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iOptron HAZ-46 Alt Azi Mount Review


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iOptron HAZ-46 Alt Azi Mount Review

Sept 31 2023 05:00 AM | Urright4me in User Reviews

 

 

 

iOptron HAZ-46 Mount Review

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I really enjoy looking up into the ‘ether’ and pondering our place in the universe as well as the evolution of humans, our planet, and our solar system (in retrograde order).  In the 1990s, I had my first telescopes and dabbled in imaging and signal processing, etc.  Around this time, my wife and I built a 10” dobsonian telescope with John Dobson and enjoyed his Cosmology class in Dallas, Texas.  We transferred overseas in 2009 and I put the hobby on hold, until 2016, when we moved back to the USA.   Soon thereafter, I retired in Houston and moved back to Dallas.  I have rekindled my cosmology interests and have tinkered with various mounts such as Newtonian/dobsonian, refractors, and SCT type scopes.  Understanding the limitation of telescope types, mount types, and aperture makes a variety of scopes and their use a pleasurable tinkering enterprise.  This time around, I have focused on visual astronomy, with occasional forays into dslr imaging.  I enjoy video and stills of auroras, comets, fireworks, milky way, etc.  Any low light photography is a challenge.  My equipment is heavily biased towards visual, and though more imaging kit is coming into play every year.  I don’t enjoy cumbersome, hard to set up gear, nor the frustration that can ensue when something doesn’t work.  For that reason, I only occasionally shoot with dslr’s on my visual rigs, and love the ease of the imaging process with recent scopes by Vaonis, etc. and will keep a close eye on their future offerings (no eyepiece, just digital image acquisition).

 

Ioptron recently came out with two Alt-Azimuth strain wave mounts (HAZ46 and HAZ31).  Following is a review of the larger mount.  Its advertised as ‘a lightweight, compact, medium payload alt-azimuth mount.  The HAZ46 weighs in just over 12 pounds, and has a listed payload capacity of 44 pounds (not sure why its called the HAZ46!), with no counterweights/shaft required!  The dual V/D saddle can be placed on the side or the top making this mount uniquely suited to binocular telescopes. I have found all of these statements to be true.  Also of note, the mount quickly finds and aligns itself when prompted (level and go), has a Park Telescope setting which you can select and slew to before shutting down the mount, then later turn it back on and Select and Slew to new objects without additional setup, making the mount highly useable for piers and star parties, (or limited visibility patios), etc. 

Finally, because I have  a variety of 20+ lb. scopes, I opted for the larger HAZ46 mount.  It is not an inexpensive option, especially since there is no tripod included ($2800 at several marketers).  I had to wait and think hard before committing the investment into this mount.

 

Packaging:  The mount arrived in an undamaged iOptron cardboard box.  Inside was a black padded, iOptron form fitted case, which included all the necessary components: The mount ((Fig. 1a-1d), Go2Nova 8409 hand controller, and an attached dual vixen saddle.  The only thing missing was a stout tripod.  Computer control of the mount can be achieved via a USB port or the Wi-Fi inside the hand controller which has an ~212,000 object database.  The computer connection, strangely, is on the hand controller. I guess that’s one less wire to manage on a rotating mount (Fig. 1b).

 

Finish:   The all-metal CNC machined mount is finished in a black anodized color (Fig. 1).  The mount, as anticipated, matched quite nicely with my black Losmandy LW tripod setup.  The two items together weigh about 29 pounds.  Add on a roughly 20 pound OTA, and in the event of rain, I can move the whole setup about five feet further underneath my patio roof to keep everything dry.  Then next clear night, etc. I can move it all back and re-level and align from scratch after leveling.

 

Physical Setup:  The mount can be configured in a side mount dovetail saddle orientation, or it can be setup as a top mounted binocular telescope saddle (V or D).  I top mounted my binocular telescope and several scopes just to test out the balance, which had no issues, but most of my work to date, has used the side mounting.

