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AstroTrac TT320 Review

Posted by Mike Overacker   01/30/2008 08:00AM

AstroTrac TT320 Review
I am into astrophotography and a good mount is worth its weight in gold. An easy-to-use and lightweight astrophotography mount is worth its weight in platinum.
The concept of the TT320 is simple, and seemed to make a great deal of sense. However, I had some questions about how well the mount would perform for me, given the weight of some of my gear. I planned to test the unit as I planned to use it in the future. It would get a workout for this review.

The unit finally arrived. The box was a small, light, thin package. I opened the box to find the TT320, Power cord, Instructions, and the optional finder scope I had ordered, all in this small box. It was amazing how compact it actually was.

I put a Manfrotto 488 Ball Head onto the TT320 and my Bogen 3047 3-way head onto my Bogen 3051 tripod legs to support the TT320. The top bolt for the head you are going to use to mount your camera or telescope to the TT320 is a 3/8" 16TPI mount. Most tripod heads have this thread inset in their base, so you can use most any tripod head with this mount to mount your camera.. However, the threaded inset on the bottom of the mount is also 3/8" 16TPI, so if you are planning to put this mount on top of another head, you will either need a mounting plate for your head that has a 3/8" mounting bolt, or a 3/8" 16TPI to 1/4 20TPI reducer so you can use the standard 1/4" 20 threaded mounting bolt.

I brought in a 12 volt jumpstart power supply from my Astronomy Mobile Outreach Vehicle, and hooked up the TT320 to power. I had already read the short, two page manual to learn what the buttons were, and how to set up the mount, which was easy. I started the unit, and it flashed green to let me know that it was tracking. You could barely hear the thing running. The mount went into a steady beep as it ran out of travel. My mount tracked for tracked for 1 hour, 49 minutes, and 15 seconds. I tested the mount time duration for the southern hemisphere, and again for the northern hemisphere. Same results... exactly.

The skies finally cleared out for me to get a night out with the new mount. I went to my regular observing site and set up the mount. It went together easily and quickly. I put the polar scope in the holder to do a polar alignment. I had to hold the flange of the polar scope against the polar scope holder while I rotated the scope to line up the stars for the polar alignment. The polar scope is well designed for quick and accurate polar alignment, with the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) and the Big W (Cassiopeia) printed for the northern hemisphere, and Crux printed for the southern hemisphere. For the northern hemisphere, you turn the polar scope to roughly align Ursa Major and Cassiopeia in the scope. Then you place Polaris in a open area, marked for Polaris, and Alpha Eridani in a small circle. Then you align a dimmer second star in the opening marked, and you are polar aligned. It is a very easy polar scope to use.
I proceeded to shoot images over a few nights, trying to find weaknesses in the mount. I shot with a variety of lenses on my modded 350D, my 30D, 20D, and 10D's. I shot with my 300mm f2.8 with 2x teleconverter. I shot with Olympus wide angle lenses. The TT320 took it all in stride. I shot short exposures of 2 minutes. I shot long exposures of 10 and 15 minutes. Although some showed some trailing, it was mainly due to polar alignment issues on my part. When I took the time to properly polar align the mount, it work as advertised. As you could probably guess, if you are going to use a longer focal length, your polar alignment must be more accurate. However, even if you are shooting wides, an accurate polar alignment is something that will pay you back many times over, given the accuracy of this mount. I have over 30 hours of imaging already with this mount, and every time I use it, it gets better. I am pretty sure that it is the fact that I am getting used to the mount, and getting better at polar aligning it. Regardless, I keep getting better images, and that is what it is all about.

So, what do I think of the AstroTrac TT320? It works just great. It is lightweight and compact. It is sturdy, and extremely well designed. Setup takes very little time at all. You simply set whatever camera and lens combination, or telescope, on the mount, making sure that it does not exceed the max carry weight of the TT320 (20 lbs.) or the head that you are using. Very simple, yet very effective. There are no issues with counterbalancing. I could concentrate completely on my photography. I could change lenses without worry because, once again, there are no issues with counterbalancing.

If you are in need of a highly accurate, easily transportable mount for your astrophotography, or your observing, you cannot go wrong with the AstroTrac TT320. I highly recommend the AstroTrac TT320 system to anyone who needs an accurate, compact, and decently priced mount. You got to get one. It's great.
Mike Overacker