I mentioned earlier this week that I had started my astronomy season for the year (Kicking off my 2018 astronomy season with two outings) and in the post, I shared two photos of cases I had set up for my gear (eye pieces and my filters). What I didn’t mention at the time is that this is also related to a #50by50 goal — organize my astronomy gear.
That seems a bit basic, doesn’t it? Why would I put organizing my astronomy gear into a plan for 50 things to do before I’m 50?
Simply put, because it is a bit of a proxy for myself. What I really wanted to say was, “Okay, I’ve committed to this hobby”, and one way to do that was to organize my gear properly. Let me explain.
When I bought my scope, this is the setup / gear I got:
Now, looking at that photo more closely, you can divide some of the sections into separate categories:
- The scope itself — the optical tube assembly (OTA) as they say in astro circles, or “the orange part” for the layperson;
- The mount — You can’t see it but there is an arm going up the other side of the orange tube, and coming down to just above the top of the tripod, i.e. the “black part” before you get to the legs;
- The tripod — The three silver legs; and,
- The accessories — everything else.
My organization to date has been relatively done on the cheap. For the mount, I tend to leave it attached to the tripod, and move it all together as one piece. There’s a hand controller that attaches to it, and it regularly falls off and dangles, which is a pain, but other than that, it’s relatively safe to lie on its side, move it around, as long as I don’t drop things on it, drop it itself, or mistake it for a hammer to whack something with.
For all the accessories i.e. the eyepieces and filters mainly, I had been keeping them relatively loose in tupperware-type containers partly as it is easy to pop in some gel packs and control for any humidity. Plus, well, the plastic cases are cheap and come in different sizes. Add a bit of foam and they were good to go. But all the EPs together probably cost as much as the scope, and are more easily damaged, so I set up an aluminum case I bought on Amazon plus a plastic case (originally for a handgun) that I bought at Canadian Tire. A bit of pluck foam later, and Bob’s your uncle, I had two cases set up for the main accessories:
Which basically left me with one big question and one smaller one (how to transport the little accessories, easily ignored for now). For the big question, I had to figure out how to transport my scope safely. Here’s the challenge. The scope is relatively self-contained, has good framing etc., but it doesn’t handle hard knocks particularly well (you can knock mirrors out of alignment) and it’s kind of big. I have a good place to keep it in its own cupboard in the garage, so that wasn’t a problem, but I’ve been carefully transporting it to and from the car, while relying mainly on a large duffel bag to allow me to keep my hands free while I did it. It sounds a bit risky, but not really. I move everything carefully, I’m not walking around like it’s a gym bag with clothes in it. Plus the “soft” nature of the case let me “wrap” it evenly for support.
But just about everyone I know has a hard case of some sort for their scope to protect it. And if I’m going to be serious about my hobby, and my tools to do that hobby, I’ve been feeling like I needed a proper case too.
Now, Celestron will sell me one, specifically designed to fit my scope, all good. Except it is $300 and a very tight snug fit. If you have any peripherals added, they all have to come off apparently to fit in the case. Hmm. And $300? Pretty expensive.
So there are after market solutions people have done, mainly using Pelican cases. High quality, good reputation, can be ordered online. Even usually comes with pluck foam inside. Great. Except the case I need, or rather in the size I need, runs about $300. Noticing a pattern?
My friend Rennie just did one for his scope, but he had a large case to use, and he wanted his mount to fit inside too. I admire his commitment to set that up on the scope everytime, I’m too lazy to keep doing that. But I wanted a case still for the tube.
I visited Home Depot and found this GREAT tool box, 28″ long. Seemed PERFECT. Brought it home, tried it out, and the scope fit! Except it didn’t, not really. Lengthwise it was fine. But for girth, it was right against the sides of the toolbox, no room for any foam or padding. In other words, any knock on the case would directly transmit to the tube. No dice. I tried another from Canadian Tire, and the girth was a little better, but the length was off by an inch or two. I could take a couple of accessories off, but then everytime I use it — which is mostly in Ottawa by percentage — I would have to put things back together. To give you an analogy, it would be like a camera case where you had to remove the batteries, memory card and lens everytime you put the camera in. So when you went to use it, you would have to reassemble all the pieces. Every time. And for me, the more time I spend on setup, the less time I spend observing and the less frequent I’ll even go. Kind of like the friction test for purchases — more hurdles, less purchases.
So I started looking at larger cases. Almost all of the ones up to $100 or so were too short. Some came close, but when you opened them up, the insides had these extra grooves and dividers that were permanent and meant you didn’t have the full space available. I tried Home Depot, Canadian Tire, Rona and Lowes, plus about 10 stores online (including Amazon). I finally found a couple of options in the $119 range, but they weren’t quite right for size and shape (Dewalt / Stanley versions). Doable, but not sold. I did find one that laid a bit flatter, and had some extra room in it that seemed really interesting, but the only reviews I found online said that it was rather flimsy and the handles and hinges tended to break. For $120? I wouldn’t be using it as heavy (most people use them for tools), but I wouldn’t want to be carrying it and have the handle break off.
Which put me in the $170 range for some really solid Dewalt models (although the Husky and Stanley versions were good too). They came with wheels, and lots of extra space. But that extra space comes at two costs — the extra $$ involved, sure, but also the extra real estate in the car. I originally was hoping for something I could use to take the scope to the cottage too, but I have ways around that I suppose.
One nice feature that I have, and I don’t know how long it will last, is that when the scope arrived, it came in a cardboard box with form-fitting packing form. The cardboard box is rubbish, but I can put the foam in a different box, and then pack my scope in it. In the end, I decided that if I was going to go “big”, I might as well just get myself a simple tub. Total cost? $13. Plus there’s room left over for suppression pads (they go under the tripod legs to reduce vibration), my power cord, my filter case (yay it fits, boo the EP case doesn’t), my light, and wonders of wonders, it will also hold my solar filter in its original packaging as I have no other way to keep it safe). Is it awesome, worthy of emulation? Nope. I’ll also have to decide if it is too heavy with everything in it or not and which objects I will keep in the box. Sigh.
It’s functional and can do the job perfectly fine, and at a tenth the cost:
The last photo is a bit hard to understand but it is the tube underneath in the white foam, with parts and accessories down the side, and the regular filter case plus solar filter on top.
Works for me. I’m committed to the hobby, I’ve got cases to protect my gear!