 

Tripod:   I installed the mount on my Losmandy LW tripod with its 8” extension.  The LW Tripod has a maximum capacity of 300 pounds and weights 15-17 pounds with the extension.  It is constructed of black stainless/aluminum components.  At 15-17 pounds, it is not a trivial mount, but it is collapsable and can be moved around easily.  With the HAZ46 mounted the total weight is 29lbs.   and incidentally, the riser bars on the LW tripod extension act as a nicely balanced handle for caring the equipment around.  But I definitely wanted a sturdy and heavy enough base that it would alleviate any potential balance issues with an OTA mounted to the system.  To date, I have not had any inkling of a balance issue with any of my OTAs mounted on it.  With the 20lb Sky Watcher 180mm MAK on top, I feel comfortable the mount can easily handle the load (even with the big ES eyepieces and 2x/3x focal extenders and various dslr cameras.  I am planning to try my ES165mm triplet which should be around 75% of the mounts stated capacity.  I will be monitoring any slewing carefully at the time, to ensure no balance mistakes occur.

 

Function:   The mount worked right out of the box. In particular for alignment calibration… You simply level the mount, switch it on and it finds itself in GPS space and completes the alignment on its own (I do this initial alignment sans scope as it does a 360 degree rotation and back, etc. which could tangle the cords, etc.).  When it completes the initial setup, it queries a series of objects visible in the sky, for the user to complete a ‘Select and Slew to the object’ and then visually ‘Sync To Target.’  It is at this Sync to Target juncture, that I attach one of my OTAs to the mount.  Then I can visually ‘Sync To Target’, by making any required arrow corrections to get the object centered in 20 and 5mm eyepieces inserted into my OTA.  After any corrections, I push ‘enter’ and can then begin my GoTo search for viewing objects.  The Mount pushes around my solar kit (90mm with quark, camera, etc.), BT100 binocular telescope; and other larger refractors and Newtonian OTAs with the typical heavy Explore Scientific 2” eyepieces with no stuttering and no mechanical issues that I have been able to identify.  In practice, I have found it useful to first turn on and manually slew the mount to point south, and be vertically oriented prior to running the initial setup,” like with the older iOptron Minitower type mounts.  I find its also a good idea to double check the clock to be sure the local time is correct. 

 

My Other Mounts:  I have a variety of equipment for viewing and some imaging uses:  1) iOptron MiniTower2 alt azi which really helped my familiarity with the Go2Nova hand controllers; and 2) a Celestron CGX equatorial Mount/tripod fitted with starsense which also helped my familiarity of some of the latest ‘simple’ polar alignment workflows. This CGX mount pushes my ES165 triplet thru the night, with some occasional squalling if balancing was not perfectly achieved for every odd orientation of the scope during a night of viewing, etc.  I have mounted a Sony a7s on the back of this polar aligned scope and achieved some very nice pinpoint stars.  So I have some familiarity with what a good polar alignment can achieve for 30s imaging.

 

Power Requirements:  The HAZ mount requires a 12V, 5A power supply and is supplied with an internal battery as well.  A power adapter and short cable are included.  They interface well, as expected, with my battery power bank which I place on a ground cloth below the tripod in the field (Fig. 2).

 

Additional Notes on my Particular Situation:

-At this point, its fair to mention what I most wanted from this mount.  I wanted portability, quick setup and alignment, mechanical stability, heavy duty gears, and a payload capacity in excess of my variety of portable telescopes.  Essentially, a mount that be at home on the road and patio for comet chasing, eclipses, and star parties.  Dallas is a heavily light polluted and suitable mostly for solar, planetary, and lunar viewing.  I wanted a mount that can sit on my east facing fourth floor balcony for year-round viewing and occasional dslr imaging with a cup of Jo in hand.  Because I have a roof over my patio, I needed a mount that doesn’t require visual image alignment (like the CGX starsense setup).  And one that can also GoTo and track with out Heater Skelter alt-azi motor adjustments during long exposures (like my older iOptron Minitower2 setup).  The Minitower2 while usable with 1 star alignment and a quick ‘slew to object’ for adjustment corrections and is especially hard to set up with a two star alignment on my east facing patio due to the heavy light pollution and limited field of view for stars.  And notably, the rough motor adjustments occur at all times during any tracking on the Minitower2.

-Since the HAZ46 is an Alt-Azi mount, with no polar alignment capabilities, it was beyond my expectation that it could get anywhere near the pinpoint stars that my polar aligned CGX gets in the field (but there was hope).  As mentioned the MiniTower2 has lazy (pulsed?) Alt-Azi motor adjustments that do not produce pinpoint stars but instead some haphazard appearing star trails at longer exposures (it has no polar alignment). The HAZ46 has made considerable improvements on the motor control, more on all this later. 

