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Light Weight, Portable, Low Cost EAA Setup Part II

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#1 CA Curtis 17

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Posted 20 February 2017 - 07:43 PM

Last June I started a post, "Light Weight, Portable, Low Cost EAA Setup ( http://www.cloudynig...ghtweight, +low)  ", where I talked about using a Celestron 6SE (6"SCT on a SE Alt-Az Mount) along with either the Revolution Imager 2 analog video camera kit or the ZWO ASI224MC digital video camera.  I posted images of the setups and of the pictures I was able to capture with both cameras.  At 21lbs the 6SE is light enough to move from inside to outside without disassembling it.  And, being an Alt-Az mount it is very easy to setup and align and works very well for EAA.  It can usually be found new on sale for $699, whereas either camera is available for $300 keeping the total cost at around $1000.  There appear to be many others using the 6SE with great results.  And if one can afford a bit more, many have suggested the Celestron Evolution mount with either a 6" or and 8" SCT.

 

However, I wanted to see if I could put together an even lower cost and lighter setup.  After all, $1000 is a lot of money to most of us, especially if we are trying out EAA for the first time.  Also, I wanted to try this with a refractor instead of another SCT.  "aeajr -Ed" started a post " http://www.cloudynig...80#entry7569515" in which the Meade EXT80 was discussed and demonstrated as an EAA setup.  Fortunately, I was able to get my hands on one of these and try it out with the same two cameras.  

 

The ETX80 is certainly a lightweight and highly portable Alt-Az setup.  It weighs in at a total of less than 12lbs, which is almost half the weight of the 6SE.  And, at $349, the scope, mount and camera can be had for $649, not including tax.  If one were to substitute one of the "Rising Tech" cameras with the same Sony sensor as the ASI, the camera cost can be reduced by almost half to $164 (https://www.amazon.c...1N3JZH45PB4CREW).  That puts the setup at just over $500.  Add another $25 for a focal reducer and filter for either version of the USB camera.

 

The ETX80 comes with an 80mm, f/5, 400mm focal length refractor, a red dot finder, a 45deg erect image prism diagonal, 9.7mm and a 26mm eyepieces and a detachable dew shield.  The mount is very easy to set up in just a few minutes and can be left assembled and carried from inside to outside without breaking a sweat.  Alignment is simple, level the mount with a bubble level (not included, but $2 at Home Depot), point the scope north either using the included compass or using the north star, level the optical tube and turn on the mount.  The mount can be run with internal batteries and works either off of 9v or 12v.  I preferred to use my 12v external battery since I was also powering my dew heater and the R2 (when not using the ASI224).  Alignment is a simple 2 star alignment procedure which, if it did not always put the object in the FOV of the 1/3" cameras, it was usually close enough that a little searching brought it into the FOV quickly.  The ETX80 is a very light mount which, as John Graham has said, takes a "light touch", especially when focusing.  I added a 5lb weight to the hook on the bottom of the tripod which helped steady the scope to my satisfaction.  Also, focusing is done with an internal screw attached to one side of the objective, so there is a bit of image shift when focusing.  Initially, I found this annoying, but ultimately it became a non-issue once I got used to it.  This is part of the price of keeping the cost of the scope so low.

 

The ETX80 has two possible places to put the camera.  It can be placed in the EP port on the side of the OTA or at the back of the OTA in the camera port.  It is necessary to use the diagonal to connect either a camera or an EP to the camera port, unless one purchases the 64ST adapter ($15 on Amazon) and a Baader Planetarium 1.25"/T2 EP holder/helical focuser ($56 on Amazon) which moves the camera closer to the focus point.   But in this configuration I was limited to 53 deg altitude to avoid the camera crashing into the mount.  Since this cuts off way too much of the interesting parts of the sky I preferred to work with the EP port.

 

With the camera in the EP port there is no danger of crashing into the mount and therefore, the skies the limit, i.e. the scope can be pointed straight up.  With no focal reducer and just the 1.25" C-Mount adapter attached to the front of either camera, they both easily came to focus in the EP port providing 400mm of focal length at f/5.  This gave a FOV of ~42 x 31 degrees for the ASI224 and 38.5 x 32 degrees with the R2.  The same within the error of determining the FOV.   I tried several different focal reducers and spacers to see how much reduction I could achieve.  With both cameras it is not possible to achieve focus with a 0.5X focal reducer attached to the end of a standard C-Mount adapter, typically 25-26mm in length.  I tried several different focal reducers (0.85x, 0.5x) and spacer combinations (0mm, 10mm, 20mm, and 26mm).   So far, i have on achieved focus with the RI2 using the 0.5x focal reducer and a 10mm spacer.  This gave a focal ratio of f/3.  With the ASI224 i was able to use a 0.85x reducer with no spacer to achieve a focal ratio of f/4.3.

