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Sky Watcher PRO 180 Maksutov Cassegrain


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The Sky Watcher PRO 180 Maksutov Cassegrain

Background/experience/interest

My interest in astronomy started as a youngster already, mainly because my father had an interest in it and my parents owned (a Russian made Newtonian). I have seen some very interesting celestial events with this scope over the years like for instance the complete solar eclipse of 1999 in Northern France (which was one of the most impressive and humbling experiences in my life, I still get goose bumps just thinking about it!) and the Venus transition in 2004. However this scope is limited by poor mechanics a very poor mount and rust has started to form on the tube as well. My astronomic aspirations had been slumbering for a while, but I got that ‘itch’ again and the time was right for something much better and more sophisticated, so I could do a bit more serious observing. Although I have a basic understanding of astronomy and optics I do consider myself an absolute novice.
As I was preparing my review, somebody beat me to become the first person to review the 180 Mak Pro on CN, still I would like to share my experience with this telescope for any potential buyers. And off course I still want to compete for the Planethunter J. I have owned the scope now for just a few weeks and because of bad weather only had a couple of viewing sessions with it, but yesterday I got lucky. I will also briefly comment on the EQ6 PRO mount which came with it, as well as on the William Optics eyepiece set/Barlow and diagonal that I bought separately from Telescopes.com and that were used for viewing. Since I live in Europe, I will give dimensions, weight etc. in both metric and Imperial. Prices in Europe and the US differ so much that I will only mention these in Euros. My observing site is in an urban area latitude 52 degrees 22 minutes north and longitude 4 degrees 53 minutes east.
Please forgive the poor quality of the photographs that accompany this article, my girlfriend is in the US at the moment and so is our digital camera. These photos were all with one exception taken with my mobile phone, but I think they help the story and that’s why I still added them.

Disclaimer

I do not have any commercial interest in any of the manufacturers or suppliers mentioned in this article. I comment on the suppliers as well, because this might aid potential buyers with their purchase.

The Choice

When I started looking for a telescope on the internet I first did a lot of research about different manufacturers of telescopes, different types and their weak and strong points. Finally after several months (I will not bore you with the details). My attention was drawn to the new Sky Watcher pro series, these scopes and mounts were getting some good reviews in magazines and by a couple of owners as well. The range consists of several refractors and two Maksutovs. These are accompanied by two goto-mounts the HEQ 5 Pro Synscan, albeit sturdier comparable to Celestron’s CG-5 and the larger EQ6 pro Synscan. My primary interest at this time is in planetary observation so for me it would be either the 150 Mak (as the name suggests a 150mm/5.9” Maksutov) or the 180 Mak pro, which surprisingly has an 180 mm/7.1” aperture.
So finally the choice was made!
The Skywatcher Pro 180 Maksutov-Cassegrain on the EQ6 Pro Synscan mount….. The main reasons for my choice are:
-compact design
-(hardly) if any need for collimation.
-closed optics, so no dirt gets inside the scope
-the design potentially gives high contrast without chromatic aberration, this for me is big plus because at this point in time my interest is primarily in planet observation
-enough aperture to not totally rule out deep sky observing
-a 180mm Diameter Maksutov on a very sturdy mount for an affordable price
-I just think the design is very cool………….


The Purchase

I would advise anyone who is in the market for a telescope to have a good look around, visit dealers, read reviews and articles and forums. There is a lot out there and prices differ very much.

I bought my Scope/Mount in Germany at Fernrorhland for a total of a bit more than 2130 Euros which seemed like a steal at that time (I will come back to that later).
Delivery was very swift and al my questions were answered quickly by Rudolf from Fernrorhland so thumbs up so far. I didn’t order the diagonal and eyepieces that normally come with the OTA to save a few Euros. The reason: I was planning to upgrade to a 2” William Optics diagonal and Eyepiece/Barlow set. This is my first telescope, so off course I didn’t own any eyepieces yet and I wanted to invest in something decent. I ordered these at Telescopes.com for a total including shipping and taxes of 730 Euros (I just got my credit card bill today L).

In order to attach the 2” SCT threaded diagonal to the OTA I needed a special adapter thread, but I didn’t have a clue where to buy it. Fortunately somebody here at the CN forum pointed me in the right direction and I ordered it at Scopestuff with money back assurance because the thread adapter they offered was designed for the 127 and 150 Mak Orion/Synta Mak. It actually arrived first and as it turned later fit perfectly on the scope (thanks to Jim from Scopestuff!).

All in all I now invested more or less 3000 Euros (some 3800$) which I think is a considerable amount of money for most households. Luckily my girlfriend is very supportive and she is enthusiastic about the whole thing……it helps.


The Scope arrives

Luckily I was at home that particular afternoon the scope arrived, because I was not expecting it for another few days, a pleasant surprise!
The scope and mount arrived in three large boxes clearly stating ‘made in China’ leaving little imagination as to their origin. They all seemed well packed and the only visible damage on the outside was a small dent on the box that contained the OTA, but inside the foam is very thick and there was absolutely no damage whatsoever. Before unpacking any further I rushed out to buy a power supply, I wanted to test the setup as soon as possible.
But as I unpacked further and started assembly, I found that I was missing a few items: the cap that covers the hole for the polar scope, the Synscan hand control holder and last bust most important the two bolts that secure the telescope on the mount. I have to say I was disappointed.

