Saturday, March 08, 2014

Berlebach Planet Tripod

I finally gave up on building my own exquisite wooden tripod, and instead ordered a Planet tripod (short version) from Berlebach Mulda.  The reason for getting the short version is that cost of shipping from Germany to Singapore is about 90 Euro for the short version, and 204 Euro for the long version.  I measured the short version as being sufficient for my requirements, and the legs can be extended as necessary anyway.

The Berlebach Planet is a fairly upper-midrange wooden telescope tripod, and is also resold by Astro-Physics (for $990).  It is about $200 cheaper if ordered directly from Berlebach, and costs much, much less than the Astro-Physics Eagle Pier.

On receiving the tripod, I discovered that the pointed leg tips are very, very sharp, and can score marble floor tiles. The rubber screw-on leg tips are not included by default, and I had forgotten to order them. Berlebach was kind enough to send me the rubber tips for a very low shipping cost of about 8 Euro (plus the cost of the rubber tips, about 27 Euro).

The wood finish is very handsome. Too handsome, in fact, that I was having second thoughts of leaving the tripod exposed on the balcony.  So I wrapped the legs with bubble wrap.  Kind of ghetto, I guess - like Filipino matrons leaving the plastic covers on their sofas.  The leg bolt ratchets are plastic, not anodized aluminum like the Shimano clamps on Takahashi tripods. And the metal leg tips are cast aluminum, as is the tripod hub.  The build quality is not at the level of a Rob Miller, Bisque Paramount portable pier, or an Astro-Physics Eagle Pier.  But the cost is less, and the lower build quality is not objectionable.  The Berlebach Planet is still far better than a Chinese tripod.

I also ordered the Planet with a "plane plate" - Berlebach charges 90 Euro for the Astro-Physics 400/600/Mach1 adapter, but this adapter replaces the ADATRI. Since I already have a couple ADATRI's, I just asked Berlebach to send me the tripod with no adapter at all, but to drill and tap three M8 holes in the tripod hub, 120 degrees apart on a 5.110" bolt circle. This they did for free, and allowed me to bolt the ADATRI to the tripod hub.

This photo below immediately shows a major problem of the Berlebach Planet: at low latitudes like Singapore, the counterweights interfere with the tripod legs. I had to mount the counterweights high up on the shaft for clearance - and this caused gross imbalance that I didn't want to subject my mount to for long.


Astro-Physics sells the 8" Eagle Pier Extension, which is a 6" diameter machined aluminum tube. The bottom of this tube fits into an ADATRI, and the top mimics an ADATRI, so any AP-compatible tripod can have the Eagle Pier Extension added to it to provide more clearance. In spite of its name, the Eagle Pier Extension is not exclusive to the Eagle Pier.

There is just one issue with the AP Eagle Pier Extension - it costs $350, which is about half the cost of an entire Berlebach Planet.  I was not willing to spend that much money on a pier extension.  Luckily I had some 5" diameter thin-wall tube, a machined aluminum plate that I'd used for my AP600 equatorial wedge, and some spare aluminum sheet.

By sandwiching the thin-wall tube between the aluminum plate and the Planet's tripod hub, I was able to make my own pier extension.  Only a 4" extension is required for the counterweights to clear the tripod legs. Considering that there was almost zero cost to build this pier, not buying the AP Eagle Pier Extension was a no-brainer (not to mention an 8" extension would add too much height).


There was a central hole in the Berlebach Planet's tripod hub.  I had to enlarge this hole to 10mm diameter for my modification to work.  I then passed a 10mm threaded rod through the hole, bolted it to the top machined plate, and bolted it to the underside of the Planet tripod hub.  The thin-wall tube was thus sandwiched properly and is surprisingly solid.  I also put a circular aluminum plate between the thin-wall tube and the Planet tripod hub so that the thin-wall tube wouldn't scratch the tripod hub.


Looking pretty good, but missing one key feature..



I must say, I'm getting pretty good with rattle can spray paint!


Now as to the tripod itself.. it's extremely stable (rated at 125kg) and not too heavy. Luckily my thin-wall tube pier is very light (unlike the AP Eagle Pier Extension).  I would say that the Planet is a great choice for a tripod; the other options for the Mach1 are the AP Portable Pier, which is almost the same price as the Planet but is literally made of irrigation pipe; the AP Eagle Pier, which is extremely handsome but costs more than twice the Planet; and the Rob Miller Tri36L, which (probably) is better-built than the Planet, weighs half as much, costs not a lot more, but can no longer be purchased for love or money.

In retrospect, I'd still get the Planet, since I like the look of wood and don't fancy the irrigation pipe AP Portable Pier.  But I would definitely have given more consideration to the need for a pier at low latitudes.

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