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Your Astronomy Tripod Is Flimsy [How To Upgrade?]

You might have this cheap refractor you bought or were given as an intro to astronomy. These type are fun for looking at the moon and planets. But you’ll find the tripod is not up to scratch and it makes sense to consider upgrading. Here’s how and what to know…

upgrade options telescope tripod

For starters…

  • Most introductory telescope tripods tend to be flimsy and don’t meet ‘full height’.
  • Their spindly form hinders your view of objects in the sky and it’s hard to focus as alignment shifts with the slightest of movements.
  • As well, the shortness of the tripod means you’re hunching over and this creates unnecessary discomfort.

To spend less money than you would with buying a new telescope set, try the latter options.

1. Upgrade

Get a better telescope, complete with new tripod

This is a good option if you don’t mind spending the money. Get to know your options in tripods to make sure you get what you want.

2. Improve support – add weight

Some users simply place a large mass (e.g. sand bag or weights) in the tray (if there’s one) or strapped to the legs. (You could experiment with this.)

3. Use a Camera tripod instead

If your telescope has a standard 1/4″ threaded attachment, then you can mount it straight onto a sturdier camera tripod. You might need a dovetail bar for some as explained in my article on this topic. Or…

camera tripod showing ¼" thread, and adapter with hole for attachment
Antique pan-tilt head of camera tripod showing ¼” thread, compatible with ¼” hole of dovetail bars for mounting telescopes. A universal mount (shown) that involves a strap is useful for attaching binoculars for astronomy (or narrow telescopes, cameras, or GoPros) that are missing those threaded holes.

Snapzoom Universal Binocular Tripod Mount


Snapzoom Universal Binocular Tripod Mount

Available at Amazon

4. Replace with Surveyor’s tripod

A surveyor’s tripod is also sturdy and not that expensive. You’ll need to source fittings to suit your telescope to allow it to move as it should for more serious stargazing.

About tripods

Basically, a tripod is a three-legged support. You can get full- or partial-height tripods.

The main purpose of a tripod is to hold the optical equipment steady—to limit movement and vibration that interfere with clear images. 

Not all telescopes have tripods. A Dobsonian is a telescope that has a mount but no tripod. l wrote about the advantages of these reflector type telescopes, which includes getting the biggest bang for buck.

What do you want in a tripod for astronomy

  • Easy to carry and set-up
  • Strength
  • Stability
  • Resilient to wind and vibration

When choosing your upgrade consider the following features and designs in tripods …

Tripod legs

Materials include aluminum, basalt, steel, carbon fiber, and wood legs. Legs are usually either tubular or non-tubular. The carbon-fiber type is typically tubular. Here are the pros and cons of the most common materials used in tripods.

TypeAdvantagesDisadvantages
Wood▪ Vibration absorption
▪ Non-conducting
▪ Temperature tolerant
▪ Durable
▪ Corrosion resistant
▪ Weight
▪ Clumsy
▪ Does not fold to compact size
 
 
 
 
Aluminum▪ Good strength-to-weight ratio
▪ Durable
▪ Value
▪ Cold to touch when cold outside
▪ Hot to touch in hot conditions
▪ Can corrode
Stainless Steel▪ Strong
▪ Stable
▪ Weight
Carbon Fiber▪ Good vibration dampening
▪ Excellent strength-to-weight ratio
▪ Temperature tolerant
▪ No corrosion
▪ Expensive
▪ Vulnerable to impact
 
 
Adapted from BHPhotoVideo

Tripod legs collapse for transport. The three or five sections of a tripod leg are secured in place with locks that are undone to collapse the tripod to pack it away. Tip: The less number of leg sections the better the stability of the tripod.

Leg locks

In carbon fiber tripods, a twist-lock usually secures the legs into position for the desired height. Whereas, most metal tripods have a flip-lock.

plastic flip lock on tripod
Flip locks are common on metal legs vs twist locks on carbon fiber

The different mechanisms to lock legs in place each have advantages and disadvantages:

TypeAdvantagesDisadvantages
Flip Lock▪ Quick
▪ Easy
 
 
▪ Not weather sealed
▪ Can be jammed by debris
▪ Can stick with corrosion
▪ Can loosen over time (most can be re-tightened)
Twist Lock▪ Better sealing
▪ Fewer parts
▪ More difficult to use for some
 
Screw lock▪ Cheaper▪ Tricky with very cold or stiff fingers
▪ Screws can loosen and become lost
Adapted from: BHPhotoVideo
Tripod legs with flip lock open, and closed
Flip lock on leg section of tripod

Feet

The bottom of the legs have a rubber stopper or a spike (or both) for added stability. The short spikes at the end of the legs ‘grab’ the natural substrate, reducing the likelihood of slippage and giving the user confidence in using the tripod .

tripod feet showing rubber base and spike
Rubber feet and spikes help stabilise tripod

Mounts

The purpose of a telescope mount is to not only hold your equipment in place but also to allow you to move the telescope so you can point it at your target object in the night sky.

For different types of mounts see my article: mounts explained.

Mount head

Typically made of metal, the mount head allows the movement of the equipment when in place.

controls

The controls comprise metal rods and knobs to fine tune positioning the equipment to view the night sky target.

Some have electric motors controlled by the buttons on a handset.

The purpose of the controls is to provide smooth, regulated motion for fine adjustments for better observations.

Telescope tripods and mounts work together. They are often sold together but, they’re also bought separately. To be exact, a telescope mount is a separate item to a tripod. But they aren’t always distinguished as individual units and this can be confusing for a newbie. You can upgrade your tripod to suit your telescope and mount.