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Thoughts on Skywatcher 120 AZ3

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#1 MikeTahtib

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Posted 20 March 2021 - 10:39 AM

My current scopes are bulky and weigh over 65 pounds each, and are a bit of a chore to take out for a quick observing session.  My 15x70 binos don't really show a lot of detail.  I'm looking for something to fill the gap, and the Skywatcher 120 f5 achro seems like it might fit the bill.  But I have no experience with this size scope.  I'm hoping it will be light enough and compact enough compared to what I have now to be an easy setup, and offer a wide field of view for things like the Andromeda Galaxy and the Double Cluster.  Will I be able to see any detail?  For example, in my binos and 60mm RACI, I can see that M13 is a fuzzy ball, but can't really see it as a big ball of stars. Will CA be a lot worse than in my 60mm Stellarvue RACI? I don't find that objectionable at all.  I really have to look for it, and I'm not even sure I see it.  It comes with a 1.25" 45* diagonal.  Can I just replace that with a 2"90* and use my big eyepieces?  And finally, how fussy is it about balance?



#2 Supernova74

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Posted 20 March 2021 - 11:28 AM

Hi mike well a little bit unorthodox so to speak in your approach as it’s usually the opposite way round folks want larger scopes,so you truly have learnt to run and gone back to walking again,my main concern is would you really be happy with it as it’s a massive aperture decrease!? However I still understand your predicament your in as we all times don’t want to log out a larger aperture scope and it depends how we feel at the time.i would not advise the scope personally if you said wanted to view the moon and planets as I can imagine the false colour would be terrible at F5,and stick out like a sore thumb!? However for wider feild veiws should not be an issue,however just don,t exspect the same kind of light gathering power ability of the larger scopes you already own even more so for galaxies,when it comes to the AZ3 mount itself I’m not certain as I’ve never used one mind you looks very similer in design of the older vixen custom 80,90 scopes which where available in the later part of the 80,s and to be perfectly frank the mount was really bad and not very smooth and that’s from a more premium brand.So I would wait and see if other members who have actually used that particular mount as I might be completely wrong however cannot help feeling it just not be the right mount for you.



#3 kksmith

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Posted 20 March 2021 - 12:21 PM

The Sky Watcher 120/F5 and Orion's ST120 are the same Synta made achro - just re-identified per brand. I have its smaller brother, the Sky Watcher 102/F5 achro and of course it most certainly doesn't resolve glob clusters. But I don't find the CA objectional to my 60 year old eyes - unless I tag the moon. Barring any detailed responses, you might want to peruse these threads on the ST120. 

 

https://www.cloudyni...-120st-testing/

 

https://www.cloudyni...53-orion-120st/

 

https://www.cloudyni...ght-and-review/

 

I would like to find the Sky Watcher 120, OTA only since mount and 1.25" & 2" gear I have. Plus I don't care for the two mounts it is offered on. But the Orion ST120 OTA is at an attractive price, so I may go that route. 

 

There's no reason you can't use your 2" gear with the scope. Depending on the weight of the optical train, you will have to balance via sliding your mounting bar forward in the clamp  to balance for the 2" gear. 2" eye pieces can be quite heavy which is why I tend to use Gary Russell's (Russell Optics) 2" eyepieces since he uses Delrin housings - they are quite a bit lighter than most 2" offerings. 


Edited by kksmith, 20 March 2021 - 12:36 PM.

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#4 bobhen

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Posted 20 March 2021 - 12:44 PM

The SkyWatcher 120 F5 refractor is a wonderful, fast, wide field refractor. It is best used at low, low-mid powers with well-corrected, wide field eyepieces.

 

The 120 F5 is really only a deep sky scope. Sure you can point the scope at the moon and planets and see details, it’s just that if lunar/planetary is a “main interest” there are much better choices.

 

M13 will be resolved or partly resolve. The double cluster will be a joy to observe. In a dark sky, all 3 galaxies, M31, M32 and 110 will be seen in the same field.

