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Vixen Sphinx Starbook issues?

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#1 t.r.


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Posted 09 June 2009 - 08:29 AM

I have been looking for a new quality mount. I see alot of used SX, SXW and SXD mounts for sale. I inquired about one and the gentleman told me he disliked the starbook. He had trouble targeting objects. He was selling to go back to a Celestron hand controller, which, I too am familiar with and like.
Question, can't the user just use a select a menu and "select" the target from there rather than the chart? I really like these mounts, but he wasn't the only one changing to something more user friendly. What are the issues if any above and beyond this that would disuade someone from chosing one? Thank you...

#2 amys



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Posted 09 June 2009 - 08:39 AM

I happen to like the Starbook. You can either zoom in one an object on the chart or go to the menu and pick a star, planet,type in an NGC object or select a Messier object from the list. I'd suggest checking it out first to see if you like it.

To me, the biggest drawback is the tripod. I have a CG-5 as well and if the Sphinx came on that tripod, it would be a much superior mount. I can tell you that the Sphinx is a very elegant design and is quite solid, especially compared to the CG-5. The CG-5 takes longer for me to set up but it works very well once the alignment is done. Tracking seems perfect

I find the Sphinx alignment process easier, it's quieter but not as fast as the CG-5 and I prefer the Starbook over the Celestron hand controller. But there are plenty of folks who just detest the Starbook.

There seems to be tracking issues with the SXD. My SXW tracks well but honestly, the CG-5 may track better. I haven't used it enough to really tell.

#3 ericsolo


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Posted 09 June 2009 - 10:35 PM


I have a Vixen New Atlux/Starbook and after eight months of ownership, replaced it with a Losmandy G11/Gemini. Prior to the Atlux, I had a Skywatcher EQ6/EQMOD which was very easy to use.

If by targeting you mean finding an object in Starbook, as Amy says, you can select from pick lists but you have to use the Starbook Chart to slew to the object. If by targeting you mean GoTo ability, read on.

I found the GoTo accuracy to be less than satisfactory. Vixen Optics replaced the Starbook but it did not solve the problem. I then sent the mount back to Vixen Optics for repairs, and was told that it was functioning as designed, and that the problems were probably due to user error and nothing more would be done. I spent an entire summer/fall season trying to resolve these errors, but was never successful. Curiously, I’ve not had these same user errors while using previous or subsequent mounts.

Regarding the Skybook Display during the boot up sequence, the splash screens are very bright, enough to ruin night vision, and are not controlled by the software dimmer settings. During use I find the display to be too bright even when dimmed to its lowest readable setting. I preserve night vision by turning off the display as soon as possible, but you need to look at the display when a Starbook function is performed.

Some other observations, I find the large rectangular footprint of the ‘Book and layout of the controls to be awkward, compared to the tapered narrow hand controllers typical of other vendors. If you make an alignment error you have to reboot the Starbook and start over (remember the splash screens). Starbook cannot save GoTo alignments between sessions, even if the mount is parked and not moved, you have to perform the four star alignment again after powering up.

From an astrophotography perspective, the user can adjust backlash, but Starbook does not have tools such as polar alignment assistance, mount modelling or error computations, adjustable tracking rates, user configurable park positions and so forth. It is difficult to use with third party PEC or polar alignment software because tracking can only be stopped by powering off the Starbook (again this necessitates a reboot). If you choose to use periodic error correction, you have to train the mount each time, it can’t store PEC, nor can PEC be uploaded from third party software.

Tracking for visual use was OK, but sometimes the mount would just stop tracking, and sit making “ticking” sounds. However, I don’t think this is a Starbook issue.

Starbook communicates with personal computers/planetarium software through HTTP and this is very robust. Software Bisque TheSky6 has the necessary driver to communicate with Starbook directly, but the functionality is limited. All other software packages require an ASCOM driver.