The missing items and a few abrasions on the mounting plate did convince me that this mount had been used as a demo item (the price certainly suggested it). I don’t object to buying a demo for a good price at all, but I do believe it should have been mentioned. It was now rather useless to make a fuss, so I didn’t. One email to Rudolf at Fernrorhland and the problem was corrected.


Missing items……check the abrasions, demo?

The OTA certainly was brand new; the box only had been opened to take out the eyepieces and diagonal.
Five days later the missing parts arrived and on that same day the eyepieces and diagonal arrived from the US so now everything was complete, but of course it rained for all of the next week or so……………

Product description/Physical dimensions and weight

The OTA, together with the diagonal finder scope and dovetail weighs in at exactly 8 kilograms (17.7 lbs). Which is less than its size and feel might suggest, Total length including 2”diagonal is about 62.5 cm (24.6”) maximum diameter at the front where a white cast iron ring is placed is approximately 220mm (8.6”).
The mirror cell at the back is also made of cast iron and certainly looks robust. The focuser is a rubber knob which some may find crude, but it actually feels nice (especially when it’s cold) is easy to handle and is effective, I like it. The OTA itself is made of gold painted aluminium and has the Sky Watcher logo on it. The cast iron ring in the front does have bit of a sloppy pain job. The dovetail is attached to the OTA with to rather small screws, which barely seem able hold it firmly in its place (I will comment on this later).
The meniscus lens has some sort of coating on it (it has a green hue); little information about the coatings etc is available on the internet.
On the CN forum I actually read that Mark Ludes of APM Telescopes has tested a sample and it came out to be 1/4th or one 1/5th wavefront, so pretty smooth……My sample appeared to be in mint condition

Here you can see the two undersized screws (one actually you can see reflecting in the primary mirror) which attach the scope to the dovetail. Notice the paint job?

All in all the impression is that it is of sturdy build but not very well refined. I pretty well knew this in advance and for me it is no objection, my main concern is the optical and mechanical performance.

A real letdown is the finder scope. It is 9x50 so rather large and the optics seem good, so it could be very useful, but I was in no way able to align it properly. Is a real handicap when aligning or finding any object in the sky.
I think I will contact my supplier about this problem, but I am already on the lookout for a red dot finder.

The same story that applies to the OTA applies to the mount as well, solid but crude. Even more so, it is built like a tank. It is of cast iron and together with the tripod that has 2” stainless steel legs, weighs a hefty 24.5 kilograms (54 lbs), this does not include the two counterweights. It is a lot bigger than the HEQ5 and I’ve seen it next to a Losmandy G11 it is even larger than that. I am convinced it can carry OTA’s up to 18 kg (40 lbs) as the specifications suggest. The EQ6 has a bubble level which I think is a useful attribute, it also comes with a polar scope which works well, but for me is a little to brightly illuminated and you can only just make out Polaris through it. The counterweight shaft neatly slides in the mount for transportation.

There is one thing I really didn’t like about the mount though: a few of the holes in the accessory tray have very sharp edges, which could easily do serious damage, you don’t want to subject your expensive eyepieces to that kind if mistreatment!

I feel compelled to briefly comment on the William Optics eyepieces, Barlow and diagonal as well, they were after all used for testing. I bought a set of six WO Eyepieces from the SWAN series (Super Wide Angle, 72 degree field of view, the FOV however was not the reason why I bought these) three of them are 2” and three are 1.25”a 2.5x 2”APO Barlow was included in the set. This gives me a total of 12 magnifications anywhere between 64x and a staggering 750x (which is hardly useful I know). And I bought the before mentioned 2” Dielectric SCT diagonal, which boats a 99% reflectivity and a 1/10th wavefront surface. Having seen a few WO products myself beforehand and having read a lot about them I knew that they are finely crafted items of high quality.
And I have to say these accessories do not disappoint! All items are made of Black anodized aluminium, the eyepieces are internally baffled, All lenses' edges and internal spacers are blackened and fully multicoated, unlike many eyepieces the barrels are black as well. A big plus is that they are in fact parfocal, meaning you theoretically do not or hardly have to refocus when changing eyepieces, this turned out to work great!
Both the Barlow and diagonal work with brass compression rings.
The only blemish I noticed were 3 small defects on the baffling of the Barlow in three very small spots the surface had lost its paint. This was easily corrected by using a black marker, problem solved!


The 2”WO diagonal is a supurb and looks great attached to the OTA, the red arrow points to the Sopestuff adapter ring which is made of nicely machined aluminium.


