful when moving my scope around since it would swing a bit on the tripod at times. When moving with it, I made sure I grabbed the tripod at the azimuth bearing to help prevent swinging.
When viewing an object overhead the handle and azimuth tension knob of the Telepod got in the way. With both in place I could not view directly overhead. The handle would hit the cradle and had to be removed. Then the scope would hit the azimuth knob. I eventually took apart the Telepod to move the azimuth knob to the opposite side of the mount. After I did that when I removed the handle I could view overhead. Since the Unistar is taller than the Microstar viewing overhead was no problem. However to view overhead with the Microstar a tripod with an elevated center post is needed. I had to crank up the center post of my Bogen tripod to use the Microstar when viewing overhead.
All three mounts are very sturdy, stable, and well built. The Telepod seemed to be slightly more stable with a little less vibration. It is the heaviest of all three and is attached directly to the tripod. Some have told me that they like the built quality of the Telepod more and that it is more robust. For me this is not really an issue.
The Unistar and Microstar are more portable than the Telepod. The Telepod is more bulky when traveling. The Microstar has the edge in portability due to its size. Some may ask why get a Unistar Light rather than a Microstar. The Unistar Light has a better azimuth adjustment system and it has better capability for viewing directly overhead since it is taller and doesn’t need a tripod with an elevated center post.
I would also like to mention the capability of the Microstar to carry larger scopes. As I mentioned before the Microstar held my C8 well. I tried observing with the C8/Microstar for a short time. The setup was not as stable as my larger Unistar Basic. The larger mount had less vibration. The C8 tube had more of a tendency to swing when I moved the scope around in my yard. I feel that mounting a larger scope like a C8 doable but is pushing the limits of the design. The picture below shows the C8 mounted on the Microstar.
I had an opportunity to do a side by side simple comparison of the three mounts. I got together with three of members of the astronomy club that I’m in to do some solar observing. One person had a Televue 76 with a Solarmax 40 mounted on a Telepod with a Bogen 475 tripod. Another person had the same scope and solar filter mounted on a Microstar with a Bogen 3036 tripod. I brought my AT1010/PST combo that I mounted on the Unistar Light with a Bogen 3036 tripod. After some observing under the sun we agreed that there really wasn’t much difference in smoothness of motion in all three mounts. One person felt the Unistar had a slightly smoother azimuth motion when compared to the Microstar. This could be to the larger azimuth bearing. We also agreed that the Telepod had a more refined look and was more robust. The Unistar/Microstar has a more utilitarian look, simple and functional. The construction of the Unistar/Microstar showed welds that we felt took away a bit from the appearance. We felt that the Unistar/Microstar mounts are much easier to balance offered more options as far as mounting different size scopes. The Telepod owner used a balance plate. This was necessary when using his binoviewer. He told me at times even with the balance plate it was difficult balancing the scope at times. He also pointed out the the Telepod is really built for use with Televue scopes and may not be meant to be a universal mount.
All three mounts are of high quality and are more than capable of serving your alt-azimuth observing needs. I would recommend any of these mounts. All three have relatively smooth motions and work well for wide field panning when doing alt-azimuth observing. For those who are interested all three are also capable of using computer encoders. The Telepod is constructed so it is Televue Sky Tour ready. Overall, I can say that the Unistar/Microstar offers more mounting options and flexibility due to the availability of the Basic and Deluxe models as well as its overall design. The Microstar is a great choice if portability is you primary concern. It also has the capability of mounting a larger scope like a C8. In comparison, the Telepod is very stable but limited by the width of its cradle.
For me, I feel the Microstar is best for my needs since portability is my main concern. I was looking for a portable, easy to travel with mount that could hold my PST and AT1010 together at the same time to enjoy solar viewing in hydrogen alpha and white light side by side. My PST mounting bracket has been modified to attach to the clam shell of my AT1010. The picture below shows the Microstar Basic with my AT1010 and PST mounted side by side.