My New Atlux was advertised here in the Cloudy Nights Classified for a while, but when I gave the reason for selling it, interest evaporated. No vendor will take it on trade in either. So, I decided to wait and see if future Starbook software upgrades would solve the problem, or maybe Vixen would release a new controller. In the meantime, I have a $6,000 paperweight sitting in my basement.

A last word of advice, itemize the functions that you want in a mount/controller. Go through the manufacturer’s specifications, and narrow your choices, then field test each one. Understand the manufacturer’s warranties and cost of shipping if repairs are necessary.

Count me as NOT a fan of the Starbook.


#4 sctchun



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Posted 11 June 2009 - 04:28 AM

Hi T R,

I've had my SXW for about a year, and in all, I'm quite happy with it. I'm able to do 10 min guided subs using my 80mm refractor and I only use the polar alignment scope and 4 star alignment. I'm guessing part of my success is that I have a short scope (480 f/l) and relatively light load ~10 lbs.

I have to admit about some issues that I have with the Starbook.

1) the screen is a bit bright, but I have the neutral density film that cuts that down. (Do note that most laptops still needs further filtering to be used in the field, but that is for something that wasn't geared for dark skies).

2) As much as I like the interface of the starbook, it will show some names of stars, but not all of them that would be listed in the named star dropdown list (I'm still learning/remember where stars are).

3) There is a slight stiffness in the Dec and RA axis, which may be a problem when trying to balance your setup. But it seems to loosen a bit over time.

4) As noted in a earlier post, this mount is great as a portable setup, no so great as a permanent one. (Missing park, PPEC, etc)

Knowing these limitation, I still like the Sphnix, mainly because I use mine as mobile imaging setup.

Hope this helps.


#5 iluxo


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Posted 11 June 2009 - 07:51 AM

Well for a start you haven't said what sort of scope you want to put on top, or what you want to do with it; whether the SXW is adequate or not depends largely on these.

As above its age is showing and it lacks some refinements that other GOTO mounts now have...

I have an SXW, I use it for visual observations (mainly lunar and planetary) and for this it will carry my 180mm f/15 Maksutov.

IMHO it is not adequate for serious astrophotography with anything bigger/longer than a an 80 mm, maybe a 100mm f/7 APO.

a) the worms are far too small, and the mount aluminium which means it is just not stiff enough to carry anything bigger;

b) a lot of backlash in dec, even after fine adjustments to the gearbox when fine slewing.

Other than these it's OK for general use if you want a basic mount that will track.

#6 lineman_16735



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Posted 11 June 2009 - 12:01 PM

a) the worms are far too small, and the mount aluminium which means it is just not stiff enough to carry anything bigger;

Most mounts are aluminum are they not? The Losmandys, Taks, AP's and Paramounts are. I don't think the alloy is a major factor in considering this mount.

#7 FoxTrot



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Posted 11 June 2009 - 02:19 PM

Hi ericsolo, thanks for that in depth opinion on starbook. I was almost going to get a good deal on a second hand SXW but in the end decided no. As much as I am sure mechanically it would be superior to my lowly LXD75, it is the HC and software that became the decisive issues. Starbook, although looks pretty, is too much of a video game console for my liking, it just seems too fiddly and distracting to have in the field. Also the catalogs seem very underwhelming for such an expensive mount.

I think Nextstar has got it all over Starbook. If the Starbook HC had shortcut and alphanumeric keypad input on its bottom half, plus decent catalogs, it would be a much more attractive option I think. But I don't see that happening anytime soon. Sorry, but Vixen just seem half-baked and disinterested on this issue IMHO; a missed opportunity at present. Fox!

#8 chuckscap


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Posted 01 September 2009 - 07:19 PM

I've had a NexStar 11, which I really really liked, now I have Mewlon 250 on a Sphinx SXW (which I bought at a great price used). The starbook is too big and clunky, too bright, and doesn't have nearly the objects my celestron hand controller did. Saying all that, I have twenty-five pounds of counterweights on it, carrying a 30 plus pound load (about 10 lbs over capacity) and as long as I balance it correctly and spend 5 minutes polar aligning, it put all objects within a 1/2 degree field and tracks very well. For the $1200 bucks I paid for it (including half pillar, polar scope and extra counterweights) I'm very happy with it. Of course I've almost quit buying any new astronomy equipment since in most cases amateur astronomers take great care of their stuff and everything is so much cheaper used.



