By Steve Walters
Let me tell you a little story. In 1977, I built my first telescope. I put it on an equatorial fork mounting I made of pipe. Like any newbie, I had a lot of trouble finding things so I made some setting circles for it. I was so happy. I could wheel around looking at object after object. Why, I could sometimes see 10 or 15 objects in only 10 minutes!
One night, some friends visited and we were looking at something in the scope. One of them asked where this thing we were seeing was located in the sky. I had no idea where it was. I just knew its coordinates that I had just looked up in a catalog. So, I stumbled to the scope and looked along the finder and figured out roughly where we were viewing. I realized that in two years of having setting circles, I had not learned anything new about the night sky and that I was not really even seeing things. Just one little fuzz ball after another in the eyepiece.
The next day, I removed the setting circles and went back to starhopping using a star atlas. I also started taking my time at the eyepiece to try and see more and more detail. Sometimes, I would study two or three objects in an evening. Viewing is an acquired skill, you have to practice it. For me, knowing what's up there, knowing where objects are and seeing detail (now photographing) is a big part of this hobby.
Now, do as you will, be your own dog, and get those digital setting circles. Use them when you have visitors that want to see a lot of objects. But when it's just you out there, leave them at home and learn the skies. In time, you won't need them for your visitors either.