 

If used at lowish powers, CA will not be much of an issue.

 

Yes, you can use a 2” diagonal.

 

I would suggest considering purchasing the Orion 120 F5 (same basic scope as the SW 120 F5) as just a tube assembly. Then add some rings, mounting bar, finder and put that on a better mount than the AZ-3. The AZ-3 is better at observing objects like the moon and planets and is not as good or easy to use for sky sweeping or moving quickly from one object to the next like some other alt/az mounts. Most people say that the 120 rides well on the Orion VersaGo II, especially at the low, low-mid powers used with the 120 F5.

 

You can certainly get the 120 F5 with the AZ-3 and give it a try but you might want to research other threads (there are plenty) about good mounts for the 120 F5 first.

 

Balance is usually always critical but also usually easy to achieve with any mount.

 

If used for what the scope is good at, most people love their 120 F5s .  When I had one, I liked mine as well.

 

HERE is a great (video, YouTube) review of the 120 F5 optical tube assembly.

 

Bob


Edited by bobhen, 20 March 2021 - 12:45 PM.

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#5 Doug Culbertson

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Posted 20 March 2021 - 01:14 PM

As has been mentioned already, the OTA is the same as the Orion 120ST. I've owned the Orion version in the past, which I used almost exclusively for night vision astronomy and white light solar. It was a great scope, but I sold it about three years ago. 

 

I recently found myself wanting another one, but it seems that Orion keeps moving the expected arrival date of the 120ST up almost daily; from March to  mid-late April last I looked. I came upon the SkyWatcher 120 AZ3 at B&H Photo and decided to buy it even though I plan to use it on my SkyTee 2 mount. The AZ3 looks like a Chinese knock  off of  the  old Vixen Custom alt/az mount, but I have my doubts as to whether it is as good. Mine is supposed to arrive tomorrow, so I will try to give my impressions of the mount. At worse, it's a bit shaky and can be hauled in my RV as a travel mount, but if it's any good I'll probably try to sell it. I don't like to sell junk. 

 

The nice thing about the SW version is that it comes with the same tube rings as Orion charges $40 for, and  Orion  also has those on backorder. The 45 degree diagonal works, but it's cheap plastic. It's the same one that came with my SkyWatcher StarTravel 102mm f/5 achro. I have not tried it, but it might work. The focuser on these SW achro refractors is serviceable but, like I did with the Orion 120ST and  the StarTravel 102, I already have a GSO linear bearing focuser on the way from Agena Astro, and  I will replace  the focuser as soon as it arrives. 

 

Like I said, I will mainly be using this one for night vision and white light solar, but it is a very capable low power deep sky telescope. As Bob said, if your main interest is lunar and planetary, there are better choices out there than this one. For me, I know exactly what I am getting with this scope, and this time I plan to keep it. 



#6 sportsmed

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Posted 20 March 2021 - 01:33 PM

I have the Orion 120ST and its a great wide field view scope. I have the upgraded GSO 2" focuser on it and it is still a light weight scope. I just have mine on a Celestron "Heavy Duty" tripod and it works fine. Yea if planetary, Lunar viewing is your thing I would look at  a Mak or something but for nice wide field views and is still light weight and fairly grab n go the 120 achros are a good option for price and aperture.



#7 LDW47

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Posted 20 March 2021 - 01:38 PM

My current scopes are bulky and weigh over 65 pounds each, and are a bit of a chore to take out for a quick observing session.  My 15x70 binos don't really show a lot of detail.  I'm looking for something to fill the gap, and the Skywatcher 120 f5 achro seems like it might fit the bill.  But I have no experience with this size scope.  I'm hoping it will be light enough and compact enough compared to what I have now to be an easy setup, and offer a wide field of view for things like the Andromeda Galaxy and the Double Cluster.  Will I be able to see any detail?  For example, in my binos and 60mm RACI, I can see that M13 is a fuzzy ball, but can't really see it as a big ball of stars. Will CA be a lot worse than in my 60mm Stellarvue RACI? I don't find that objectionable at all.  I really have to look for it, and I'm not even sure I see it.  It comes with a 1.25" 45* diagonal.  Can I just replace that with a 2"90* and use my big eyepieces?  And finally, how fussy is it about balance?