#9 chuckscap


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Posted 05 September 2009 - 03:30 PM

Hi, here's a picture of my Mewlon 250 on a Sphinx SXW. So far, everything seems to work for visual, goto, tracking etc. There's no way this would work for astro photography, The Mewlon 250 is definitely undermounted, I am impressed it works as well as it does for visual. I ran out of weights though, so had to add 2 2.5 lb
barbell weights to the bar. I have a total of 25lbs of counterweights or so on
it right now.

Posted Image


#10 adamsp123


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Posted 05 September 2009 - 06:02 PM

I am curious about some of the comments made. I realise that the starbook will not be to everyones liking and fair enough, but comments like, it is too clunky, or a video game consol leave me somewhat bemused.
After all it is a visual planetarium type controller ie you use the screen to select your objects, if it was any smaller it would be useless. I agree the screen is too bright, a function of LCD technology but this can be easily remedied.
As far as number of objects how many do you need? it does all the M NGC IC objects and RA and DEC can be entered.
I find using it easier than compared to CG5/EQ6 controllers, which BTW are fine but star alignment is a lot quicker with the starbook, and you can do a fair number all over the sky if you wish.
I have loaded my SXW to 30lbs (Meade 10" SNT) and imaged fine with it unguided for 1 min subs.
If you download the latest update to the starbook it has home position and PEC now, details http://www.vixen.co....pdate/sb_e.html


#11 FoxTrot



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Posted 06 September 2009 - 12:30 AM

Hey Chuck, that's one nice setup, and what a stupendous vantage point for viewing, absolutely glorious!!! There's something quite magical in that photo which really grabs me, the blue sky and landscape, pure white scope and mount...

Sorry Peter, I don't mean to sound so mean spirited about Starbook, what ever takes your fancy, no problemo. I think its visual display would be distracting for me out in the field, but the mechanics of the SXW is no doubt so so much ahead of the LXD75. And as much as I bag the Meade mount, its does behave OK when all the gears, cogs, worms etc. are properly adjusted, its lightweight for its category, and for me the one big boon is its Autostar Tour programmability (in conjunction with AstroPlanner) since I don't have a laptop (yet). I believe you can even buy a more recent Autostar HC (not Autostar II) that has more memory for user tours, since mine only has a measely 64k - now that would have to be the height of stupidity ever from Meade, 64k when 1.44MB floppies were phased out decades ago...! Urggh... Fox

#12 adamsp123


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Posted 06 September 2009 - 02:42 AM

No worries Fox,
I agree totally it is a personal choice, BTW I bought both my Vixen mounts secondhand which makes them a bargain for the quality, new, well too much for me, I would choose an EQ6 pro.
Oh there is a "screen off" timer function in starbook, I have added a neutral density sheet over my screen so dark you can only see the screen at night.

#13 Grouptele


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Posted 06 September 2009 - 09:21 AM

I agree totally it is a personal choice

Indeed. What matters is what use and enjoyment one gets from the hardware.

In my case, I owned an SXW briefly in 07' and used it with a C8 @ f.3.3 for unguided CCD imaging and visual work @ f6.3. Mounted on a CPC tripod + adaptor, the unit tracked very well (40-60sec captures with round stars), was very quiet and vibrations-free. The things to which I objected were:

> Irregular GoTo's. Rarely could locate targets within appx 30arcmin circle. On a wide field scope, this would not have been bad, but when aiming a small size CCD chip, it was a hit-miss proposition. Tried all the usual alignment tricks (e.g., number and location of alignment stars, hi mag x-etched ocular, etc.) without success. Never found the failure mode - alignment star coordinate error in Starbook? encoder(s) error?