-With my visual, solar, lunar, planetary, dso, star parties, patio, etc. use in mind as well as basic Short Exposure Astrophotography, up to 30 seconds with Sony/Nikon dslr’s, the HAZ46 seemed like a potential answer to my field of view patio-problems that could be mobed/demobed easily, easy to use, and hopefully with excellent tracking and stability that would allow me time for adjustments to my camera controls for planetary, lunar, and solar imaging.

 

 

The Mount in Use:

-The dovetail saddle looked iffy with a small tightening bar (about 1 inch wide), but in practice it securely clamped down tightly on a variety of saddles without any wobble or risk of mechanical failure (and the saddle while fairly small in comparison to wider saddles, reduces weight).

 

 -The mount is ideally suited for binocular viewing in the top mount configuration with less leg extension on the Losmandy LW tripod.   It remained balanced during Oberwerks BT100 use.  I think the mount could be useful for terrestrial viewing (say boats on the horizon and landscapes, etc.) and the slewing is reasonably rapid. I will likely try this at some future date, perhaps the annual Hawk Watch, etc.

 

 -The rugged CNC construction, gears, etc. seem solid.  I did not notice any mechanical wobbling and everything stays rigid (can’t say the same for the Minitower2 which sometimes may “let go” and leave a OTA swinging around towards the tripod legs, not a good feeling).  It feels more solid “and compact” than even the CGX which has a 55 pound capacity.  When doing 30s exposures and using a 2 second timer on my dslr, I noticed that after the button release, the mount/tripod/camera seemed to become stable quickly, as the pics to follow will demonstrate.  With a remote shutter release, there would be limited shaking except perhaps in strong winds. 

 

-The mount/tripod did need the Losmandy 8-inch extension to get the various scopes high enough off the Losmandy LW tripod legs to avoid any potential collisions with the OTA during tracking.  Incidentally, the riser bars on the LW extension act as a nicely balanced handle for caring the equipment around. As noted previously, I conduct the alignment sans scope as there is a lot of motion and depending on the size of the OTA, I am a still a little afraid of a collision between the scope, the patio rail, and/or the tripod legs (better safe than sorry, so my sans scope setup procedure is my current work around). 

 

-The mount/tripods portability was great.  On my Nishimura comet hunt (Dallas was clouded in for a couple of weeks, at sunrise).  When it switched over to a sunset hunt, and I saw potential good weather coming my way, I threw the Losmandy tripod/HAZ mount, ES127 telescope, and cameras all into the trunk of my BMW Z3 and drove 45 miles west of Dallas to try to image the comet just after sunset (Fig. 2).  I enjoyed a cloud free sunset while I got everything setup (about 10-15 minutes) and slewed to two different stars to tighten up the GoTo.  Unfortunately, before I could get a visual on the comet (and after entering it as a special object with its declination and right ascension coordinates on the handset) the clouds rolled in a blocked any view of the comet.  My wife and I did get a nice dinner in a new town, and I got a little extra exercise.  I am pretty confident, I could not have fit the CGX/tripod/weights and same OTA, cameras, etc. into the same trunk.  And the ease of setup for the HAZ46 is much simpler and quicker.  The aforementioned trek, conceived at 3pm when the weather looked like it might break, demonstrates how quick I can be off my patio and viewing in the field.

-For past star parties in West Texas and the Oklahoma pan handle, I have loaded up my wife’s SUV, with CGX/tripod/weights, ES165mm triplet, and SW180 MAK, eyepieces, cameras, etc.  Just the ES165 takes up the entire back seat of the SUV, the mount, etc. take up the trunk.  I’ve added a roof rack and rear 2” receiver rack to the back of the car, for any tarps, tents, coolers, camping gear for the viewing setup.  It is quite a different scenario than the HAZ/Losmandy/ES127mm triplet in the trunk of a tiny BMW Z3.

