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Ioptron SmartEQ quick easy cheap fixes

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#1 RevZafod


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Posted 01 October 2012 - 09:04 PM

As I'm now past 70, I no longer enjoy long nights for astrophotography. For years I've tried to find a light-weight, high-resolution equatorial go-to/scope combination that is perfect for solar eclipses, moon photos, and similar photos.
I found it about $20 short of perfect. My solutions can be found for about that much total at WalMart, Autozone, and hardware stores across the US. Maybe this post will help save the planet so others don't have to do as much carbon-emitting driving around to find parts.

I'm an early adopter of the Ioptron SmartEQ mount reviewed in the October 2012 issue of Sky & Telescope, but an even earlier adopter of Ioptron's combo with William Optics' Zenithstar Z71 for $799. I also bought a few accessories with it, like a polar scope, 12V power cord and AC power supply, so I have three ways to power it, including the 8xAA battery built-in option.

My entire tripod/ SmartEQ mount/ Z71/ Olympus OM-D /90 degree prism setup weighs only about 22 pounds; easily portable, but there are a few minor mods that will make it much more user-friendly.

As I write this the data is not yet online for the Z71, so here are the basics, very close to the earlier WO Z70.
Aperture 71mm
Focal Ratio F/5.9
Focal Length 418 mm
Objective Type Doublet ED, Air Spaced, Fully Multi-Coated, SMC coating
Resolving Power 1.58"
Limiting Magnitude 11
Lens Shade Retractable
Focuser 50.8 mm (2") R&P Focuser with 1:10 Dual Speed microfocuser 80mm (3.2") Focuser Travel Length 360° Rotatable Design
1.25" Adapter Brass Compression Rings
L-type Mount L-Base dovetail, fits SmartEQ mount

I also wanted to be able to mount an Olympus OM-D with telephoto lens, and a Coronado PST directly. On advice elsewhere, I bought an Orion #07388 1/4"-20 dovetail adapter. I found that it worked with the PST, but the supplied screw was too long to fit my camera.

Then, when I got the camera mounted to the dovetail adapter, the plastic-head wingnut dovetail set screw supplied with with the SmartEQ couldn't be used as the long axis hit the bottom of the camera.

I was able to fix all three problems for under $20 at three local stores in the NW Dallas TX area.

The mount and scope are very nice for the price, but there had to be some understandable compromises on the mount.

Problem 1: with the tripod legs extended and the locknuts tightened all the way, it doesn't take much downward pressure to make the legs slip, as there's only a small hard plastic tab pressing against the leg.

Solution 1: Add a better clamp. Parts needed for a perfect fit:
From Autozone, two packages of two hose clamps each. Use three, one spare. $2.99 per pack x2.
Koehler E-Z Clamps, # EZ12BK
From WalMart, a Bell bicycle inner tube. 26" fits tire widths 1.75" thru 2.25". $4.98
Above the bar code, is "1006739 26" Schrader Valve Tube"
Autozone has 4,467 stores in 48 states and WalMart is everywhere, so finding the two parts needed shouldn't be a problem in most of the US.

Cut three rings from the inner tube about 3/4" to 7/8" wide. Wipe/wash the powder off the inside, and stretch over the tripod foot with the legs fully extended. The outside of the tube should be next to the leg. Holding the tripod upside down, slide the rubber ring all the way down. Then slide a clamp over the foot and over the rubber ring until the band touches bottom and tighten.

After installing these on all three legs, I was unable to make the legs move even when leaning on it much harder than I ever would in use. In fact, it held with the original locknuts loosened.

It may not be pretty, but it works, so who cares?

Using these clamps allows tool-free use. They're easily loosened when breaking down, won't slip off the legs, and add only about one inch and a few seconds to collapsing the tripod for transport.

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Problem 2: Orion screw too long for camera thread. Simply adding washers below the screw head makes it extend too far to slide into the dovetail mount.

Solution 2: found at Turner Hardware in Farmers Branch, TX. 1/4x20 1/2 inch long stainless allen-head and two flat washers.

Problem 3: Thumb screw hits bottom of the camera.

Solution 3: Also found at Turner Hardware in Farmers Branch, TX. An M8 thread allen-head screw long enough to extend beyond the bottom of the camera.

Posted Image

For 2 and 3, you'll also need to add Allen wrenches to fit. For about $10 more you can buy spares for that time when you lose a part in the middle of nowhere.

Here are some random specs for the parts I bought.

M8 thread
3 1/8" [79.8mm] stainless 2 47/64" 79.8mm M8 thread $1.69.
2 47/64 [99.5mm] black M8 thread , 49 cents.

1/4"-20 1/2" screw and two flat washers to fit; about 80 cents.

Item # 07388
1/4"-20 Adapter for Orion Telescope Mounts

In short, nice work by Ioptron and William Optical.

#2 *skyguy*



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Posted 01 October 2012 - 09:42 PM

I've just pulled my new Ioptron Smarteq mount out of its shipping box, tonight ... and assembled it about an hour ago. Of course, it's cloudy here tonight and will continue to be for the next several nights ... so, no testing for a while! However, I'm very impressed with the overall quality of this mount ... it seems to a very well thought-out design.

The very favorable "Sky & Telescope" article has caused a recent sell-out at the dealers ... but, that's pretty understandable at the $400 price tag. Like you said ... for a light-weight goto equatorial mount, there's nothing like it in the market. I think it will fulfill a market niche that's been ignored by the other manufacturers. Kudos to Ioptron!

BTW, thanks for posting the some of your "easy fixes" and improvements on this mount. They look like they will come in handy.

#3 RevZafod


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Posted 02 October 2012 - 08:28 PM

Thanks skyguy. Hope it helps. Now I'm working on a simple, optionally-removable laser pointer. It involves a Crosman Model 0423 Laser Sight I found at Walmart today for $20 and a Remington 597 Scope Rail Mount I found at a local gun shop for $12.95, and maybe JB Weld for permanent mount, or double-sided velcro for temp.

Also may involve a couple of 3-foot strips of aluminum flat pieces I got in hardware at Lowes today.
1/16" by 1/2"
1/8" by 3/4"
about $7.50 for the two, and cut to fit.

Now you have the parts list; beat me to it. Add it to a scope for quick aiming. The Rail Mount can be cut in half to make two bases for the Crosman.

The bottom sides of the laser may need to be ground down to fit.

Once I have it worked out I'll post another article in Equipment.

#4 Cyclop_si


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Posted 04 October 2012 - 05:01 AM

I am wondering if SmartEQ mount head is compatible with Sirius/HEQ5/GP tripod?

#5 RevZafod


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Posted 05 October 2012 - 11:03 PM

I have no clue as this is my first Ioptron buy. Ask tech support.

#6 core


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Posted 25 October 2012 - 09:55 AM

RevZafod, thanks for the mod write-up. Any updates on how you like the mount and its photographic potential? I've also got a question about the Z71 combo - other than OTA, what other accessories dis it come with? (case, diagonals, etc) - I like the R&P on it already ...

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