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Portable astrophotogrhy mount

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#1 laidman

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 12:59 AM

Hi folks
I've been looking at portable mounts for a while now, but have yet to settle on something. I thought I'd nailed with the Astrotrac, but now I'm not so sure. If I set myself up with everything I'd need with the Astrotrac system I'd be looking at the travel system - the one with the pier, wedge, polar scope, etc. I could maybe make due with my Manfrotto 190x proB tripod, but I figure I might as well do things properly. That set up is 1790$ CAN through Canadiantelescopes.com, which seems far and away the best price I've found so far. That set up weighs 35 pounds.

What I'm thinking of now, though, is something like the Meade LX80. It's 830$ CAN through the same site, and has more to offer, right? Granted, I'd need a polar scope, but there's a huge price difference there...

Either mount would be used primarily for astrophotography with DSLR cameras and lenses. I don't own a telescope and due to the fact I only have a motorcycle and want to hike around with this thing, I won't be getting anything anytime soon. Portability is hugely important!
I see the Meade runs just over 30 pounds for the mount, and the same again for the tripod, so at 60+ pounds maybe I should rule out any kind of GEM/alt-az mount.

For portability, weight, ease-of-use, and quality, is the Astrotrac really the best out there?

Cheers...

#2 rmollise

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 08:04 AM

The LX80 might do...or it might not. I'd wait about a year on that.

Get a CG5. It will do the job at minimal expense, let you expand to a telescope later, and it will _work_.

If you must remain uber portable, I'd look at the new Vixen Polarie.

#3 oldstargazer

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 08:22 AM

I second the CG5-GTa mount. I use this mount all the time for my ap work and it can do 5 minutes if you spend the time to get a really good polar alingment. I bought a dovetail for about 15 dollars that I mounted my camera on using one of those little devices that lets you adjust it in az/el so you can get it aligned precisely with the dovetail. One thing though the standard weight for the mount is 11 pounds and that is too much for just a camera. Luckily I have an old super polaris mount that I still have from the early 80s and that bar and weight is just right.

#4 Falcon-

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 10:13 AM

I use a CG5 for exactly that. Something else you might look at is the iOptron iEQ30 - from what I have read about it it looks like a good mount (step up from the CG5) and is relatively light weight.

#5 David Pavlich

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 10:37 AM

Pretty tough to beat the CG5-GT at that price point. I sure enjoy mine!

David

#6 laidman

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 01:56 PM

Thanks for the input everyone!
The CG5 definitely looks promising, and very tempting at that price as well. I guess my only concern is the weight again. The CG5 looks like it clocks in at about 57 pounds, which is still pretty heavy. I'd like to be able to carry the mount with me hiking; for a few hours at least up some fairly steep terrain. I live on Jeju Island off the south end of South Korea (although I'm home in Canada for a bit now...) and I'd like to head up Halla Mt. (1950m) sometime to do some imaging.
I'm 6''3" / 190cm and pretty athletic, but that kind of weight, coupled with my camera gear, has me a little worried.
This mount would be used with a Canon 40D with battery grip, and everything from a 50mm f1.8 to a Sigma 150-500mm, potentially with an extender as well.
The Vixen Polarie I read about, but it seems a little more limited versus the Astrotrac, and lacks autoguiding.
Getting a GEM is pricewise a nice idea, but maybe there isn't really anything out there that's light enough for true portability.
Also, I'm thinking about how I would carry this around, and I'd probably use a backpacking backpack as I could stick the mount and all my gear in it as well. For transport, I'd have to bee able to carry everything on my back while on my motorrcycle, too.
Decisions, decisions!
Thanks all,

Mike

#7 oldstargazer

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 02:24 PM

Sounds like you want to stay with a manual type mount. Anything you have that requires power means you are now going to have to lug around another 5-10 pounds worth of battery if not more.

#8 Falcon-

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 02:57 PM

As to the CG-5 weight - most of that weight is the tripod and counterweight. If you make your own mini-tripod of some sort and if you make a smaller counterweight suitable for the the weight of your camera w/ sigma lens you could cut that weight down a lot.