 

Using both cameras, as is my habit, I tried a variety of exposure times, gains or AGCs, with and without Sharpcap stacking.  I tried the R2 first while I was still learning how to use this setup but without the presence of the moon.  Once I had gained some experience with the scope, I turned to the ASI224, but had to deal with a rising full moon.  I think I can do much better with both cameras if it ever stops raining here.  Hopefully this weekend.  Here is an image of the scope with the R2.  In the next post I will show a few images.

 

Best Regards,

Curtis

 

 

Attached Thumbnails

  • ETX80 R2.jpg

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#2 CA Curtis 17

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Posted 20 February 2017 - 08:12 PM

Here are two images captured with the ETX80.  First is M82 captured with the ASI224MC camera at a focal ratio of f/4.3.  I used Sharpcap to stack 16 x 15sec exposures with the Gain set to 350.  The full moon was rising so the sky is fairly light.  You can clearly see the split between the two halves of the galaxy and the color pattern.  The second image is M42 taken with the R2 on a moonless night. Exposure was set to 5sec with AGC at 12.   I used Sharpcap to stack images for 30 seconds.  In this case I used the 0.5x focal reducer with 10mm of spacing for f/3.

 

You can see some more images with both cameras posted on my web site:https://www.weebly.com/editor/main.php

 

I hope to get some more time to try other more difficult DSOs now that I have a little experience with the setups.

 

Best Regards,

Curtis 

Attached Thumbnails

  • M82 15s 350Gain 16x Stack.jpg
  • M42 5sec AGC 12 _Stack_167.jpg

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#3 garyc11

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Posted 20 February 2017 - 09:59 PM

i have been looking for a low cost eaa set up as well 

does anyone know if the 100mm orion sky scanner newt will work with the r2?



#4 nic35

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Posted 21 February 2017 - 12:54 AM

Hmm..  The amazon link you provided for the 224 based camera links to a camera with an Aptina sensor, not a sony IMX224.  Or that's what the Q and A says.  

 

The rising tech cameras are only available through Aliexpress, as best I know.

 

But they share a similar body.

 

john



#5 CA Curtis 17

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Posted 21 February 2017 - 01:02 AM

John,

 

You are right.  I believe the correct low cost version of the IMX224 is this one:  https://www.aliexpre...00023.14.qBGYpP

 

Thanks,

Curtis


Edited by CA Curtis 17, 21 February 2017 - 01:02 AM.


#6 nic35

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Posted 21 February 2017 - 09:03 AM

Yes, that's the one.  The 224 image you posted above is from a ZWO camera, correct ?  Filters or no filters used ?



#7 CA Curtis 17

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Posted 21 February 2017 - 10:28 AM

John,

 

Yes, the image of M82 posted is from the ZWO ASI224MC camera.  Both images shown here are without filters and without any post processing.  Just Sharpcap live stacking and histogram adjustment.  As you know, these images are what a person would expect to see on their computer screen live as Sharpcap stacks frames.

 

I should note for those not familiar, the R2 does not need a computer to view images.  It comes with a 7" LCD monitor which the camera can connect directly.  In that case, one would just use the camera menu and in camera frame averaging if desired, but this is not as powerful as using a computer with the camera to take advantage of Sharpcap's unlimited stacking, histogram, dark frame subtraction, image registration, etc.

 

Best Regards,

Curtis



#8 jgraham

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Posted 21 February 2017 - 03:36 PM

Coolness! I have also used my RI2 with my ETX80 (and ETX-60) and it worked great! I found that I had to be a little patient with the slewing and tracking, but with a light touch it does a fine job. The automatic align and combine function in SharpCap coupled with the high resolution and dynamic range of the ASI224MC is a very powerful tool.

 

My ETX-80 setup...

 

ETX-80 RI2-1.jpg

 

ETX-80 RI2-2.jpg

 

I found that draping the cables over the fork helped to strain relieve them a tad.

 


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#9 Dwight J

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Posted 21 February 2017 - 05:42 PM

Great results with minimal fuss.  Just what EAA is all about.  Making entry into EAA easy and tempting.  


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#10 CA Curtis 17

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Posted 22 February 2017 - 12:43 AM

 Initially I was getting frustrated especially with this setup because it does require a "light touch" as John G says.  But let's be frank, this is not a $1000 mount.  It's a $349 mount with scope designed to be highly portable.  So just handle it gently and it works fine.  I would make two recommendations to Meade for improvements.