Assembly/Manual

As a newbie I didn’t find assembly to cumbersome and after a few times setting the whole rig up I am now able set up in no more than 15 minutes including a trip to the attic, levelling the mount and balancing it. I leave the tripod and mount assembled in my garage (I do take the counterweights of) the rest goes inside the house.
I am not a man of large stature but I am healthy and I exercise a lot so handling the mount/tripod is not a problem for me, but I can imagine that for some people it can be heavy. Please beware that when fully assembled the total weight is over 43.5 kg’s (96.5 lbs) it is a heavy setup, but very stable.
I like to set up when it is still light. It makes it that much easier and it gives the scope time to cool down

The Manual is very clear and describes in detail assembly, how to balance the scope and the polar alignment procedure. Polar alignment was a hassle the first time but after a few times becomes a lot easier.


There it proudly stands well over 180cm (6 feet) tall facing North, sorry for the mess in my backyardJ


First Light/Performance

I have had three sessions before. The first time clouds came in quickly and raindrops spoiled the party. The second time, I had my first attempt at polar aligning, which took longer than I dare to say.

The third time I was able to polar align much faster and started the alignment of the Synscan hand controller. This was a frustration certainly without a finder. And I wasn’t able to align at all

I can say that telescope only really saw first light properly last night and it was a revelation. I was now getting the hang of polar aligning and was able to very accurately pull it of in less than 5 minutes. Then attempted to align the Synscan, still it went of in a different direction than it should go, I am not entirely sure it is my fault……….I have tried it a few times now but without a proper finder it is virtually impossible and I have followed the manual to the letter.

I sure hope my Synscan is OK, because it sometimes gives very weird signs in the display when powering up, but after pressing the esc button a few times.
I will sort this out one way or the other I am sure, for now I will have to slew manually.

Once you hit a target and start tracking it does this very well indeed, slewing does give some noise but I can hardly imagine somebody waking up from it. In fact I’ve read that this is one of the quietest mounts available, it is certainly much quieter than the Meade 200LX which makes the noise of a large coffee grinder, I consider this to be a plus. Whilst tracking it makes a sort of a high pitched noise which can vary a bit when you press the buttons to manually move the scope, It is not loud but could be annoying to some. Enough now on the mount I am reviewing the Mak.

Yesterday the sky was clear and I set up the scope early, the moon was out and that was a target I could surely hit even without alignment of the Synscan and finder scope. And I did! I decided to first start out with the 40mm and go all the way down to 9mm with the 2.5x Barlow just see what this baby is capable of. The scope had cooled down and the seeing seemed very favourable.

Eyepieces used 40mm, 33mm, 25mm, 20mm, 15mm, 9mm plus a 2.5x Barlow

I first got a glance at the moon with the 40mm (67.5x) wow! The image looked very crisp and with great contrast. There was no aberration that I could detect or maybe the slightest just around the edges, if it even was there it was so little that you had to look for it intently and the moon was very bright so I think on other objects you will never have any at all to worry about. I will have to take another look next time to make sure I can detect it again. Certainly no obvious purple halo’s or things of that nature.

Time for another eyepiece the 33mm (81x) things only were getting better. It certainly was the best view of the moon I had ever seen. I went through my entire set of eyepieces and put in the 2.5x Barlow. Again started with the 42 mm going down the 20mm (337.5x) this gave the best images of the night so rich in detail and so much contrast just amazing. and even at these powers the image still snapped into focus, which suggests good collimation. Star testing had already hinted at this, I was not able to detect any diffraction spikes even on very bright stars (Capella) to me they just seemed pinpoint even at medium power (108x).
I roamed the service of the planet and was in awe. The moon was in it’s first quarter the shadows that were cast on its service were unreal….



Taken with my mobile phone at the eyepiece, still pretty amazing I think…..
Oh yeah any aberration you see here is caused by the pone/camera and not the scope itself.

Finally the scope began to fog up a bit, time to call it a night
Earlier I promised to elaborate on the dovetail attachment. It does appear to be only just adequate and it is my perception that most of the vibration was caused by this construction. I would not advise anyone to piggyback a camera or another scope. For me personally it is not an issue because I want observe visually only. The vibration is not that bad and I am able to achieve focus quite easily.

Focussing is achieved by moving the primary mirror so there is some mirror shift. apparent but after turning the focussing knob to its maximum in both directions became considerably less (I had read this before on the CN forum so I tried it). I don’t know why, maybe the mirror has to set a bit. And to me it is not disturbing at all.
A big advantage of parfocal eyepieces really shows here, little focussing=little image shift.

The Good, The Bad and Ugly

The good

-Great optics for the money
-Sturdy build
-little image shift
-snaps into focus

The Bad

-dovetail attachment not too great
-Unable to align finder scope properly

The Ugly

-some people may find it a bit crude and not very well refined

Summary/conclusion

This telescope has really met my expectations optically and even surpassed them. Mechanically it seems on par with what you might expect for the money. Unfortunately its finder scope is a letdown because if the inability to align properly with the OTA. So if you plan on buying one these Maks maybe you should order it without the finder scope and order a red dot finder instead, I will.
You might have noticed that I didn’t really mention the narrow field of view (caused by the high F/ratio) or dew (it does fog up) or cooling down. Well that has a reason; they are inherent by the design and of no ‘fault’ of this particular scope. For me they are no objection at all but are worth considering.

Considering everything this scope comes recommended!

Next target, the gas giants. I will let you now how that goes as well as the alignment.

Cleat Skies!



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