Still though, not going to be SUPER light and you will need a power source usually in the form of a lead-acid battery to run it.

I see the iOptron iEQ30 lists a wight of 15lb (I am guessing that is mount-head only...?). That may be the lightest-weight AP capable full GEM mount you are likely to find. The Astrotrac and Losmandy Starlapse are likely the ones that are TRUELY back-pack friendly (especially the astrotrac).

Sounds like it may come down to all-round capability (regular GEM) vs ultra light (Astrotrac, etc)

#9 Falcon-

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 03:07 PM

oh, BTW, if you limited your backpack-AP rig to things like the 50mm lens then you can get away with some rather inexpensive equipment normally considered beneath notice.... a RA motor equipped EQ1 or EQ2 such as this one from Orion should be able to do at least as well as my very beat up 40 year old EQ2 managed to do for me.

Now such a mount is NOT going to be a work of amazing mechanical precision, I have to note that my own ancient EQ2 had a fairly high rejected frame rate even at 50mm, but it's cheaper then a Polarie!

(This conversation now has me wondering about replacing the tripod legs on my CG-5 for easier camping/short-hike portability... those 2" steel legs are an advantage of the CG5, but they are not small!)

#10 laidman

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 05:01 PM

Thanks Falcon, Stargazer...

I do like the idea of a GEM, and the idea of mounting one atop a smaller, lighter tripod is appealing. However, once I've found something sturdy and portable enough, it'll most likely cost me a bit anyways...

The whole Astrotrac travel setup runs about 35 pounds, so coupled with my camera gear will still require a bit of sweat, but will be easier than anything I might be able to come up with otherwise. In addition, the price on Canadiantelescopes.com seems to be much, much cheaper than anywhere else I've come across, so that might be a sign in itself!

The idea of getting something smaller, lighter, and cheaper is valid, but coming from photography and already having a deep interest in astronomy as well, I know I wouldn't be satisfied if I was always at the limits of what my equipment could provide. Better to buy right the first time (as it fits your needs) than always be cursing your equipment and wishing you'd gone another route!

In terms of simplicity, practicality, and weight, it seems that the Astrotrac is the way to go for me. I also looked the the Fornax 10, but couldn't find a dealer that would ship to me. The Losmandy starlapse was also tempting, as I like to do timelapse photography, too, but I've read that its tracking isn't as good as the Astrotrac.

Cheers,

Mike

#11 ghataa

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 05:07 PM

I have a Vixen Polarie and it is incredibly lightweight. I can easily get 5 min subs using a 85 mm lens. Sets up in 5 min and tracks great for just a few pounds.

Best,

George

#12 laidman

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 12:26 AM

Thanks George. The Polarie is attractive except I'd like to be able to use my longer lenses and be able to try autoguiding in the future as well. I've heard a lot of good things about the Polarie, though.
Cheers,
Mike

#13 Midnight Dan

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 08:42 AM

You might want to take a look at the new SmartEQ portable Goto GEM from iOptron:
http://ioptron.com/i...eb-0c0ba49ddf1d

The mount head is only 6.2 pounds, the counterweight is 2 pounds, and it has a rated capacity of 11 pounds of gear. It has an internal battery compartment that becomes part of the counterweight, holds 8 AA's, and lasts for 16 hours of tracking. At $400, it seems like a pretty attractive price too!

-Dan

#14 TopherTheME

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 09:50 AM

I've been looking at a portable mount for AP as well and have been looking at the SmartEQ pretty closely. Unfortunately its a new mount so there's practically no information available on it. The website says its good for wide field astrophotography who knows how well it actually works.

#15 Midnight Dan

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 10:09 AM

Here's a recent thread here on CN for the SmartEQ: http://tinyurl.com/bqerz7n

Seems like mixed reviews, with some of the usual new-mount issues.