 

-Finally, considering my limited view, light polluted patio (Fig. 3)?  It is so simple to level the mount/tripod, run the auto alignment, install any OTA, minor slew to object, enter, and view for some amount of time.  Then if Sky Safari Pro shows the next event of interest much later, I can “park the scope.”  The other night after sunset to around midnight, I was viewing Saturn, its moons, Neptune, and later Jupiter and its moons, and Uranus.  Around midnight I realized Venus and Mercury would be rising about the time (5am) my wife was headed to downtown Dallas to count bird strikes during the spring migration.  So I parked the scope and went to bed.  At 5am, I turned the mount on, let it register, then went to Solar system, Venus and pushed enter.  And there it was, Venus dead center, so the tracking has been working quite well.  About an hour later, up came Mercury.  So I had great views of some planets from my patio and got 5 hours of sleep to boot.  This is a realization of something, I have struggled with other mounts to achieve.  The closest next best situation has been to do a one star alignment on the MiniTower2 and let it GoTo from there.  But the tracking is not quite as reliable and any imaging was unusable even under the best dark sky situations.

 

My Scopes [Currently] In Use On This Mount:

-Explore Scientific 127 triplet (18-22 lbs)

-Explore Scientific N208CF Newtonian (19-23 lbs)

-SkyWatcher MAK 180 (16-20 lbs)

-Oberwerks BT100 binocular telescope (12.5-13 lbs)

-Aquilla 90mm Refractor with Quark Chromosphere and Sony t-ring for solar photography/observing (5.5-7.5 lbs)

-I may soon venture to try my Explore Scientific 165 triplet (28-32 lbs)

 

 

Ioptron Specs:

 Price:  $2900

 Model Number/type:  HZ462; Alt-Azimuth mount

 Type of Mount Electronics:  Computerized - GoTo

 Weight Capacity (lb.):  44

 Mount Includes Tripod or Pier?  No

 Power Requirements 12V @ 5A

 Operating Temperature ~20d C thru ~40d C

 Objects in Database:  ~212,000

 Mount Slew Speeds:  6d/s Max

 Tracking Modes:  Automatic

 Drivers Available:  ASCOM

 Includes Integrated WIFI?  Yes

 Included Accessory Ports:  USB

 Saddle Type:  Dual - Vixen or Losmandy

 Hand Controller Included?  Yes, GoToNova 8409

 Polar Scope Included?  No 

 Mount Weight (lb.):  12.3

 Warranty:  iOptron Two Year Limited

 

 

Final Review Categories

 

Finish:  The finish on the mount is flawless, its anodized aluminum, black matte appearance (Fig. 1a), is a great match for the Losmandy tripod.  No knobs or clutches on mount head, just the dovetail saddle.  I should repeat here, there is nothing sticking out from or ungainly about this mount, it is a small black box on top of my tripod.  The tiny dovetail saddle barely adds to the mount at all, but does tighten down on your OTAs.  No ungainly weights, bars, long axis, etc.  I added reflective tape to the legs to make the setup visible in the dark.

 

Stability:  The mount head and Losmandy tripod legs are stiff, vibration free, and solid.  Their combined weight, somewhere around 30 lbs without an OTA mounted seems ideally suited to avoid any balance issues due to the lack of counterbalance bar/weights.  During viewing and tracking (with the noted scopes above for testing) the mount was steady & solid. Vibration, even at high magnification, was suppressed almost immediately.  Slewing was rapid, and no instability was ever noticed (rock solid thank you Losmandy and iOptron)!  I check stability by standing between any two tripod legs and trying to pull the entire assembly toward me, if it seems iffy, I would stop immediately.  At my last OkieTx star party some pretty harsh winds sent a neighbors CGX mount with an 8 inch Celestron HyperStar8 crashing to the ground.  I have been taking my scopes off and placing them in the back of the car when not in use.  I think this mount and tripod could withstand the winds, but with a mounted scope, I would not risk it, unless I had the tripod secured to the ground and heavily weighted down through the central load axis.  The mount has not given me any reasons to doubt its stability, but mistakes are costly!

 

Motion:  The alt-azi movements of the mount seem smooth and rigid, and tracking and slewing are positive, continuous, with no hitches. The mount and strain wave motor system feels like it is solidly built.  I have been very cognizant of the motion of the mount during the level and go adjustments.  They require adequate length and free movement of electronic cords as it rotates around 360 degrees, and then back to a reference position.  Once the mount finds itself in the GPS reference frame, as mentioned I prefer to let it do all of its shenanigans, sans scope, and then mount whatever scope and slew to the object. I continue slewing and making minor adjustments for a few more stars, etc. to fine tune the GoTo.

