Sunday, January 23, 2011

CGEM Telescope leveling made easy

If you have a telescope and it isn't on a permanent pier, chances are you have had to worry about leveling the scope at one time or another. Due to a somewhat less than clear viewing area in my tree-filled backyard, I need to move my scope and scopebuggy into different spots in order to view the entire night sky. This normally implies that each time I move the scope, I need to re-level it to compensate for the different terrain.
As my scope and mount offers about 80+ lbs sitting atop the tripod, this poses some interesting challenges:
1) Do you remove the scope each time, prior to adjusting the tripod?
(This takes a huge amount of time,but it can be done.)
2) Do you try to lift each leg independently to adjust it while the scope is attached?
(It is pretty heavy and dangerous for one person to perform this action, but using some simple tools it can be accomplished, but not without a lot of work and perspiration.)

So what to do?
Well for my fork mounted Celestron CPC it was a cinch, Dave Yates at had just the solution, levelers for the CPC. When I bought my CGEM, Dave unfortunately had no answer for me, so I just continued the laborious leveling routines I have always done. Then one day Dave reached out and told me that they had some new levelers available for the CGEM! I told him to send me a set right away, I couldn't wait to finally have the simple leveling experience that I did on the CPC!

Here is what the unit looked like right out of the box, nicely built and finished. It appeared that he may have used some of the suggestions I offered from my experiences from the CPC levelers to modify the design.

Putting them on was very simple, I removed the scope and mount from the tripod, then proceeded to use a flat screwdriver and a small hammer to knock off the cap that was lightly glued to the bottom of the tripod leg.

Once the caps were off, I inserted the tubular portion of the unit into the shaft of the tripod leg. I could have chosen to mount it much further inside the shaft, but opted to place it into the shaft with a little over an inch of the unit exposed below the tripod shaft (note the brushed aluminum in the photo). I figured that if I needed to ever remove the leveler, it would be necessary to have a surface area large enough to get a good grip on the unit to prevent turning inside the shaft.

Here is a shot of the unit installed on the tripod and sitting on top of my scopebuggy. There are a couple of things to note about the scopebuggy + leveler combination that I will share below in the bold area named 'scopebuggy'.

This is a photo of the tripod and levelers mounted on the scopebuggy, note a couple of other good upgrades to the tripod and scopebuggy. First is the aluminum spreader that is mounted on the tripod, it is also made by TPIAstro. This creates a consistent and stable tripod, for some reason the CGEM doesn't ship with a spreader, so this was a necessary accessory for the scope. The next I built myself, I added the shelf onto the scopebuggy, making it large enough for all my supplies including power supply, hair dryer, power receptacles, etc.

So, you see the levelers... but what exactly does it do for you?
Prior to adding the levelers, the leveling process took about 10-15 minutes of trial and error (sometimes more), just to ensure complete level. Think of how frustrating this is if you need to do this a couple times a night; you lose about 30+ minutes of viewing opportunity to level the scope.
With the leveling system, it took me a whole 30 seconds to level the scope... 30 seconds, that is all, super simple. Once I document the exact movement characteristics using my bubble level, it will be even easier and faster!
Cannot wait to gather first light with the new additions, will write more after I get some field results.

There are some peculiarities to be aware of when combining the scope buggy with the levelers.
- TPIAstro normally ships 3 inch pads for the levelers, these WILL NOT work with the scopebuggy, all of the tripod stays on the scopebuggy can handle a maximum of a two inch pad. If you tell Dave about your application, he can get you some 2 inch (need to recheck for exact size, will modify this if necessary, later) pads for you. With my CPC he shipped me two sets of pads, one that was about 1 inch as well as the 2 inch pads, after much work I settled on the 2 inch pads and advised Dave of the better scopebuggy fit. It is apparently a difficult task to get these pads, but Dave will eventually get them to you.

- The levelers increase the tripod width, if you own a scopebuggy that is set on the lowest mount size, it will NOT work with the levelers (initially), the scope legs will no longer fit. This can be fixed by increasing the size of the scopebuggy, not a big deal to do, but if you weren't aware that you needed to do this, you would spend a couple minutes scratching your head attempting to figure out how to get it on your scopebuggy. Be prepared to have your scope buggy width increased by about 4 inches in all directions in order to correctly fit the tripod with levelers.

- The leveler pads are not an exact fit for the scopebuggy tripod stays, they are pretty close but not exact. I will likely put some circular (metal) cutouts on the base to offer a completely flat surface. I haven't seen any stability issues with the 'out_of_box' levelers on the scopebuggy, but think that it would be best overall to have one completely flat surface when moving the scopebuggy around.