Adventures with the M1 Mount
by J. P. O'Neil

December 6, 2006

I've come to appreciate Stellarvue's M1 mount as one of the simplest, most idiot proof mounts ever invented. I cannot say for the rest of the world, but here in Canada, the large knobs are excellent in wintertime when you are observing and wearing gloves or padded mitts. I've also heard from people with slight arthritis that the large knobs are easier to use as well in any weather condition.

Above is the M1 mount with a Manfrotto mounting plate attached, beside it is a Manfrotto tripod head with removeable mounting plate. The visible mounting plate has a 1/4-20 bolt. The mounting plate under the M1 Mount has a 3/8ths bolt.

What I want to do is show you all how I mount my mount. I'm a little anal retentive when it comes to tripod legs - for example, for my old Losmandy CP-100 mount, I had a local blacksmith make not one, but two sets of custom legs. They weigh a ton, but they would likely stop dead in their tracks the running of the bulls if setup in the right spot. :)

Another factor is aside from astronomy, my other big interest (aka the "Photo" part of my company name) is 4x5, large format photography. If you ever need sheet film, tech pan, hypered tech pan, or infra-red film processed, hey, I'm your man, but in this day and age of digital, I don't get too much call for that kind of work. :( But large format photography itself is undergoing a kind of rebirth - perhaps a backfire against the march of digital. In any case, here's the kind of camera I use:

Stellarvue Nighthawk Next Generation beside a Tachihara 4x5 camera - both are my personal "toys". :)

Another view. The lens on the camera is a 270mm Schneider G-Claron, if you are into large format cameras. Oddly enough, the monetary value of the Stellarvue, SV diagonal and Speers-Waler eyepiece (new 3rd generation, 9.4mm) all together is roughly equal to the value of the Tachihara and Schneider lens together. Depends however, as the particular size of G-Claron I have is hard to find, and sometimes commands a premium on the used market. Another aspect that may be confusing is the name of the camera. "Tachihara" is a Japanese made camera, "Takahashi" is a Japanese made telescope, both of very high quality, IMO.


I bought my camera from Badger Graphics in the United States. Also, look up their tripods, because if you think the Stellarvue M1 mount at $200 US is expensive, try seeing what a good Manfrotto (aka Bogden for those of you in the USA) or a good Gitzo tripod head costs.


I also recommend here in Canada Big Camera Workshops, specifically look up the Berlebach, German made wood tripods. Excellent workmanship, and steady as a rock.

So my problem is, while Stellarvue and other suppliers I have do have excellent tripod legs for telescope use, I am constantly looking for something that has dual purpose - carry my 80mm, F7 ED Nighthawk (aka NHNG) and carry one of my 4x5 cameras. For example, when I travel space is so tight I simply cannot bring two separate sets of tripod legs, and as I often bring both my 4x5 camera and a Nighthawk, I need a tripod to handle both. Here's what I do.

First, on all really good photo tripods, heads are sold separate from the legs/body. You can find combinations already pre-packaged, but when you really get into, it's a la carte. When you look at the top of a tripod like a Manfrotto, you will see that it has a larger bolt than on the top of a photo tripod head. That is because there are TWO standards. The first bolt that you see on most cameras is a 1/4 inch bolt (sorry, even in the day and age of metric, it's still 1/4 inch, so live with it :).

The second standard is 3/8ths of an inch. Most, not all, but most tripod heads - and also the M1 mount, have a 3/8ths bolt hole underneath. This also allows you to say take a Manfrotto head and place it on a Gitzo or Berlebach tripod if you want. Or, and what I really like, I can use the Stellarvue M1 mount on just about any of these professional tripods.

Now here is something else that can be done - some tripod heads also use the 3/8ths bolt, because some larger cameras use that bolt hole size too. So, in my case, I can actually mount my M1 mount on top of a large Manfrotto tripod head. Now I do not recommend this as a starting point. First, the Manfrotto head costs as much as the M1 mount - maybe even a bit more, because this head is about ten years old. Secondly, this is a very heavy duty tripod head, far beyond what you see in your average department store. But I happen to have one already for my large format cameras, and I happen to have a spare 3/8th quick release plate, so in my case, I had a hand in glove fit for my needs.

Here then are a series of pictures showing how I do and can mount my Next Generation (ED) Stellarvue Nighthawk to my Manfrotto (aka Bogden) photo tripod.

Heavy duty Manfrotto tripod and head. Although this specific head is no longer made, the modern equivalent is either the #160 or #229 heads, both fo which sell for roughly $240 to $250 Cdn - about the same price as the M1 head sells for. :)

Mounting plate in place with telescope. I like the quick release mounting plate system, but if you invest in one, be careful, as some lesser tripod systems have very "wonky" and lightweight plates that will not hold for you.

If attaching any plate or photo tripod directly to the NHNG, or similar Stellarvue telescopes, there are already 1/4-20 holes provided for this use.

All setup for daytime use.


However, for even daytime use, I find the M1 mount still easier to use, so in this photo I have put the M1 mount, with plate, on my tripod head. Now this is actually a dumb thing to do in some repsects, because I can take that whole tripod head off, and place the M1 mount directly on the Manfroto legs, giving me breater stability. However in my ccase, setup with way, it takes just seconds to swap out a telescope for a camera. :) In the above photo, I show how the dovetail on the SV clamsheel mount slides into the M1.



Once inn place, tighten and lock down.



Now, with my brand new Speers-Waler 9.4mm eyepiece, I am ready to look at all the pidgeons in downtown London, Ontario.


In this photo and the next one below, I want to show how if you are going to do this wort of thing, you need a tripod head that is at the very least, equal in size or heavier than the M1 mount itself, otherwise first time to try it, everything will fall apart on you and hit the ground. Do not underestimate what you might need.

Interesting to note that the handles on both the Manfrotto and the Stellarvue are roughly the same size - nice and big! On cold nights with heavy gloves, you have no idea how nice that feature is.


So there you go. Another weird idea, that kinda works, depending on your lattitude, is to point the tripod head at Polaris, thus turing the M1 mount into a simple equitorial mount. I am at 43 degrees latitude ( in fact, the 43rd parallel is exactly one mile due north of me. :), so I can get away with doing this and not too badly off balance the whole system. But any farther north, or at an angle greater than say roughly 45 degrees, I think you would be too far off balance for this to work. If I am able to attend the Winter Star Party again, which is closer to around 25 degrees, then this idea should work fine.

For the record, the most stable way to use the M1 mount is direclty on top of a set of good tripod legs, but the mount iself is so versatile that is like me you need to serve more than one use at once, it's nice to see the M1 easily lends itself to these solutions.

E-mail me if you have any questions