The box they pack the mount in is huge and just looking at the size of it reassured me the mount was well protected during shipping. One thing I didn’t expect was how heavy the mount is out of the box. They attach the DEC counterweight to the mount at the factory that adds an additional eight pounds to lift up on top of the already 50lb mount. A quick fix to lighten the load is to remove the 8 lb counterweight while it's still in the box and lock down the clutches so the mount doesn't flop around when you're lifting it onto the tripod. Don’t kid yourself, the mount is still heavy. With the mount in place on the tripod, the counterweight shaft and counterweights thread on. This can be a time consuming process since you have to thread each counterweight on rather than slide and lock it in place like my last mount. This is a small price to pay to making astrophotography so simple. One thing I really like about the LX850 is the saddle plate design. It lets you use either a Losmandy or a Vixen style dovetail by simply reversing the saddle plate-locking rails. This makes using my other OTAs with this mount a possibility without additional equipment. Connecting the control panel was also a bit of a pain since you have to route connecting wires to the RA motor through the mount. It was quick to do and soon I was attaching the ota. Lifting the 12" ota wasn’t too difficult and it attached to the saddle plate with ease. I was almost done setting up the mount.
When the mount was fully setup and balanced, I powered on the mount and ran the one star alignment which has you center Polaris and one additional star which the mount chooses. This was quick to do and from this point on, the starlock guide scope did most of the work. The first thing I noticed when it slewed was how quite and smoothly it slewed. No more Meade coffee grinder sound! My object slews were spot on putting objects in the center portion of the DSI III with high precision. I was surprised on how transparent the starlock operated. It never asked me to center nearby bright stars, select a guide star, or enter an exposure time; it did all this by itself. Finding targets in the sky was always troubling for me as previous mounts usually didn't put the intended target on the ccd. But with Starlock, it didn’t miss a target. I don’t think I could ever go back to a non-starlock equipped scope and have so much fun finding objects. I slewed around the sky for a while finding objects before settling down to start taking images.
To use starlock at its full potential, I first needed a better polar alignment so I ran the Automatic drift alignment routine. It’s a first of its kind as far as I can tell. Usually my manual drift alignments can take 30 minutes or more before I'm confident I have a good alignment with no drift in 5 min. A lot of people I know are too intimidated to learn the drift alignment process, so I know the LX850 would be perfect for them. Many people already know drift aligning is easy once you get the hang of it, its just time consuming. With the automatic drift alignment feature, now anyone can do it. Starlock first slews to and locates a southern star and begins imaging. It can't make the needed mechanical adjustments to the mount required to refine your polar alignment, so instead, it tells you how many turns of the azimuth knob are needed to get you better aligned. Next, it slewed to a star in the east and did the same thing, telling me how many turns of the latitude were needed. It took about 15 minutes to complete the process which is much faster than I can do manually. This is a big time saver and another great feature of Starlock.
I didn't plan on taking really long exposures, but I still wanted to get the best image possible so I trained the periodic error out of the mount by running the PEC training routine. I slewed to a bright star on the equator and Starlock began recording the stars movement. I did the training three times total to get the best results which took about 20 minutes. Since the LX850 has permanent periodic error correction, I won't have to do the training again for awhile.
The LX850 has another feature my previous mounts didn't, its called Automatic guideRate Calibration or ARC. This feature improves the starlock guiding performance by optimizing the aggressiveness of the guide corrections. Since the magnitude of the guide corrections are partially dependant on the localized seeing conditions, this is a great feature that was added by Meade. And again, it's automatic.
As you all know, there's a lot of steps required before you start imaging. The great thing about starlock is that it makes them all automatic. So instead of me squatting on the ground looking through an eyepiece for 30 minutes drift aligning, I'm doing other things.
I finally got to the imaging part and it was only 10 pm but the clouds were starting to roll in. I slewed to M101 using the hand controller and one minute later, it appeared in the center of my ccd sensor. I was excited, starlock was already at work. I refined the focus on my camera and started imaging for five minutes. The first image looked good so I kept imaging, waiting for a bad image to appear. Surprisingly it never appeared and I was happy with the results. Not bad for my first image with the LX850!
The mount was handling the 5 minute sub frames well, so the next question was can it do 10 minute subs?
The stars are a bit bloated. If I knew how to process the photos, I'm sure I could get better images but for now I'm happy. Hoping for more clear nights!