I had a SW120 ST, it is a great scope, the wide field, low power views are wonderful on those dark nites but get rid of the AZ3 that it usually comes with, I graduate to 3 AZ4’s and a Twilite I, got rid of them and now I have 3 Porta II’s ! The best move I ever made for the best mount in that class on the market, in my experienced opinion !


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#8 LDW47

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Posted 20 March 2021 - 03:26 PM

The Sky Watcher 120/F5 and Orion's ST120 are the same Synta made achro - just re-identified per brand. I have its smaller brother, the Sky Watcher 102/F5 achro and of course it most certainly doesn't resolve glob clusters. But I don't find the CA objectional to my 60 year old eyes - unless I tag the moon. Barring any detailed responses, you might want to peruse these threads on the ST120. 

 

https://www.cloudyni...-120st-testing/

 

https://www.cloudyni...53-orion-120st/

 

https://www.cloudyni...ght-and-review/

 

I would like to find the Sky Watcher 120, OTA only since mount and 1.25" & 2" gear I have. Plus I don't care for the two mounts it is offered on. But the Orion ST120 OTA is at an attractive price, so I may go that route. 

 

There's no reason you can't use your 2" gear with the scope. Depending on the weight of the optical train, you will have to balance via sliding your mounting bar forward in the clamp  to balance for the 2" gear. 2" eye pieces can be quite heavy which is why I tend to use Gary Russell's (Russell Optics) 2" eyepieces since he uses Delrin housings - they are quite a bit lighter than most 2" offerings. 

I 2nd and 3rd Gary’s eyepieces, I have 6 of them, lol ! I used the 15mm with a variable polarizer attached yesterday with my 80mm WL scope and the solar views were excellent as well !



#9 kksmith

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Posted 20 March 2021 - 05:40 PM

I 2nd and 3rd Gary’s eyepieces, I have 6 of them, lol ! I used the 15mm with a variable polarizer attached yesterday with my 80mm WL scope and the solar views were excellent as well !

I didn't discover Gary's 2" eyepieces till his offerings were pared back. I have his 18mm, 24mm, and his 32mm. I did e-mail him about his 2" zoom that is still listed on his web page - alas he doesn't make it anymore.


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#10 jcj380

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Posted 20 March 2021 - 05:51 PM

My ST120 weighs about 12 pounds with a 9x50 finder, EP, etc.  I use it on a Twilight 1 with push-to encoders or a SkyWatcher AZ5 on a Manfrotto 475B tripod.  Any CA doesn't really bother me. 

 

I have to say though that 12 pounds seems to be very close to the effective payload capability of these two mounts.


Edited by jcj380, 20 March 2021 - 05:53 PM.


#11 LDW47

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Posted 20 March 2021 - 06:06 PM

I didn't discover Gary's 2" eyepieces till his offerings were pared back. I have his 18mm, 24mm, and his 32mm. I did e-mail him about his 2" zoom that is still listed on his web page - alas he doesn't make it anymore.

I asked him as well, same answer, lol !



#12 LDW47

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Posted 20 March 2021 - 06:10 PM

My ST120 weighs about 12 pounds with a 9x50 finder, EP, etc.  I use it on a Twilight 1 with push-to encoders or a SkyWatcher AZ5 on a Manfrotto 475B tripod.  Any CA doesn't really bother me. 

 

I have to say though that 12 pounds seems to be very close to the effective payload capability of these two mounts.

I have a 127mm that when all dressed up weighs out at a wee bit more than 20lb, its a little too much for my Porta II at the higher powers, takes a few seconds to settle down but its still useable.



#13 GUS.K

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Posted 20 March 2021 - 06:11 PM

I bought the SW120 F5 achromat OTA a few weeks back as a wide field low power scope.