> Bright Starbook screen. I had installed the Vixen light blocking screen, adjusted the brightness and contrast settings to minimize ilumination and made use of the screen-off timer feature but could not find a happy medium - it was either too dim to see text details or too bright and it affected my night vision when doing visual gazing.

By the prior-to-purchase selection procees many of us use, it should have been the mount of choice for my needs, but it did not live up to my expectations. I was disappointed.


#14 mischief


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Posted 09 September 2009 - 01:44 PM

Just my $.02 for what it is worth. I purchased a Vixen SkyPod mount and VMC 110 OTA a couple of years ago. I tried setting it up in the house; I did have something funny happen; somehow or other, when I first turned the StarBook on, everything was in Japanese. I couldn't figure out how to change it so I had to totally lobotomize it by taking the batteries out. After I got switched to English, I tried setting it up, or at least reading the directions. I found the navigation buttons to be very confusing. I didn't use it until I went to a StarParty (first one for me) and managed to set up the Vixen equipment with the help of a very experienced astronomer who also had trouble figuring things out. She eventually got it working so that night, I set it up all set to observe. I had a lot of trouble reading the screen (I later found out that I needed to remove a thin film from the screen, but by then it was too late for that night). With the help of my friend, we found Albeiro. I was happily looking at it when an astronomer who was set up fairly close to me, yelled at me to dim the green ( :flame:) background light of the planetarium. I did not know how to do that plus everyone wondered why Vixen chose green instead of red. By the time I tried to put the StarBook somewhere so as not to annoy the other astronomer, the StarBook had fallen to the ground, everything was totally out of view and I said to h--- with it and switched to binoculars for that StarParty. I didn't like the StarBook; I found it hard and confusing to set up plus the green background so haven't used it since. I would like to sell it, but I haven't pushed that on Astromart or the Classified section here. I did like the OTA. Bottom line, as some said, it is a personal decision, but I would not recommend it; there are better alternatives.

Dorothy :foreheadslap:

#15 scblur



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Posted 09 September 2009 - 08:33 PM

I have used a Starbook/Sphinx SXW for a couple years with no alignment problems at all. I find in amazingly easy to use.
For casual use its great. I line it up near the NS line up two or three stars and I am off gazing. I like the handheld computer and find in friendly to interface with. To me its almost grab and go. 5-10 in to align, thats it.
Its light, sturdy and attractive. I use a TMB130 on mine.

The only thing I dislike is the HAL110 tripod that came with mine. I am 6'1". The HAL110 is a bit short, so I am building a 16" half pier. Should be done next week. I considered buying a HAL130 and vixen half pier, but for $65 worth of metal and parts and a bit of time I will have a decent height mount. The HAL130 + 1/2Pier was going to be ~$500.

FWIW the background on the Starbook is not green, its RED.
FWIW most people who are happy about the Sphinx just sit back and enjoy. That goes with most products. The Starbook is far from confusing or difficult to use.

#16 FoxTrot



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Posted 10 September 2009 - 12:24 AM

I think the Skypod Starbook version is a "cutdown" green LCD thing, correct? Whilst the SXW and SXD version has full on color display.

#17 pollux



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Posted 10 September 2009 - 10:32 AM

the skypod uses starbook s system which is the cut down version of the starbook used on sphinx

the s version also is used on the GP series

I have owned and use both full version and s version

s is really bad while the full versio is 1000X better

#18 justabob


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Posted 17 September 2009 - 11:41 PM

I wonder if the folks have trouble with goto's have downloaded the latest firmware? I use my sxw strictly for imaging and I love it. I pick the nearest bright star to my target and sync without issue. The polar scope is very accurate, I never drift align. I have done 15min exposures at 768mm while autoguiding.

All the images in my gallery are with the sxw.


#19 chuckscap


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Posted 18 September 2009 - 06:54 AM

Great images Bob! I'm happy with my SXW also, even though I should buy a bigger mount for my Mewlon.



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