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iOptron SkyGuider Review
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iOptron SkyGuider Review
by John Crisp
My Skyguider with tripod arrived this week. Having been using an Celestron CGEM mount with a Celestron 8” EDGE HD OTA for the past year – my total time doing astrophotography, I was looking for something with more flexibility for wide field photography use along with more portability and less setup time than my full telescope. I tried doing some piggyback imaging with the Celestron but not being able to adjust the camera framing with my setup left me frustrated.
I live outside of Toledo Ohio and the winter snowpocoplypse has been very frustrating for doing any type of outside activity since November and while I have been doing aviation photography for the past 15 years, I am new to Astrophotography. I have joined the Toledo Astronomical Association but there are few astro-photographers in the group so I was venturing into some new territory with a new product.
I have never used any IOptron products prior to ordering the IOptron Skyguider but the reviews on the IOptron SkyTracker seemed positive and I figured I would give this a try.
Initial Observations on Quality and User Experience
With a very easy to use and understand manual that I reviewed prior to arrival of the box, I downloaded the app while the product was moving through shipping and got ready to get started. I won’t do a full unboxing review at this point but note that the box was in great condition upon arrival – everything was double boxed. My only gripe was the paid app for finding Polar Alignment. Not a deal killer but really - $2 for the app? It’s the principle not the price for a product at this price point I feel it should be free.
Once the two included containers were opened, I was up and assembled in a matter of a few minutes. I REALLY like the included soft cases for transport to remote locations. Very nice touch and I feel that the price for this tripod and mount are very reasonable. The quality of the engineering is clearly top notch. It is clear that the outside of the mount is very well engineered… I will open it up at some point down the road and peek inside but that will come later.
The assembly was straight forward as indicated by the time it took to setup – I need to mention that I ordered the AC adapter and the Ball Head – a great value for the price in it’s own right. Once these were attached and my camera mounted, I setup for balance. With a Canon EOS 5D Mk II the counterweight had to slide almost to the end of the counterweight arm so if you are planning on attaching an auto guider, you will need additional counterweights.
The good news is that everything balanced very quickly and the counterweight was adequate for the camera payload. I released the clutch on the gears to test balance but this is not necessary based on my experience since there are two screws that release the DEC Adapter for initial positioning of the camera and balance but I wanted to see how the processed worked. Everything was free moving and worked well with ONE exception. The knobs on the ball head will hit the motor/gearbox assembly in certain positions. This is an issue for some scene and framing and positioning the notch in the ball head for some situations. It just barely makes contact but under power this could cause some problems. The fix I will use for this is to add a 1/8” spacer to fit between the DEC Adapter and the ball mount… this will allow the proper clearance. Hopefully this will be resolved in the future. This should be an easy fix for their engineers and end users, overall just something to be mindful of.
Getting it Outside and Summary of Use
Once we got a night for viewing, fortunately within a few days of arrival, I went outside and set up. Getting the mount set for my latitude was a very easy process. Leveling the mount is just a matter of adjusting the legs on the tripod. With everything tightened up on the mount, I was ready to get started imaging. The LED accessory was a nice edition and very helpful in illuminating the reticle. With the app opened and the proper location of Polaris indicated, it was a snap to get a very good polar alignment within a few minutes.
I set the tracking rate to 1, powered on the mount and camera, put the Orion constellation in the center of the view finder, focused and went back inside with my USB cable run through the window.
I did a few 15 second exposures, everything was looking good, I moved quickly up to 30 second exposures then on to 2 minute exposures. No trails… so far so good… at that point I setup for a series of 40 exposures of 30 seconds. Every one of the 30-second exposures was usable and I had nice tight stars… so far the mount was not breaking a sweat. Now for a better test… I went back outside – zoomed out to a wider field and repositioned the mount to ensure the ball head knobs would not hit the mount and went back inside. I use Backyard EOS to control the camera. I setup for a series of 10-minute exposures – I took 6 – every one held nice and tight. I had some foreground objects and they were nice and blurred while the stars were nice and round.
I have stacked these two series of shots – the 10-minute and the 30-second series and they are the best results I have had doing these types of shots.
Next time I get it outside, I will do some tests with the various tracking rates and experiment with some longer exposures as well. Overall, the results were what I was hoping for and I am looking forward to some great nights with this setup. I will also do a series of time-lapse shots with the mount as well. Overall I am very happy with the product and would recommend it.
- Travel bags for the tripod and mount
- Easy setup and LED polar scope light
- Quality of construction
- Ball head collides with motor box in certain situations
- Paid app for the price of the product
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