I use it with a TV 2 inch diagonal and  mount it on a vixen porta. Fantastic scope for sweeping the Milky way, stunning view when coupled with a 21E 100 or 17ES 92, very relaxing way to view the heavens.


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#14 ilan_shapira

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Posted 28 March 2021 - 12:47 AM

The SW 120 was my first scope.

It's excellent for wide field views and star fields - Sagittarius area for example is just fantastic - and even bright DSO are visible with this aperture, M51, Orion and the likes are wonderful.

 

The CA is bad - bad enough to hide details on lunar views and Planetary is even worst - a Fringe Killer filter is very recommended.

Here is example of CA in a lunar image I took with a phone via the eyepiece:

51066004031_b03ec286dd_c.jpg

 

The Diagonal it comes with must be replaced - 45 degrees is not optimized for astronomy and its not good optically. Once replacing it with a decent one, you will get a lot more details.

 

The AZ3 mount and tripod is good due to its weight, but its not too stable. The slow motion controls are bad and don't have 360 degrees travel - you have to reset them, but all in all its ok for its price range.

 

The entire thing can be lifted easily - making it a classic grab and go - and this is not a small scope.

 

For it's price range the package is OK and provide decent views, even for DSO, slow motion and light grab and go


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#15 LDW47

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Posted 28 March 2021 - 07:10 AM

The SW 120 was my first scope.

It's excellent for wide field views and star fields - Sagittarius area for example is just fantastic - and even bright DSO are visible with this aperture, M51, Orion and the likes are wonderful.

 

The CA is bad - bad enough to hide details on lunar views and Planetary is even worst - a Fringe Killer filter is very recommended.

Here is example of CA in a lunar image I took with a phone via the eyepiece:

51066004031_b03ec286dd_c.jpg

 

The Diagonal it comes with must be replaced - 45 degrees is not optimized for astronomy and its not good optically. Once replacing it with a decent one, you will get a lot more details.

 

The AZ3 mount and tripod is good due to its weight, but its not too stable. The slow motion controls are bad and don't have 360 degrees travel - you have to reset them, but all in all its ok for its price range.

 

The entire thing can be lifted easily - making it a classic grab and go - and this is not a small scope.

 

For it's price range the package is OK and provide decent views, even for DSO, slow motion and light grab and go

It is a great scope, its strengths are dso’s, a bit of color on the moon, which is not as strong as you show, normally, can be corrected by either a no. 8-11 yellow filter or a variable polarizing filter !



#16 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 28 March 2021 - 07:45 AM

The AZ3 looks like a Chinese knock  off of  the  old Vixen Custom alt/az mount, but I have my doubts as to whether it is as good. Mine is supposed to arrive tomorrow, so I will try to give my impressions of the mount. At worse, it's a bit shaky and can be hauled in my RV as a travel mount, but if it's any good I'll probably try to sell it. I don't like to sell junk.

 

 

The AZ-3 Type mounts are best for terrestrial because you're looking at objects that are nearly horizontal.

 

For astronomy, the scope sitting on top of the mount creates balance problems because the center of gravity moves backward as the altitude is increased. This means cranking down on the friction to try to keep the scope from slipping. The slow motion controls are tangent arms so they need resetting every so often, you'll lose the target and have to adjust the altitude by messing with the friction.  As Bob said, not a good match for a sweeper like the 120mm F/5.

 

Jon


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#17 ilan_shapira

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Posted 28 March 2021 - 08:21 AM

It is a great scope, its strengths are dso’s, a bit of color on the moon, which is not as strong as you show, normally, can be corrected by either a no. 8-11 yellow filter or a variable polarizing filter !

I think I said it's great for its price range. The color is visible and once you know what to look for, it becomes a problem.

 

My next achro was ES 102AR F/6.5. It had noticeably less color issues and I managed to see with it the ice caps of Mars and some surface features - A thing I was not able to with the 120. However the 102AR cost more and come without a tripod.

