So then I hauled this beast to the backyard and zeroed the star finder on the tip of a power pole.
Wish I could say that everything went great, but that wasn't the case. I couldn't find anything decent to look at, couldn't get the eyepiece into a good position, and I sheared the bolt on the forward strap! Who designed those? Ridiculous. Not a good first attempt.
But fast forward to this morning...
I woke up at 0330 - couldn't sleep so I went to the garage. Opened the door, tied the scope to the mount (which is much more secure than it was last night!) and look what I found
I stargazed from 0400 right until 0700.
I saw the rings of Saturn for the first time.
I saw the bands on Jupiter, and its moons for the first time.
I saw a double star.
I showed a morning jogger Saturn and blew his mind.
And I saw the moon with greater clarity than every before. Cell phone pic through the lens:
Overall impression of the scope is that I love it! I had been trying to find an XT8 but this thing is the best. Once you get that incredibly heavy base in position it works like a dream. The balance is excellent and it moves easily. The drive motor works flawlessly and I don't know if I could do without one now. I'd put a planet into the eyepiece, go get a cup of coffee, and it would still be centered 10 minutes later!
That said, there are a couple of issues. First is the focus adjuster. I'd read that it was a POS and thought it would be fine, but trying to dial in the focus with a 9mm lens was tough. If there are suggestions for a good focuser that is less than $100 (preferably closer to $50) I'd love to hear it.
Second is the straps. No way am I paying $200+ for a set of rings, but something needs to happen. I'm thinking pelican hook and small turnbuckle, but will see what I can find at the hardware store. The rope works really well, but isn't a very elegant solution.
I'd also love to get a clearer picture at higher zoom, but understand that with a short focal point this may not be possible? My best images were using the 2x barlow and 25mm lens. The 2 x 12mm lens started to get a little blurry, and with the 9mm it was impossible to hit the focus point just right. Would a 3x barlow help or am I at my limit?
Very happy overall. Any suggestions of what I should look for tonight?