 

First, I found that the location of the adjustment knobs on the red dot finder are much too close to the EP port.  With a camera in the EP point it was challenging to reach in between the finder and the camera to gently tweak the red dot adjustments to align it with the camera.  I would recommend either mounting it a little further away from the EP port, or, designing the finder with the adjustments on the left side of the finder.

 

Second, the EP port is much longer than it needs to be for EAA which prevents achieving focus with even more focal reduction that I was able to achieve.  I would recommend that this be shortened by at least a half inch, more if possible.  I read somewhere about someone who took a hacksaw to theirs and shortened it themselves.

 

All in all though, as Dwight says, this enables EAA at an entry level pretty enticing and fairly economical - if one can say that about this hobby (or should I say, passion).

 

John - great pictures to share here on your setup.

 

Regards,

Curtis



#11 Rickster

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Posted 23 February 2017 - 02:18 PM

Those rigs look like a lot of fun, and practical too, especially if you need to escape from a light dome.



#12 CA Curtis 17

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Posted 04 March 2017 - 01:00 PM

I took advantage of clear skies the other night to continue evaluation the ETX80 with the ASI224MC.  I had a crescent moon this time and the skies were  very clear and stable.  I used the Mallincam MFR6 focal reducer without any spacers which gives a net focal ratio of f/4.3.  Here is a Sharpcap stack of 60-5sec images taken with the Gain set to 350.  Even with such a long time, Sharpcap and the mount do a very good job of providing nicely rounded stars.

 

Regards,

Curtis

Attached Thumbnails

  • M81 & M82 5sec 350Gain 5min Stack.jpg

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#13 CA Curtis 17

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Posted 04 March 2017 - 01:15 PM

Here is an image of M51 which was still very low in the sky at the time I was observing it.  This is a stack of 10 x 10sec with 350Gain at a focal ratio of f/4.3.  And here is M42 taken with a single 5sec exposure and a 350 Gain.  As in all of the previous images I have posted here, no filters were used.

 

I should note, that the ETX80 has been performing surprisingly well for such an inexpensive scope.  As long as I carefully level the mount and the OTA, point the OTA north at Polaris and center the two alignment stars finishing the centering using the Up and Right keys to eliminate any backlash, every object is in the FOV..

Attached Thumbnails

  • M51 10sec 350Gain 100sec Stack.jpg
  • M42 5sec 350Gain.jpg

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#14 CA Curtis 17

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Posted 08 March 2017 - 10:38 PM

Skies have not been cooperative here and now the moon is so bright.  I am anxious to do some more testing and share the results with this ETX80 scope.   Maybe this weekend.

 

In the meantime, here is a picture of my simple setup with the ASI224MC.  Just one cable to the camera and one cable for the mount power.  I have a plastic tie with double sided tape attached to the other side of the fork arm to strain relieve the USB cable.  Even though ZWO says only to use their USB cable, I find it to be too short and use a slightly longer USB cable I bought locally.  They also recommend against a USB Hub, but when I setup inside I run a 32ft USB active cable to a 12V powered USB Hub at the mount and connect the USB cable in the picture to the Hub.  I have had no problems with this setup.  For the mount power, it can run on the 6 - 1.5V batteries but I find it is better to use a 12V power supply.  Shown here is an 8.3Ahr TalenCell rechargeable battery.  It has 12V, 9v and 5v outlets.  I use the 12v outlet to power the mount.  I also added a 5lb weight at the bottom of the tripod for added stability.  This is a very light setup and easy to pack up and transport.

 

If I have to deal with dew, I use a bigger 12V battery and a dew heater strap and controller.  I velcro the controller to the leg of the tripod and run the cable up along the side of the optical tube with a strain relief attached to the back end of the optical tube.

 

Best Regards,

Curtis

Attached Thumbnails

  • ETX80_ASI224MC.jpg

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#15 SonnyE

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Posted 09 March 2017 - 12:57 AM

I'm afraid I found that Low Cost and Astronomy are an oxymoron.

 

Every time I want to change anything I pull out my wallet and let the moths have some air.


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#16 CA Curtis 17

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Posted 09 March 2017 - 09:37 AM

Sonny,

 

I've had the same problem, always wanting something bigger, better or the latest improvement!

 

But seriously, relatively speaking the Meade ETX80 or the Celestron SE6 paired with either the Revolution Imager 2 or the ASI224 (or the RT version) are good entry level EAA options for those on a tight budget.

 

Also, don't forget the light weight and highly portable features of these combinations, even if cost is not the main driver.