I only guess that the CA on the 120 hurt it's performance.



#18 LDW47

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Posted 28 March 2021 - 08:30 AM

I think I said it's great for its price range. The color is visible and once you know what to look for, it becomes a problem.

 

My next achro was ES 102AR F/6.5. It had noticeably less color issues and I managed to see with it the ice caps of Mars and some surface features - A thing I was not able to with the 120. However the 102AR cost more and come without a tripod.

I only guess that the CA on the 120 hurt it's performance.

You are right it does bother those that let it bother them, that don’t know about the appropriate filters that eliminates and enhances the views ! Myself the small amount I saw through my 120ST didn’t bother me in the least but then again I am not a diehard moon / planet observer.



#19 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 28 March 2021 - 08:55 AM

You are right it does bother those that let it bother them, that don’t know about the appropriate filters that eliminates and enhances the views ! Myself the small amount I saw through my 120ST didn’t bother me in the least but then again I am not a diehard moon / planet observer.

 

It's a 120 mm F/5 achromat.  There's plenty of chromatic aberration, the chromatic blur is about 9 times the diameter of the Airy disk. It's not so much whether it bothers the observer, for viewing the planet's, it "bothers" the image.  

 

As Bob said, if Mike's is interested in a lunar/planetary scope, there are better choices.  This scope is best used for deep sky, particularly low power where it offers capabilities beyond that of his other scopes.

 

I think our role is not to sell Mike on this scope, rather to give him an idea of what he should expect..

 

Jon



#20 LDW47

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Posted 28 March 2021 - 09:24 AM

It's a 120 mm F/5 achromat.  There's plenty of chromatic aberration, the chromatic blur is about 9 times the diameter of the Airy disk. It's not so much whether it bothers the observer, for viewing the planet's, it "bothers" the image.  

 

As Bob said, if Mike's is interested in a lunar/planetary scope, there are better choices.  This scope is best used for deep sky, particularly low power where it offers capabilities beyond that of his other scopes.

 

I think our role is not to sell Mike on this scope, rather to give him an idea of what he should expect..

 

Jon

I am not trying to sell anyone anything, there surely is not plenty of ..... but there is definitely a bit ! I thought I said if you are a planet / moon man then maybe its not for you, if you are more versatile, if you go after everything then its a great performer, even at higher powers. You shouldn’t have to sell anything just give your experiences, many, many, many fellow astronomers are lovers of those scopes, what does that tell all of us ?  PS: I don’t like to keep my comments just to their likes, they may change their thoughts ? And the poster can decide for themselves, its very simple !  PPS: And I believe someone mentioned that a simple, appropriate filter can take it all away ?


Edited by LDW47, 28 March 2021 - 09:30 AM.


#21 MikeTahtib

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Posted 28 March 2021 - 02:47 PM

Thanks for all the inputs, everyone.  The picture from Ilan is very helpful.  From what I can see, it looks like the main effect is around the edge, but on the surface, I can't say that I see any real obstruction of detail.  I was thinking the whole surface would be double or triple imaged, with every crater having a shadow crater beside it.  Does t get a lot worse at higher powers? 

I have several goals for the scope. 

1 View extended deep sky objects, such as the Double Cluster, the Andromeda Galaxy, Beehive Cluster, Pleiades, North America, etc.

2 Have something to take outside quickly for a quick look at whatever is visible, including moon and planets, even if the view is somewhat flawed.  My feeling in these cases is looking at something flawed is better than not looking at something great.

3  Having a telescope that I can carry a short distance when going to someplace dark.  There are a few oceanside locations I've seen where I can't get a car within a couple hundred feet of a clearing, but I'm pretty sure I could carry the 30-ish pounds of the SW120.

