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Rayox Saddle Review
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Rayox Saddle Review
Like many CN members, I have accumulated several really nice pieces of equipment over the years. After all this time, why choose a dovetail saddle to review when I could concentrate on scopes or eyepieces? The Rayox dovetail saddle (regular price $449 with adapter through Woodland Hills Telescope, with an initial discount for Cloud Nights members) is a breakthrough product that has significant advantages compared to existing systems, especially when working with heavy equipment. If this system had been available earlier, I could have avoided some potentially dangerous situations…
Several years ago, I had two rare scopes mounted for side by side testing, a Takahashi FC-100N f/10 doublet fluorite and a Nikon 100mm ED f/12. Adjusting the balance of these scopes involved sliding the horizontally placed standard dovetail.
I loosened the screws in the dovetail saddle, allowing me to slide the assembly back and forth. Unfortunately, the screws were too loose, which allowed the entire assembly to tip out of the saddle and plummet toward the cement floor! I managed to lunge out and catch the assembly with one hand, and miraculously the scope caught on a Y-cable, which broke the fall. This could have been a terrible disaster, but I escaped with only minor paint scrapes to the OTAs and mount, a damaged (but replaceable) $150 Y-cable, and a few cuts to my hand. This incident did, however, make me realize that I needed a safer saddle plate solution. Up until now, no alternatives to the standard dovetail were available.
Stephen Pizzo is an astrophotographer who creates breathtaking solar photos. He uses a Lunt 230 H-alpha scope that weighs close to 70 pounds with rings and plate. Although Stephen is fit and can carry the scope, he has trouble mounting it safely by himself. One method to make mounting easier is to install the rings first and to set the scope inside, but doing so without scraping the OTA is difficult with a heavy tube in a tall equatorial mount. Instead, he created a way to safely mount the OTA and dovetail together. Stephen and his business partner Hector Ortega made use of their background in developing advanced mounting solutions for aerial imaging systems, and engineered the patent pending Rayox dovetail saddle plate.
The Rayox principle is simple. There are three basic positions for a dovetail saddle—open, balance, and locked. The sloping edges of the Losmandy system allow you to have a balance position that enables plate movement without the telescope tipping out. The Rayox’s ability to reach the balance position is repeatable and precise, as it uses an auto-engaging system with audible feedback. In contrast, with standard dovetails it is difficult to determine whether they are engaged while mounting a large scope. Most rely on knobs connected to screws to achieve a balance position. Using these knobs on a cold night can be difficult, especially with a large OTA where a lot of force is needed. The Rayox cam lever provides a simple alternative to adjusting these knobs. The only other astronomical mounting system I have seen that used a cam lever saddle was the Nova Hitch mount, a very high end product produced in small quantities by Charles Riddel.
Here are the positions of the Rayox saddle along with some of its unique features.
1. Open Position
This is the starting position of the saddle. Plates can be inserted in this position without risk of the scope tipping into the saddle. There are long middle slots that allow substantial travel of plates with socket head screw stops. Note that the blue cam lever at the bottom of the photo is in the leftmost position.
2. Balance position
This is an intermediate position, with the cam lever between the 2 o’clock and 5 o’clock position. In this position, the dovetail lip catches under the beveled edge of the saddle, allowing safe movement of the dovetail without it opening completely. Note that the cam lever cannot advance to the left (or move to the open position) without pulling on the orange safety tab. This safety feature helps prevent field accidents if a spectator pulls on the cam lever.
The cam lever location is very convenient for closing the saddle. It is positioned on the same side of the saddle as your hands. The lever moves the top of the dovetail so that you do not lift the entire scope against gravity. In contrast, a standard saddle in a similar position has its knobs at the top and requires an awkward reach to access them.
3. Locked position
This is the standard closed position of the dovetail. Note that there is a knob on the saddle that adjusts the saddle’s width. This feature is crucial, as Losmandy compatible plates vary in their widths. When properly adjusted, the clamping mechanism holds the assembly very tightly. Another advantage of this system over a standard dovetail is that the Rayox uses the entire upper edge to clamp the dovetail, whereas other systems use only two or three screws or smaller clamps.
Once you understand the positions, operating the saddle is simple. The saddle starts in an open position. When the dovetail is placed into the saddle, the large silver button is depressed, causing the saddle to close from the open to the balance position while making a clicking sound. You can adjust your scope laterally, and then lock the saddle by moving the cam lever to the right position.
To adjust the scope, move the cam lever to the left. It will automatically stop when the saddle is in the balance position. Adjust the dovetail and re-lock the saddle with the lever.
To open the saddle, move the lever to the left, then pull on the safety tab to release the entire assembly.
The Rayox saddle comes with one adapter for a mount. Presently, there are solutions for Astro-Physics, Takahashi, Celestron, Orion, and Skywatcher mounts, but the latest list will be on the dealer website. Rayox labs is committed to creating interfaces for as many mounts as possible, and Stephen states that design and fabrication will typically take 7-10 days. The photos show the Rayox adapter for the Astro-Physics 1100 mount that is also compatible with other AP GTO mounts.
Since the holes in the Rayox saddle have a standard 35mm spacing, a Losmandy plate designed to hold Takahashi clamshell can be attached to the bottom of the saddle plate to insert into an existing Losmandy system. These plates are currently manufactured by companies like Farpoint and ADM. The hole arrangement allows this assembly to convert a standard Losmandy saddle to the Rayox system, in a standard or side by side configuration. The photos show a Track the Stars Panther alt az mount, which has a fixed Losmandy saddle, with the Rayox assembly inserted to give a side by side configuration.
Unlike telescopes or eyepieces, a saddle will not usually improve your views at the eyepiece; instead it is forgotten during an observing session. However, the Rayox proved itself during several sessions with different scopes, dovetail plates, and mounts. Mounting, balancing, and dismounting the scope assembly was as easy as opening and closing the cam lever. I had no cramped hands from turning saddle knobs and my blood pressure was lower as a result of the safer operation. Overall, the saddle is of very high quality and works spectacularly well.
An example of a system is shown below. The AP 6” f/12 scope is awkward to hold and mount with a standard dovetail, but it is easy to set the entire assembly onto the 1100 mount when using the Rayox.
This system excels in most areas, but especially when working with the following equipment:
--Large and/or heavy scopes, especially with rings that are difficult and/or inconvenient to open
--Scopes with a fixed mount such as radius blocks that require the dovetail to move for balance
--German equatorial mounts and side mounted Alt Az mounts like the DM6
--Tandem mounting systems
The Rayox is heavy duty and therefore its weight (1300 grams) is approximately 50% greater than that of a comparable standard saddle. There are no technical disadvantages to this system. The biggest barrier is the price, which is two to three times the price of a standard dovetail saddle. However, for some of us with larger and/or heavier telescopes and camera equipment, this system is invaluable to protect against expensive accidents and the added functionality is worth it.
In summary, the Rayox is a beautifully engineered system with excellent product support. Using the Rayox makes accidents during mounting, balancing, and dismounting much less likely. Stephen Pizzo has been very easy to work with and his company is planning to release other versions of its saddle, including a lighter Vixen version and possibly a combination DV Losmandy-Vixen plate as well. The Losmandy compatible Rayox reviewed here is available from Woodland Hills Telescope at https://telescopes.net/store/manufacturer/rayox
About the author
Derek Wong received his first telescope at age 8 and has filled up a room or two with telescope equipment over the past twenty years. He has no financial affiliation with the company that produced the Rayox saddle but he does plan on getting a second saddle in the future.