 

Regards,

Curtis



#17 CA Curtis 17

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Posted 12 March 2017 - 06:24 PM

I found this Mini Ball Head on Ebay for just $3.78 with free shipping which I think will work great for mounting the LCD to the camera.  http://www.ebay.com/...=STRK:MEBIDX:IT.  You can get it for half the price from China but I wanted it quickly and the price is perfectly reasonable.  It attaches directly to the bottom of the LCD with it's 14/-20 thread and locks.  The ball head allows the LCD to be swiveled as the scope points in different directions.  It does not come with the 14/-20 all-tread.  I got that at the hardware store.  I need to add a nut and lock washer where the all-tread is attached to the bottom of the ball head as this seems to come loose in some orientations of the scope.

 

I have not yet tried this at night.  The added weight seems to balance the optical tube in the altitude axis so I need to see if this impacts the pointing or track accuracy.  I was able to attach the R2 battery to the fork arm of the mount with Velcro and strain relieve all of the cables there.  The scope is free to move in any direction without pulling on any of the cables.

 

Regards,

Curtis

 

 

Attached Thumbnails

  • Mini Ball Head.jpg
  • RI2_ETX80_LCD.jpg

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#18 Stargazer3236

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Posted 01 April 2017 - 09:46 AM

Nice pics, Curtis! I like your website, check out my pics @ Weebly website: http://deepskyadventures.weebly.com/



#19 CA Curtis 17

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Posted 02 April 2017 - 04:37 PM

David,

 

Appreciate the comments.  I am hoping to get clear skies and no moon again soon so I can do more with the ETX80.  This has been a tough winter with all the rain we had.  Like any other camera or scope, it takes a while to get used to the setup and coax out the best possible images.  I got part way there with the ETX80 but am anxious to get another crack at good skies and get some better images to share with some of the galaxies which are now coming into view.

 

I checked out your site as well and very nice images.

 

Best Regards,

Curtis



#20 Adun

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 03:39 PM

Hi guys.

 

I got bitten too, and am about to try a light-weight, portable, low cost EAA setup. There's no guarantee that it'll work, and it's much more modest than an ETX80 or Celestron SE6, but it will be lighter and with some luck it might work:

 

Totaling $385 + shipping:

 

  • Orion Starblast Autotracker ($199), which is an Alt-Az tabletop tracking mount that comes with an 80mm F4 refractor. The whole things weights just 11 lb.
  • RisingTech IMX224 uncooled camera ($168)
  • $9 IR/UV filter
  • $9 0.5x focal reducer

 

I also have 2 other scopes that work on this mount (114mm F4 reflector and 90mm Maksutov), so if it works for EAA, I might be able to get quite some juice from this setup. I'm hopeful.


Edited by Adun, 10 April 2017 - 03:41 PM.


#21 The Enginear

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Posted 11 April 2017 - 04:44 PM

Hi guys.

 

I got bitten too, and am about to try a light-weight, portable, low cost EAA setup. There's no guarantee that it'll work, and it's much more modest than an ETX80 or Celestron SE6, but it will be lighter and with some luck it might work:

 

Totaling $385 + shipping:

 

  • Orion Starblast Autotracker ($199), which is an Alt-Az tabletop tracking mount that comes with an 80mm F4 refractor. The whole things weights just 11 lb.
  • RisingTech IMX224 uncooled camera ($168)
  • $9 IR/UV filter
  • $9 0.5x focal reducer

 

I also have 2 other scopes that work on this mount (114mm F4 reflector and 90mm Maksutov), so if it works for EAA, I might be able to get quite some juice from this setup. I'm hopeful.

Please let us know how this works out for you - it sounds like a very inexpensive, yet very mobile setup.


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#22 CA Curtis 17

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Posted 12 April 2017 - 11:19 PM

Adun,

 

Keep us posted with pictures of your setup and the deep sky.

 

Good luck!

 

Curtis


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#23 Adun

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Posted 13 April 2017 - 07:42 AM

Hi

 

The components have not arrived yet.

 

The mount was delivered to my freight carrier in Miami, and is now is in transit to my country.

The camera was shipped yesterday from China via UPS.

 

So meanwhile I'll just contemplate the clouds


Edited by Adun, 13 April 2017 - 08:08 PM.


#24 Relativist

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Posted 13 April 2017 - 07:47 PM

Hi

The components have not arrived yet.

The mount was delivered to my freight carrier in Miami, and is now is in transit from to my country.
The camera was shipped yesterday from China via UPS.

So meanwhile I'll just contemplate the clouds


Yes please let us know. I've been looking for a tabletop mount for my 100mm skyscanner.

I wish a low end GEM with tracking and foto were available as well, but I haven't found one.

#25 garyc11

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Posted 13 April 2017 - 08:13 PM

does the revolution imager  work with the skyscanner?


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