 

I'm also giving some thought to the Orion OTA only, as the Skywatcher comes with things I would want to replace - the diagonal, probably the finder (I love Telrads), and I don't want a mount that I'm constantly fighting with, if that's the case with the AZ3 (I can see where the load isn't balanced pointing up), so was considering the Stellarvue M002CS, which, from what I've been able to read, is an excellent mount, but at a somewhat higher price.  I don't like the idea of buying from Orion, though, as I understand they don't support people who buy their equipment used.  Even though I 'd probably be buying new, and by all accounts Orion does support original owners, it really rubs me the wrong way that they discriminate like that.  I don't know what kind of policy Skywatcher has, though. 



#22 ilan_shapira

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Posted 29 March 2021 - 03:46 AM

No, you will not see double/tripple craters. If that would have been the case, I would not say its good device for the money.

 

It gives fantastic wide field views with lots of aperture to see details.

The weight of the entire rig assembled is easily handled by almost anyone - making it a fantastic grab and go.

So yes, replace the diagonal, consider a different mount and you get a good grab and go rig.

Add to that fringe killer filter to fight the CA and you reduce that effect as well.

 

I will check the option for a 130-150mm tabletop newtonian like the Heritage. You get a bigger aperture, a more stable mount, smaller footpring and no CA and the same if not less price.

 

Clear skies



#23 LDW47

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Posted 29 March 2021 - 04:01 PM

No, you will not see double/tripple craters. If that would have been the case, I would not say its good device for the money.

 

It gives fantastic wide field views with lots of aperture to see details.

The weight of the entire rig assembled is easily handled by almost anyone - making it a fantastic grab and go.

So yes, replace the diagonal, consider a different mount and you get a good grab and go rig.

Add to that fringe killer filter to fight the CA and you reduce that effect as well.

 

I will check the option for a 130-150mm tabletop newtonian like the Heritage. You get a bigger aperture, a more stable mount, smaller footpring and no CA and the same if not less price.

 

Clear skies

But its not a refractor ! That means a lot to many great astronomers.



#24 LDW47

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Posted 29 March 2021 - 04:05 PM

Thanks for all the inputs, everyone.  The picture from Ilan is very helpful.  From what I can see, it looks like the main effect is around the edge, but on the surface, I can't say that I see any real obstruction of detail.  I was thinking the whole surface would be double or triple imaged, with every crater having a shadow crater beside it.  Does t get a lot worse at higher powers? 

I have several goals for the scope. 

1 View extended deep sky objects, such as the Double Cluster, the Andromeda Galaxy, Beehive Cluster, Pleiades, North America, etc.

2 Have something to take outside quickly for a quick look at whatever is visible, including moon and planets, even if the view is somewhat flawed.  My feeling in these cases is looking at something flawed is better than not looking at something great.

3  Having a telescope that I can carry a short distance when going to someplace dark.  There are a few oceanside locations I've seen where I can't get a car within a couple hundred feet of a clearing, but I'm pretty sure I could carry the 30-ish pounds of the SW120.

 

I'm also giving some thought to the Orion OTA only, as the Skywatcher comes with things I would want to replace - the diagonal, probably the finder (I love Telrads), and I don't want a mount that I'm constantly fighting with, if that's the case with the AZ3 (I can see where the load isn't balanced pointing up), so was considering the Stellarvue M002CS, which, from what I've been able to read, is an excellent mount, but at a somewhat higher price.  I don't like the idea of buying from Orion, though, as I understand they don't support people who buy their equipment used.  Even though I 'd probably be buying new, and by all accounts Orion does support original owners, it really rubs me the wrong way that they discriminate like that.  I don't know what kind of policy Skywatcher has, though. 

I viewed the Double Cluster with a 2” WO 40mm SWAN and then threw on a 2” GSO barlow on a dark nite from my normally Bortle 4 back yard, both views were memorable ! I didn’t want it to end !



#25 LDW47

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Posted 29 March 2021 - 04:12 PM

Also you can switch out the stock focuser with a 2” GSO Crayford Two Speed focuser in about 20 min. with no problems for about $150 and a GSO Dielectric diagonal for another $100 and the performance will instantly double, all from Agena Astro and their site will instruct you exactly how to measure the size required !




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