-Dan

#16 themos

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 11:40 AM

You might want to check out my review of the "Orion Adventures in Astrophotography Bundle" mount where I describe my autoguiding modification. It produces 8 min exposures at a scale of 8 arcsec/pixel with a tracking error of about 1 arcsec rms.

http://tech.groups.y...ng/message/9007

http://www.amazon.co...e/dp/B003ZDBY36

Themos Tsikas

#17 Hikari

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 11:59 AM

For portability, weight, ease-of-use, and quality, is the Astrotrac really the best out there?

Cheers...


Yes, but with a tripod, not with the Astrotrac pier. A GEM is so much heavier and bulkier. They are not even in the same league. The Astrotrac is going to give really great results.

#18 ghataa

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 12:00 PM

Mike,

Can't go wrong with the Astrotrac. Different niches of the portable market. I am pleased we have so many choices depending on need. Please let us know how it goes.

Dan,

The SmartEQ looks really interesting but as you noted some of the early feedback is mixed. I am intrigued by these portable mounts. The ability to do 5 min subs with small apos or lenses with a lightweight footprint is sometimes just what the doctor ordered!

George

#19 Falcon-

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 12:53 PM

Only problem with the SmartEQ is that (currently) they claim no auto-guiding ability. I HOPE this just means no ST4 port rather then inability to guide via the hand controller pulseguide/ascom. *If* it can be guided it is sure hard to beat the price for a wide-field portable AP GEM.

#20 Patrick

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 01:27 PM

Laidman,

I can't help but think that what you really want doesn't exist in one setup. You want it to be portable (under 35 lbs), but you want autoguiding capability and the ability to carry a 500mm photographic lense. You do understand that you'll need TWO scopes and TWO camera's to autoguide, right? There are some lightweight autoguiding setups out there now, so that's a plus, but all those widgets and gadgets start to add up, if not in weight, at least in bulkiness.

I think you should focus on one task at a time, breaking it down into imaging focal lengths. If you're going hiking, the Astrotrac sounds great, but you may want to limit the focal lengths to 200mm and under, for example. If you want to image at longer focal lengths, you may have to forgo the hiking part, and go with a more robust setup that will allow you to autoguide. Is there anywhere you can image that doesn't require you to hike to it?

Just a thought.

Patrick

#21 laidman

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Posted 06 July 2012 - 01:22 AM

Dan, the SmartEQ does look like an Interesting proposition. I'll have to look at it a little more closely and see if some of the issues that were brought up on the thread to which you linked get resolved.

My current tripod setup consists of a Manfrotto 190XPROB with a 488RC2 ball head. The head is prone to a little settling after the camera is framed, so that might lead to some frustration. That and it is only rated for a 5kg load, so I'd need something else to support pretty much anything I'd get, even that light SmartEQ mount.
It also seems that people recommend only loading up the mount/tripod to half of its rated capacity for imaging...
The 055XPROB that Astrotrac offers is pretty similar to what I have but able to carry 7kg and extend a little higher. That's why I figured I'd go with the pier and get a stable platform from the start.

But Hikari, you recommend the Astrotrac without the pier? Just to make it lighter and more convenient, or from a quality standpoint? Is it not worth it?

Thermos,you make an interesting point, but unfortunately my situation in Korea means I don't have a lot of the space and tools necessary to muck around too much modifying things. That and while I am pretty technically proficient, much of what goes on on these forum is well over my head!

Patrick, you're right, I do want to have my cake and eat it, too!
Regarding autoguiding, my understanding is that I'd need a plate that would let me mount both my camera and then a secondary small scope and camera at the opposite end (something like the Orion Awesome Autoguider). Then run everything to a laptop. (Any smartphone/tablet applications out for autoguiding yet??) Is that correct?
As for focal lengths, yours is a good suggestion. It is surprising what people are able to image at 200mm, so maybe that's a good place to stick to for now...
There is a site to which I've been a few times that is just along the side of an inland highway up towards the mountain where I am, but the catch is that even if I don't have to walk anywhere, I don't have a car, only a motorcycle. Either that, or take the bus. That's the other reason I'd like to keep things portable!