 

Slewing and Tracking:  The slewing speeds available are more than adequate. The slewing speed for objects across the sky was acceptable.  I would have no issue, wandering around the sky without determining any particular viewing order to avoid slow slewing, etc.  You can take the nights best features and just bounce around to each without too much problem.  It is also easy to slew fast or slow depending on what you are trying to accomplish.  I generally made object slew adjustments at slower speeds, and the mount slews between user selected objects at much faster slewing speeds.  I had no trouble slewing across the sky and having say Mercury, Saturn, and then Neptune in the center of a TAK 3.3 ep. Even after 30 minutes or more, I could make out no discernible variation in an objects position in the eyepiece.  I only tested the mount visually and with 30 second exposures.  I have posted three different 30s exposure pics in the vicinity of Andromeda, which show very good pinpoint stars (Fig. 4), but no longer term astrophotography was conducted during my testing, as it was not anticipated to be an option.  I did explore the 30s exposures a bit further and in Figure 5, show two 30s exposures I made with the MiniTower2 mount at the OkieTx Star Party.  The stars do not appear so very tight (Fig. 5).  In Figure 6, I show a comparison of the apparent motor drift between the HAZ46 in the top of the figure and the MiniTower2 in the lower figure, both 30s exposures.  It is possible that the better spacial control of the HAZ46 mount could herald a new era of limited alt-azi” short duration multi image video or still acquisition and digital image enhancement by image stacking.  However, rotational error would increase for longer imaging sessions (no polar alignment).  It may be that good astrophotographers can use this mount for multiple exposures over a longer period of time to achieve some quality stacked images (not an issue addressed herein).

 

Weight:  The weight of the HAZ46 mount/Losmandy LW tripod is 12 lbs./15 lbs.  I would still call this a grab-n-go” mount, albeit, esp. when setting up next to the trunk of your car or walking a short distance.  With the ES127 (18 lbs) for example, I made three easy trips to the car and back, a short distance away.  It all fit in the small trunk of a BMW Z3 (see pic). I cannot say the same for the CGX setup.  Each piece weighs around 25 pounds, not to mention the balancing weights and the much larger size of each component.  At home, I put the CGX on a JMI Medium size, heavy duty trolley to take as much of the weight off my back as possible and roll it out of the garage. I do not have to do the same with the HAZ46.  I can walk around with each component, mostly of the time I leave the mount attached to the tripod.  The 8” extension serves as a convenient balance point and handle for gripping.

 

Hand Controller:  Extremely easy to use.  It plugs into the mount with a coiled cord and operates much like older models, with typical iOptron easy to follow menu options.  It has a computer connection on the hand control.  The slew speed is set by pushing an arrow and then 1 thru 9 on the pad to get increasingly fast slew speeds.  The power cable plugs into the mount.  Basic wire management is most crucial during setup, making sure nothing binds.  Then being mindful of the cords during use.  I try to always keep an eye to the cables.  The use of a power bank on the ground below the tripod helps with cable management.  At this stage with simple dslr 30s exposures, and no cables off of the camera, cable management is not a big issue as with polar aligned scopes and their plethora of cables, focusers, guide cameras, ccd, etc.

 

Sound:  The mount is fairly quiet even during maximum slewing.  While its tracking an object I can put my ear up to the machine and hear very quite adjustments being made.

 

Conclusion:  I would recommend the HAZ46 mount to anyone that wants a rock solid, portable, easy to use mount with excellent GoTo, tracking, and sharp star tracking (for up to 30s exposures as tested).  It is an expensive mount and does not fit every pocket book, so price is one negative aspect especially for imaging aficionados who may not want to pay a lot for a simple alt-azi mount.  I cannot comment on long term astrophotography, however, after shooting about 15-20, 30 second exposures with my dslr’s I am very pleased with how tight the stars appear.  I am happy to say that the HAZ46 strain wave gear/motor control system is a vast improvement over the older MiniTower2, etc. which I have used for many years.  The HAZ46 Mount is a keeper and will be fielded at both of the upcoming eclipses for solar imaging and viewing.  Further testing will be conducted at the Winter Star Party early next year.

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