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Basic civil engineering total stations

Total stations

What is a totalstation?

A total station combines an electronic theodolite with an electronic distance meter to measure distance. Advances in computer technology enable all the normal survey calculations to be made on-board the instrument, allowing the user to manage data as co-ordinates.

There are well over 100 total stations on the market. The category considered here is that aimed at the site setting-out engineer. These instruments are generally sold for £6,000 or less. All have built-in memory and software with the ability to record or set out co-ordinate data, eliminating the need for manual calculation of bearing and distance.

What features do you need on site?

Angular accuracy: The BSI states that setting out accuracy criteria can be met with a 10 second theodolite, so +/-5 seconds is good. However, higher accuracy increases the scope of application, but do not confuse the minimum read out with accuracy as all the instruments can be set to read 1 second of arc.

Distance accuracy: Structural setting out should be to +/- 3mm. Distance accuracy is quoted in mm plus parts per million.

Distance range to one prism: The longer the range on a single prism the longer it will be on a mini prism - the latter being more useful in setting out. Over 1,000m is good.

Measurement time: Total stations generally have three measurement modes, fine, coarse and tracking. Fine is the most accurate but the slowest and this is the time listed. Better than 2 seconds is good.

Display panel: The larger the panel the easier it is to read. Size is normally quoted in terms of lines and characters per line.

Battery life: Figures quoted are for a single battery using the instrument in normal continuous tracking mode. If more than one battery is required, charging with a single charger can cause problems. NiCd batteries have a bad reputation for loosing their charge quickly. Metal hydride batteries are considered better.

Weather resistance: The IPX rating for the instrument is quoted. IPX- 6 provides the best rain resistance but IPX-4 and IPX-5 will work in heavy rainfall.

Weight: Lighter may not necessarily be better but who wants to end up with arms of simian proportions after lugging the instrument around site? Weight plus tribrach plus internal battery is listed.

In-built programs: Setting out, resection/free station and survey programs are essential and are available on all the total stations reviewed here, plus the ability to upload/download data from pc's. Others are a bonus.

Internal memory: The bigger the memory the more information you can store - classified in points stored. Over 2,000 points is good.

Guide light for setting out: Though not essential, this device can speed up setting out by visually directing the chain man to the required position.

Spectra Precision Constructor 100

Price: £6,550

Angle accuracy: +/-5sec

Distance accuracy: 5mm + 3ppm

Single prism range: 900m

Measurement time: 3.5 seconds

Display panel: 4 rows x 20characters

Battery life/type: 2.2hours - NiCd

Weight: 6.9 kg

Weather resistance: Not specified

Internal memory: 2,500 points

Mike Fort says: 'A recent replacement for the Geodolite, it shares many features with the 600 series including the detachable keyboard/computer. Some regard the Geodimeter programs as unfriendly but once you get used to the logic they are quite easy to use.'

Peter Lloyd says: 'Guide light is a useful feature but lacks in angle accuracy, range, battery life. Optical plummet is in the tribrach which is not so desirable.'

Topcon GTS-211D

Price: £6,000

Angle accuracy: +/-5sec

Distance accuracy: 3mm + 2ppm

Single prism range: 1,100m

Measurement time: 2.5 seconds

Display panel: 4 rows x 20characters

Battery life/type: 3.5 hours - NiCd

Weight: 4.9kg

Weather resistance: IPX-6

Internal memory: 4,000 points

Mike Fort says: 'Laing has standardised on this instrument for use on their sites. That is as good a recommendation as I can think of.'

Peter Lloyd says: 'Good distance accuracy and highly waterproof but lacks in angle accuracy, battery life, and has no guide light.'

Zeiss Elta R45

Price: £5,300

Angle accuracy: +/-3sec

Distance accuracy: 3mm + 3ppm

Single prism range: 1,500m

Measurement time: 3 seconds

Display panel: 4 rows x 21 characters

Battery life/type: Not specified - NiMh

Weight: 3.5kg

Weather resistance: Notspecified

Internal memory: 1,900 points

Mike Fort says: 'Zeiss and Spectra Precision have gone into partnership and it will be interesting to see whether they keep this instrument rather than the Constructor 100. I hope so as I think it is the better instrument, although some users have complained about the soft key program and function controls.'

Peter Lloyd says: 'Good angle accuracy and is very light, but has no guide light and is not as water-resistant as other models.'

Pentax PCS-325

Price: £5,795

Angle accuracy: +/-5sec

Distance accuracy: 3mm + 2ppm

Single prism range: 800m

Measurement time: 2 seconds

Display panel: 8 rows x 20 characters

Battery life/type: 2.5 hours - NiCd

Weight: 5.25kg

Weather resistance: IPX-4

Internal memory: 5,000 points

Mike Fort says: 'A good all round instrument with an excellent display. Like all the Japanese instruments it emphasises its waterproof capability.'

Peter Lloyd says: 'Distance accuracy is very good but is let down by poor angle accuracy, range, battery life, and the lack of guide light.'

Nikon DTM-520

Price: £6,000

Angle accuracy: +/-3 sec

Distance accuracy: 2mm + 2ppm

Single prism range: 2000m

Measurement time: 1.2 seconds

Display panel: 4 rows x 16 characters

Battery life/type: 10.5 hrs - NiCd

Weight: 5.5kg

Weather resistance: IPX-4

Internal memory: 5,000 points

Mike Fort says: 'A highly specified instrument with sophisticated programming and an excellent battery life. Hitherto advertised at a price of £8,600, the £6,000 price tag makes it a bargain by comparison.'

Peter Lloyd says: 'Good angle and distance accuracy, range, battery life and benefits from guide lights but the small screen display could be bigger.'

Sokkia SET500

Price: £6,850

Angle accuracy: +/-5sec

Distance accuracy: 3mm + 2ppm

Single prism range: 2,000m

Measurement time: 1.8 seconds

Display panel: 192 x 80 pixels -2 sided

Battery life/type: 5 hours - Lithium ion

Weight: 5 kg

Weather resistance: IPX-6

Internal memory: 4,000 points

Mike Fort says: 'A brand new replacement for the old SET5. The specifications look good and the new Lithium ion battery represents the latest in battery technology. Sokkia instruments are easy to use.'

Peter Lloyd says: 'Good distance accuracy and highly waterproof but lacks in angle accuracy, battery life and has no guide light.'

Leica TC303

Price : £6,002

Angle accuracy:+/-3sec

Distance accuracy: 2mm + 2ppm

Single prism range: 3,000m

Measurement time: 1 second

Display panel: 8 rows x 24characters

Battery life/type: 4 hours - NiMh, camcorder type

Weight: 5 kg

Weather resistance: IPX-4

Guide light: No

Internal memory: 8,000 points

Mike Fort says: 'Leica has done its homework on this one and produced a first rate instrument with such enhancements as a standard camcorder battery, laser dot plummet, a mini-prism included in the box and an optional reflectorless laser.'

Peter Lloyd says: 'Good angle and distance accuracy, range and memory capacity but has poor battery life and no guide lights. It does however include a laser plummet.'

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