Q: We use a triple prism cluster that is triangular, but have noticed a stack of three arranged vertically, or even horizontally, used by other surveyors. Is one configuration better than another?
A: First, triple prism configuration must be what your manufacturer recommends. Some manufacturers (not all) specify a triple prism shape that best suits the infrared beam emitted by the EDM. If none have been suggested, any shape will probably work. However, keep in mind that the triangular configuration is more compact; it fits into a circle smaller than a circle that a horizontal or vertical stack would fit into. This is important, as you must make sure that the EDM strikes all three prisms. Check your manufacturer's specification for the width (or diameter) of the EDM beam. Triple assemblies must be used such that when the EDM is pointed at their (combined) center, the beam emitted goes beyond the edges of the assembly. A good practice to follow is to only use a single prism, even if you have to use the triple assembly, until you are so far away that you have exceeded the single prism range of the instrument. If you only expose the other two prisms at that point, you can generally be assured that the beam overlaps all three prisms, regardless of the shape of the assembly. What you must make sure to avoid is partial exposure of one or more prisms to the EDM beam. Such a situation can cause errors in the distance measurement. You can illustrate this to yourself by conducting a prism sweep test. Set up your instrument and a single prism about 250 ft away. Point at the center of the target, take a measurement and record it. Then use the horizontal or vertical tangent screw to move the cross hairs perhaps one arc-minute off-center and take another measurement. Repeat this process, increasing the angle away from the center of the prism by equal increments. You will start to see systematic variations in the distance measured. For a complete test, you should go up, down, right and left of the prism's center.
Q: I have an electronic level on my total station as well as a spirit bubble. Which should I use?