Which Total Station Should I Choose?


total stationA total station is an electronic instrument that is used by people in various professions. This device is commonly used by the police in handling crime scene investigations and by construction companies to layout the work they will construct. But mainly, the total station is an instrument used by surveyors. An electronic theodolite is the basis of the total station, which also consists of an electronic distance meter (EDM), and a data storage component. Each element is essential to the performance of the measurements necessary to complete a survey of a site.

This device has four purposes rolled into one specifically:  for angle measurement, distance measurement; coordinate calculation and storage of data. This is the reason why professionals who are in the surveying business carefully choose which particular total station will suit their unique needs. Keep in mind that the most common total stations nowadays are robotic which provides many more opportunities for costs savings for  the users. This is why you must be particular in inquiring about the specific uses of each type of total station.

There are several Total Station types and models in the market these days. For instance, some models possess internal electronic data storage which assists in recording horizontal and vertical angle measurements or distances. Simultaneously, there are also total stations that make use of external data collectors.

There are four basic types of total stations and they include the following:

1.                    Robotic total stations – One of the smoothest ways to survey an area is with the use of this device. It permits the user to control the device remotely, meaning you do not have to have an instrument operator standing by the total station. This is greatly beneficial in that you need not hire an assistant to hold the rod for you. You can be “out front” where the work is happening to make the correct decisions. There are many essential features on a robotic total station so make sure you ask about the latest technological advances that will suit your needs.

2.                    Imaging total stations – This kind of total station adds either a photographic or laser scanning element or both. With this new tool in the market, the surveyors could offer many more services that greatly benefit from these high resolution images. Moreover, the laser scanner component can capture topographic data automatically. The imaging capability provides an accurate photo documentation of the site’s existing condition, which in effect, is beneficial in generating productivity and minimizing expenses caused by re-visits to the site.

3.                    Construction Total Stations – These type total stations are specifically designed to aid construction efforts. These total stations are typically more rugged for the environment they will be used in and they may not have the same high precision that other total stations have. Some construction applications don’t require this high level of accuracy. Therefore, these total stations will be more economical for the particular purpose. Discuss your accuracy requirements with the manufacturer or fellow contractors before selecting the type of construction total station you will purchase. Another good source of information might be your local surveyor.

4.                    Optical Total Stations – This type total station is the basis for both the robotic and imaging total stations. While an optical total station can have many features, this type total station will require an instrument operator at the device. It will also not have the imagining capabilities mentioned above. This device is essentially designed for your everyday surveying applications. These instruments will typically be lower priced than the more specialized total stations above. But, with the addition of another crew person, they may not be more economical. You should again discuss these economic benefits with your equipment representative and/or other surveyors.

In sum, total stations are a must in about every surveying application. Keep in mind that there are many competing offers in the market today. Be sure that you thoroughly understand the specific purpose for each device and your application. Choosing the right “tool” to use is ninety percent of getting the job done.


Call Alabama Total Station today at  (888) 211-3229  or fill out a contact form request or contact a TopCon Dealer for more information concerning your land surveying needs