Thanks so much everyone for chiming in and voicing your opinions on all the possible options out there!

Cheers,

Mike

#22 Hikari

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Posted 06 July 2012 - 08:56 AM

But Hikari, you recommend the Astrotrac without the pier? Just to make it lighter and more convenient, or from a quality standpoint? Is it not worth it?


Weight and size and the ability to travel with it. I have my Astrotrac on a Gitzo tripod with a Manfrotto 410 gear head and a Velbon ball head to mount the camera. The gear head is great for alignment; I am not sure I would want to align the Astrotac on a ball head. Also, you could also buy a nicer tripod for the money and the tripod would have more uses than a pier and can be more easily setup on uneven ground.

My Astrotrac replaced my Takahashi Sky Patrol--it is lighter and more compact than the Sky Patrol. GEMs are large and require a counter weight. It seems you are moving this with a motorcycle. You can put the Astrotrac and camera gear comfortably in a back pack and strap the tripod to your bike.

If you were moving everything by car and not carrying anything more than a few meters, then you really have no limit to the type of mount. I have a Takahashi EM-2S and it is a fine mount. I just don't take it anywhere with me.

I don't think the Astrotrac is limited to 200mm. Folks have used telescopes with it with much longer focal lengths. I am just starting my Astrotrac adventures. I have easily mounted a medium-format digital camera on my Astrotrac and made five minute exposures with a 120mm with no signs of tracking error and I was not really trying too hard. I hope to try a 300mm lens this summer if I get more than (or perhaps less than) cloudy skies. I think folks that have never used an Astrotrac can't imagine how such a small light mount can be so good.

P.S. I am not using the auto-guiding feature.

#23 Midnight Dan

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Posted 06 July 2012 - 09:37 AM

Regarding autoguiding, my understanding is that I'd need a plate that would let me mount both my camera and then a secondary small scope and camera at the opposite end (something like the Orion Awesome Autoguider).


The Awesome Autoguider package uses a ShortTube 80 scope which will add quite a bit of weight and bulk to your setup. I'd recommend using the Magnificent Mini Autoguider which is based on a 50mm finder scope. MUCH smaller and lightweight, yet still plenty accurate for the kind of imaging you're looking at.

-Dan

#24 laidman

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Posted 06 July 2012 - 10:01 PM

You make a good point Hikari. I'm thinking now of just trying the Astrotrac with my 190XPROB tripod. Whenever I do timelapse I have a bungee that I attach to the bottom of the centre column and then stick under a heavy rock or whatever I can find underneath the centre of theropod. I'm thinking that with that setup I should be stable enough to support the Astrotrac.

The 055XPROB that is offered in the Astrotrac travel package has a maximum supported weight of 7 kg versus the 5 kg of my tripod, but whatever...I'll cross that bridge if it seems too flimsy! I'm also thinking of going with the wedge versus the 410 geared head, and then the Astrotrac with polar scope, as well.

It's nice to hear that you're having such a good experience with it.

Is,a carbon fibre tripod recommended versus aluminum? I know carbon fibre is stiffer. Is it also less vibration prone?

Dan, I did mean the smaller of the two autoguiders, the 50mm unit. I couldn't be bothered to check the name...I just knew it had "awesome" or "magnificent" or something unexpected in it!

#25 avarakin

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Posted 07 July 2012 - 08:34 PM

I am using a CG3 mount which came with Astromaster 130 for imaging with 50mm lens and it works pretty well. The whole thing, including tripod, weighs around #15 I guess.
I recently got a 135mm lens and it would be interesting to see how it works on this mount. The mount does not have polar scope, but it is quite easy to align using parallax method.

I modified the drive on my mount to use multi turn potentiometer instead of a single turn one.

I am also thinking of modifying it for autoguiding, should be pretty easy using astrogene guiding box. Once this is done, this could be a pretty nice air portable imaging rig.

Here is the mount and the scope:
http://www.hayneedle...ortelescope.cfm

If you decide to go this route, make sure you buy a set with Mount Drive option - most are sold without it.

Alex






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